MERCER – All Mercer needed Saturday evening was 142 seconds.
The Mustangs scored all 14 of their points in a 2:22 span in their season-opening 14-12 over visiting Cochranton at Mercer High School.
“That’s a good football team over there,” first-year Mercer Coach Jeff Lockard said. “I’m just happy we came out on top. They’re going to win some football games this year. We made a couple mistakes and we overcame them.”
After pinning the Cardinals deep in their own territory, Mercer got on the board just over a minute into the second quarter when the snap sailed over Cochranton punter Andrew McDonough’s head before rolling out of the back of the end zone.
Four plays and 45 yards after the ensuing free kick, Aiden Bright pulled in an Ethan Wiley aerial from 25 yards out to stake Mercer to a 8-0 lead after the 2-point conversion failed.
The Mustangs continued to play takeaway when Logan Conner forced and recovered a fumble on the following kickoff. Just under a minute later, Conner was rewarded with a 1-yard score and a 14-0 lead for the County Seaters.
“I think that’s going to be Mercer football,” Lockard said. “We’re going to play good defense, make some positive plays and grind it out.”
But Crawford County’s Cardinals scratched and clawed their way back into the game, countering Conner’s score with a 9-play, 51-yard drive that culminated in a Wyatt Barzak 21-yard strike to tight end Kendrick Hostetler to send the teams to the locker room locked in a 14-6 battle.
“(The passing game) was there all night,” said Cochranton Coach Joel Murray, a West Middlesex High graduate and former Big Reds’ assistant coach. “We kind of thought their weakness (defensively) was their d-backs and their outside linebackers. Up front, they’re really good with (Mason) Hesselgesser and P.J. Boggs. Those two really fly around, so we thought we could expose them in the passing game a little bit.
“Sure, we had guys flying around wide open, but we have sophomore quarterback making his first start and this is a big scene for him.”
After a pair of short drives to start the second half, Cochranton pulled to within a pair when Jon Gallo deftly eluded a handful of Mercer defenders and just snuck his feet inside the pylon late in the third quarter.
The Mustangs had the opportunity to potentially put the game away with a 15-play, 51-yard drive down to the Cochranton 4, but Wiley’s pass to Logan Turton on fourth down was broken up by Dustin Miller.
“In that first game, you have one film on each other and you think you know what each other is going to do, so you have to adjust,” Murray said. “We made our adjustments and so did Mercer. It was a proverbial chess match between two good teams. It was a slugfest.”
Moments later, the Mercer defense came up big again when sophomore Donovan Pugh picked off a Barzak pass around midfield and after the ensuing 6-play drive fizzled out, the Mustangs defense slammed the door on a Cochranton comeback, pushing the Cardinals back 12 yards and forcing a turnover on downs at the Cardinal 4 with just over a minute to play.
“Wow, could we make it any more exciting or challenging,” Lockard said. “But, our guys played hard and that’s all we asked out of them in this first game. First-game jitters and all that other stuff, they responded to it. Our young kids stepped up. We had a sophomore step up with a big pick for us. (Pugh) hasn’t played in two years. It’s things like that that fall on the positive side.
“That stand at the end of the game was key. The defense realized what they needed to do and stepped up to the challenge.”
The win was the first for Lockard after a long career in the assistant coaching ranks.
“It’s all about (the Mercer players),” the first-year head coach said with a sheepish smile. “I’ve been on the sidelines for 30-some years as an assistant. To me, it’s about the team in blue. It’s not about me. I’ll judge my coaching job in five years when I see these guys somewhere and I see where they are in life. It’s not about me getting wins. It’s about the kids in blue.”
The first-year coach contined to praise his players, who overcame the loss of star running back Aiden Bright to a potential rib injury early in the third quarter on an incomplete pass.
“Unfortunately, we lost one of our star players and I can’t really comment too much on his status right now,” Lockard said. “I’ll let our training staff let me know about that, but we stepped up after (Bright’s injury). I think our players saw that we lost a great player tonight, but we also picked each other up. I think that was a big thing. They started to realize that we could do this. That was good.”
Notes: Boggs battled cramps for most of the second half to finish with 57 yards (44 rushing and 13 receiving). ... Turton finished with a a team-high 70 rushing, while Bright had 67 on 8 totes. ... Gallo paced Cochranton with 72 yards rushing and tacked on 5 grabs for an additional 42 yards through the air.
• West Middlesex 32, Eisenhower 0 – In Warren County Saturday afternoon, Coach Mark Means’ Big Reds opened the season with a blowout win over the Knights.
Senior Jason Davis rushed for 155 yards on only 8 carries and scored 2 touchdowns to lead the way for West Middlesex.
WM took a 7-0 lead in the 1st quarter on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ty Tate to Zeb Rubaker. Ian Smith booted the extra-point kick.
In the 2nd quarter, Davis broke loose for an 81-yard TD run to give WM a 13-0 lead. The extra-point attempt failed.
The Big Reds increased their lead to 19-0 in the 3rd quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by Tate. A 2-point conversion attempt failed.
WM added a pair of touchdowns in the 4th quarter as Smith scored on a 3-yard run and Davis charged his way right down the middle of the field for a 66-yard TD run. Smith added a PAT after the Davis score. The kick after the Smith TD was blocked.
The Big Reds rumbled for 338 yards of offense while the defense limited Eisenhower to 93 yards.
“The defense was key for us,” said Means. “There were a lot of question marks we had going into this game – a lot of young guys on the field. George Troyer did an outstanding job at linebacker, really everybody, Connor Haddon, go down the list with the entire defense.
“I’m so proud of the way they played. That was the biggest key for us. I didn’t know how they were going to respond with new guys being in there and they rose to the challenge and did a great job.”
David led the WM ground game, Tate went 3-of-7 for 57 yards and Rubaker caught 2 passes for 40 yards.
For Ike, Cael Black had 55 rushing yards on 13 carries. QB Owen Trumbull was 4-of-6 for only 8 yards.
COCHRANTON 0 6 6 0 12
MERCER 0 14 0 0 14
M — team safety
M — Bright, 25 pass from E. Wiley (run failed)
M — Conner, 1 run (run failed)
C — Hostetler, 21 pass from Barzak (run failed)
C — Gallo, 10 run (pass failed)
12 First downs 14
84 Rushing yards 192
104 Passing yards 38
19-10-1 Att-comp-int 11-2-0
188 Total yards 230
6-2 Fumbles-lost 0-0
3-21 Penalties-yards lost 6-55
Rushing: COCHRANTON — Gallo 11-72, Miller 6-49, Tatters 3-20, Martinec 1-0, team 2-(-24), Barzak 8-(-33); MERCER — Turton 13-70, Bright 8-67, Boggs 10-44, Conner 4-16, team 2-0, Palmer 2-(-5).
Passing: COCHRANTON — Barzak 19-10-1-104; MERCER — E. Wiley 11-2-0-38.
Receiving: COCHRANTON — Hostetler 2-49, Gallo 5-42, Martinec 1-8, Tatters 2-5; MERCER — Bright 1-25, Boggs 1-13.
MIDDLESEX 7 6 6 13 32
EISENHOWER 0 0 0 0 0
WM — Rubaker, 3 pass from Tate (Smith kick)
WM — Davis, 81 run (kick failed)
WM — Tate, 10 run (2 point conversion failed)
WM — Smith, 3 run (kick blocked)
WM — Davis, 66 run (Smith kick)
9 First downs 6
281 Rushing yards 85
57 Passing yards 8
7-3-0 Att-comp-int 6-4-0
338 Total yards 93
1-0 Fumbles-lost 1-0
2-10 Penalties-yards lost 3-25
Rushing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Davis 8-155, Tate 8-67, Smith 12-59, Rubaker 2-0; EISENHOWER — Black 13-55, Trumbull 3-19, Alexander 18-10, Benson 2-1.
Passing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Tate 7-3-0-57; EISENHOWER — Trumbull 6-4-0-8.
Receiving: WEST MIDDLESEX — Rubaker 2-40, Rea 1-17; EISENHOWER — Alexander 2-6, Robinquit 2-2.