Prep Football: Second place the first priority for Mercer, Boyle
Mercer County running back James Johnson gets a lead block from Austin Coleman (78) on his way to a 35-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Titans¿ win over Taylor County last week. Johnson ran for 243 yards and five touchdowns last week and has 1,172 yards and 22 touchdowns going into Mercer¿s game Friday at Boyle County. (Hal Morris / October 18, 2012)
Now Pardue is the head coach at Mercer County, and he and the Titans visit Rebel Stadium on Friday for a game that will decide second place in District AAAA-5.
But Pardue downplayed any talk of this game being about his return to Boyle.
“This is an important game for our team. It is a big game for us, because we have a chance to host a playoff game. And it guarantees our first winning season since 2006,” Pardue said. “I coached against (alma mater) Allen County(-Scottsville), too. It’s just another game we want to win. It’s not about me, it’s about these kids.”
Boyle coach Larry French agreed anything other than what takes place on the field is irrelevant.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with anything else,” he said. “It’s just going to be two high school teams playing on Friday and playing to the best of their abilities, and the best team will win.”
And Pardue said his team is going to have to match Boyle’s physicality to get that win.
“What they’re going to do, they play extremely hard, they’re going to play fundamentally sound and compete every play,” Pardue said. “And that’s what we talk to the kids about. They’re not just going to hit us once and back off. Their defensive line will attack us, and the offensive line will stay on their blocks until the whistle blows. That’s what we’re trying to do with our program.”
Mercer (5-3, 2-1 district) has been clicking with its two-quarterback system to go along with the running of James Johnson.
Johnson has rushed for 1,172 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Titans, coming off a school-record 72 points last week, are averaging 34 points and 390 yards per game. Boyle is giving up 23 points per game.
“He breaks a lot of tackles, he’s a good running back. He was a good running back last year, but he seems to be a little stronger this year,” French said of Johnson.
Darion Lewis, one of Mercer’s two quarterbacks, has thrown for 183 yards and a score, rushed for 314 yards and two scores and has six catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns, and Drew Davis has thrown for 564 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. French said preparing for two quarterbacks is not difficult.
“They’re going to line up and run their offense, and it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is,” French said. “The both can throw it and run it, and you’ve got to prepare for what they do offensively, not individuals. They’ve got a lot of speed, and speed has been a problem for us all season long. We’ve got to be able to tackle their speed before it gets started.”
Boyle (4-4, 2-1) started slowly in what turned into a 63-0 win over Marion County last week, and French said his team needs a better start this week.
“You’d better, or you might find yourself behind and playing catch-up the rest of the night,” French said. “I think our focus will be a lot better, and I think we’ll be ready to play.”
Pardue said Mercer’s defense is going to have to play better defensively than it did last week in a 72-31 win over Taylor County.
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the year to have a chance to win this game. Our records are about the same, but when you look at their competition, it’s understandable,” Pardue said. “It’s going to take our best effort to win this game, and we’ll probably need Boyle to make a few mistakes.”
Boyle averages 36 points and 406 yards of offense, while Mercer’s defense is allowing 26 points per game.
Seph Burke has rushed for 864 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Rebels, and Lloyd Hall has 477 yards and four scores rushing and has 26 catches for 459 yards and four more scores.
Boyle quarterback Casey Whittle is 68 for 142 for 1,106 yards and 13 touchdowns with four interceptions. Josiah Robbins has scored six touchdowns and has 597 yards of total offense.
French said Mercer’s defense is going to be a challenge for his offense.
“They pursue the ball extremely well. The run to the ball well, and they’ve got quickness on defense,” French said. “The big Coleman kid (Austin) is a force in there (on the line), and their linebackers run downhill.”
Mercer has taken Lexington Catholic and Madison Central into the fourth quarter in close games, but ultimately lost. Pardue wants to see if the Titans can finish a game off if given the chance Friday.
“We’ve had a couple of opportunities like this before with Madison Central and Lexington Catholic,” Pardue said. “We got to the fourth quarter and didn’t find a way to win those games. Hopefully, we can learn from our mistakes.”