MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets, down 14-0 at the half against the Marion Harding Presidents on Friday, got a big lift from running back Wyatt Gregory, who ran the ball 223 yards on 32 carries. His teammates added some big plays on defense to defeat Harding, 15-14, in the season opener at Yellow Jackets Stadium.
“At halftime our coach told us, ‘Don’t focus on the past or the future. Focus on the moment,’” Gregory said, “That really got to me and it got to the other guys. It brought us all back together.”
The Jackets came out pumped up in the second half, driving the ball downfield 72 yards the first time they got their hands on it. After Gregory made several nice runs, Mount Vernon finished the drive with a touchdown run by quarterback Trey Davidson, who rolled up 60 yards on 11 carries. He was also 3-for-6 passing for 31 yards.
Gregory broke a 52-yard run on the Jackets’ next possession — his best of the game — putting the ball on the Prexies’ 8-yard line. Gregory ran it in a couple of plays later to put his team on top, 15-14.
The Jackets defense had Marion Harding pinned back deep in its own zone twice in the first half, but the Prexies were still able to throw the ball consistently. Harding quarterback Alex Blevins was 9 for 17 in the first half, tossing a 64-yard touchdown pass to running back DeAndre Ayers with just his second pass of the game. Then, with less than a minute to go in the first quarter, Blevins found running back Dylan Swint with a 33 yard TD toss, putting Harding up by 14. Blevins finished the game 13-for-24 with 170 yards passing, along with a pair of touchdowns.
For Mount Vernon, Gregory ran 12 times in the first half for 67 yards, but the Jackets couldn’t hit paydirt — not even in the second quarter when they managed to take the ball all the way down to Harding’s 16-yard line, where their drive sputtered.
The Jackets offense found its rhythm in the second half and so did the defense, which managed to shutout the Prexies through the final three quarters of the game.
“We know (Harding) had an explosive offense,” said Mount Vernon coach Mike Kerr. “We talked all week about limiting the big plays, but also about weathering the storm. We knew there was a possibility that they would come out quick. We had to change up our look in the second half, and we got more pressure on their quarterback and made him move off his spot.”
The Jackets’ defense temporarily knocked Blevins out of the game near the end of the third quarter, replaced by Mitch Myers for a couple of series. He took the Prexies downfield and almost tossed a touchdown pass, only to watch as Mount Vernon’s Triston Bowens intercept it in the endzone.
“I did get burned earlier in the game,” Bowens said. “I went back out there for my teammates. I watched the coverage, saw the quarterback, broke on it and got a pick.”
Then, with Mount Vernon still clinging to its one-point lead, Harding was driving from its own 18-yard line with 2:06 left in the game. That’s when Mount Vernon middle linebacker Will Small came up with a fumble to ice the Jackets first win of the season.
“After we struggled in that first half, getting that fumble was fantastic,” Small said. “We got our heads on straight and we came out on fire in the second half.”