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HARRODSBURG – Long before Anderson County ran that first wind sprint or hit that first blocking sled in the pre-season, the message was always the same: Don’t just get to the state playoffs. Do some damage once you get there.
Those days are still seven weeks away, but Bearcat football coach Mark Peach has not gotten off the central point of his season-long sermon. And Friday’s 42-13 romp at Mercer County was no exception.
“You beat a good football team tonight,” he said in his post-game speech. “You learned a great lesson. You get knocked down. You get back up. I am proud of you.”
Anderson picked itself up after blowing not one, but two chances to score deep inside Mercer territory. And the Bearcats did it by delivering the staggering blows in a 66-second span of the second quarter. The knockout came on the opening series of the second half, when the Bearcats drove 80 yards for the touchdown that put them up 28-7
And the Bearcats did it with a suffocating defense that, except for one notable Mercer drive, repeatedly stuffed the Titans. Mercer scored on a bizarre 99-yard march in the second quarter, but for the remaining 45 minutes, the Titans mustered just 112 yards. Of that total, 75 came on the Titans’ final scoring march long after the issue had been settled.
Of Mercer’s 10 possessions, six ended without a first down. Only two drives had more than one first down.
Mercer turned the ball over four times, three of which resulted in Anderson touchdowns.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Peach said.
Anderson struck quickly to take control.
With the score knotted at 7, the Bearcats took advantage of a Mercer personal foul on fourth down to drive 80 yards for the go-ahead score as Travis Phillips took a safety-valve pass from quarterback Seth Carmichael for the score 5:00 before halftime.
A 41-yard throw from Carmichael to Blake Curtsinger highlighted the drive. Carmichael was efficient, completing 10 of 16 passes for 170 yards and three scores.
On Mercer’s first play from scrimmage following the ensuing kickoff, Phillips came down with a Lewis pass at the Mercer nine. “Scotty Watts tipped it,” Phillips said.
Three plays later, Phillips took another throw from Carmichael to the endzone with 3:54 to go.
The rout was on.
And people largely untested prior to this season showed they have what it takes for the November message.
“Travis was huge,” Peach said of Phillips. “He was everywhere, and he is tough to bring down in the open field.
And Carmichael, called upon to fill the shoes of all-stater Jacob Russell, is ranked 10th among all passers statewide in the first statistics released by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
“Seth did the best job he has done this year of reading the field, then checking,” Peach said.
With two weeks to lick the wounds inflicted by a loss at Meade County, the Bearcats displayed the mettle that Peach was looking for. “There is a tendency to feel sorry for yourself after a loss like that one. I was really pleased because the kids did not mind going right back to work,” he said.
“Coach (Duane) Hammons and Coach (Kevin) Ray had been on us all week,” Anderson captain Zach Cotton said of the team’s defensive coordinator and tackles coach.
The result was obvious. Anderson manhandled the Mercer line from the outset. Aided by an illegal procedure call, the Titans’ first possession went nine yards backward.
On fourth down, the center snap sailed over punter J. J. Blau’s head with Anderson recovering at the Titan one.
It took one play, a sneak by Carmichael, for Anderson to lead 7-0.
But Mercer swiped a Carmichael pass in the end zone and stopped Logan Woodside at the one on Anderson’s next two series.
It appeared that Mercer would take advantage. Despite not having injured running back James Johnson, Mercer needed just six plays to march 99 yards to tie it early in the second quarter.
Burrus did the honors, racing 40 yards one play after Lewis hit Aaron Miller for 40 yards. The key play, however, might have come on third-and-3 at the Mercer 8. Just escaping Jake Gribbins’ effort to get a safety, Lewis lofted a wobbly pass to Burrus, who came down just inbounds at the 25.
“They have so many people that can make plays,” Peach said. “I was scared to death. They could put together a great 4-by-100 relay team with their players.
“I told the kids that if we had gotten those two scores we could have put it away in the first half. The way we responded in the second half was good.”
Anderson went 80 yards in eight plays, with Ethan Kelly hitting paydirt from a yard out to make it 28-7 and put things away.
Eight minutes later, Spencer Ruggles made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch of a Carmichael pass for a 26-yard score. Kelly added a 12-yard scoring jaunt early in the fourth quarter.
“Our offensive line really responded well,” he said. “and we are playing well together.”
Which, of course, is what the Bearcats must do if they are to be playing well into November.
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org