Fans, Peach glad Mercer back on schedule

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Both teams face major challenges Friday

By John Herndon

Mark Peach had heard the criticisms.

They started coming his way in 2006, his second season coaching football at Anderson County, and intensified the following year. Even though the Bearcats went undefeated in the regular season, there were some that were focused on pointing out that some traditional rivals had disappeared from the schedule.

At or near the top of that list of wished-for opponents was Mercer County, a team the Bearcats had played on a near annual basis for nearly 30 years.

Peach had revamped the schedule as he rebuilt the Bearcat football program and now, much to the delight of Anderson fans who remember those Friday night thrillers with the Scotties, Mercer is back on the schedule.

But the Scotties are no longer around.

Mercer absorbed Harrodsburg High in 2006, prompting officials to change the mascot to “Titans,” as in “Remember the Titans.” For veteran Anderson fans, it only made things better as the rivalry with Harrodsburg went back to its rivalry with Lawrenceburg High.

Friday, Anderson takes on Mercer for the first time since that merger. The teams met in 2005, Peach's first season, with Mercer pulling away to a 48-22 win.

It is too early in the season to know if Mercer will end up being Anderson's toughest foe in the pre-district portion of the schedule. One thing that is certain about the Titans is that they have to be one of the state's best winless teams, coming in at 0-3.

Mercer has lost to Class 3A power Breathitt County and a pair of Lexington schools, Lafayette and Tates Creek.

“They are an excellent football team,” Peach said. “They very easily could have won the Tates Creek game. Their schedule is very tough.”

Peach says the Bearcats will have their hands full slowing down the Titans. “They have three guys on offense that are very good.  The quarterback (Tre Dunn), the fullback (Dexter Banks), and the halfback (Russell Mays). They have good receivers as well in (Jamel Taylor) and (Matthew Honchel). It will be a challenge to try to defend them. They have moved the ball quite well.”

It will be interesting to see how the Bearcats, who gave up 34 points and more than 300 yards in their win over Meade County two weeks ago. Dunn could present major problems throwing or running. He simply makes plays.

However, Mercer might have even a bigger challenge in stopping Anderson's high-octane passing attack. The Titans have given up 127 points in three games and Anderson lit up a stout Meade defense for 43. How the Titans will be able to slow the Anderson offense will be a major question.

Both teams have had some special team troubles early. Anderson gave up a kickoff return for a score against Meade and has seen two other long returns go against the Cats. Mercer has had some similar problems, having five kicks returned for scores in the first two weeks.

Anderson, however, got a game-clinching score out of its special teams against Meade.

The contest will pit a pair of old friends and college teammates on the sidelines. Peach and Mercer's first-year head coach Bill Mason played together in college.

Mason got the Mercer job during the summer when Marty Jaggers, who coached the Titans to a Class 2A state championship in 2006, stepped down after a much-publicized disagreement with the school administration. Mason, a assistant to Jaggers, got the call after one coach accepted, then gave up the job, all in three days, and at least one other turned the Titans down.

Peach believes his old friend will be a worthy foe.

“I know Bill personally,” Peach said. “He and I played together at Campbellsville College. He is a fantastic coach and person. Mercer is very lucky to have him.”

Just as fans of both schools must feel fortunate about the resumption of a long-time rivalry.

Peach, who knew his team could not compete with powers such as Mercer four years ago, is with them. “We are pleased as well,” he says. “Anytime you can compete against a great program like Mercer it can only make you better.”

Game notes

*While Mercer has won the last five games of the series, Anderson leads overall, 19-13.

*Anderson defensive coordinator Duane Hammons was a long-time coach at Mercer, spending 16 years at the school, the last six as head football coach. He came to Anderson with Peach in December, 2004.

*Both Anderson and Mercer compete in Class 5A but in different districts despite being only about 20 miles apart. Anderson was ranked eighth in last week's Associated Press poll. Mercer was unranked.

*Mason was head coach at Nelson County from 2002-2005, compiling a 19-25 record. The Cardinals advanced to the second round of the state AAAA playoffs in 2004, when there were only four football classes.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.