High School Football

Titanic defensive effort seals huge win in final minute

Photo slideshow: Mercer County defeats Anderson County 15-13

The Mercer County football team defeats Anderson County 15-13 Friday at Anderson County High School.
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The Mercer County football team defeats Anderson County 15-13 Friday at Anderson County High School.

With their backs to their own end zone seemingly all night, the Mercer County Titans mustered one final, massive defensive play in a game full of them to seal a rare 15-13 win over Anderson County in the last minute Friday.

Anderson, a No. 6-ranked Class 4A team which has won nine of its last 10 meetings against the Titans, threatened to go ahead with as little as a field goal with less than a minute to play.

But senior Titans’ defensive lineman Isaiah Dismuke felt the Bearcats’ offensive line pull back and knew a pass would be coming on third and long. He didn’t know it would slip out of the Anderson County quarterback’s hand like a wounded duck and fall safely into his arms.

“I was so scared. I’m a lineman. I don’t catch anything,” Dismuke said of the interception. “So, having this experience is just amazing.”

After two first quarter scores, Anderson and Mercer settled into a long field-position battle that Anderson kept winning, but remained unable to turn into points thanks to the Titans’ defense.

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Senior quarterback/defensive back Kaelin Drakeford intercepted one pass on his own goal line in the second quarter and another on his own 5-yard line in the third.

But it was his fumble recovery and return of a ball knocked loose by teammate Dillon Warren that broke the stalemate. Drakeford scooped up the ball on the Mercer 30 and returned it 40 yards. A personal foul put the Titans on the 15 to start the drive with 6:54 left in the game. Three plays later Brayden Dunn scored the go-ahead touchdown. Backfield mate Malachi Yulee ran in the two-point conversion to make it 15-7.

“I’m just flying around trying to make plays, man. The ball happened to come my way,” Drakeford said of the fumble recovery. “I’m playing for this team. It’s not about me. It’s all about our defense.”

After going three-and-out on its next offensive series, Anderson’s defense stepped up.

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Anderson’s Jacob Castle intercepted a Drakeford pass at midfield and brought it to the Mercer 38 with a little over four minutes to go. Four plays later, Anderson quarterback Jagger Gillis hit Sam Herrod for a touchdown to cut the Titans’ lead to 15-13. But Gillis’ pass in the flat to Tristan Tyler for the two-point conversion was broken up by Dunn, leaving the Bearcats down by two with under three minutes left.

Desperate to get back in the game, Anderson executed a perfect onside kick recovered by AC Austin up against the home sideline at the Mercer 22. Moments later, a Gillis run to the 2-yard line seemed to have the Bearcats within striking range, but it was negated by a holding penalty that brought the ball back for a third-and-goal from the 18 to set up Dismuke’s interception.

“We played good defense all night,” Titans Coach David Buchanan said. “We played good enough offensively and elsewhere to win, but this is a defensive win. Our defense played their butts off. ... We’ve been through a whole lot. And this is a huge win for us.”

Mercer County (3-0) dropped from Class 4A to Class 3A this year after going 5-7 last season.

Yulee ended the night with 101 rushing yards, including a 20-yard TD. Dunn added 44 on the ground for the Titans. Gillis led Anderson (2-1) statistically with 234 passing yards. The Bearcats committed four turnovers to the Titans’ one. Anderson’s Kynan Russell returned the first punt of the game 85 yards for a touchdown.

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Jared Peck, the Herald-Leader’s Digital Sports Writer, covers high school athletics and has been with the company as a writer and editor for more than 19 years.
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