Playing with the lead for the first time since their PSAC opener back on Sept. 12, Edinboro was unable to turn a 14-point lead within the game’s first four minutes into its first win in 2015.
Mercyhurst ran off three straight touchdowns between late in the third quarter and the final stanza to run away from the Fighting Scots (0-8, 0-5) in a 38-28 road victory.
The game was Edinboro’s annual Fighting Scots Fighting Cancer night.
“No, I really couldn’t,” head football coach Scott Browning said when asked if he could believe the turnaround. “Offensively, we ran 15 plays in the whole first half and I don’t think that’s a combination of our offense not executing. It’s a combination of our defense not getting off the field after a certain point in time and it just goes together.”
The Lakers amassed just 306 total yards, the lowest output the Scots have allowed all season, with 251 yards coming on the ground. However, Edinboro, which recorded only 11 yards in the first half, was held to its season low on the night of 206 yards.
“We couldn’t do anything,” Browning admitted. “We had no rhythm and then when you try to get it going, their offense is controlling the ball. They had the ball 21 minutes in the first half.”
Redshirt junior receiver Darren Massey finished the night with seven catches for 41 yards as he passed David Bostic for first place in program history in career receptions with 164.
Edinboro began the game forcing a Mercyhurst three-and-out deep in Laker territory. On the ensuing punt, freshman Mitch Thomas made several defenders miss on his first career punt return touchdown that covered 47 yards.
Three plays later, graduate defensive end Armani Davis tipped a screen pass and set up teammate Josh Kibbie for an interception.
“I mean, that’s huge and I thought after that we were going to take that momentum and run with it and just keep rolling,” Kibbie admitted.
Kibbie, the redshirt junior nose guard, recorded his first career pick on the play and returned the ball 14 yards to the Mercyhurst three-yard line.
“With the screens, we ran them in practice and I’ve read them pretty good,” Kibbie said. “I think [Coach Wayne] Bradford always teaches you to focus on that if you get no pressure from the [offensive line]. I saw the back cross my face and I just ran out. Luckily Armani tipped it and it just fell right in my hands.”
Edinboro’s offense took advantage, with junior tailback Cory Bell scoring his first rushing touchdown on the season from two yards out.
Two plays later, freshman cornerback Zuril Hendrick blindsided redshirt junior quarterback Zack Emerick (11-of-18 passing, 64 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) on a strip-sack fumble that redshirt senior defensive end Domenic Principale recovered for Edinboro at the Mercyhurst 43.
Unfortunately for the Scots, they could not put up any additional points off the turnover as Edinboro went three-and-out.
Mercyhurst began its turnaround by marching 87 yards on 15 plays, with the Lakers running 8:55 off the clock to turn in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Emerick to junior receiver Jaquan Williams in the middle of the end zone.
After Mercyhurst’s Dante Redwood blocked Austin Reese’s punt, the Lakers added another touchdown with less than five minutes left in the first half, as Mercyhurst utilized Emerick’s legs on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Mercyhurst tacked on a Dylan Kondis 24- yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the half to erase a two-touchdown deficit and lead by three at the break.
“Still, we came into the second half and we thought we were still down [just] 17-14 and I felt good at halftime,” Browning said. “I thought we could come back and score in the second half. I thought it was still a great ballgame.”
Sophomore quarterback Jake Sisson (14-of-28 passing, 169 yards, 1 TD 2 INTs) put the Scots back in front on a 3-yard rushing touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Mercyhurst redshirt junior tailback Richie Sanders (20 carries, 170 yards rushing, 2 rush TDs) erupted for a 75-yard touchdown run, his first score on the season, to ignite a rushing attack that came into the night averaging 76.6 yards per game (last in PSAC).
“Once again, the defense didn’t step up and stop them,” Browning said. “When it was 21-17, I thought, ‘shoot lets shut them down.’ I thought offensively when we gained some confidence, we gained a little bit of rhythm, a little bit of momentum and I thought we could move the ball and maybe even stick another score in.”
The Lakers drained more clock on an early fourth quarter drive that took over seven minutes as Mercyhurst ran 11 plays to gain 83 yards, culminating in Sanders’ 1-yard touchdown run.
After a Jake Sisson interception on the first play of the following drive, junior tailback Drew Robinson got in on the act with a 25-yard scoring run to make it 38-21.
Sisson and company responded with a rocket screen pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Alex Caratelli (five catches, 116 yards) as he turned up field for a 76-yard touchdown to make it 38-28.
Edinboro fell to 0-8 for the first time in program history.
“Don’t quit,” Kibbie said simply. “You can’t give up. You have to fight through it. Everybody’s faced a tough season. Great players have faced hard seasons and you can’t quit; you can’t give up. You have to keep fighting and play for pride.”
Edinboro hosts defending PSAC champion Slippery Rock on Saturday with a noon kickoff slated for Senior Day at Sox Harrison Stadium.
Mike Fenner is a Senior Staff Writer for The Spectator.