MERRYVILLE – With three minutes, 41 seconds left on the clock, Merryville was in position to pick up its second win of the year. However, the potent running attack of Oberlin came up in with big plays late to defeat Merryville 22-20 Thursday night at Keener Cagle Stadium.
The Panthers took the 20-14 lead with a 3-yard touchdown from Kaileb Flanigan, but left too much time on the clock as Tiger quarterback James Kirklin ran for a 22-yard touchdown and added the two-point conversion to take the lead and seal the win.
"We kind of simplified things this week and decided to play some more power football with some bigger kids," Merryville head coach Randy Jones said. "We tried to make it easier for our kids to just block and be physical. For the first time in the year and a half I've been here, we were physical. That's huge for us."
The Oberlin rushing attack comes at the defense from multiple directions with sweeps, designed quarterback runs and halfback runs up the middle. Kirklin ran for a total of 107 yards on 17 carries, and running back Izzy Drehemsis ran 11 times for 80 yards.
"All week, we told them that their quarterback was their player," Jones said. "We knew it and we felt like he would get loose. He just got loose too many times. We knew (Collin Chatman) was a good running back. He had some speed but we could contain him. We knew (Kirklin) could beat us, and that's what he did.
"Our defense has been steadily improving. Last year, we weren't very good and this year we've really improved. We are getting better every week."
Merryville's three turnovers was a difference maker in the game as Oberlin scored 14 points off the turnovers.
In the loss, the Panthers may have found a new weapon on offense with the fullback, Flanigan. The senior run over and around defenders for 101 yards on 16 carries.
"He played a little bit of fullback last year," Jones said. "His ability to keep his head up in a hole and make a cut kind of surprised me. I was expected him to run straight ahead for 3 or 4."
Oberlin took an early lead on its first possession, after a turnover from Merryville, with a 3-yard touchdown from Kirklin.
After another Merryville fumble followed by a punt by Oberlin, McCain followed his blocks to get across the line of scrimmage and outran the defense for a 56-yard touchdown run to make the score 6-6.
McCain, who is finally healthy after a nagging ankle injury kept him sidelined for most of the season, rushed for 158 yards on 18 carries.
"We play a little more confidence and a little more poise with him," Jones said. "We just have to get him in better shape. Every week, we have to play him into shape. We'll take him right now, the way he is, in most games."
Kirklin started the second half by throwing an interception to J.T. Gargis, and Merryville scored a 13 play, 62-yard drive, capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run by Flangian.
At the 11-minute mark, Kirklin ran it in from 8 yards out and Collin Chatman tacked on the two-point conversion to tie it up at 14.