“As long as we play good defense, our offense is going to score,” Boyle defensive back Tommy Hastings said. “It may not be a lot, but we’ll score so we can win the game.”
Boyle (6-3, 3-1 Class AAAA, District 5) won a showdown for second place in its district, earning home-field advantage for a first-round playoff game in two weeks and forcing Mercer (4-5, 2-2) to go on the road.
“We won the football game, and we had some kids play well,” Boyle coach Larry French said. “We got what we needed; we’ve got to improve now.”
Lloyd Hall and Devon Cox scored two touchdowns each for the Rebels, who led 7-0 at halftime before their offense got rolling.
Mercer lost for the first time in four games and was shut out for the first time since a 56-0 loss to Boyle in 2009. The Titans had chances to make it a close game in the first half, but those chances vanished in the second half, when Boyle racked up 300 of its 458 offensive yards.
“When you play teams like that, once they get a little momentum they’re going to try to shut the door on you, and it makes it really tough,” Mercer coach Paul Rains said. “I was afraid of that once they kind of got going. If we could’ve put a couple of those in the end zone when we got down there, now you’re looking at (being) even at halftime, and maybe even up into the third quarter, and when that happens we’re stronger, we’re faster and we’re a different looking football team.”
The Titans’ best scoring chance — and their biggest missed opportunity — came early in the second quarter after they drove from their own 30-yard line to the Boyle 5.
On a first-and-goal running play, James Johnson fumbled the ball and Zach Hester recovered for the Rebels, Boyle held the ball for the next 8 1/2 minutes, keeping it away from Mercer’s offense until the final minute of the first half.
The game was probably still within Mercer’s reach in the third quarter when the Titans’ once again lost the ball inside the Boyle 10. They were trailing 14-0 and facing fourth-and-10 at the 17 when Isaiah Burrus juggled a pass from J.T. Long and Hester got to the ball before it hit the ground.
Boyle scored four plays and two breaks later when Hall caught a Casey Whittle pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and raced to paydirt on a 57-yard scoring play that gave the Rebels a 21-0 lead with 2:16 remaining in the third quarter. Two plays earlier, Blake Mason fumbled after catching a 23-yard pass from Whittle, but Jarrod Harrington pounced on the ball to keep the drive alive.
Boyle put Mercer away on its next series, driving 67 yards in nine plays for its final score, which came on a 29-yard run by Cox.
Cox ran for 125 yards on 20 carries, while Hall had a team-high five catches for 111 yards. Whittle was 15 for 17 for 250 yards, and Harrington and Mason had four catches each for a combined 99 yards.
Both defenses tried to take away their opponents’ running game, but only Boyle did it for four quarters, as Mercer got only 57 of its 253 yards on the ground.
“We’ve got to make sure we stop the run and make them want to throw the ball, and then when they do throw the ball we’ve got to make sure our DBs are on the same page, we’re all where we’re supposed to be and we make plays on the ball when it’s thrown to us,” Hastings said.
Long was 26 for 37 but threw for only 196 yards — averaging of 7.5 per completion — as the Titans had to settle for screen passes and other short throws.
“We just tried to keep them out of the end zone. We played a prevent defense all night long,” French said.
Six of Long’s 26 completions resulted in no gain or a loss, and only two resulted in gains of more than 15 yards. Burrus, Mercer’s leading receiver, had 65 yards on nine catches, and Johnson caught seven passes for 44 yards.
“We really focus on getting all 11 hats to the ball, and if it’s thrown underneath or out to the sideline we make sure everybody gets out there,” Hastings said.