Mercer-Garrard rivalry remains important game

September 24, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

LANCASTER - This series still matters, even though it really doesn't.

The Mercer County-Garrard County series matters a great deal to the coaches who took quick action to keep it going after their district rivalry was dissolved.

And it matters to the players who know their opponents by name and by face as a result of years of district battles in football, basketball and baseball.

So Mercer and Garrard will meet again Friday and for the foreseeable future, primarily because their two coaches believed this was a rivalry worth saving.


"It's a good rivalry because of the fact that we're in close proximity to each other, and it brings out the best play in the kids," Garrard coach Steve Stonebraker said.

"It's too good not to play," said Mercer coach Duane Hammons. "We're too close to each other, and we're too much alike as far as size. "It's been a very good series. They've always been very close, competitive games."

For the last six years, they have been district games, but the latest KHSAA realignment has placed them in different regions for this season and at least three more.

Both coaches said the series will maintain its high intensity level Friday, partially because the players are so familiar with each other.

"When we play Garrard, we don't use numbers in our scouting report like we do with some teams," Hammons said. "When I refer to someone by name, the kids know exactly who I'm talking about.

"It's almost to the point of playing (crosstown rival) Harrodsburg because of the familiarity of each other."

Though both teams have played better opponents already -- all of their combined three losses have been to ranked teams -- this game might best prepare the Golden Lions and Scotties for what they will see in their respective Class AA districts beginning next week.

"They're certainly going to do that for us," Stonebraker said. "We're both heading into district play with big aspirations."

This is the first Class AA foe for Garrard, which has split with two AAAA teams and beaten three AAA teams.

"We've played above our heads up 'til now in more ways than one," Stonebraker said. "We're thrilled to be 4-1 right now with the schedule we've played."

Hammons said the Garrard offense is probably the most difficult that Mercer has faced.

"Their offense is better than it was last year, even though they lost two great running backs (from last year)," Hammons said. "It seems like the team has come together and really picked up the slack, and they're even better."

The Mercer coach said he's impressed by the leadership of quarterback Spencer Crutchfield, who has passed for 766 yards and rushed for another 462.

"I think Crutchfield could play any position on the field," Hammons said. "He gets the job done whether it's in the air or on the ground."

Stonebraker had similar words of praise for Mercer running back Andrew McCloud, the area's second-leading rusher with 641 yards.

"For Mercer County, they've got tremendous team speed this year, and they know who their go-to guy is," the Garrard coach said. "I love our versatility, and this would be what I'd rather have, but they've got a very good back."

Stonebraker said he has also taken notice of improvement in the Mercer defense.

"They've gotten better defensively. They're getting a lot of people around the ball," he said.

Mercer holds an 11-6 lead in the series and has won the last eight meetings. That includes a sweep of their six district meetings, four of which were decided by seven points or less.

Now Hammons said the tables have turned. He said Garrard has to be the favorite this time because of the Lions' edge in experience, citing their six senior starters on their defensive front seven and three more on the offensive line.

"It's a no-brainer. They should be the favorite going into the game," Hammons said.

Predictably, that's not an opinion shared at Garrard. In fact, Stonebraker sounded a little like wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin when he dismissed Hammons' assessment.

"There's no way we're the favorite in this game," he said. "Until we win we're the underdog, and that's the bottom line."

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