By Frank Foreman
When a team is just one win away from a District 10 title shot, it’s only natural to peek just a bit into the future at a potential championship game.
That’s just not the case for Mercer and Lakeview.
The Sailors, who posted a 9-1 regular season led by District 10’s leading rusher Blake Reddick, take on Mercer tonight at Wilmington High School at 7 p.m. That one Lakeview loss came during a Sept. 20 road game against who else, Mercer. The Mustangs won that contest 19-8.
So is the right to play for the Class A title a revenge game for Lakeview, a chance for the Sailors to avenge a mid-season loss?
According to Lakeview head coach Dan York, not so much.
“There is already enough motivation there,” York said. “It’s funny, because I haven’t heard anything from the players about it. They haven’t said anything either way.”
The Sailors are coming off a 61-6 quarterfinal win over Maplewood, while Mercer took care of business a week ago with a 35-14 win over Cambridge Springs. The Mustangs realize that focusing too much on a Week 4 win can be counterproductive. Therefor, head coach Pat McClearn isn’t paying much attention to the mid-season victory at all.
“I don’t think it’s so much about what happened back in week four. A lot of football has been played since then, so I’m not sure there is much carry over,” McClearn said. “We’re confident due to the fact that we finished up the season on a high note, and we had a big win last week. We know we have our hands full going in.”
When breaking down Lakeview, every opposing coach likely starts with Reddick, who has rushed for 2,439 yards this season, including a 248-yard performance last week. Reddick, Lakeview’s single-season rushing record holder, is just five yards away from breaking the District 10 single season mark. The senior has been a nightmare for opposing coaches this season, and McClearn understands that stopping him is likely out of the question.
Containing Reddick is the key, something the Mustangs were able to do earlier this season, holding Reddick to 56 yards on 18 carries.
“I think you have to slow him down. You can’t stop him,” McClearn said. “He is going to finish his career as the all-time leading rusher in District 10, not only in a single season but maybe in a career. He is one heck of a running back.”
Naturally McClearn looked at the tape of the Week 4 win, but has noticed one big difference from Lakeview since the last time he saw them in person: The emergence of fullback Marquis Spence.
“Spence had a breakout game against us the last time we played, and that makes (Lakeview) even more dangerous,” McClearn said. “In Week 4 we focused on Reddick, but you can’t do that now. They will hurt you in a bunch of different ways.”
As for that earlier loss to Mercer, York attributed the lone blemish on Lakeview’s record to the team trying different things offensively. That, as well as some miscommunication on the defensive side of the ball.
“We did some things offensively that we tried, and it was out of character,” York said. “Defensively, (Mercer) hit some passes on us that we didn’t defend properly.”
Mercer enters the game with one of the top passers in the district in Logan Clarke. The junior finished the regular season third in District 10 with 1,915 yards through the air and tossed 23 touchdowns. During last week’s victory over Cambridge Springs, Clarke threw for 192 yards and rushed for 70.
The Mustangs also feature one of the top receivers in the district in Brayton Edwards. The junior has 676 receiving yards this season including last week’s game, and presents a difficult matchup for most defenses.
Both coaches acknowledge the Sept. 20 contest, but that’s about as far as they go. That game has come and gone, and it’s over with. Head coaches are wired to focus on the future, not the past, and that is all York and McClearn are thinking about.
And for one of these coaches, that future ends tonight.
“These kids have been there, this will be their third trip,” York said of his team’s playoff experience. “They are pretty into it. I hope they enjoy it, because it’s what you work hard for.”
The Mustangs hope their hard work has paid off as well.
“I think we’re excited,” McClearn said. “We’re focused on Lakeview, and that’s all we’re talking about. That is a big enough mountain for us to climb.”