It didn't take long for Morgan to get the points back. Curtis Wright returned Michael Bottoms' punt 28 yards to the Mercer 32, and Alex Collins burst through the middle of the Mercer defense on the next play for the score. He also added the conversion kick to knot the score at 7-7.
Later in the period the Cougars big-play offense struck again.
Andy Lewis' 25-yard punt return placed the ball at his own 47 before Zeke Hall took a pitch on a perfectly executed option three plays later to go 45 yards to score and give Morgan a 14-7 advantage with 4:31 to play in the period.
"We run the triple option until we eventually break one," Wood said. "What I liked most about the two quick scores, though, was we were not intimidated by the long kickoff return. We continued to play our game."
"We gave them two cheap touchdowns, then started to play better defensively," Hammons said. "We're a better football team than we showed tonight. We didn't get anything done offensively in the first half, but the kids responded to our challenge the second half."
Morgan added one more score before the half came to a close when Lewis found Hall open over the middle for a 10-yard scoring strike and a 21-7 halftime lead.
Mercer held to 45 total yards in first half
Morgan's defense shut down McCloud in the first half. Mercer had just 45 total yards at the intermission, but finished the game with 239 yards - all on the ground.
"We knew that (McCloud) was pretty much their offense, and the kids were motivated to shut him down in the first half," Wood said. "He is an outstanding back, though, and you can't shut him down the whole game."
McCloud, the area's leading rusher, finished with 148 yards on 31 attempts.
Morgan ran only nine offensive plays in the third quarter as Mercer dominated the period. The Scotties used a fake punt on fourth and two at their own 48 to continue a 58-yard, 12-play drive to cut into the lead just before the stanza ended. Jordan Lyons had a gain of 16 yards, McCloud ran for 12 and Donald Walker added 11 during the series that ended with a 5 -yard McCloud run to cut the lead to 21-14.
"We tired somewhat, but caught a couple breaks when they turned the ball over," said Wood. "We only have 11 or 12 guys that do everything, and I think they did get winded in the third quarter. However, when we needed a key defensive play, they stepped up and made the plays."
Indeed they did.
Mercer committed three turnovers in the second half, and five in the game, and self destructed deep in Morgan territory. The Scotties lost fumbles at the Cougars' 10-yard line on one occasion and 39 on another.
"Every time we would get ready to score, we would shoot ourselves in the foot," Hammons said. "I don't know if it's a curse or not, but we can't seem to win a playoff game. We should have won this game, but we did things all night that were uncharacteristic of what we normally do."