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Mervo teammates follow Laquwen Jefferson (36), who reacts after intercepting a pass against Westminster to seal a victory during the MPSSAA Class 3A quarterfinals Fri., Nov. 22, 2019.
Mervo teammates follow Laquwen Jefferson (36), who reacts after intercepting a pass against Westminster to seal a victory during the MPSSAA Class 3A quarterfinals Fri., Nov. 22, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Mervo football coach Patrick Nixon liked the way his team rebounded from a shaky first half to control the final two quarters and defeat No. 14 Westminster in last week’s Class 3A state quarterfinal.

Nixon also knows that No. 4 Mervo cannot afford another slow start in its state semifinal matchup at Linganore on Friday at 7 p.m. The Mustangs made the state semifinals last year before falling to North Point, but they want to play in the championship game this time around.

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To do that, Nixon said, they need to be strong from the start against the Frederick County powerhouse that has won six state titles.

“We have to play desperate from the beginning,” Nixon said. “They’re a really good team. They’re very disciplined.”

Mervo (12-0) played much more disciplined football in the second half of its home game against Westminster. The Mustangs, who run the spread offense, went to the running game more and scored on three of their four second-half drives. Westminster stopped them on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the other possession.

The Mustangs like to throw, as quarterback Kelin Kimbrough has compiled 1,678 yards passing along with 24 touchdowns this season. He threw for two scores that turned around last week’s game.

Tyree Williams and Malik Lindsey each caught one of the touchdowns. Williams made a diving catch for the team’s first score and Lindsey picked off a pass which set up the fourth-quarter drive where he caught a Kimbrough touchdown. That gave Mervo a 16-6 lead late in the final period and sealed the win.

But the running game helped set everything up. Kyle Parker leads Mervo with 1,005 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. The Mustangs will need help from their ground game in this matchup.

They’ll also need another solid game from their offensive and defensive lines. On offense, Jermaine Gilliam (tackle) and Justin Mason (center) help anchor the line. Kamar Missouri (tackle), Marcus Berry (tackle) and Daquan Harris (end) play major roles on defense.

Harris and Missouri also have helped with the pass rush as they’ve posted 14 and 12 sacks, respectively. The defense will need to be on its game as Linganore (11-1) runs the ball effectively. Xander McClure leads the Lancers with 2,143 yards and 18 touchdowns while Brady Domroe has run for 676 yards and 15 scores.

“We’ve just got to come ready to play,” Mervo linebacker Xavier Shell said. “We need everybody to do their job. Once our defense gets into a rhythm, we’re unstoppable.”

Nixon said Mervo knows the Lancers are a run-first team as they’ve passed just 66 times in their 12 games. Linganore comes right at its opponents on the ground.

“They’re smash-mouth football,” Nixon said. “A football game is a lot like [a] boxing match. It’s going to be intriguing to see how we match up with them. They like to impose their will on people.”

The Mervo defense completely shut down Westminster’s offense for much of the game last week. Plus, the Mustangs have been to this level of the playoffs last year, so they know what’s coming. Mervo will just try to put everything together from the start of what's going to be a physical game.

“I think they’re hungry,” said Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith, whose team suffered its only loss of the season to Mervo. “I think they’ve arrived. I think they’ve finally got a good team that’s trying to do what they need to do. I think they could make a run.”

Class 3A state semifinal

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MERVO (12-0) AT LINGANORE (11-1)

Friday, 7 p.m.

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