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ANDERSON LIGHTNING BURNS MERCER

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Bearcats strike quickly, often; stiffen to preserve weather-shortened shutout

By John Herndon

HARRODSBURG -- Long before flashes across the sky sent everyone home from Friday night, Anderson County’s lightning had struck.

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And the Bearcat football lightning struck quickly and with a vengeance in a 28-0 romp over Mercer County at Alvis Johnson Field. By the time game officials decided to call the game following a weather delay that added about 20 minutes to halftime, Anderson had hit hard and was well on its way to victory.

Anderson gets credit for the win and moves to 3-0 on the year. Mercer fell to 0-3. It was Anderson’s ninth win in the last 10 games of a series that dates to 1963.

The decision to call the game followed what some fans felt was a bizarre scene in which few fans had seen the flash across the southern sky and were checking their phones to see where the storm was. When the delay began, a small storm cell was located in Boyle County, south of the game site. However, the area around the old Harrodsburg High School field had not had any inclement weather since well before kickoff.

Bearcat coach Mark Peach said the decision to call the game at halftime was a mutual decision involving both schools involved and the officiating crew. “I understand why,” Peach said. “Even though the system was not here, (playing decisions) are based on sight and sound. Every time you see lightning, it is another 30 minutes.”

Soon after the contest was called, the lightning flashes picked up around Harrodsburg.

Anderson had struck less than two minutes into Friday’s game, needing only three offensive snaps to score. Anderson’s first play from scrimmage was a 44-yard bomb from quarterback Jagger Gillis to Wesley Rueherwein racing along the right sideline to the Mercer 21.

Two plays later, Brennan Maxberry raced up the middle for an apparent score, but the run was taken down by a hold. It would be the first of three Anderson scores taken down by yellow flags.

After another Anderson penalty -- this one for illegal motion -- Gillis found C.A. Collins for a 25-yard score. Only 1:23 had elapsed and the rout was on.

Mercer answered with a 67-yard drive but on fourth-and-7 at the Anderson 14, Bearcat linebacker Colton Cornish stopped Mercer quarterback Kaelin Drakeford well short of the first down.

Two plays later, Anderson was on the scoreboard again. This time it was Collins racing 86 yards for his second of three touchdowns out of the Wildcat formation. Peach said Collins taking the direct snap from center was a new twist that the Bearcats had installed last week after Zach Labhart went down with a season-ending knee injury.

“Z had been our backup quarterback,” Peach said, “so we started working with Charles Andrew there this week. After the play before, Jagger had a rubber band on his wrist and the official said he had to come out of the game for a play.”

And any hope Mercer might have had in making it a game again was squelched on the next Titan drive. Mercer marched to the Anderson 33 but became its own worst enemy with an illegal block and an intentional grounding. Then on fourth-and-47 -- you read that right, fourth-and-47 -- Mercer punter Noah Davis mishandled the snap. By the time he was able to get to the ball, the Anderson defense was on top of things with Justin Wilhoit covering the loose ball. “We put so much pressure on the snap that he mishandled it,” Peach said.

It led to Collins getting his third touchdown of the night, a two-yard plunge behind the right side of the Anderson line to make it 21-0 early in the second quarter.

Anderson capped the scoring on a Gillis-to-Wilhoit scoring pass with 3:20 to play in the first half.

Mercer again rallied, driving to the Anderson 7 just before halftime on a drive aided by a crucial late hit penalty on a third-down loss on the Mercer side of midfield. Given a reprieve, Mercer got to the Anderson 7 but on the final play of the half, Anderson’s Kynan Russell broke up a pass in the end zone, preserving Anderson’s second shutout in three starts.

“I was so very proud of our guys,” Peach said. “Mercer County gave its best effort. They are 0-3 but they had lost to two very talented teams in John Hardin and Waggener. It’s a rivalry game so we knew they would give their best shot. (Malachi Yulee) is a very promising runner and (Drakeford) is a good football player. He’s just a junior.”

Collins led Anderson, which amassed 305 yards in just 24 minutes, with 94 yards on the ground and 25 yards receiving. He also completed one pass.

Gillis was efficient, completing five of seven passes on the night for 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He and Collins hooked up for what appeared to be a 36-yard strike midway through the second quarter, but a holding penalty nullified the score.

Peach still gushed about Gillis’ improvement. “Wasn’t that gorgeous,” he said of the rainbow Gillis delivered. “Jagger has improved so much. He is the perfect example of work hard and get results.”

If there was a blemish on the Bearcat performance, it was that Anderson was flagged for eight penalties and 64 yards, “I have never had three (touchdowns) taken down in a half,” Peach smile. “Still we won the game.”

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