Meadville fullback Aryan Cotterman (center) celebrates one of his three touchdowns with offensive lineman Dominic Foote during the team’s non-region season opener at Mercyhurst Prep on Friday. Cotterman’s effort, as well as those of backfield mates Chandler Edwards and Hayden Park (the trio ran for 379 yards and six TDs), carried the Bulldogs to an upset 42-20 victory over the Lakers.

ERIE — Way back in the day there was this famous advertisement that would appear in comic books for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding method.

It was basically a comic strip. And in it, this skinny-armed guy is sitting on the beach with a girl when he gets sand kicked in his face by this big, muscular dude, who then threatens to beat him up.

The skinny guy gets angry, understandably, and orders the Charles Atlas book. And then a couple of panels later, he’s back on the beach, totally ripped now, and he sees the guy that kicked sand is his face and promptly punches him in the mouth.

In 2019, the Meadville football team is that guy.

After going 0-9 last season, the Bulldogs headed directly to the weight room determined to never let that happen again. It’s now 10 months later, and the bigger and stronger Bulldogs are looking to hand out some payback.

They ended their losing streak with a 42-20 victory over reigning Region 3 champion Mercyhurst Prep on Friday at Mercyhurst University’s newly refurbished Saxon Stadium.

“We grinded all offseason,” said Meadville running back Hayden Parks. “We had guys in the weight room all winter, spring, all year. This is the payoff.

“Last year is gone,” he added. “This is a new year.” 

Early on things looked sadly familiar for Meadville, as Mercyhurst got on the board first after running back Steve Smith bolted around the right side of the line and went 54 yards for a touchdown, putting the Lakers up 6-0 early in the second quarter.

Then, after a few early stutters, the Meadville offense starting to find its footing. A fake punt by Mercyhurst Prep didn’t get the needed yardage. And the Bulldogs set up on the Lakers’ 42. Six plays later — including a clutch 18-yard run by Aryan Cotterman on fourth-and-nine — the Bulldogs were in the end zone. Cotterman scored it on a four-yard dive up the middle. 

However, Mercyhurst was right back on top two plays later when Smith broke another long run. This one went 80 yards, and gave the Lakers at 14-7 lead.

 “Coming in here tonight, people were probably thinking that we were going to lose,” said Meadville head coach Ray Collins. “And when Steve Smith ripped off that first run, I think a lot of people said, ‘Well, here we go again. They’re probably going to repeat the same as last year.’ 

“But I knew better. I knew these kids were hungry. I knew the work these kids put in during the offseason.”

Sam Burchard pushed the momentum back in Meadville’s favor when he returned the following kickoff 52 yards to the Lakers’ 35. Then Parks got the Bulldogs into the red zone with a 25-yard trot. And three plays later, Cotterman bulldozed in from seven yards out. A mixed point-after had Meadville trailing 14-13. 

Then on Mercyhurst Prep’s next possession, the Bulldogs defense forced a punt. The snap sailed high, backing the Lakers up to their own 18, where Meadville took over. 

“Special teams killed us,” said Mercyhurst Prep coach Jeff Root. “I give all the credit to Meadville, but we pretty much gave them 14 points by turning the ball over twice on special teams. That killed us. You can’t spot a team like

that 14.” 

Three plays later, Parks crossed the goal line for a one-yard touchdown. And Meadville would be taking a 21-14 lead into the half. 

However, Meadville wasn’t out of the woods yet. When the two teams met last season, Meadville was up 12-7 at the half, but ended up losing to the Lakers 33-18. 

“It happened last year when we were up at halftime,” said Parks. “We came out and didn’t do what we were supposed to do. This year, we came out at halftime way stronger.” 

In fact, Meadville dominated the second half. The Bulldogs would rush for 269 yards in the half and collect 12 first downs. Mercyhurst had 78 yards in the half and four

first downs. 

The Bulldogs’ first play of the third quarter went backwards seven yards. But then they marched 90 yards on just four plays, getting back into the end zone on a nine-yard run by Chandler Edwards. MASH now led 28-14. 

Mercyhurst answered with a score of its own, scored by Gus Campbell on a one-yard run. But that would be the last time the Lakers found the scoreboard. 

Meadville would add a 12-play, 85-yard scoring drive, which ended with an eight-yard scoring run by


The Bulldogs then authored an 11-play drive of 66 yards, capping it with a three-yard TD trot by Edwards. 

By the time it was all said and done, Meadville would finish the game with 392 yards in rushing. Parks had 13 carries for 162 yards. Cotterman tallied 156 yards on 20 carries. And Edwards had 61 yards on 12 carries. 

“I was very, very happy with the backfield,” said Collins. “You know, I was really hard on them this week in practice because I did not think that they were playing up to their potential. And I let them know about it. And before the game I reminded them of that. I said, ‘You guys have to come together. You have to run hard and you’ve got to block hard for each other. You’ve got to have a little bit of pride in what you’re doing out there. 

“And I thought the backs ran hard tonight. They broke tackles. They hit the holes. And we didn’t turn the ball over other than an interception we threw.” 

Smith ended up leading Mercyhurst Prep with 205 yards on 20 carries. The rest of the Lakers’ offense contributed 37 yards. 

“When I came into the stadium and looked at (Mercyhurst), it was pretty apparent that they were significantly larger than we were,” said Collins. “But our kids have a heart of a winner. And you can never discount that. Our kids wanted to win. They’re very motivated right now. They have their goals set and they’re turning this thing around. And even though Mercyhurst Prep outweighed us by 30 pounds at almost every position, the kids went hard and played hard, were scrappy and played with a lot of heart.” 

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