Story and photo courtesy of Mercyhurst Athletics
ERIE, Pa. - One week after rushing for 213 yards and three touchdowns, redshirt freshman Brandon Brown-Dukes rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown to help the Mercyhurst University football team win its second consecutive game, 22-14 over Clarion University in the home opener on Saturday afternoon. The Lakers improved to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the PSAC Western Division standings. The Golden Eagles dropped to 1-2 and 0-1 in the west.
Mercyhurst, for the second straight week, focused on its running game on offense, and the combination of Brown-Dukes and junior Allen Jones II again did not disappoint on Saturday. With Brown-Dukes rushing for 157 and Jones adding 67 yards on 13 carries, Mercyhurst finished the day with 239 yards on the ground and now have 612 yards rushing, as a team, over the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, after allowing 367 yards on the ground and 543 total yards in the season opener at Notre Dame College, the Laker defense stiffened for the second straight week. Clarion rushed for 123 yards on 38 carries (3.2 yards per carry) and finished the day with 285 yards of total offense. Mercyhurst outgained the Golden Eagles, finishing with 357 total yards on the afternoon.
Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Vendemia and the Laker offense made it look easy on their opening possession of the game. Mercyhurst marched down the field and scored when Vendemia found senior wide receiver Paris Bruner wide-open in the endzone from 38 yards out with 10:28 left in the first quarter, giving the Lakers a 6-0 lead. On the drive, Vendemia was 3-for-3 for 50 yards.
Clarion drove down the field on its next possession, putting together a 16-play drive. But, the Laker defense came up with a huge fourth-down stop at the Mercyhurst 20-yard line when seniors Linnell Robinson and Nick Jackson tackled Golden Eagle quarterback Ben Fiscus behind the line of scrimmage to stall the drive.
On the Lakers' first full possession the second quarter, Brown-Dukes sprinted down the near sidelines and got into the endzone from the Laker 23-yard line, which would have been a 77-yard touchdown run. However, an illegal block in the back put the offense nullified the score and brought it back to the Clarion 22-yard line, giving Brown-Dukes credit for a 65-yard run. Two plays later, however, the Lakers scored anyway when Vendemia found redshirt freshman Devyn Woods on a 20-yard touchdown strike just inside the far pilon. Junior placekicker Steven Wakefield added the extra point for a 13-0 Mercyhurst lead.
The visitors would get on the board on their first drive of the second half, putting together a 13-play, 76-yard drive that took just over six minutes off the clock. The drive ended when Fiscus threaded a pass to the back of the endzone. Jon Reid somehow came down with the ball - a 19-yard strike - cutting the Laker lead to 13-7 with 5:20 left in the third quarter.
Neither team would score on their next possession, but the Lakers were given excellent field position when junior Vladmir Rock blocked a Nathan Conway punt, giving Mercyhurst possession at the Clarion 47-yard line. It was Rock's second blocked punt of the day and third for the team. Sophomore Chris Lyle also blocked a punt late in the first quarter.
Brown-Dukes would capitalize on the special teams' play, scampering into the endzone from 29 yards out as the third quarter came to a close. The Lakers would go for two, but Vendemia's pass fell incomplete, giving the Lakers a 19-7 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Mercyhurst would tack on three points after Clarion went three-and-out to start the final stanza. The drive that the Lakers put together would prove to be back-breaking for Clarion. Mercyhurst drove 70 yards in 15 plays and, more importantly, took just over eight minutes off the clock. Wakefield capped off the drive with a 27-yard field goal, giving Mercyhurst a 22-7 lead with 5:44 left.
Clarion cut the Mercyhurst lead to eight on the its ensuing possession when Fiscus forced his way into the endzone from a yard out with 3:25 left, capping off a 10-play, 78-yard drive. The Golden Eagles, who used all of their timeouts during Mercyhurst lengthy possession, then went for the onside kick. But, Mercyhurst sophomore Colin Kimball came down with the ball cleanly, giving Mercyhurst the ball back. Brown-Dukes then took over, getting four yards on a third-and-three play, and the Lakers were able to run out the clock.
The Laker rushing game got all of the headlines with Brown-Dukes and Jones combining for 224 yards on the ground. Vendemia completed just 8-of-20 passes for 118 yards, but had two scores and no interceptions. Woods caught three passes for 43 yards while Bruner added two catches for 44 yards.
Fiscus finished the day for Clarion by completing 14-of-31 for 162 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 31 yards on 13 carries. Bobby Thomas led the Golden Eagle ground game with 71 yards on 18 carries.
Defensively, sophomore Aaron McGee led the Lakers with nine tackles, while sophomore Keith Polson finished with eight. Clarion's Brian Palmiere led all tacklers with ten stops.
Mercyhurst will return home next Saturday when Slippery Rock invades Tullio Field for Homecoming Weekend. Mercyhurst and Slippery Rock have each won two meetings in the all-time series with the home team winning each game. Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m.