“It feels good,” said Settles. “We’ve come so close so many times to getting a win and we did it tonight, when we really needed to win to have a chance at playoffs.”
Lincoln had to play from behind to notch the district win, with Mercer (3-6, 1-2) getting on the scoreboards first. On 4th-and-3 at it’s own 17, Lincoln went for the pass on a fake punt, but Matthew Sims intercepted the Ryne Otto pass and returned it 23 yards for the score and a 7-0 Mercer lead.
But that was all Mercer would get on Lincoln. The Titans never threatened after the score, breaking into Lincoln territory only one other time in the game – to the Pat 43 in the fourth quarter.
“They are a good team, but they’ve had so many injuries,” said Settles. “Some guys that dressed tonight hadn’t played since the start of the season. No. 24 (Alex Guay) was their starting quarterback to start the year off and he was just back for his first game. Also (Donovan) Ellis, No. 11. He’s a great back and did a good job tackling tonight. But he didn’t play the second half and that helped us.”
Just three minutes after the interception return, Otto redeemed himself with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Vinny Morris. The point-after-kick by Carl-Lewis Cummins knotted the game at 7-all. A 50-yard kickoff return by Matt Carrier helped set up the game-tying score.
A Mercer fumble to open the second quarter gave the ball right back to Lincoln and, five plays later, Otto connected with Brandon Graham for an 11-yard scoring pass to put the Pats on top to stay 14-7.
Lincoln didn’t even have to touch the ball to tack on its next score. A high snap sailed above the head of punter JJ Blau in the third quarter and rolled into the endzone. Blau pushed the ball out of the endzone resulting in a safety to edge Lincoln up 16-7.
“That was the play of the game, I think,” Settles said. “We took advantage of it and were really productive offensively.”
Carrier, who led Lincoln with 91 yards rushing on 19 carries, was the only Patriot handling the ball on Lincoln’s next scoring drive. After returning Mercer’s free kick 15 yards to the Pat 45, the senior back needed just three runs to cross the goal line, starting with a 25-yard first-down run and ending with a 22-yard romp to make it 23-7.
Lincoln made it’s longest march to the goal line early in the fourth quarter. The nine-play, 88-yard drive ended with an eight-yard run by Carrier. Otto, who was 4-for-11 for 90 yards, moved the play along with a 24-yard pass to Vinny Morris and a 21-yard throw to Austin Hinds.
The Carrier score marked the second time in the drive that a Lincoln player crossed the goal line. Just minutes before the score, a 50-yard touchdown run by Deon Shannon was nullified on a holding penalty.
Defensively, Lincoln held Mercer to just 133 yards total offense. Alex Guay got 58 yards on 11 carries and Dexter Banks had 54 yards on 17 carries.
“We haven’t played defense like this before,” said Settles. “I think it was that desire to finally win a game that got them to tackle like they did. They were just tired of losing.”
Lincoln had 275 yards total offense, with Graham picking up 86 yards on 10 carries. Morris was the night’s leading receiver with 51 yards and a TD on two receptions.
“We always talk about mistakes in losses but we didn’t make mistakes this time,” Settles said. “We just played hard and physical. We controlled the line of scrimmage. We didn’t go offsides and only had a couple penalties. The kids deserved the win and I’m proud of them.”