HERMITAGE — If it’s November, it must mean McClearn’s Mercer High men are preparing for the “Second Season” — the annual District 10 football tournament.
McClearn’s Mustangs mastered West Middlesex, 42-6, recently, concluding a 7-2 campaign. Second-seeded Mercer will meet Saegertown in the opening round of the Class A playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at Wilmington High Greyhounds Stadium.
Mercer’s great stable of athletes through the years — the names Stiger, Borowicz, Amos, Yeager, Angermeier, Erdos, among others, come to mind — and coaches such as Gene Blakley and Frank Makarevich, put the Mustangs on Mercer County’s map.
With Amos orchestrating an option offense, he led the legendary Blakely’s bunch to the 1971 Tri-County League crown with what has been — according to available archives at The Herald — the program’s only undefeated season (9-0).
Meanwhile, Makarevich’s Mustangs mustered a 4-year march (1991-94) posting 8-2, 6-3-1, 6-5 and 7-4 ledgers, losing to Northwestern and Wilmington, respectively, in the ’93 and ’94 D-10 AA title tilts (plus a ’92 playoff loss to Fairview).
But the recent run enjoyed in the County Seat’s gridiron program may be unparalleled.
After losing a 2006 play-in game to Sharpsville in the regular-season finale, McClearn and Mercer will be making their 5th consecutive appearance in the postseason. During that span the Mustangs have manufactured an aggregate 42-15 won-lost ledger, including back-to-back 11-2 and 10-2 seasons in ’07 and ’08. Mercer made it to the ’07 D-10 title tilt (losing to Mercyhurst Prep), lost to Linesville and Sharpsville, respectively, in the ’08 and ’09 semifinals, then bowed to Prep in last season’s opening round.
“I love it, I love it!” McClearn responded regarding the prospect of the playoffs. “I hope we can do it a couple more weeks. We’ve gotta go one week at a time, of course.
“But you get a group of guys like this, I just want to keep playing football for as long as we can.”
The Mustangs’ workhorse, pardon the pun, has been tailback Kyle Mariacher. In a bounce-back season a year-plus removed from sustaining a broken ankle, Mariacher has mounted approximately 1,800 yards rushing and 24 TDs.
He was injured in a 2010 season-opening setback to Prep, then in an accelerated rehab program, actually suited up for the D-10 opening-round rematch, though he was a non-factor as the Mustangs were overwhelmed, 54-14. Ever since that night almost a year ago to the day, Mariacher made it his mission to make up for lost time.
“It was hard. ... I just wanted to play, and I got frustrated. I knew I had to come back, work harder, because I had to make up for the year that I lost, so I’m just trying to do that now.
“I’m trying to make up for lost time,” Mariacher mused, emphasizing, “but I couldn’t do it without everybody else on the team.”
“Without a doubt,” McClearn, without hesitation, replied. “He never missed a practice, even though he was on crutches with a cast. So the kids saw that he was committed, even though he couldn’t be part of the team — on the field — last year, and I just think they’re playing their butts off for him this year.”
McClearn mentioned his offensive front, including center Brandon Little, right guard Jake Dominguez, left guard R.J. Swartz, right tackle Graydon Emhoff, left tackle Nate Brest, tight ends Miles Bennington and Tyler Cramer and backups Cole Hanrahan and Ryan Brunson.
“I love my offensive line! I couldn’t get all these yards without them,” Mariacher said, also citing blocking backs Joe Hess and Billy Selders, as well as his wideouts. “It’s a team effort; it’s not about me, it’s about everybody else on the team,” Mariacher emphasized.
McClearn and Mariacher are of the same mind-set, however, regarding the playoffs, taking nothing for granted.
“I didn’t get to play in those (2010) games, and you get just ten games a season that you’re guaranteed, so we’ve gotta play ten games and four quarters of football,” Mariacher emphasized.
“I’ve only seen ’em once,” McClearn said of Saegertown (6-4), and that was against Mercyhurst Prep and they looked awfully good. We (had) 15 minutes of celebration (following the win over West Middlesex), and as soon as we got back to Mercer I was worried about Saegertown.”
“I’m always ready to go to the playoffs! I love the playoffs! Good atmosphere ... ” Mariacher said, concluding,
“We’re the seniors who want to bring home the District 10 title, and I feel like we’ve gotta do it. I feel like, if we stay a four-quarter football team, then we can pull out the District 10 (championship). But I’m not saying ... there’s good teams out there, there’s Sharpsville, Prep, Youngsville. So there’s good teams in the tournament, so we’ll have to see how we play. ... we’ll see what happens.”