by Riley Hicks
Sometimes one half can change the dynamic of a football game, and that was the case for Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats on Friday afternoon. Out of their element playing in a 2 p.m. kickoff because their opponents do not have stadium lights, the Bobcats played below their expectations and were not the explosive team they have been throughout the season. At the start of the third quarter, Mercy looked like a completely different squad fighting their way back from a 14-point deficit but the time ran out on their season.
In a game that was a tale of two halves, the Bobcats (6-5, 4-2) fell to the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Mustangs (6-4, 2-4) 21-14. Mercy hoped to end its state playoff skid and pick up their first ever playoff win in school history. This time it was the Mustangs coming out victorious after losing to the Bobcats in the regular season.
The Mustangs opened the scoring midway through the first quarter with a bomb. Quarterback Reginald Burnette took aim for Justin Douglas up the sideline, and Douglas hauled in the ball over the Mercy corner and raced away for a 55-yard touchdown.
After two sluggish drives, the Bobcat offense seemed to start making progress on their next possession. A third down conversion, along with a 23-yard run by Caleb Pressley, helped them drive into the red zone, but a 4th and goal pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
The passing game was key for the Mustangs as the Bobcats struggled to find a way to shut it down. Burnette located the open receiver, and this time it was John Watson, who broke multiple tackles and sprinted down the left sideline for a 55-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead late in the half.
The first half was marred by dropped passes and crucial penalties that killed any momentum for the Bobcats. A wide-open drop in the end zone on fourth down was the biggest gut punch.
Looking to stretch their lead heading into the half, the Mustangs drove down the field, settling for desperation heaves towards the end zone. On the last attempt, Javon Henderson intercepted the ball at the goal line and ran it back for 88-yards, but he would be tackled just shy of the end zone with the first half clock exhausted.
Coming out of the locker to start the third quarter, Mercy looked ready to climb out of a first half rut. A fumble by Pressley on the opening offensive possession was not the start the Bobcats hoped for to get back into the game, but he recovered on the next drive by bouncing the ball to the outside for an 88-yard rushing touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. After the missed extra point, the lead was cut to 14-6.
The momentum stayed with the Bobcats on their next possession. Starting with great field position near midfield,. Henderson dropped back and looked for Taj Dodson. He hauled it in sprinting in stride for a 35-yard touchdown. The pair connected again for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14.
After another stop by the defense, the Mustangs punted the ball away, rolling to a stop at the three yard line. A fumble set up Mount Vernon in excellent field position at the Mercy 16. The Bobcats held strong and thought they had forced a stop a turnover on downs, but a roughing the passer call extended the drive. On the next play, Douglas took the hand off to the left and scored on a 4-yard run, the difference in victory for the Mustangs.
“Hats off to Jamie, he has done a phenomenal job in his second season there,” Mount Vernon head coach Wayne Dabbs said of Mercy’s coach. “Its hard to beat a good team twice. The kids never quit. They didn’t play great at times but did enough to get a victory.”
Our Lady of Mercy had chances to tie the game, but each drive ended on a turnover on downs. A valiant fight ended with a bruised and battered Henderson needing help just to get off the field. With a lot of talent returning and guts and experience to go with it, that elusive first-ever playoff win could be just a season away.
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