Jeremiah Kirkland exploded for 253 yards rushing and three scores for Landmark. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
Don't look now, but the Our Lady of Mercy and Landmark Christian football rivalry might be one of the area's finest matchups. The 2012 edition of their war was the finest yet, with the War Eagles winning 30-27 in overtime.
It wasn't long ago that their annual meeting was a laugher. Since the arrival of Mike Earwood as the Mercy head coach, the Bobcats have become fighters. Landmark has long been good and now they know they have a formidable rival. Landmark's coach Wayne Brantley was very complimentary of the rapid ascent of the Bobcats, particularly the physicality with which the Cats are playing this season.
Mercy announced their arrival early in this edition.
Landmark's starting quarterback Cole Higbie was injured early on the first series. He would not return to the game under center, but would continue on defense. Mercy's Michael Anidi corralled a limping Higbie for a big sack to seal the first three and out.
Mercy would start in good position on their opening drive and on many possessions as part of Landmark's gameplan. The War Eagles were determined to not let Rashard Fant beat them, instead punting the ball out of bounds rather than risk a big return. The Bobcats started their first drive on their own 44 and went on the attack. Quarterback Dylan Terrell converted a third and ten with a big 25 yard run. Albert Wilson capped off the drive with a three yard plunge into the end zone. Jameson Vest's extra point put Mercy up 7-0 with less than five minutes off the clock.
Landmark was unfazed, striking back on their drive. The War Eagles gameplan was to be physical and attack with their running game. It worked as they slowly worked their way down the field. Running back Jeremiah Kirkland did the heavy lifting and was rewarded with a trip to the end zone from 10 yards out. Stockton McGuire added the extra point to tie up the game.
Though Landmark tried to keep the ball out of Rashard Fant's hands he soon found a way to make it happen. A huge sack for Landmark would get them the ball back inside Mercy territory. Trying to go for it all, backup quarterback Stockton McGuire went deep for Josh Nobles. His passed sailed just a tad too far where Fant picked it off around the five yard line. Fant ripped off one of the type of returns you expect to see from such an exciting athlete, weaving back and forth through defenders for a 60 yard return. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, Fant would hurt his ankle on the play and miss all of the second half after toughing it out for a while.
Chauncey Laboo picked up a 25 yard run on the next play, but the drive would stall. Vest got something out of it, drilling a 22 yard field goal for a 10-7 Mercy lead.
Mercy thought they had really taken control of the game when on their next series Dylan Terrell found Alex Willard open who rumbled the distance for a 64 yard touchdown. The Bobcat faithful were crushed when they saw the yellow flag negated the big play.
"Having a touchdown called back was a big blow, but we had other opportunities," said Mercy head coach Mike Earwood.
The series would stall from there, handing the ball over to Landmark who would not waste the second chance. Jeremiah Kirkland did the honors, racing around the defense for a 60 yard touchdown.
Kirkland was the star all night for Landmark, just as he has been all season. Kirkland racked up 253 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Over the last three games he has a ridiculous 589 yards.
Landmark tried to catch Mercy off guard with an onside kick to start the second half but it was the War Eagles that got the surprise. Just two plays after recovering the onside, Laboo took it to the house on a 48 yard touchdown running through would-be tacklers. The score put Mercy ahead 17-14 with less than twenty seconds gone in the second half.
The War Eagles had a quick strike up their sleeve as Kirkland ripped off another 60 yard run. He then pushed it in from two yards out to put his team back ahead 21-17.
Both defenses buckled down until late in the fourth quarter when Mercy made their push. Starting on their own 40 yard line and with time waning, the Bobcats needed several huge plays to make a move. The drive looked dead as soon as it starting with them staring down a quick fourth and seven when Terrell floated a pass to Delfayeo Matthews who snared it and picked up 16 yards. Terrell would then hit Chris Hunt for a 20 yard gain. The duo would connect again, this time with Terrell rolling to his right and finding Hunt open in the end zone for a 11 yard touchdown. Vest's extra point put the Bobcats ahead 24-21.
Landmark got the ball back with what looked a nearly impossible task in front of them. The War Eagles were 80 yards away with 1:12 left on the clock and their backup freshman quarterback Stockton McGuire under center. McGuire was more than ready for the challenge, completing passes to four different receivers to chew up yardage. The two biggest were saved for last by Josh Nobles who picked up gains of 20 and 26 to put the War Eagles on the four yard line with four second remaining. As if the drive wasn't enough, McGuire did the rest, booting a 22 yard field goal to tie the game up and send it into overtime.
"He's going to be a real good one. He showed great character and courage. He gave a glimpse of what he can become," Brantley said of McGuire. "He showed a lot of calmness kicking that field goal under a lot of pressure. He's really growing up for us."
The Bobcats had no time to lick their wounds with overtime starting. Unfortunately they could not quite get their offense back in gear, settling for a 22 yard Vest field goal and a 27-24 lead.
Landmark still had the momentum and they made it clear quite quickly. On the first play Josh Nobles took a reverse 14 yards down to within inches of the goal line. McGuire did the rest, stretching over the top for a touchdown on the next play for a 30-27 win.
"We kept our composure and were able to execute," said Brantley of his team's late game heroics.
"Landmark is a team that played for the championship and they probably believe a little more than we do right now," Earwood said. "We've just got to keep working to find ways to believe in ourselves a little more. This is one of the tougher losses I've had to deal with."
"I'm proud of the kids. They played hard," added Earwood. "I hate it for the kids. I felt like this was a measuring stick game for our program."
For Landmark, they definitely came away impressed with the play of their competitors. "You can't say enough about Mercy. They played great and fought hard."
While Kirkland was the story for Landmark, Chauncey Laboo led the way for Mercy with 99 yards and a score on 13 carries. Dylan Terrell threw for 117 yards and a touchdown on 8 completions along with 35 yards on the ground.
For now, Mercy will have to bide their time and wait until next year when they have another shot at Landmark. For this season, they still have a strong 4-2 record and a game on the road against Holy Innocents ahead. Landmark bumped their record up to 4-2. They will host Strong Rock Christian this week.