Mervo coach Patrick Nixon considers himself a historian. He’s aware of Howard’s recent success and that the Lions have won four straight 4A North regional titles. He also knows they have ended the Mustangs season twice over the span — in 2015 and 2016 — and that his team managed just six points combined in those defeats.
“I was very aware they’ve won four in a row, but I told our team, why not us?” Nixon said Friday night. “In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and we look at those guys and respect what they do as a program, and they’ve been the best and we want to be the king of the hill. It’s our time.”
No. 3 seed Mervo avenged those prior losses to No. 2 seed Howard in style on the road Friday night, as the Mustangs scored 28 points on just 20 plays in the first half and stunned the Lions, 48-21, in a 4A North regional semifinal.
It’s the second-ever playoff win for Mervo, which will face No. 1 seed Paint Branch (11-0) on the road Nov. 16 or 17 for the regional championship.
Quarterback Kelin Kimborough finished 8-for-13 passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns and an interception in his first playoff start and led an offense that capitalized on the big play time and time again. Corey Peterkin scored on Mervo’s first offensive play of the game after a special teams turnover by the Lions and found the end zone three times on just five touches. He had three carries for 71 yards and scored on runs of 10 and 60 yards and caught two passes for 44 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Kennedy McKissic hauled in a 69-yard touchdown late in the first half, and Terry Jones, who had two interceptions on defense, caught a 57-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that gave Mervo (9-1) a 41-14 advantage.
Nashon Simmons led the team in carries with 16 for 69 yards and touchdown, and Tyree Williams added seven rushes for 61 yards and a 37-yard score that extended the advantage to 48-21 midway through the fourth quarter.
“We played a really good game today,” Nixon said. “I asked our guys to believe in themselves and to dream big, and our dream is, why not us? I think we can go out and win a state championship. ... I asked them to play with their hearts and to be vulnerable, and by that I mean don’t be disappointed. Put it all out there and let the chips fall where they may, and I think they did a great job of that.”
Senior running back Devin Dawkins broke the 1,000-yard mark rushing for the third straight season and led Howard (9-2) offensively, finishing with 16 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown and two receptions for 46 yards and a score.
The Lions trailed 28-6 at the half but the momentum swung in their favor when senior linebacker Ritchie Hall scored on a 25-yard interception return early in the second half, cutting the deficit to 28-14 after a two-point conversion run by Dawkins. Howard’s defense forced a turnover on downs on the Mustangs’ next possession, but the offense couldn’t seize the momentum and went three-and-out. Peterkin raced to the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown run on the first play of the next drive.
“You get to the playoffs, you’re at home, you’ve got to get out to a fast start,” Lions coach Ross Hannon said. “Turnover on special teams on a poor snap gave them field position, one play, touchdown. We battled back, missed the extra point. We lost all three phases tonight to a team that deserves all the credit.”
The 48 points Howard allowed is the most since a 48-0 loss to Wise in the 4A state semifinals in 2016. The Lions beat Mervo 42-6 in the regional final that season, something Jones remembers well.
“We was hungry coming into the game,” said Jones, who had interceptions on back-to-back drives in the second quarter. “The deficit we lost by [in 2016], so we was hungry for this game. We had to come out here and prove a point and we did that on the scoreboard.”
Mervo (9-1) — 48, Howard (9-2) — 21
M — 7 21 7 13 — 48
Ho — 6 0 8 7 — 21
M: Corey Peterkin 10-yard run, Kieran Hermann kick [7-0]
Ho: Devin Dawkins 8-yard run, kick failed [7-6]
M: Kelin Kimborough 43-yard pass to Peterkin, Hermann kick [14-6]
M: Nashon Simmons 6-yard run, Hermann kick [21-6]
M: Kimborough 69-yard pass to Kennedy McKissic [28-6]
Ho: Ritchie Hall 25-yard interception return, Dawkins run conversion [28-14]
M: Peterkin 60-yard run, Hermann kick [35-14]
M: Kimborough 57-yard pass to Terry Jones, kick failed [41-14]
Ho: Jerry O’Neill 19-yard pass to Dawkins, Harrison Robbins-Green kick [41-21]