Mistakes doom Mercer County

Robert Blackford/Editor

ALEDO -- The Mercer County Golden Eagles turned the ball over three times on their end of the field and the Stark County Rebels made them pay for it. The Rebels ruined the Golden Eagles senior night with a 26-19 victory.

"Frustration" was the word of the evening for Mercer County head coach Nat Zunkel. Frustration with three turnovers that led to three Stark County touchdowns. Frustration to be held out of the end zone with a first and goal at the two-yard line.

And still, in the final minutes, they still had a chance to tie the game.

"We've got a good ball club," said Zunkel. "We took a step back because of illiness."

Eighteen percent of the students it the district were absent Friday due to sickness.

"If we stop one of their first two touchdowns we are in it the rest of the way," said Zunkel. "We are a great team. We didn't perform like a great team tonight. Turnovers killed us. Offensively we failed to recognize the conditions early enough. This is not a night we are going to throw 30 times. They (Stark County) shouldn't have won that game. They made the big plays. They played better in these conditions than we did."

Zunkel added, "Tonight was a learning experience. If we don't learn from this we are going to die, figuratively of course. That's a game we allowed to slip away."

The Golden Eagles spotted Stark County 13 points in the first quarter before it could get anything going offensively.

Stark County's Dalton Miller picked off a Brett Anderson pass on the Golden Eagles fourth play from scrimmage at the Mercer County 25-yard line.

Three plays later Tanner Ewing hit Calvin Lewis on a 25-yard touchdown pass to give the Rebels 6-0 lead with 9:19 remaining.

Mercer County coughed up the football on its next series at its own 44-yard line. Ewing again led the Rebels on a short field, scoring on an eight-yard pass to Lewis. Lewis' extra point gave the Rebels a 13-0 lead with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter.

Mercer County answered back with its ground game. Ethan Ball started off the 66-yard drive with a 14-yard run and ended it with a 41-yard run for the score cutting Stark County's lead to 13-6 with 2:19 remaining in the first period. 

Cale Muske sacked Lewis for an eight-yard loss to end Stark County's next drive before it started.

Mercer County got right back into the game with a 15-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Ball cutting the Stark County lead to 13-12.

Stark County took the one point lead into the locker room at halftime.

Following a pair of 13-yard runs by Ewing, the Golden Eagles forced the Rebels to punt on the first possession of the second half.

The Golden Eagles took advantage, as Brett Anderson broke free for a 70-yard run down to the Rebels' two-yard line before he slipped and fell on the muddy field.

But the Stark County defense held and Luke Boucher missed a short field goal attempt that would have given the Golden Eagles the lead with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter.

Stark County's offense responded with an 80-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard touchdown run by Ewing. The extra point gave the Rebels a 20-12 lead.

Ewing finished the night with 94 yards rushing on 18 carries.

Disaster struck again for the Golden Eagles on a fumbled a reverse attempt on the kickoff giving Stark County the football at the Mercer County 13-yard line. Copeland punched the ball into the end zone to give Stark County a 26-12 lead with 10:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Pressed for time the Golden Eagles went back to the pass and completed a 14-play drive that ended when Anderson hit Tanner Benson for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 2:50 remaining in the game. The Golden Eagles cut the Rebels lead to 26-19 with Luke Boucher's extra point.

The Mercer County defense held the Rebels to three plays and gave the offense one last crack at tying the game.

Anderson led the Golden Eagles 40 yards in the final minutes of the contest but with 48.7 seconds remaining he was sacked on fourth down to end all hope of a Golden Eagle comeback.

Anderson completed 12 of his 23 pass attempts on the evening for 84 yards and one touchdown.

Anderson led the team in rushing as well with 93 yards on 13 carries. Ball had 82 yards on nine caries. Michael McClellan had 50 yards on nine carries.