HARRODSBURG - There were many things that Mercer County coach Chris Pardue liked about the Titans’ 72-31 win over Taylor County on Friday.
Defense was not one of them.
Despite rolling up more than 700 yards of offense, it was the fact the Titans allowed Taylor to gain 336 yards and move the ball consistently that bothered Pardue most, and something that he said has to get better before this week’s key district game with Boyle County.
“It made me worry a whole lot, because I thought the last two weeks we played good defense, but we didn’t play good defense this week in practice. In fact, yesterday’s pregame practice, we ended it way early because we tackled just exactly like that in practice yesterday,” Pardue said. “And we’ve got to learn form that. We’re getting close to playoff time, and you can’t take a step back like that once you start playing in the postseason or you’ll be going home.
“We didn’t play with the same intensity, we didn’t hit with the same intensity we did last week (in a win over Marion County). That’s kind of bothersome.”
But there was little to complain about with the offense, which had 424 yards at halftime and finished with 730 yards.
James Johnson ran for 243 yards on 15 carries and scored on runs of 35, 60, 11, 45 and 1 yards, while Drew Davis threw for 282 yards and three scores for Mercer (5-3, 2-1 Class AAAA, District 5).
“We did some good things offensively. I think we’re getting better all the time offensively. And both of our quarterbacks played extremely well tonight. James ran the ball hard and the offensive line I thought did a super job opening holes in there,” Pardue said.
“And that may have been part of what we did on defense. It was so easy for us to get ahead so quick, we slacked off. But you can’t do that if you want to be a championship team.”
It didn’t take long for Mercer to take control and essentially lock the game up by taking a 34-7 lead in the first quarter.
Chris Crawley-Goodman scored on a 39-yard run on Mercer’s first series, then Conner Bird recovered an onside kick to give the Titans the ball at the Taylor 35-yard line. On their first play, Johnson took a handoff right and outran the Cardinals’ defense for the score and a 14-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.
Taylor came right back, as Daulton Turpin’s 44-yard run helped set up Dylan Bright’s 1-yard score to make it 14-7 with 5:58 left.
But Mercer closed out the quarter with a 60-yard touchdown run from Johnson on its first play of the next drive. Russell Sims then picked off Hunter Christie’s pass, then hauled in a 69-yard scoring pass from Drew Davis to give the Titans a 27-7 lead. Layne Peavler closed out the quarter when he took a quick pass left from Davis and outran the Taylor defense for a 62-yard score.
An 11-yard from Johnson run to cap a 13-play, 70-yard drive made it 41-7 with 5:26 to go in the first half. But Taylor came back with two late scores, an 85-yard kickoff return by Turpin and an 18-yard scoring pass from Christie to Turpin with a second to go in the half, to make it 47-19 at the break.
Taylor (4-4, 0-4), which scored more points Friday than in its three previous district games combined, opened the third quarter with a 26-yard scoring run by Bright. He finished 94 yards rushing and Turpin had 96 as the Cardinals had 244 yards on the ground, but they also turned the ball over six times.
Johnson scored on runs of 45 and 1 yards in the third quarter to push Mercer’s lead to 59-25, and Bright scored on a 1-yard run to cap an 11-play, 65-yard drive.
Lewis made it 66-31 after haling in a 78-yard bomb from Davis, and Braxton Bradshaw closed out Mercer’s scoring with a 4-yard run with 8:21 to play. Lewis and Davis combined to complete 11 of 18 passes for 352 yards, while Sims had four catches for 106 yards and also had two interceptions.
Pardue said his two-quarterback system is coming together.
“It makes us more than just a one-dimensional team. Darion can run the ball, he takes a little pressure off James, and James takes a little pressure off Darion because you never know which way we’re going to go with those two. And Darion’s doing a better job throwing the ball now,” Pardue said. “And I think Russell’s picking his game up and playing well on both sides of the football.”
Now the Titans can worry about this week’s battle at Boyle, a game that will decide second place in the district.
“Everybody’s going to be excited about this one,” said Pardue, a former assistant and head coach at Boyle. “And I’m sure it’s in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s going to be a fun one, this is for home field (in the first round of the playoffs). There’s a lot on the line here, and I hope we’re ready to take that next step as a program.”
Taylor County 7 12 12 0 — 31
Mercer County 34 13 13 13 — 72
Mercer — Chris Crawley-Goodman 39 run (Stetson Cooley kick), 9:13.
Mercer — James Johnson 35 run (Cooley kick), 9:02.
Taylor — Dylan Bright 1 run (Aaron Gray kick), 5:58.
Mercer — Johnson 60 run (Cooley kick), 5:40.
Mercer — Russell Sims 69 pass from Drew Davis (kick failed), 4:32.
Mercer — Layne Peavler 62 pass from Davis (Cooley kick), :01.
Mercer — Johnson 11 run (Cooley kick), 5:26.
Taylor — Daulton Turpin 85 kickoff return (pass failed), 5:13.
Mercer — Darion Lewis 1 run (kick failed), 2:08.
Taylor — Turpin 18 pass from Hunter Christie (run failed), :01.
Taylor — Bright 26 run (pass failed), 10:49.
Mercer — Johnson 45 run (Cooley kick), 8:45.
Mercer — Johnson 1 run (kick failed), 6;15.
Taylor — Bright 1 run (run failed), :50.
Mercer — Lewis 78 pass from Davis (Cooley kick), 9:49.
Mercer — Braxton Bradshaw 4 run (run failed), 8:21.
First downs 17 24
Rushes-yards 43-244 37-378
Passing 92 352
Total Net Yards 336 730
Comp-Att-Int 6-16-4 11-18-1
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 2-0
Penalties-Yards 7-41 12-114
RUSHING—Taylor, Daulton Turpin 13-96, Dylan Bright 14-94, Garrett Haggerty 1-27, Cooper Hall 7-15, Chase Turner 2-7, Josh Gillmer 1-3, Hunter Christie 3-2, Brandon Williams 2-0. Mercer, James Johnson 15-243, Kobe Ford 4-50, Chris Crawley-Goodman 1-39, Braxton Bradshaw 3-33, Darion Lewis 10-31, Drew Davis 4-minus 18.
PASSING—Taylor, Christie 5-12-2-77, Turner 1-4-2-15. Mercer, Davis 8-14-1-284, Lewis 3-4-0-68.
RECEIVING—Taylor, Turpin 2-50, Gillmer 1-17, Haggerty 1-15, Marquis Johnson 1-6, Conner Fair 1-4. Mercer, Russell Sims 4-106, Crawley-Goodman 3-56, Lewis 1-78, Lane Peavler 1-62, Dylan Logue 1-30, Mac Guay 1-20.