By Ryan Briggs
Allied News Sports Correspondent
ERIE – The Mercer Mustangs used a timely combination of big plays on offense and stout defense Friday night to earn a 35-14 victory over Cambridge Springs in the District 10 Class A quarterfinals at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The victory sends Mercer into the District 10 semifinals Friday night at Wilmington High Stadium. Mercer will face conference rival Lakeview (10-1) which rolled past Maplewood, 61-6.
The Mercer defense forced four turnovers, recorded three quarterback sacks and held Cambridge Springs’ potent offense to just 6 points and 163 yards of offense.
“I thought our defense did a nice job,” Mercer head coach Pat McClearn said. I honestly didn’t know if we’d be able to slow them down as well as we did. Coach (Rob) Swartz and Coach (Ed) Klutcher did a great job of breaking down film on Cambridge Springs.
“That’s a good, quality style of football they play. (Cambridge Springs) is physical up front, their backs run hard and the quarterback is a heck of an athlete.”
Mercer opened the game with an 11-play, 52-yard drive that used nearly six minutes. However, Cambridge Springs (8-3) stopped Mercer on fourth-and-1 at the 5.
The Mercer defense forced a three-and-out, though, and the Blue Devils’ errant punt snap eventually rolled out of the end zone for a safety that gave Mercer a 2-0 lead with 4:47 left in the quarter.
T.J. Peters then returned the ensuing free kick to the Cambridge Springs 35. Two plays later, Peters caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Logan Clarke on a wheel route, extending the lead to 8-0 at the 3:37 mark.
“I would have liked for us to get in the end zone but as it turned out, we got the safety and then the free kick. We went down off a short field and scored, so it worked out pretty well for us,” McClearn said.
Cambridge Springs quickly answered as Zach Stafford fielded a squibbed kickoff at the 25 and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. Gavin Hohn tied the game 8-8 by scoring the two-point conversion on an end around.
Mercer answered on its next drive as Clarke’s 17-yard run gave the Mustangs a first down at the Cambridge Springs 4. He then capped a six-play, 65-yard drive by scoring on a four-yard touchdown run on the final scrimmage play of the first quarter.
After an exchange of possessions, Mercer defensive end Brayton Edwards recovered a Blue Devil fumble at the 30. On Mercer’s first play after the turnover, Clarke fired a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jarred Davis on a slant pattern with 6:35 left in the half.
“Jarred has made a lot of big plays for us this season,” McClearn said. “He’s a heck of an athlete and I’m glad we got him out for football. He has an extra gear that most kids don’t have.”
Davis caught two passes for 40 yards in the win. Edwards led Mercer with three receptions for 55 yards.
Cambridge Springs pulled to within 22-14 with 2:04 left in the third quarter when Colton Noble scored on a one-yard run. The Blue Devils had opened the second half with a 16-play, 59-yard drive then ended on downs at the Mercer 6.
However, Kris Silbaugh intercepted a Clarke pass at the Mercer 15 on the next play to give Cambridge Springs a second opportunity.
Mercer put away the game in the fourth quarter with a pair of touchdowns in the final six minutes. Clarke scored on a 10-yard run with 5:58 left, which stretched the lead to 29-14.
Clarke led Mercer with 75 yards rushing on 13 carries. He also completed nine of 16 passes for 192 yards.
Luke Leonard’s two-yard touchdown run with 2:27 remaining in the game closed the scoring.
Mercer free safety Walter Haines sealed the win by intercepting a Devin Wagner pass at the Mustangs’ 7 with 36 seconds left. Haines also intercepted a pass in the second quarter.
Defensive tackle Troy Sagulla recorded a pair of sacks for Mercer and Edwards added a sack.
Noble led Cambridge Springs with 75 rushing yards on 19 carries. He also caught three passes for 20 yards. Stafford added 60 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Walker completed five of 16 passes for 41 yards.
Mercer will now play Region 1-A champion Lakeview in the district semifinals. The Mustangs earned a 19-8 home win over Lakeview Sept. 20.
“I know that we have an immense workload ahead of us for next week,” McClearn said. “We were lucky enough to get them the first time and I’m sure they are looking forward to playing us. I’m sure they’ve been waiting for us since the last time we played.
“They are a heck of a good football team with great players. We’ll have our hands full next week.”
Notes: Mercer held a 314-163 edge in total offense … The Mustangs had the ball for 10:10 of the first quarter and just 10:03 over the final three periods … Clarke now has 25 touchdown passes and has accumulated 2,907 yards of total offense … Each team only punted once.