HARRODSBURG - The Mercer County defense showed measureable progress between its first game and its second. The offense, however, isn’t moving forward at the same pace.
The Titans kept Madison Central within reach for as long as possible Friday, but they couldn’t make enough happen on offense to keep up and they suffered a 29-7 loss in their home opener.
They made fewer mistakes and allowed fewer points Friday than they had in their season-opening loss to Collins, but they also generated fewer yards and fewer first downs than they had in that game six days earlier.
Mercer coach Paul Rains isn’t surprised, however, that his players aren’t yet comfortable in the entirely new offense he and his staff have installed.
“Even though we’ve got seniors up front, this is a new offense. Even though we’ve got veteran players in some spots, they’re still freshmen. J.T. (Long is) a sophomore quarterback, and this is all new to him,” Rains said. “The offense will come along, but it’s going to take us a while longer.”
Mercer (0-2) managed to convert only once on third down and didn’t get into the end zone until late in the third quarter, by which time Madison Central (1-1) already had all four of its touchdowns on the board.
The Titans’ offense had 223 yards, 59 fewer than in their first game and 210 fewer than the Indians.
“We moved the ball, we had first downs, and really we should’ve had more but we’d shoot ourselves in the foot,” Rains said. “It wasn’t so much them stopping us as the fact that we would just have a bad snap — if you have a bad snap, then you can’t read your pass routes — and little things like that that the average fan may not notice.”
Rains said the Mercer defense looked much better than it did in the 56-13 loss to Collins or in either of the Titans’ preseason scrimmages.
“I’m proud of our defense, especially compared to what we played like last week. It was a different defense tonight,” he said. “We were physical tonight. Their players were on the ground two or three times, and that’s what we want to see, that type of play.”
He said there were a few tweaks in the defensive game plan, but he said the biggest change was that the Titans simply played harder and executed better.
“We simplified it this week and we really worked on getting physical in practice, and that’s the way we played tonight,” Rains said.
Madison Central scored twice in the final 3 minutes, 8 seconds of the first half to stretch a 6-0 lead to 22-0 at halftime, and they scored again on the opening drive of the second half to make it 29-0.
Dominique Hawkins ran for the Indians’ first two touchdowns, scoring on an impressive 50-yard run around the corner after he ran into traffic up the middle late in the first quarter and on a 12-yard carry in the second. Hunter Stocker, the brother of former Tennessee and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Luke Stocker, produced their third and fourth scores on passes of 39 and 10 yards.
Hawkins rushed for 163 yards on 18 carries, and Stocker was 10 for 21 for 170 yards.
Mercer turned the ball over on downs at the Madison Central 35-yard line on its first series, and Long was picked off at the Indians’ 31 midway through the second quarter on the first of his four interceptions. Those were the Titans’ only trips across midfield in nine first-half possessions.
They appeared to score on their first series of the second half when an official signaled touchdown on a 3-yard run by Long. However, the ball came loose and was returned to the 8-yard line by a Madison Central defender, who then fumbled it back to Mercer, and the officials ruled that Long had fumbled before he had broken the plane of the goal line.
“It cost us a touchdown that could’ve got us back a little bit closer. He signaled touchdown on the ball, and then he turns and throws the beanbag out; you can’t do both,” Rains said. “He said he screwed up; I just wish it hadn’t cost me a touchdown.”
Mercer couldn’t convert after starting a new possession at the 8, but the Titans finally found paydirt about four minutes later when James Johnson rushed four times for 32 yards on a drive that was capped by Long’s 3-yard scoring run.
Johnson missed most of last week’s practices with an ankle injury, and he sat out the first half as a result. Mercer ran 19 offensive plays before handing the ball to a running back for the first time early in the second quarter, and Johnson ran the ball 11 times in the second half for a team-high 68 yards.
“Even though he was dressed out, he didn’t get many reps this week, and you don’t practice, you don’t play for me. And the other two (running backs) did a good job, but James is a stronger kid, and I think he was determined when he went in there and he made some nice runs for us,” Rains said.
Long went 11 for 36 for 138 yards with completions to five different receivers and a number of incompletions that were a result of having to hurry his throws. Russell Sims had four catches for 77 yards, and Tyler Devine caught three passes for 24 yards.
Rains said he’s eager to review the film of this game with the players, and he believes they’re eager to learn from their mistakes and continue to improve.
“The film will help us a bunch, and I think our kids have got a great attitude right now and we’ll improve this week and go out and play better next week,” he said.
Madison Central 6 16 7 0 — 29
Mercer 0 0 7 0 — 7
Madison Central — Dominique Hawkins 50 run (kick blocked), 1:12.
Madison Central — Hawkins 12 run (Jamez Chenault pass from Hunter Stocker), 3:08.
Madison Central — Jacory Mullins 39 pass from Stocker (Hawkins run), :17.
Madison Central — Kenjah Bosley 10 pass from Stocker (Tre White kick), 8:17.
Mercer — J.T. Long 3 run (Rett Pigman kick), 1:29.
First downs 17 12
Rushes-yards 44-263 28-85
Passing 170 138
Total Net Yards 433 223
Comp-Att-Int 10-21-1 11-37-4
Fumbles-Lost 5-2 2-1
Penalties-Yards 15-107 3-15
RUSHING—Madison Central, Dominique Hawkins 18-163, Jamez Chenault 16-86, Hunter Stocker 7-17, Kenjah Bosley 1-0, Daniel Foster 1-0, team 3-minus 3. Mercer, James Johnson 11-68, Travis Hooper 4-17, Alex Guay 3-11, J.T. Long 10-minus 11.
PASSING—Madison Central, Stocker 10-21-1-170. Mercer, Long 11-36-4-138, Guay 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Madison Central, Bosley 3-42, Jacory Mullins 2-51, Jon Floyd 2-31, Hawkins 1-18, Thomas Crump 1-18, Dre Goggins 1-10. Mercer, Russell Sims 4-77, Tyler Devine 3-24, Isaiah Burrus 2-20, Aaron Miller 1-13, Johnson 1-4.