Mercer's defense, which didn't get near the credit that it deserved last year thanks to the Titans' high-powered offense, reached paydirt on Russell's second play from scrimmage when junior quarterback Bryon Ellis was hit while trying to hand the ball off to fullback David Wooldridge and fumbled. Hunter Robinson was right on the spot to scoop up the loose football and returned the fumble 19 yards to score. Kyle Chadwick tacked on the extra point kick for a 7-0 lead 21/2 minutes into the contest.
"Our defense did a great job while they were in I-formation, but we didn't look so good late in the game when they went to their spread offense," Jaggers said. "Robinson did a nice job finding the football on the touchdown play, but he hurt his shoulder and sat out much of the second half."
The Titans scored again on their first possession of the second quarter following a 36-yard punt by Ellis to the Russell 43. After three running plays netted 20 yards, junior quarterback Trevor Short found John Linton over the middle for a 23-yard scoring strike to increase the lead to 14-0.
Defense chimes in
"We didn't have to throw the ball very much last year, but we can throw it this year if we have to," said Jaggers, who guided the Titans to their 16th straight win. "Trevor has a nice touch and we have some receivers that can catch it."
Mercer had one more chance to score again before the half ended when it reached the Lakers' 28, but Short's pass was intercepted to kill the threat.
The defense set up Mercer's next score to begin the second half when Matthew McCloud intercepted Ellis' pass on the third play and returned the interception to the Russell 46.
Gains of 12 and 8 yards by Jordan Yeast, who led the Titans in rushing with 115 yards on 10 attempts, and a 14-yard run by Nathan Griffith set the stage for Yeasts' 1-yard touchdown run. The extra point was blocked and Mercer led 20-0.
Late in the period, Mercer scored via the pass again when Short, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player, scrambled before finding McCloud wide open for a 25-yard touchdown pass, and Chadwick tacked on the extra point for a 27-0 advantage.
Russell then started to spread the field and cause the Mercer defense problems. Passes of 17 and 13 yards to Wooldridge out of the backfield and an 8-yard strike to Quinton Warriner set the stage for Tim Coffey's 2-yard touchdown run to cap a nine play, 56-yard drive.
Ellis made the Lakers first extra point kick since 2005 - they missed every attempt last season - to cut the lead to 27-7.
"I don't know what it was, but we just didn't do a good job defensively late in the game," Jaggers said. "Offensively, we tried to run play action late in the game and took a loss. That was my fault. We were running the ball well and I should have stayed with that. Trevor can run and throw well and he will continue to get better as the year goes on."
Yeast put the final touch on an outstanding night when he raced 51 yards untouched with 5:11 to play.
Mercer - Hunter Robinson 19 fumble return (Kyle Chadwick kick), 9:31
Mercer - John Linton 23 pass from Trevor Short (Chadwick kick), 7:10
Mercer - Jordan Yeast 1 run (kick blocked), 5:54
Mercer - Matthew McCloud 25 pass from Short (Chadwick kick), 1:37
Russell - Tim Coffey 2 run (Bryon Ellis kick), 7:13
Mercer - Yeast 51 run (Chadwick kick), 5:11
RUSHING-Russell, Bryon Ellis 15-39, Tim Coffey 14-34, David Wooldridge 3-6. Mercer, Jordan Yeast 10-115, Trevor Short 11-63, Nathan Griffith 9-56, Matthew McCloud 4-32, J.D. Gilliam 3-10, Keith Brooks 2-7, Rashad Buster 1-4, Alajawan Dean 1-1.
PASSING-Russell, Ellis 8-16-1-58. Mercer, Short 4-6-1-50.
RECEIVING-Russell, Wooldridge 4-51, Coffey 1-5, Quinton Warriner 2-4, Jamison Meese 1-minus 2. Mercer, John Linton 2-36, McCloud 1-25, Yeast 1-minus 11.RUSSELL0007-- 7MERCER77137-- 34RCMCFirst Downs1017Rushes32-7942-288Passing5850Total Yards137338Comp-Att-Int8-16-14-6-1Fumbles - Lost5-20-0Penalties2-165-40