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Even though Anderson County has won – and won handily – every time the Bearcats have gone up against Mercer County since the once-heated rivalry resumed, Friday's showdown in Harrodsburg could be Anderson's toughest test before embarking on its road through district play.
Like Anderson, Mercer is 2-1 after slipping past West Jessamine, 31-28, on Friday night. Mercer got a safety and a touchdown inside the final 1:37 to pull out the victory.
Suffice it to say that no one expects an outcome like the three previous years, which saw the Bearcats win by an average of 24 points.
Last year, Anderson did not play particularly well, yet still won 28-6. The Titans' Travis Hooper returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but Seth Carmichael ran for a score and threw a pair of touchdown passes to Spencer Ruggles to lead the Bearcats.
Anderson coach Mark Peach says the Bearcats expect a very tough game, from a Mercer team that was actually ranked slightly higher than the Bearcats in the first Litkenhous Ratings that appeared in The Courier-Journal last week.
The main reason for the change is the hiring of former Boyle County coach Chris Pardue to take over the Titans. Pardue served as offensive coordinator at Boyle during the Rebels' incredible run to five consecutive state championships. He then took over as head coach at Boyle when Chuck Smith left for a spot on the staff at the University of Kentucky.
Pardue led Boyle for three seasons, compiling a 22-15 record, but never advancing past the regional final. He left coaching in the high school ranks and had been on the staff at Campbellsville University before heading to Mercer, where he is the third coach in three years.
“They have tried to model things like Boyle County,” Peach said. “That is a pretty good blueprint. They have a sound scheme on offense, defense and special teams.”
Mercer boasts one of the state's best running backs in senior James Johnson, who was ninth in rushing statewide in statistics released by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association last week. Johnson had put up 340 yards on the ground in Mercer's first two games. He ran for 106 yards in 21 carries and scored the game-winner, an 11-yard run with 41 seconds left, according to statistics that appeared in the Danville Advocate-Messenger.
“He is a very dynamic runner,” Peach said of Johnson. “He can run with power, he can be elusive and if he gets to the corner, he has tremendous speed.”
Quarterback Austin Sparrow, a sophomore, had thrown for 142 yards a game through the first two contests. He hit on 12-of-26 passes for 184 yards but had three interceptions against West Jessamine. Sparrow is the son of former Anderson County girls' basketball coach Casey Sparrow and his wife, Lisa.
The schools have a long rivalry, with Anderson leading 22-13. The Bearcats have won the last three, which are the only ones between the schools since Mercer and Harrodsburg merged in 2006, when the Titans won the state Class 2A title.
Before taking a brief hiatus in the series, Mercer had won five straight from 2001 until 2005. The first meeting between the schools came in 1963 and they played every year from 1977 until 1996.
Anderson also played Harrodsburg every year from 1949, when Anderson was formed, until 1986. Harrodsburg won that series 21-13-2.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.
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Anderson Co. (2-1) at Mercer Co. (2-1)
When, Friday, Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mercer Co. Senior High School, Harrodsburg
Series: Anderson Co. leads 22-13
Last meeting: Anderson won 28-6 in 2011
Mercer Co. at a glance
Mercer Co. 33, Allen Co.-Scottsville 20
(at Boyle Co.)
At Madison Central 19, Mercer Co. 13 (2 OT)
Mercer Co. 31, West Jessamine 28
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