By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
When Lakeview last met Mercer in the County Seat in week 4, both were unbeaten. That was Lakeview’s last — and lone — loss. Meanwhile Mercer maneuvered around a midseason mini-slump to muster 5 consecutive conquests.
The stakes will be much greater Friday night, as both will bid for an opportunity to win their program’s 1st District 10 title when they meet 7 p.m. in New Wilmington in the Class A semifinals.
The winner will meet either 2-time reigning kingpin Sharpsville or 2-time runner-up West Middlesex next weekend. However looking ahead is looking for trouble, Mercer mentor Pat McClearn mused.
“Huge ... huge,” admitted McClearn regarding the possibility of the program’s 1st D-10 title. However he cautioned, “But we’ve got Lakeview to worry about first and foremost. We’d be completely crazy to waste one ounce of our effort looking past that.
“I’m sure we’re the team (Lakeview has been) looking forward to seeing in the playoffs since their only loss (19-8) had come against us,” McClearn added.
“It would be huge, as tough as our region (1-A) is,” echoed Sailors’ skipper Dan York regarding a district title toga. “I told the kids, ‘Winning the region championship is the cake; winning District 10 would be the icing on the cake.’
“To win our region is great, for as tough as our region is,” York reiterated, adding, “but then you have to play the same, old guys; try to get through them to get a District 10 title.
“But that would be huge for us, huge for the program.”
Logan Clarke & Co. conquered Cambridge Springs (35-14) in last week’s quarterfinals. Clarke collected 262 total yards (192 passing, 70 rushing), tossed 2 TDs and ran for another. Clarke collaborated with a half-dozen receivers, led by Brayton Edwards’ 4-catch, 85-yard outing.
“He gets rid of the ball really nice, really quick. He has a good release, good timing. ... And when he rolls out he’s dangerous as a runner,” York praised.
Perhaps only prolific Peyton Manning is playing the position better at this point?
McClearn chuckled. “Logan’s playing awfully well. He’s a good kid, and has really come into his own. I’m happy for him. He does a nice job.”
“We’ve always had — even when we’ve been primarily a running team — at least one guy to go to. But this year we’ve got four, five guys,” McClearn said of T.J. Peters, Edwards, Jarred Davis, Dylan Angermeier, et al. “Heck, Walter Haines had a big 55-yarder last week that changed the tone of that game,” McClearn praised, admitting, “It’s nice having a few diffrent guys.”
Lakeview (10-1) lambasted Maplewood (61-6) as Blake Reddick rushed for 248 yards on only 12 totes. The Sailors’ senior speedster scored on runs of 98, 60, 32 and 3 yards. Also, Zach Bigley, attempting only 4 passes, tossed TDs of 46 and 55 yards to Conner Stankovich and Zach VanDusen, respectively. Marquis Spence sped for a 70-yard score and also added a 1-yard plunge.
Reddick is attempting to reach T.J. Phillips’ D-10 rushing record (6,241). But back in week 4 the Steeds stilfed the Sailors, specifically Reddick, who rushed for only 61 yards on 18 carries. Reddick reached the end zone on a 5-yard run for the Sailors’ score with approximately 7 minutes remaining. Lakeview led 8-7 before Clarke and Zane O’Brien burst for 2- and 6-yard scores.
“With his stats this year ...” an admiring McClearn haltingly began, adding, “He’s a heckuva back. You focus most of your attention on him, try to limit him.
“But unfortunately for our part, we tipped our hand,” McClearn admitted. “That Spence kid had his first big game, and now he’s taken off running. Now they’re even harder to defend.”
A key factor in the earlier meeting: While the Mustangs (9-2) manufactured a 326-287 edge in total yards, the teams traded turnovers as Bigley was intercepted a trio of times; Clarke twice. Also, Lakeview was penalized twice as much (7 for 80 yards) as Mercer (3 for 40).
But Lakeview “didn’t sack (Clarke) at all, and that’s a tribute. Their offensive line played well,” York praised.
It was a tipping point for McClearn’s Mustangs, he said.
“I thought our guys were fairly confident in the game; we’d gone in with a confident attitude. And even when they scored late to take the lead our guys still felt confident.
“And that was the biggest difference at that point in time from what we did last year,” McClearn recalled, explaining, “We’d roll over and say ‘We lost another close game.’ That’s one of the things our guys focused on in the offseason.
“After the Sharpsville game (a 6-0 Mercer win) we had some confidence playing in tight games. We were able to keep our heads and make some plays, and that was a springboard for the season,” McClearn continued. “Even after we followed up losing (at West Middlesex, 17-14; at home to Conneaut Area, 21-14) — which are two pretty good teams that made the playoffs — I think losing to them was a reflection of our physical condition after the hard-fought Lakeview game.
“But our confidence level has not gone away, and that Lakeview game helped us the rest of the year,” added McClearn, noting a late lead on Lakeview enabled the Mustangs to take the Sailors “out of their comfort level (Reddick and the run-game),” coercing Lakeview into a pass mode.
One of York’s yeomen, Hunter Armstrong, has been nursing an injured ankle and his status is quetionable. Last week Armstrong started, but lasted only 2 series before being able to go one way. Also, Sailors’ signal-caller Bigley has been gimpy.
“We’ve not been able to run the option the last two games hardly at all,” York related. “So we’re hoping (Bigley’s) healthier. But he’s not been one hundred percent.”
However with Reddick rolling and run-stopping Sam Breese blowing up opposing teams’ attacks, the Sailors have exceptional skill on both sides of the ball.
“Sam steps up his game. He probably will be a force (Friday night),” York said.
Praised McClearn, “Defensively, (the Sailors have) done a great job this year. Holding West Middlesex to two points? That’s an impressive defense.”
Since 2000 (including this season) Mercer leads Lakeview, 6-5, in the series annals, but this will be the first postseason meeting during that span.
“I’m sure we’re gonna get their best game, so we’ll just have to see what we can do” McClearn forecasted. “They’re gonna come out guns blazin’, so we have to try to weather the assault and try to hang in there.
“One of the things is, we’ve had a few more close games, so I would like to believe that if we get to that stage at the end of the game, it helps us a little bit more,” McClearn mused.
“(The Sailors have) rolled over everybody on a fairly consistent basis, even in their few close games (14-2 over CASH; 19-13 over Sharpsville), so we’re just hoping to slow ’em down.”
York cited several of his previous Sailors’ squads, noting, “Each group, to me, is special. But, yeah, this has been a really nice year.”
Note: The game will be broadcast on WLLF 96.7 FM Friday with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.