Hammons could have easily taken the field goal and the win after his defense stopped Henry instead of gambling on the pass play. He ran McCloud, who rushed 35 times for 211 yards, for two yards into the middle of the field on first down before throwing the touchdown pass on the next play.
"We were going to run a safe play up the middle and then go for the field goal," the Mercer coach said. "But I decided to try that one pass play before kicking the field goal. Jordan knew to throw the ball away if he was pressured, but our line did a nice job blocking."
Scotties take early lead
Mercer (5-4, 2-1 district) took the opening kickoff and promptly went 74 yards in nine plays to score. McCloud rushed for 69 of the yards to get the Scotties to the Henry 9-yard line, and Lyons faked the ball to McCloud and raced around left end to score to give the Scotties a quick 7-0 lead.
Taking over at its own 41 following an unsuccessful onside kick, Henry (6-2, 0-2) methodically ran the ball while gaining yards at will against the Mercer defense. Josh Batts completed the 11-play drive when he scored on a 5-yard run to tie the score at 7-7.
Matt Coots' 50-yard interception return set up the Wildcats' next score. Patrick Jordan, who led Henry in rushing with 88 yards on 15 attempts, had gains of eight and 10 yards before senior quarterback Drew Barnett scored on a 5-yard run to give Henry a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
"We gave them the ball on our side of the field a lot tonight and put our defense in a hole quite a bit," Hammons said. "Football is a game of emotion, and I didn't think we had that tonight. We didn't deserve to be in the game at the half, but we showed some heart in the second half.
"Except for about four plays, our defense did a nice job. Our biggest problem tonight was we couldn't get a lot of penetration. They did a lot of pulling and trapping, and we had a hard time stopping that."
Defense makes big play
The defense set up the Scotties' tying score late in the half when Bottoms hit Barnett's arm while he was back to pass and Luke Robison intercepted for Mercer at his own 37. McCloud and Lyons ran for 11 yards apiece, then Lyons found McCloud over the middle of the field. He broke away from three would-be tacklers at the 30 and outran everyone to the end zone to complete a 37-yard scoring strike to tie the game at 14-14 at the half.
"We felt like we couldn't just run the ball right at them all night and score 40 points," Hammons said. "They came into the game giving up just 61 yards a game rushing."
Mercer, however, did just that to take the lead late in the third period. The Scotties (5-4, 2-1) ran nine plays after Henry was stopped short at midfield on a fake punt, and every play was a running play. McCloud's 3-yard burst up the middle gave the Scotties a 21-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Henry controlled the clock and dominated the fourth quarter to tie the score. The Wildcats' defense limited Mercer to only eight running plays in the final frame and tied the game at 21-21 with 16 seconds to play when Batts scored on a 2-yard run. The Wildcats originally planned to go for two points and the win, but a motion penalty nullified what would have been the go-ahead score on Barnett's conversion attempt.
That set the stage for Bottoms' catch to pull out the win for Mercer.