Alex Horlak and the Bobcat defense bottled up a talented Pace Academy offense in a huge 22-14 victory.
(Photo by Kathy Gl
By John Keuler
Shutting down a potent offensive attack that features a number of college prospects, the Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats defeated the Pace Academy Knights 22 to 14 on Friday night.
When the Bobcats opened up the season 0-3 they were in need of a massive shift in momentum to save their season. According to Mercy’s head coach Mike Earwood, some people have said that Pace has the talent to play in the Dome. A hard and well-fought victory over a team of this caliber could be the shift that the Bobcats needed.
Pace opened up the game on offense and they drove to their own 44 yard line before the Bobcats got into the backfield to stuff the Knights on fourth and two and take over on downs.
An Albert Wilson screen pass and a Jameson Vest run up the middle led to Jordan Thomas ramming his way into the end zone from more than 20 yards out, carrying a defender the last ten yards to make his way for a touchdown. A failed extra point left the Bobcats up by six, taking a 6-0 lead with 6:09 in the first quarter.
Two possessions later, Vest kicked a field goal to give Our Lady of Mercy a 9-0 lead just before the end of the first quarter.
The Bobcat defense again stopped the Knights offense to force a punt with 8:54 in the second. However, just a couple of plays later, OLM put the ball on the ground and Pace gobbled it up, recovering the fumble and giving them prime field position.
Alex Horlak was able to get pressure on the Knights evasive junior quarterback Kevin Johnson, who already has a scholarship offer from South Carolina, for a sack, but it was not enough to disrupt the drive. Pace took advantage of the fumble and the field position and notched their first score of the game as Johnson dumped it off to his receiver Trevor Cefalu from within five yards to score. Converting the extra point, Pace Academy cut into the lead and trailed 9-7 with 6:16 remaining in the half.
Following the Cefalu touchdown, neither team was able to move the ball with much success the rest of the half. The Knights failed to convert on a fourth down with just 58 seconds left and the score going into the second half remained 9-7 with the Bobcats hanging onto the lead.
Mercy had possession to open up the second half of the game. A lucky bounce lead to OLM starting the second half off with a bang. Senior speedster Christian Coleman was put into motion and was given the ball as he ran parallel to the line of scrimmage. Showing his speed, he turned the corner and went down the visitor’s sideline. Coleman then fumbled and, fortunately for the Bobcats, the ball found Albert Wilson who scooped it up and took it all the way to the six yard line. From there, Coleman was again the put into motion to run a jet sweep around the right side for a score. Our Lady of Mercy took a 16-7 lead with 8:50 in the third quarter.
The Knights got a first down on the ensuing drive but stalled again. A halfback toss and a carry for Franklin out of the Wildcat formation lead to a third and two situation. Finding themselves in a short yardage situation, Pace handed it to bruising young running back Malik Staples, who has an offer from Boston College. However, OLM’s Horlak met him at the line, and he made the tackle to force a punt.
The Bobcats were unable to convert on a third and seven on a screen to Coleman and punted it back to the Knights. Johnson showed his mobility and ability to throw on the run as he scrambled left and was able to find a receiver on the sideline to move the chains on third and ten. Faced again with a third and long situation, Johnson scrambled around and threw to Cefalu for a 12 yard gain and another first down. Johnson ran for another nine yards, but Keegan Jordan killed the Knights drive as he was able to corral Johnson for a ten yard sack that led to a fourth and seven situation where Johnson misfired and overthrew his receiver to again turn the ball over on downs.
Opening up the final quarter, Our Lady of Mercy had possession and hoped to extend their lead over the talented Pace team. The drive opened up poorly for the Bobcats with a false start and a bad snap that lead to a loss of yards. On the third snap of the possession, however, Vest faked left and threw a screen to Delfayo Matthews who followed blockers and found a seam, tearing down the sideline for 75 yard touchdown.
Tempers were heightened as Our Lady of Mercy was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct when a Bobcat mouthed off to a Knight. The penalty was assessed on the kickoff after OLM’s two point conversion failed as tight end Chris Hunt was unable to come up with a catch in the back of the end zone. The score remained 22-7 with 10:08 in the final quarter of play after the failed conversion.
With the penalty backing up the strong-legged Vest 15 yards, he was unable to kick the ball into the end zone as he normally does for a touchback, allowing Franklin to return the kickoff all the way to the Bobcat 24 yard line, where he was bumped out of bounds by the last line of defense, Vest.
A speed option pitch to Staples brought Pace Academy to the five yard line as very little time expired, giving Pace plenty of opportunity for a comeback. A run up the middle, a quarterback sneak, and a toss to the right all failed to put the Knights into the end zone. On fourth and goal, Johnson scrambled to his left and threw a short shuffle pass to a waiting Kameron Uter for the score. The extra point made the contest a one possession game as Pace trailed only 22-14 with 7:14 remaining in the game.
Our Lady of Mercy looked to have a lengthy drive to eat up some of the remaining time, but they faced a third and eight to extend their possession. Vest threw a beautiful arching pass to Coleman along the home sideline, which he caught in stride for about 40 yards.
Mercy was unable to pick up another first down and was in position to kick a 40 yard field goal before an illegal substitution penalty backed them up an additional five yards. The five yards hurt the Bobcat cause as the kick was unsuccessful and gave the Knights another chance.
Pace squandered their opportunity. Two short runs and two overthrown receivers gave possession right back to OLM with good field position and 3:21 remaining on the clock. Mercy could not move the ball and again looked to kick a field goal, but a bad snap led to a low kick and it was tipped by a Pace defender.
The Knights had a chance for one last hope but a sack and two incomplete passes led to a fourth and 22. Johnson scrambled around desperately looking for a receiver, but came up empty, taking a sack and securing the win for Our Lady of Mercy.
Mercy was victorious in a game that was pivotal to their season. Defense is what won this game as contributions from both Kyle Wilkins and Alex Horlak saw the Bobcats plugging the middle all night for both of Pace’s Division 1 halfbacks.
The victory’s importance could not be understated, as the impact it may have on the Bobcats could be huge. “Not only is this a big win for this team this year, but it’s a big win for this program. It’s the first time since I've been here that I can remember that everybody on both sides of the ball played hard and was all in and played good clean hard fought football. Nobody quit. I’m proud of the way they played tonight,” said Earwood.
Earwood said that his team was entering the gauntlet of their season with Pace, but they have been playing good competition to open the season as their record shows. The games against Mt. Paran, Mt. Pisgah and Athens Academy may have Our Lady of Mercy ready to compete against anyone they play, regardless of the opposing talent they may be facing. With their rival, number two in the state, Landmark Christian on the schedule for this upcoming Friday night, there may not be a better time for the Bobcats to be ready to compete.