By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Simply stated, Middlesex made one more play, while Mercer made a myriad of miscues.
West Middlesex High’s Nate Patten pilfered a Logan Clarke pass with 90 ticks to play Friday night, and the Big Reds football team rolled to its 4th consecutive conquest, 17-14.
In a 14-play drive that consumed approximately 6èminutes and in spite of a trio of holding penalties, Mercer moved from its own 13-yard line to Middlesex’s 10.
However, pressured by blitzing Eric Lucich, Clarke’s 3rd-and-5 pass was picked by Patten at the 5-yard line. Four Trey Staunch runs and 3 Mercer times-out later, the Big Reds (3-0, 4-1) recorded their 4th straight success.
“The heart that it took to win this game was just incredible,” an emotional Middlesex mentor Ed Roberson related. “These kids ... you could just see it in their eyes, that they weren’t going to to give up, that they were gonna pull through. I’m very proud of them.”
A 7-all stalemate at intermission was snapped by Chandler Tyillian’s 24-yard 3rd-quarter field goal, then Staunch’s 3-yard sneak 85 seconds into the 4th frame.
The latter culiminated a 7-play, 99-yard drive drive after the Reds refused Clarke’s 4th-and-1 bid from the 1 with 1:26 left in the 3rd quarter. The highlight of Middlesex’s march was Lucich churning 53 yards on the 4h frame’s 1st play.
Following Staunch’s score, Tyillian’s PAT provided Middlesex with a seemingly safe 17-7 margin.
That lasted all of 11 seconds before Clarke collaborated with T.J. Peters for a 65-yard scoring strike, the 2nd TD for that tandem. Chase Hoffman’s subsequent conversion kick drew the ’Steads within 17-14 with 10:35 remaining.
Middlesex’s ensuing series was short-circuited after 5 plays, and Tyillian’s midfield punt rolled dead at Mercer’s 13 with 7:46 left. From that juncture it seemed as though every time Mercer moved a stride forward the ’Steads stepped backwards twice.
Despite the 3 holding penalties Mercer moved to Middlesex’s 43, but was forced to punt before the Reds returned the favor — Middlesex’s punt-return team was whistled for holding.
With a 4th-down do-over, Clarke connected with Brayton Edwards for a drive-sustaining 7-yard gain.
Five plays later — including a dropped, potential, go-ahead TD pass as well as a drive-stopping end zone interception ruled a trap — the Region 1-A rivalry ended on Patten’s pick, which made Clarke’s clutch 15-for-33, 270-yard, 2-TD passing performance moot.
After missing the 2012 postseason, Mercer (3-1, 4-1) is on a mission to return. Friday night’s 9 penalties and 1 turnover were a setback, though not a roadblock in the mind of Mercer mentor Pat McClearn.
“We just had too many opportunities we didn’t take care of,” admitted McClearn, amid Middlesex’s victory bell banging in the distance. “We left ... probably two scores off the board in the first half, then the drive down there (3rd quarter), then came up short at the end. That’s too good of a football team to do that against.
“But I know our kids are gonna play hard and keep battlin,’” McClearn continued. “We were tellin’ them, there was ten minutes to go in the game at that point in time (down 17-7), so they were gonna keep tryin’ to make plays. I can’t fault the effort.
“I’m very proud of the way our guys played, but like I said, too many opportunties we didn’t take advantage of, and that’s too good of a team to do that against,” McClearn reiterated.
Though elated, Roberson was relieved that his Reds rose up.
“Pat McClearn is one of the best coaches I’ve ever met; he just does a great job. Those kids are always ready to play, and they play hard every, single game,” Roberson praised. “Region 1 is not an easy place to play football. If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game every night, you’re not gonna win.
“I’ve just overwhelmed, I’m so proud of these guys. They just did what they had to do, and they grew up (Friday) night,” Roberson related.
The stoic Staunch was stout, though not spectacular, passing for 111 yards and rushing for 34, while Lucich lent a game-high 86 yards rushing. Tyillian, who tallied a 15-yard 2nd-quarter TD run contributed 41 yards rushing and 4 receptions for another 68 yards. His rushing total was skewed when, in punt formation, a center snap sailed over his head, resulting in a 26-yard loss that seemingly set up Mercer. That was before Middlesex’s mettle at the goal line.
“I’m just doin’ my part, but we’re all the same, we’re all one team,” Tyillian explained. “One player doin’ his part, but everybody’s gotta help out, too. ... I’m doing my part, doing everything I can to help our team out.
“We’re all emotional. It’s (Roberson’s) first year, so we’re gotta get him these wins and keep going,” Tyillian added.
“ ... It’s an awesome feeling to win a homecoming. It’s my first homecoming here,” Roberson related. “The way this community has embraced me and embraced what we’re trying to do with these kids has just been awesome!
“We knew we were gonna have to do that this season,” Roberson reflected regarding the Reds’ resilience. “We graduated a lot of kids, and these kids have stepped up and accepted every, single challenge we’ve given them this season.
“We’re healthy, physically, and mentally and spiritually this team is at a place I haven’t seen a high school football team in a long time,” Roberson related. “I’m excited. But you celebrate (one) night, then get ready to play Sharpsville.
“Going foward, we’ve just got to pull it through every week.”
MERCER 0 7 0 7 14
MIDDLESEX 0 7 3 7 17
WM — Tyillian, 15 run (Tyillian kick)
M — Peters, 54 pass from Clarke (Hoffman kick)
WM — Tyillian, 24 field goal
WM — Staunch, 3 run (Tyillian kick)
M — Peters, 65 pass from Clarke (Hoffman kick)
12 First downs 12
41 Rushing yards 161
270 Passing yards 111
33-15-1 Att-comp-int 20-9-1
311 Total yards 272
9-73 Fumbles-lost 3-0
0-0 Penalties-yards lost 9-75
Rushing: MERCER — Clarke 8-32, O’Brien 7-13, Leonard 4-(-4); WEST MIDDLESEX — Lucich 14-86, Tyillian 8-41, Staunch 9-34.
Passing: MERCER — Clarke 33-15-1, 270; WEST MIDDLESEX — Staunch 20-9-1, 111.
Receiving: MERCER — Edwards 6-76, Peters 3-135 Leonard 3-29, Haines 1-13, Davis 1-10, O’Brien 1-7; WEST MIDDLESEX — Tyillian 4-68, Fair 4-40, Lucich 1-3.