Puzzling out how to contain an aggressive and fast offensive Mercyhurst line proved too much to ask of the Titusville Rockets during Friday’s home football game, as the brown and gold suffered their first setback of the season with a 56-0 Region 6 loss at Carter Field.
Ultimately, the locals didn’t have a sufficient response for Lakers running back Steve Smith, a junior with speed whose cuts and runs cost the Rockets the opening two touchdowns of the game, and 24 points in all. Smith and the Lakers constantly harried the defense to advance the visitor’s cause.
“They were fast,” Titusville coach Bryan Baldwin said. “They were fast, they were well coached, they had an answer for everything and we didn’t have an answer for Steve Smith.”
Half of the scoring came in the opening quarter of the action. In the opening drive, Mercyhurst received the kick and ran it to the 32 yard line. Laker Iyan Baker opened the drive with a 14-yard run. From there, Smith took the reins, carrying the ball three times for 64 yards to put up the first six points. On the second play, he was tackled by Titusville junior Joe Jacobson after a 20-yard run.
This first tackle was one of a number of critical tackles on the night from Jacobson, including one sack of Mercyhurst quarterback Matt Luce in the pocket, and a takedown of Gus Campbell for a 9-yard Mercyhurst loss.
“Joe Jacobson is probably one of the best defensive ends in our region for sure,” Baldwin said. “He just takes over the game and manhandles people. He has a motor that won’t quit.”
Titusville had some bright spots in their lineup that they will lean on as they try to get back to their winning ways for homecoming next weekend. Charlie Nicholson was the focal point of the attack for all of the Rockets’ most successful endeavors, taking the ball on 20 plays for 58 rushing yards.
Unfortunately, when Titusville strung too many plays targeting Nicholson together, the visiting Lakers caught on.
“We tried to hit it and hit it and hit it, but then we would get stuck in positions where we had to be predictable,” Baldwin said.
Their intermittent rushing success was sprinkled with some progress in the passing game. Landon Palma shined with five catches worth 57 yards. However, tight coverage and a high-speed opposition challenged hopes at converting any of the Rocket efforts into points, as Palma saw a couple key passes get away.
Baldwin said that Palma’s speed and the danger he posed on the field was the cause of Mercyhurst’s kicking strategy, which was an incessant string of squibs designed to keep the ball out of the air where they might be in danger of the counterattack.
“(Palma) is electric,” he said. “That is why they never kicked to him. That is why they kept kicking it on the ground.”
One of these short kicks proved fruitful for the Lakers, when they put one off the chest of a Rocket to recover it and return it for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The visiting Lakers pushed their running game primarily. Smith carried 17 times for 222 rushing yards, and was followed by Baker who carried for 65 yards.
Mercyhurst quarterback Luce took a back seat in the game, completing three of his four passes for a total of 69 yards. Knapp outpaced him here, throwing for 86 yards. However, he completed less than half of his attempts and was intercepted twice, a testament to his opposition’s skill on the ball.
TItusville had 7 first downs to Mercyhurst’s 13. The Rockets slowed the bleeding in each quarter, only giving up 7 points in the second half. They nearly pushed through to the end zone. Near misses from Isaac Jackson and Boaz LaRocque in the end zone would have put the home squad on the board, but it was not meant to be against a team that had more pace than Titusville could match on Friday.
Titusville will have the opportunity to return for glory under the lights at home next week for their homecoming festivities against Corry, at 7 p.m..