Two weeks into the new season, Mercer County has already doubled its victory total of last year after beating Paul Laurence Dunbar 28-21 in the iHigh Football Frenzy at Henry Clay Saturday night.
Coach Bill Mason, whose Titans ripped LaRue County last week, said his team adopted a positive attitude after going 1-10 last fall.
"We learned how to persevere last year," he said. "And the kids have worked so hard since Thanksgiving to turn things around.
"We've worked a lot on their mental toughness, too, and they've shown it the last two weeks."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Mercer County sophomore running back James Johnson has shown toughness running the ball. After rushing for 267 yards and two touchdowns against LaRue County, he had 188 yards and two TDs against Dunbar.
He got a big chunk of that with scoring runs of 38 and 65 yards in the first nine minutes to put the Titans up 14-0.
Dunbar fought back to within 14-13 at halftime, thanks to Blake Martin's quarterback sneak for a score, and Matt Puracchio's two field goals (37 and 20 yards).
After Mercer County quarterback Alex Guay's 7-yard TD run made it 21-13, Dunbar tied it on Blake Martin's quarterback sneak and two-point conversion pass to Emory Thompson midway through the fourth quarter.
Dunbar appeared to have the momentum when it forced the Titans to punt, but the Bulldogs fumbled the kick.
Mercer County took over and drove 37 yards for the winning score. Guay got the TD on another 7-yard run with four minutes left.
Guay said the Titans have grown through adversity.
"We play as a team, we practice as a team, we go through hard times as a team," he said. "We're showing we have fight in us this year. We're not going to get down no matter what happens to us."
Dunbar, which has lost nine games in a row, had some bright spots.
Martin completed 11 of 23 passes for 181 yards and had two intercepted.
Paul Jones rushed 14 times for 175 yards, and added 52 yards on two kickoff returns.
Seth Haga had five catches for 50 yards., and Jordan Gatewood had a 58-yard catch-and-run.
Tucker Lyles was active at linebacker with nine tackles.
Bulldogs' first-year coach Bob Lawson was pleased with his team's second-half effort — "We showed competitive character and we competed until the very end," he said.
But he didn't like the way Dunbar dug itself an early 14-0 hole.
"We've got to compete better at the beginning of the game," he said.
Mercer County 14 0 7 7—28
Paul Dunbar 0 13 0 8—21
MC—James Johnson 38 run (J.J. Blau kick). MC—Johnson 65 run (Blau kick). PD—Blake Martin 1 run (Matt Puracchio kick). PD—Puracchio 37 field goal. MC—Alex Guay 7 run (Blau kick). PD--Martin 1 run (Emory Thompson pass from Martin). MC—Guay 7 run (Blau kick).
Records—Mercer County 2-0; Dunbar 0-2.