Back on winning track: Pats turn back Mercer 49-41

Published 2:39 pm Thursday, September 21, 2017

STANFORD — After three straight losses on the road, the Lincoln County football team got back on the winning track Friday night, returning home to Death Valley Stadium and beating Mercer County 49-41.

Junior running back Tra Carey, who led Lincoln’s offense with 185 yards and three rushing touchdowns, scored just over three minutes into the second half to give Lincoln the cushion it needed to pull out the win. The Patriots, who had traded touchdowns with Mercer through much of the first half, were up 28-21 at the break and got the ball to start the second half. Carey capped off the second-half opening drive with an 8-yard push up the middle and Emma Kaiser booted the point after kick for a two-touchdown lead.

And Lincoln (2-3) needed the cushion as Mercer (3-2) answered every Pat touchdown in the second half.

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“You know, that’s a very good football team with speed and we needed that two-touchdown lead,” Lincoln coach Travis Leffew said of Mercer. “That speed is something they have that really scared me. When the (Trevon) Faulkner kid gets the ball in his hands it’s as scary as can be because he’s a tremendous athlete and a heck of a football player. Their speed can really hurt you. We wanted to keep that two touchdown lead condition and we did that tonight.”

There were three ties in the first half 7-7, 14-14 and 21-21.

Mercer got on the scoreboard first with quarterback Gunnar Gillis hitting Faulkner for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Caleb Morrison booted the first of his five point after kicks to give the Titans a 7-0 lead with 3:16 left in the first quarter. 

The Titans were driving into Patriot territory again late in the period when they fumbled the ball at the Lincoln 40. Unfortunately, for Mercer, Carey was on top of the play and he picked up the ball and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. Kaiser, who was 7-for-7 on point after kicks, evened the game at 7-all.

A Mercer fumble and a Christian Vergara recovery set up Carey’s second TD early in the second quarter. Vergara got the ball at the Titan 45 and, three plays later, Carey scored from the 8-yard line to put Lincoln up 14-7.

There would be three touchdowns scored in just over two minutes in the second quarter. After the Carey touchdown, Jackson Lewis went 19 yards in for Mercer for yet another tie. However, this tie lasted all of 10 seconds as Lane Slone returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to the end zone to give the Pats a 21-14 edge.

Bryson Yeast deadlocked the game again, 21-21, with 3:08 left in the first half, scoring with a 20-yard run.

Lincoln managed to break the tie just before the half, though. Quarterback Bryson Yaden, who was 5-for-7 for 67 yards, hit Josh Salyers for a 27-yard touchdown pass with just 28.9 ticks left on the clock to make it 28-21.

Lincoln never trailed again.

The Patriots and Titans would trade touchdowns for all of the second half. 

After Carey’s score to start the third quarter, Gillis, who was 11-for-18 for 324 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions, connected for his second TD pass, hitting Aaron Johnson for a 37-yard reception. 

It appeared that Lincoln’s Darius Napier had returned the ensuing kickoff  for a touchdown, but the officials said he stepped out at the Mercer 40. But Napier, who finished with 80 yards on 20 carries, would score six plays later, running the ball in from the 4-yard line.

Gillis hit Faulkner for another touchdown pass with 23.2 seconds left in the third. The scoring play went 32 yards and made it 42-35, Lincoln, going into the fourth quarter.

Carey ran in Lincoln’s final touchdown early in the fourth quarter, carrying the ball in from the 5-yard line.

Mercer recovered a Lincoln fumble at its own 6-yard line with 2:05 left in the game. And one play was all Gillis needed to put points on the scoreboard, hitting Johnson for a 94-yard touchdown and the 49-41 final.

“Just a huge team win for us,” Leffew said. “All across the board we played well. The offense, defense, special teams all making plays, turnovers. Really it was coming together and being a team. Our big boy (Carey) is starting to run the ball and when he runs the ball it’s fun. The line up front is starting to make a name for itself, too, driving people off the ball and ball games are won in the trenches.”

“It got scary at the end, but that’s the team we see in practice. That’s the team that we know what they’ve got,” he said of the Patriots. “We had stressed all week long about playing for the name on the front and not playing for the one on your back. And we did a great job of playing for Lincoln, playing for the Patriots and it showed on the scoreboard tonight.”

Lincoln had 348 yards offense in the win, 281 rushing. Mercer had 468 yards offense. The Pat had 18 first downs to the Titans’ 14. In fumbles, Lincoln had five with one lost possession. Mercer had four with three lost possessions.