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HARRODSBURG – The makings of Anderson County's 48-7 thrashing of Mercer County might have been budding long before the Bearcats opened football practice in July.
Try seven years. Repeat, SEVEN years.
“We have been playing together since the third grade,” Anderson quarterback Zachary Carmichael said after he had thrown three touchdown passes to Dusty Puckett in less than 11 minutes Friday night.
The sophomores hooked up on the routine like a 15-yarder that opened the scoring less than four minutes in last Friday. They connected on the spectacular, such as a 65-yard bomb that saw Puckett race behind the Titan defense, then haul in Carmichael's perfectly-placed bomb without breaking stride. That one, midway through the first quarter, put the Bearcats ahead to stay at 14-7.
Then they connected on a 24-yard rainbow that might have come from the youth league Colts' playbook early in the second period. Carmichael scrambled, then unleashed a looping throw that Puckett, all alone in the end zone, strolled under for the catch. Anderson's third straight victory was never in doubt afterward.
Even though the Bearcats botched the extra point attempt, they still led 20-7 and were on their way to a special night on the Mercer field. The 41-point margin was Anderson's largest margin of victory in the old rival since a 44-0 thrashing in 1992, long before the merger of Harrodsburg and Mercer County.
“Mercer caught us on a night when we were hitting on all cylinders,” said Anderson coach Mark Peach.
The Bearcats recorded their third straight win after the season-opening loss to Bryan Station with Carmichael shredding the Mercer defense. He did not throw more often than normal but Mercer had no answer. Carmichael completed 16-of-22 passes for 307 yards and four touchdowns. Seven different Anderson players hauled in passes.
But the passing game was not the only thing shining for the Bearcats. The Anderson line simply dominated. When Anderson had the ball, the offensive line gave Carmichael more than enough time to throw. While the Anderson running game was not dominant, it was effective as sophomore Chris Toomey scored the first two touchdowns of his career and senior Granville Hayes shot through a huge hole for a third quarter score.
When Mercer had the ball, the Anderson defense was simply dominant. The Titans fumbled the ball six times, losing two. While the Titans rushed for 146 yards, 118 of that total came on two plays, a 55-yard scoring jaunt from James Johnson midway through the first quarter, and a 63-yard gallop by Kobe Ford late in the game. Ford coughed the ball up at the end of his run with Anderson recovering late in the fourth quarter.
Simply put, Anderson pushed Mercer around up front and put the clamps on an explosive Mercer attack – especially Johnson – that Peach had feared. Entering Friday's contest as one of Kentucky's top backs and averaging 149 yards a contest, Johnson broke free for his long touchdown to tie things at 7 with 6:44 to play in the first quarter.
The rest of the night, he netted only 10 yards.
“Nobody had even come close to slowing Johnson down,” Peach said. “Nobody. We were mortified. It was a total team effort. I couldn't be more proud of their effort tonight.”
It was apparent the Bearcat line would be dominant from the outset. On the Titans' first play from scrimmage, Anderson tackle Justin Moffitt nailed Mercer's Braxton Bradshaw for a five-yard loss.
“They were trying to run a trap play,” Moffitt said. “I just shot through and was able to get to (Bradshaw) before he got turned.”
It was that kind of night for the Bearcats.
“We just stuck to the game plan,” Moffitt said. “The coaches came up with a good game plan.”
Part of that game plan was to spread the wealth offensively. Through the Bearcats' first three games, junior Ross Cox had been Carmichael's ace in the hole, making big catch after big catch and setting a school record with a 93-yard pass at Shelby County two weeks before.
He still caught five passes for 109 yards against Mercer, but for the first time this year, Cox did not hit paydirt. Puckett took care of that.
Junior Tristan Ashburn also caught a pass, a 19-yarder in the second period, for his first varsity touchdown. Peach said it was all part of the Bearcats' plan.
“Ross is playing at such a high level, people are certainly going to favor him on defense,” Peach noted. “Zachary is getting better every game and the thing about our offense is that we don't just throw to one person.
“We can, but eventually, you are going to play somebody that is well-coached and they are goint to try to take away your best player. When that happens, you have got to make them pay. We have come up with some players that complement each other well.”
Carmichael, for one, is happy with the selections offered. “Ross is a great player, but you can't key on him. Dusty is a great player,” he said.
Mercer tried to capitalize on one last-gasp scoring drive late in the first half. The Titans moved from their own 35 to the Anderson 12 before Sam Laytart picked off Sparrow's pass at the five.
Mercer never seriously threatened again.
“I thought our attitude was right and we had a great week of practice this week,” Peach said. “I think we are getting better.”
Unlike the first three games, there was no let up from the Bearcats when they surged ahead Friday. “We had talked about 'Lets do this four quarters,'” Peach said. “Let's don't just do it one quarter or one half. Let's do that from start to finish. We were able to do that tonight.”
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