MEADVILLE — Cambridge Springs head coach Nate Liberty knew beating a team twice in one season would be a tall task.
After scoring the game’s first three touchdowns, the Blue Devils withstood a furious second-half comeback to beat Mercer 21-14 in the District 10 1A quarterfinals on Saturday at Bender Field.
The Mustangs scored two second-half touchdowns, but came seven points short after the Blue Devils built a three-possession lead midway through the third quarter.
With the win, the Blue Devils advance to play Eisenhower at Warren High School on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Knights received a bye after earning the No. 1 seed in 1A and posting a 10-0 record this season.
As for the Mustangs, their year ends with a record of 6-5.
“Last game it was them up 14-0 and our biggest thing was we’re gonna flip and (let) us do it,” Liberty said. “I mean it was huge. Multiple kids touching the ball. Multiple kids doing their thing. I love it.”
The Blue Devils made their presence in the district playoffs known from the start in their second matchup with the Mustangs. The teams played two weeks prior in a 32-22 win for the Blue Devils.
After the Mustangs punted on their opening drive, Van Jones returned it to the Mustangs’ 32-yard line to give the Blue Devils’ offense a short field. Cambridge took advantage as freshman Brett Kania scored from six yards out.
“Everybody went wild,” Jones said. “That’s what brought up our energy.”
After the Mustangs failed to convert on fourth down, the Blue Devils’ offense was right back at it. The Blue Devils put together a drive that resulted in a seven-yard touchdown by Jones. A 34-yard run by Kania and a keeper by quarterback Morgan Applebee on fourth and 1 kept the drive going.
In the third quarter, the Mustangs turned it over on downs on a botched punt to give the Blue Devils a short field once again. Cambridge put together another scoring drive that ended with Kania’s second touchdown of the night after he scored on a 19-yard direct snap to put his team up 21-0 with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter.
Kania ran for 96 yards on 13 attempts.
“It helps a lot because we could use him,” Jones said. “We could use any of our backs in case one of us gets hurt.”
Jones was second on the team with 35 rushing yards while Josh Gorton contributed 28 yards.
Like the Blue Devils, the Mustangs relied on a strong ground game, especially in the second half.
Towards the end of the third quarter, the Mustangs finally got on the board as running back Daemyin Mattocks scored on a four-yard rush. However, the PAT attempt was no good to make the score 21-6.
After the Blue Devils failed to score during their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Mustangs’ offense responded with another touchdown from Mattocks on an 18-yard run. Mattocks also converted the two-point conversion to put his team within one possession with 3:23 left to play.
It seemed as if the Blue Devils’ defense bottled him up, but Mattocks successfully evaded defenders on both of his scores. Mattocks ran for 62 yards on 13 carries.
“Daemyin’s a player,” said Mercer head coach Jeff Lockard. “I’m blessed that I have him back another year. I mean that whole backfield that I have is all juniors. I think all of those guys back there are pretty special, but when he can plan and cut and go, I’d rank him up there as one of the backs that we’ve seen all year.
“We’ve never really given up on any game. Couple of blow out games, we’ve played some really good teams and we didn’t give up. That’s a testament to these guys.”
After Mattocks’ second touchdown, the Mustangs failed to get the ball back because the Blue Devils’ offense executed another successful drive to run out the clock.
“Every coach in Crawford County knows what I’m saying, beating a Mercer County team twice in one season… Blue Devil pride baby,” Liberty said.
With the loss, eight Mustangs’ seniors have completed their time with the program.
One of their seniors was quarterback Nathan Haines. Haines made things tough for the Blue Devils’ defense with his legs. Haines led all rushers with 106 yards.
“For my seniors, I feel bad for them because they’ve been with me,” Lockhard said. “I have eight of them on the team. Five of the eight were freshmen when I first took over… It’s kind of tough for them and me kind of going out this way.”
As for the Blue Devils and their matchup with the undefeated Knights — Eisenhower handed Cambridge a 27-14 loss on Sept. 2.
While Liberty and his squad celebrated Saturday’s win for a few hours, it’s back to business this week for the Blue Devils.
“It feels pretty good,” Jones said. “Now we can go practice this week and go after Eisenhower.”
ALEX McGINLEY is a sports writer for The Meadville Tribune.
MERCER 0 0 6 8 14
CAMB. SPRINGS 7 7 7 0 21
CS — Bre.Kania, 6 run (Bry.Kania kick)
CS — Jones, 7 run (Bry.Kania kick)
CS — Bre.Kania, 19 run (Bry.Kania kick)
M — Mattocks, 4 run (kick failed)
M — Mattocks, 19 run (Mattocks run)
N/A First downs N/A
246 Rushing yards 165
60 Passing yards 25
7-2-0 Att-comp-int 7-6-0
306 Total yards 190
N/A Fumbles-lost N/A
N/A Penalties-yards lost N/A
Rushing: MERCER — Haines 18-106, Mattocks 13-63, Michael 10-38, Addison 5-22, Palmer 2-17; CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — Brett Kania 13-96, Jones 11-35, Gorton 6-28, Applebee 6-9, Counasse 2-(-3).
Passing: MERCER — Haines 7-2-0-25; CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — Applebee 7-6-0-60.
Receiving: MERCER — Michael 1-15, Mattocks 1-10; CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — Counasse 2-27, Jones 2-22, Bryce Kania 2-11.