GUYS MILLS — It took only about a minute of game time for Mercyhurst Prep senior Tommy Elias to go from zero to team hero.
In the fourth quarter of Friday night’s non-region gridiron clash between Mercyhurst and homestanding Maplewood, Elias appeared to have given the game away when a Maplewood punt fell through his arms and was hopped on by the Tigers’ Wyatt Wright, giving ’Wood the football on the Lakers’ 18.
Three plays later, Maplewood’s Zack Wellman followed his blockers through the left side of the line four yards and into the end zone to put the Tigers on top 18-14 with 6:05 to play.
Then came the kickoff. It fell to Elias in the middle of the field. He zoomed through coverage 80 yards for the deciding touchdown as the Lakers defeated the Tigers 21-18.
“Tommy’s a great player,” said Mercyhurst head coach Jeff Root. “And he knew it was on him. The thing is, it was how he responded. Great character. He just said, ‘Hey, it’s on me. I’m going to make a difference.’ And he did on that kick return.”
Maplewood understood that Elias was a difference maker.
“We told the guy kicking off not to kick it to No. 15 (Elias),” said Maplewood head coach Bryan Borkovich. “But he kicked it right down the middle of the field to No. 15.
“Regardless of that, you still have to cover it.”
Maplewood’s offense had two series to answer before the clock wound down. But Mercyhurst’s defense held them to come out on top of a close back-and-forth battle.
“It was a great high school football game,” said Root. “They played hard. Their coach does a good job with those kids. And they saw some of our weaknesses that they could take advantage of.”
It came down to a key play here or there to give the Lakers the victory.
“That’s it,” said Borkovich, whose team drops to 2-5 on the year with the loss. “You look at all our scores. We’re there. But we’re not finishing. We’re not making plays we need to make. When you have the momentum, you’ve got to keep the momentum. Sometimes we just can’t get out of our own way.”
Maplewood did have to play most of the second half without starting quarterback Dane Barker, and starting tailback Miller Peters, both of whom went down with injuries.
Wellman — who was already nursing an injury incurred in practice this week — subbed for Barker. And he ended up leading the charge for the Tigers to get back into the ball game.
Mercyhurst had taken a 14-6 lead midway through the third quarter after running back Ryley Moneta scored on a 51-yard touchdown haul.
A couple series later, Maplewood came up with a response when Wellman led the Tigers on a 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive, during which the substitute QB was 4-for-5 for 59 yards passing, including an eight-yard touchdown strike to Jeremy Dahl that cut Prep’s lead to 14-12.
“The Wellman boy stepped in and I though that he just did a great job,” said Root.
Later there was the fumbled punt. Then Wellman’s rushing TD. But then came Elias’ redemption for the Lakers.
Wellman ended the game completing 8 of 19 passes for 109 yards and a TD. He was also picked off twice, including the last play of the game.
Barker was 4-for-7 for 45 yards before leaving the game early in the third quarter with what looked like an ankle injury. Barker also scored on a two-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Peters limped off a few plays later after leading the Tigers on the ground with 54 yards on 18 carries.
For Mercyhurst, Evanoff was 8-for-14 passing for 106 yards and one touchdown. That went to — who else — Elias for a 16-yard score in the first quarter, which gave Prep a 7-0 lead.
Elias caught six passes for 78 yards total in the game.
The Lakers’ ground attack was led by Moneta with 17 carries for 101 yards.