It's not often a freshman defensive back is the most valuable player in a district game that features senior quarterbacks and standout receivers, but that was the case Thursday at the Stadium of Champions as Hopkinsville and Logan County met in a decisive Class 4A district battle.
Freshman Daisjuan Mercer grabbed not one, not two but three interceptions to tie the school record and give him seven picks in four games as the Tigers beat Logan County, 21-6, to take control of the district.
"It feels good," he said. "It feels good that at a young age I can really help my team and that the coaches count on me. Just trust in the offense, trust in the defense to do what we do."
Hoptown coach Craig Clayton said he's never had a freshman make an impact on the defensive end like Mercer has this season.
"He has unbelievable natural instincts for the game," he said. "He's only played two years. He started last year in the eighth grade. We didn't want to play any young guys but we had to play them eventually. He's only played four games and he has seven picks. He's something else. I tell our coaches, he's never out of position."
Mercer's final interception of the game may have been his best as he skied through the air and pulled it down with one hand, reminiscent of a certain NFL wide receiver.
"I saw their quarterback rolled out and I know he went over the top so I realized if I got under him enough I could get the ball," he said. "I just went for it in the air."
Mercer said he wasn't sure he'd have as much of an impact as he's had so far this season for the Tigers.
"Coaches, they trusted in me and I just showed them I could be out there and play with the big boys," he said.
While Mercer may be a young gun in the Hoptown secondary, he's got plenty of savvy veterans to learn from, and he said he does that daily.
"They teach me a lot in practice," he said. "Tell me to stay humble, make sure I'm doing what I do and they've always got my back."
As amped up as the Tiger defense was Thursday, that wasn't the case early as they got off to a sluggish start against a top-five opponent.
"Our first half is the worst we've played all year," he said. "It's the worst Jay's (Bland) played all year. He was everywhere. I don't have an answer. They didn't have any sense of urgency. I jumped them before the game. I just didn't think they were ready to play."
Logan County struck first at the end of the first when Tyler Ezell found Jarrett Sears from 11 yards out but that'd be the only time the Cougars would find their way into the end zone.
After that, Bland found Lane Rushing for an 11-yard score then a three-yard rush by Bland gave the Tigers a 14-6 lead at the break.
Bland ran in another touchdown in the third quarter as Mason Marschand buried all three of his point-after attempts.
Clayton said he doesn't really want his starting quarterback to show how well his legs work right now.
"I don't want him to run so that's the problem," he said. "If he hadn't gotten hurt last year we'd been pretty good last year. He is a good runner and he's gotten stronger from last year ... As the season goes on, you got to take more chances. If he gets hurt we're in trouble."
With Hoptown's win, they move to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in district play. The Tigers now prepare for another battle next week as they travel to Madisonville-North Hopkins.
A Tiger win would presumably give them the district crown as Hopkins County Central would be the only thing standing in their way at week nine.
A Tiger loss could make a three-way tie for the top team in the district.
Hopkinsville 21, Logan County 6
HHS (5-2) 0 14 7 0--21
LCHS (6-1) 6 0 0 0--6
LC: Tyler Ezell 11 pass to Jarrett Sears (No two-point), 0:00, 1Q. 6-0
HHS: Jay Bland 11 pass to Lane Rushing (PAT was good), 4:07, 2Q. 7-6
HHS: Jay Bland 3 run (PAT was good), 2:39, 2Q. 14-6
HHS: Jay Bland 3 run (PAT was good), 54.2, 3Q, 21-6
HHS: Jay Bland: 9-21-143-1
LCHS: Tyler Ezell: 13-32-168-1
HHS: Tyrell Gray-Lewis: 4-23, Jay Bland: 8-10-2
LCHS: Tyler Ezell: 9-19
HHS: Reece Jesse: 5-82, Lane Rushing: 3-33-1
LCHS: Jaden Sells: 3-53, Jarrett Sears: 3-49-1