“It’s great to see a little bit of a passing game open up,” Mason said.” We know we have to have a passing game, and we have to make sure we’re going to do stuff that’s easy completions for a young quarterback to make sure he gets confidence.”
But South Laurel had the confidence in the second half, and chances to tie or possibly take the lead.
Tyler Vaughn, who ran for 192 yards and three touchdowns, had a 20-yard touchdown run to cut Mercer’s lead to 27-20 with 9 minutes, 39 seconds to play.
After Mercer’s drive was stopped on downs, the Cardinals (0-6, 0-1) drove to the Mercer 42-yard line. But on fourth-and-3, Jeremy Pirchard dropped Joe Boggs’ pass which would have given South Laurel a first-down.
Mercer made the most of the opportunity.
On a third-and-12 at the Titans’ 40, Ellis got behind his man and Lewis hit him for the 49-yard gain.
“When I saw him throw the ball in the air, a lot of stuff was going through my mind, like ‘Man, I’ve got to catch this,’” Ellis said. “When I caught it, thought, ‘Well, we’ve got it in the books now.’”
Four plays later, J.J. Blau booted a 27-yard field goal to make it a 10-point game with 1:39 to play.
“I trust J.J. I didn’t question for a second whether we were going to kick a field goal,” Mason said. “We were being safe down there and wanted to make sure we get three points.”
The Mercer defense then sealed the win when Matthew Sims and Tyler Rainey hit Boggs as he threw and Casey Lewis intercepted the pass with 45 seconds to play.
It was a good end to a second half controlled by South Laurel. The Cardinals outgained Mercer 236-61 yards in the second half and 315-307 overall. And after they exploded for three long scoring plays in the first half, South Laurel held Ellis and Burrus in check in the second half until Ellis’ fourth-quarter catch.
“I guess they keyed on me and Isaiah because we had done a lot of stuff that first half, so I guess they kind of shut us down in the third quarter,” Ellis said.
Mason said his team had a letdown after a two-touchdown halftime lead.
“We just come out like thunder and then I think we get content. And these teams aren’t going to just roll over,” he said.
South Laurel got a short field on its opening drive and went 36 yards in three plays with Vaughn going untouched up the middle for a 28-yard score.
But Mercer’s speed showed itself on the first play of its next series, as Ellis took a pitch right, hit the sideline and outran the South Laurel defense for an 80-yard touchdown.
Mercer forced a punt on the next series, then Burrus had a 46-yard run and Ellis caught a pass over the middle and sprinted in for a 31-yard score and 13-7 lead with 1:14 left in the quarter.
“Catch and run, that’s the key. It’s quick three-step pass and get the ball out of there and into someone else’s hands. And it’s easy to protect and easy to throw,” Mason said.
Vaughn’s 8-yard score on the next series gave the Cardinals a 14-13 lead, but the Titans answered right back and never trailed again.
Burrus’ ensuing kickoff return got Mercer to the South Laurel 20. Five plays later, Lewis rolled right and hit Burrus on a shot pass. The speedy junior did the rest as he beat the Cardinals’ defense to the right pylon for the score and a 20-14 lead.
He increased the Mercer lead on the next series, taking a pass over the middle and turning it into a 66-yard touchdown as Mercer led 27-14 at the half.
South Laurel — Tyler Vaughn 28 run (Cameron Normand kick), 8:18.
Mercer — Donovan Ellis 80 run (J.J. Blau kick), 8:04.
Mercer — Ellis 31 pass from Darion Lewis (run failed), 1:14.
South Laurel — Vaughn 8 run (Norman kick), 10:28.
Mercer — Isaiah Burrus 10 pass from Lewis (Blau kick), 7:44.
Mercer — Burrus 66 pass from Lewis (Blau kick), 3:42.
South Laurel — Vaughn 20 run (kick failed), 9:39.
Mercer — FG Blau 27, 1:39.
RUSHING—Mercer, Donovan Ellis 5-96, Isaiah Burrus 9-52, Dexter Banks 9-21, Matthew Sims 1-minus 1, Darion Lewis 3-minus 15. South Laurel, Tyler Vaughn 28-192, Chase McWhorter 10-23, Luke Williams 1-0, Joe Boggs 4-minus 10.
PASSING— Mercer, Lewis 4-7-0-156. South Laurel, Boggs 9-22-1-110.
RECEIVING— Mercer, Ellis 2-80, Burrus 2-76. South Laurel, Josh Brown 3-47, Travis Burns 2-32, Jeremy Pirchard 2-10, Vaughn 1-12.MERCER131403--30SO. LAUREL7706--20MCSLFirst Downs617Rushes27-15143-205Passing156110Total Offense307315Comp-Att-Int4-7-09-22-1Fumbles - Lost0-02-0Penalties - Yards10-707-35