By Jim Hunter
A notice has been served in Region 1: Conneaut is beginning to mesh.
Getting another spectacular performance from their workhorse quarterback/running back Hunter Merritt, the Eagles notched their first league win Friday night with a 21-14 upset victory over Mercer.
It was Conneaut’s (3-3, 1-3 Region 1) second straight impressive “W” as the Eagles knocked off Region 6 power General McLane, 41-40 last week.
Mercer dropped to 3-2 in the league.
Conneaut coach Pat Gould is beginning to crack that smile more and more.
“Yeah, we’re coming around,” he said. “We ran the ball extremely well against Mercer ... in which I thought we could. We should have scored more points, but we hurt ourselves in the red zone.”
Gould has another reason to feel giddy. A player by the name of Merritt.
Basically putting the Eagles on his back, Merritt was too much for Mercer as the sophomore sensation rushed for 252 yards on 35 carries and scored all three of CASH’s touchdowns.
“Hunter ran hard,” said Gould, who had a surprised reaction when told of Merritt’s 252 yards.
Gould’s game plan was also to get Merritt’s backfield partner Elijah Anderson into the flow. The powerful Anderton also played a key part with 99 yards rushing on 22 hauls.
After a scoreless first quarter, Conneaut put up 14 points within one minute at the beginning of the second period.
Keyed by a 19-yard completion from Merritt to split end Taylor Williams on fourth-and-15, the Eagles marched 79 yards on 10 plays as Merritt finished off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
After CASH’s Clay Bortner recovered a Mercer fumble, Merritt burst through the middle on the first play from scrimmage and scored on a 35-yard run to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead with 9:00 left in the first half.
Behind quarterback Logan Clarke’s strong right arm, the Mustangs answered on their ensuing possession as halfback Luke Leonard dove into the end zone from the 1.
On the 75-yard, 10-play drive, Clarke completed five of seven passes for 68 yards.
After four unsuccessful series in the second half, Conneaut found its first-half rhythm again at the beginning of the fourth quarter as Merritt broke off 12- and 9-yard runs before crossing the goal line on an 18-yard run to give the Eagles a 21-7 lead.
Mercer also struggled at the outset of the second half. During one stretch, Clarke threw 13 consecutive incompletions.
“We were showing him different looks and I think we confused him,” said Gould.
Clarke shook off his early second-half inaccuracy.
On the ensuing possession after CASH scored, the Mustangs got within 21-14 as Clarke hooked up with T.J. Peters on an eight-yard scoring play.
Conneaut then successfully milked time off the clock — chewing up eight minutes as the Eagles marched to Mercer’s 12.
On fourth-and-eight with 1:40 left in the game, Merritt threw an incompletion — giving Mercer one last shot.
Completing screens and short crossing patterns, Mercer drove the ball to Conneaut’s 21 with 43 seconds left in the game.
Williams, a linebacker on the Eagles’ ‘D’, then spoiled the Mustangs’ comeback bid as he drilled Clarke in the back and forced a fumble.