HARRODSBURG - Chris Pardue warned his team. The Mercer County coach said if the Titans did not come to play against West Jessamine, the Colts could make it a long night.
And for a lot of Friday’s game, West did just that, but Mercer found a way to win in the end.
Mercer got a safety with 1:37 to play, then James Johnson scored from 11 yards out with 41 seconds remaining and scored the two-point conversion as the Titans rallied for a 31-28 win over the visiting Colts.
“Coach told us coming out they’re a really good team, they’ve played three really good teams, and he said not to listen to our fans, and said we’d play like we practiced,” Johnson said. “He told us if we took a step back we’d be right back where we were at the beginning of the year.”
Johnson ran for 68 of his 106 yards in the second half, and had three touchdowns as Mercer improved to 2-1. Austin Sparrow shook off three interceptions to throw for 184 yards and scored on a 4-yard run in the third quarter.
“They outplayed us tonight,” Pardue said. “When we went in at halftime we had 34 yards rushing. We have to run the football, we put Austin Sparrow in a bad situation by not being able to run the football in the first half.”
Mercer found itself in a desperate situation late in the fourth quarter.
Devin Taylor’s 4-yard scoring run gave West (0-4) a 28-21 lead with 4:20 to go, then Nate Yost picked off Sparrow’s pass intended for Russell Sims inside the 5 with 2:01 to play.
But Mercer dropped Taylor for a safety on third-and-16 from the Colts’ 3. with 1:37 to go to make it 28-23 - and give itself a late chance.
“Our defense finally stepped up and made a play on that safety,” Pardue said.
Mercer then got the ball at its own 35 after the kick and faced a third-and-10 when Sparrow hit Chris Goodman for 15 yards, then found Jordan Elery for a 17-yard gain and Goodman again for 12 yards. On the next play, Johnson took a handoff around the left side and beat the Colts’ defense to the corner for the 11-yard touchdown. He then caught the two-point conversion pass from Sparrow to make it 31-28 with 41.9 seconds to go.
“I was like, we’ve got to win this game,” Johnson said. “I told my linemen to block as hard as they can because I’m going to run as hard as I can and get in there.”
Sparrow finished 12 of 26 for 184 yards and three interceptions, but Pardue noted the sophomore made the throws when they counted.
“He’s developing and I’m hard on him too, I get all over him,” Pardue said. “And I think what he’s got to get in practice that we don’t get a lot is a great look from our scout team. It’s a whole new look when you come out here on Friday night.”
Sims, who caught three passes for 59 yards, picked off West quarterback Ryan Horne on the game’s final play to end it. Goodman finished with four catches for 76 yards and Elery grabbed three for 37 yards.
“The big thing our kids did, we played exactly like we practiced this week, and I hope they learn from that,” Pardue. “I told them, it’s exciting when you can learn from a win. We have to learn from it, we can;t listen to the outside sources telling us how good we are and how bad the other team is. Bottom line is, we found a way to win. The kids stepped up and made plays when they had to make plays.”
West made all the plays late in the first half, and seemed to have all the momentum going into the second half.
Carter Hahn scored on a 29-yard pass from Horne on the final play of the first half to make it 14-all. Then Robbie Irgang intercepted Sparrow on the Titans’ second play of the third quarter, setting up an 11-yard scoring run from Taylor, who ran for a game-high 140 yards, and give West a 21-14 lead with 10:07 to go in the quarter.
After Sims bobbled the snap on a punt on Mercer’s next possession West took over at the Titans’ 4 yard line and appeared poised for another score. But Lane Peavler picked off a pass which went off Irgang’s hands in the end zone to kill the drive and start Mercer’s comeback.
“That was a huge play, that really turned the game around,” Pardue said.
From there, Mercer mounted a six play scoring drive. Johnson ran for 41 yards on the first play, then Sparrow hit Goodman for a 27-yard gain on a third-and-2. After Johnson’s 2-yard run, Sparrow took a keeper right, avoided one tackle and spun out of another to go in from 4 yards out and Mercer tied the game with 3:04 left in the third.
It was another West miscue which set up Mercer’s first score. Mac Guay recovered a squib kick on the opening kickoff at the West 33 yard line. Eight plays later, Johnson scored and Stetson Cooley’s point after made it 7-0 with 8:32 left in the quarter.
Yost tied the game when he picked off Sparrows deflected pass and returned it 23 yards for the score late in the first quarter.
Mercer responded with a 10 play, 64-yard drive and Johnson broke a tackle at the line and went in from 10 yards out to give Mercer a 14-7 lead before West came back to tie the score at halftime.
Mercer finished with 298 yards to 260 for West and each team had three turnovers.
“I’m really proudd of these kids,” Pardue said. “They faced adversity tonight and the found a way to overcome it. We’re learning, and it’s a learning process going on right now.”
West Jessamine 7 7 7 7 — 28
Mercer County 7 7 7 10 — 31
Mercer — James Johnson 1 run (Stetson Cooley kick), 8:32.
West Jessamine — Nate Yost 23 interception return (Derrick Little kick), :17.
Mercer — Johnson 10 run (Cooley kick), 6:50.
West Jessamine — Carter Hahn 29 pass from Ryan Horne (Little kick), :00.1.
West Jessamine — Devin Taylor 8 run (Little kick), 10:07.
Mercer — Sparrow 4 run (Cooley kick), 3:05.
West Jessamine — Taylor 4 run (Little kick), 4:20.
Mercer — Safety, 1:42.
Mercer — Johnson 11 run (Cooley kick), :41.
First downs 12 11
Rushes-yards 33-176 38-114
Passing 84 184
Total Net Yards 260 298
Comp-Att-Int 4-9-2 12-27-3
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 3-0
Penalties-Yards 8-38 7-50
RUSHING—West Jessamine, Devin Taylor 20-140, Cody Anderson 2-13, Justin Huffman 2-10, Robbie Irgang 1-9, Ryan Horne 8-4. Mercer, James Johnson 21-106, Austin Sparrow 10-8, Braxton Bradshaw 4-5, Chris Goodman 1-3, Jordan Elery 1-3, team 1-minus 11.
PASSING—West Jessamine, Horn 4-8-2-84, Taylor 0-1-0-0. Mercer, Sparrow 12-26-3-184, Lane Peavler 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—West Jessamine, Carter Hahn 2-54, Irgang 1-15, Taylor 1-15. Mercer, Goodman 4-76, Russell Sims 3-59, Elery 3-37, Peavler 1-5, Mac Guay 1-5.