By Drew Karpen
The perk of being part of a new program is that more than likely, the team is going to experience milestones along the way.
The first week of the season, Conneaut Area Senior High recorded its first program win. Five weeks later, the Eagles approached another milestone, notching their first region victory with a 39-21 come-from-behind win over Mercer at Clements Field on Friday night.
“To be part of the first region win is a dream,” Conneaut running back Elijah Anderton said. “Especially since it was against Mercer. We all came together and pounded them.”
Pounding is exactly what Anderton did to the Mustangs defense, rushing for 251 yards and four touchdowns.
“He is a tough kid,” Conneaut head coach Pat Gould said about Anderton. “He works hard for us. He is a nice kid for our future. We are happy to have him.”
The sophomore running back helped lead the Eagles (3-3, 1-3 Region 1) to 20 unanswered points after being down 21-19 at the half.
It didn’t take long for Anderton to find his groove, completing the first drive on his own with three rushing plays.
On the second play of the game, Anderton scampered 50 yards down the sideline, setting the Eagles up with a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. The very next play, Anderton bounced it outside for a touchdown.
Mercer (1-5, 0-5) wasted little time fighting back, marching down the field to tie it at 7 on its first position. The key play of the drive was a 47-yard catch by Austin Slagle from Logan Clarke. Clarke would punch it in from a yard out on the next play.
After an interception by Mercer’s Walter Haines, the Mustangs were in business. Clarke continued his success through the air, connecting on a 21-yard touchdown pass to Evan Nan.
Anderton would strike again in the second quarter, scoring just inside the pylon from 19 yards out. CASH looked as if it was about to tie the game, but Tanner Houck’s extra point attempt was blocked.
Conneaut’s defense continued to struggle on the next Mercer possession.
At the Eagles’ 36-yard line, the Mustangs’ TJ Peters received the hand-off on an end around. One big block by Nan and a spin move later, Peters found himself in the end zone.
Up 21-13, Mercer looked as if it was in good shape.
After both teams traded interceptions, Conneaut shrunk Mercer’s lead to 21-19 with 4:55 left in the half. Quarterback Jon Onderko called his own number, scoring from two yards out.
After allowing the Mercer offense to score at will in the first half, the Eagles’ defense stood tall in the second half. It didn’t allow the Mustangs to score in the final two quarters.
“We made some adjustments at the half, but a lot of it was our assignments,” Gould said. “We just weren’t covering the pitch man at times. We weren’t tackling the quarterback on the option. But they made some plays.”
It seemed as if the only offensive group to make plays in the second half was the Conneaut rushing attack.
After both teams once again exchanged turnovers, Hunter Merritt decided to join in on the fun.
Merritt raced through on an end around, getting to the corner and scoring from 35 yards out. Conneaut once again failed on the conversion, keeping the Eagles’ first lead of the game at 25-21.
The rest of the game belonged to Anderton and Onderko. Anderton opened up the fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown run, giving the Eagles a 32-21 lead. With less than five minutes remaining, Onderko basically sealed the victory with two first down runs on third down.
Anderton then put the game out of reach with his second two-yard touchdown run in as many drives.
Conneaut stayed with what was working all night, rushing for 459 yards as a team.
“What really worked for us is the inside run,” Anderton said. “I was very pleased with our performance overall.”
The Eagles are hoping that this win can propel them moving forward.
“This was a big win for us but we still have a lot of work to do,” Gould said. “Every win for this team right now is a big boost. We are trying to change our attitude.”