By Pete Chiodo
The Mercer football team had the answers on both offense and defense while handing Lakeview its first loss of the season, 19-8, in a tense Region 1 showdown on Friday.
“Very pleased,” said Mercer head coach Pat McClearn. “That’s a very good football team that we beat. They’ve got a lot of weapons on offense. And (Friday) was the first score their varsity defense had given up. The only other score they gave up was to Union City and that was at the very end of the game. So, our guys took on that challenge.”
The win has Mercer off to a 4-0 start to the season and a 3-0 record in Region 1. Lakeview falls to 3-1 on the year and 1-1 in the region.
“Their defense was tough,” said Lakeview coach Dan York. “And the main thing on the offense was their quarterback kept completing passes and he kept the ball away from us. And the receivers made some tough catches. My hat goes off to them, they played a heck of a game.”
Defensively, the Mustangs found a way to put the breaks on Lakeview’s prodigious ground attack. Running back Blake Reddick entered the game leading District 10 in rushing yards with 684, an average of 228 stripes per game.
The Mustangs were able to limit Reddick to 56 yards on 18 carries.
And with their big dog muzzled, the Sailors wouldn’t be able to reach the end zone until the fourth quarter.
“We only changed things up a little bit (defensively),” said McClearn. “We widened our defensive tackles and nose guards because we saw that (Lakeview ran) mostly off-tackle and outside. So we widened them up a little bit and we slanted a little bit. But the biggest thing was we challenged our defense. We said, okay, we did a decent job against Sharpsville, shut them out. We did it last week against Kennedy, shut them out. Can we do it against Lakeview?
“And I thought we did a great job.”
Mercer started out well on offense. The Mustangs took their opening drive 85 yards on 12 plays, mixing six passing plays with six rushing plays, each of which gained decent yardage.
Mustangs quarterback Logan Clarke was 4-for-6 for 60 yards through the air during the possession, capping it off with a perfectly timed strike to running back T.J. Peters who was up the right sideline on a wheel route and took the reception into the end zone for six points.
That would be the only score for the rest of the first half and all of the third. The two teams rumbled back-and-forth between the 20s, but neither team could get put together that big play that would turn the tide.
Towards the end of the third, a Lakeview drive stalled out near midfield and Mercer got the ball back on downs.
“I got a little too antsy after we got that big stop and went for the jugular on that pass,” said McClearn.
Instead, Reddick picked off a deep attempt by Clarke, giving Lakeview the ball back with a little momentum on top of it.
The next play for the Sailors was a 37-yard pass from Zack Bigley to Zach Van Dusen, which brought the Sailors inside Mercer’s 30.
Bigley would end the night completing 5 of 13 passes for 124 yards and was picked off three times. Van Dusen was his top target, catching three passes for 96 yards.
Five plays after that hook-up, as the opening minutes of the fourth quarter ticked off, Lakeview got its first points on the board when Reddick rumbled up the middle five yards for a TD.
Being a defensive battle to this point, the Sailors decided to go for two. That gamble paid off as Bigley took it around the right side for the conversion, giving Lakeview an 8-7 lead.
Mercer would not trail for long, however. Starting on their own 35, the Mustangs traveled all 65 yards on six plays, including a big 38-yard pass from Clarke to Jarred Davis which brought the ’Stangs down to the Lakeview 7.
A couple plays later, Clarke took a keeper up the middle, was halted at the goalline, but reached the ball out over the plane to score the touchdown. The Mustangs tried for two, but Clarke’s pass was high, leaving the score at 13-8.
The Sailors looked to get the lead right back on the next possession. However, Mercer’s defense stepped up big time, pushing Lakeview back 10 yards over the course of the next three plays.
Mercer got the ball back after the punt and was able to keep its wheels rolling, putting together a six-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that ended with a four-yard scoring run by Zane O’Brien. Mercer led 19-8 with 3:26 remaining, not enough time for a comeback by the Sailors.
Clarke ended the day completing 12 of 24 attempts for 195 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He hit five receivers during the game. Davis led the team with three catches for 75 yards while Luke Leonard had 49 yards on three catches.
On the ground, O’Brien led Mercer with 12 carries for 64 yards and one touchdown. Clarke had 12 keepers for 58 yards.