Merrill Roll: Rusher explodes late, helms 35-14 Wildcat win
IRVING -- In Week 0, against Garland Lakeview Centennial, Plano Senior senior Kevin Merrill had two touchdowns negated by penalties.
Thursday night against Irving MacArthur, the Wildcats' running back had a 33-yard score called back late in the first quarter.
So imagine the relief when Merrill took a screen from junior Richard Lagow upfield for a 64-yard touchdown and upon looking back, the only things on the ground were the giddy footsteps of congratulatory teammates.
"I just ran in the endzone, looked back and I was really happy that I didn't see a flag," Merrill said. "It was a nice surprise."
No flag, no penalty and a 28-14 Plano lead that climaxed a fourth quarter that saw Plano outscore the Cardinals, 21-0, on the way to a 35-14 victory.
"At the half, I said that we were about to see the character of this football team and how we'd respond to this," said Jaydon McCullough, Plano head coach. "I was into this game and I felt like that second half would define this team. Back in 2009, we didn't respond well to situations like this, so I was really proud of this team."
The Wildcats broke open a 14-14 tie entering the final frame, with touchdowns capping three consecutive drives that spanned six-and-a-half minutes.
All three leaned heavily on the play of Merrill, who totaled 271 yards of offense -- 166 rushing and 105 receiving -- plus two touchdowns.
Merrill scored on a 3-yard toss just 21 seconds into the fourth quarter to nudge the Wildcats ahead, 21-14, and extended Thursday's highlight reel one slide longer after his 64-yard touchdown catch with a 48-yard run that saw the rusher break multiple tackles en route to being dragged down at the Cardinals' 7-yard line. Senior Sam Morell scampered those final 7 yards on a toss for a 35-14 lead.
"We had been working hard all night," Merrill said. "[MacArthur] has a great defensive line but we just kept pushing hard and it started to finally come together late."
It was a Plano squad clicking on all cylinders late, balancing the big plays on offense with timely stops on defense.
Despite surrendering a 54-yard completion from MacArthur's Justin Chavez to Cyvantae Hubbard midway through the fourth quarter, the Wildcats ultimately got the last laugh when senior Xavier Harbert blew up a reverse to Hubbard for a 7-yard loss on fourth-and-8.
Prior to that, Harbert got in on a third-down stop one MacArthur series earlier that forced a punt.
The Wildcats bookended their dominant fourth quarter with an equally imposing opening frame that saw the team pick up where it left off following a 56-0 shutout of Lakeview.
After a MacArthur three-and-out opened the contest, Plano proceeded to march downfield behind 55 yards on 5-of-5 from Lagow; the final completion being an 11-yards connection with senior Sam Morell for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 6:16 left in the first quarter.
Lagow finished the evening with 245 yards passing on 16-of-28 plus three touchdowns. Morell added 33 total yards plus two touchdowns while senior L.J. Ausama bagged 50 yards on three receptions.
That number quickly swelled to 14 on Plano's next possession, as 12 plays bled over 4:30 off the clock with Lagow balancing his passes with Merrill and Ausama carving up the Cardinals on the ground.
Highlighted by a 17-yard screen to Ausama and a fourth-and-10 conversion between Lagow and junior Anthony Antwine, the Wildcats upped the ante to 14-0 with 13 seconds left in the first with a 19-yard hookup between Lagow and senior Hunter Gore.
But a 24-yard run by Chavez breathed life into the MacArthur offense in the final play of the first quarter, and opened the gates to 14 unanswered Cardinal points to close the half.
Unable to establish a threat on the ground early on, Chavez and Jourdan McNeill combined for 88 yards in the second quarter alone. The tandem paced a Cardinal rushing attack that totaled 149 yards, led by McNeill's 83.
The run opened up the pass as well, with Chavez finding Sergio Torres on a quick slant for a 12-yard touchdown to cut Plano's lead to 14-7 with 9:37 left in the second frame. Chavez tossed 8-of-12 for 110 yards, adding 62 on the ground.
Just over two minutes later, the teams were back on even ground at 14-14 as McNeill capped a three-play drive with a 20-yard touchdown run, bouncing and breaking by a myriad of Wildcat defenders.
"You've got to give MacArthur a lot of credit too," McCullough said. "[McNeill] was hard to tackle, but I was real proud of these kids responded tonight."
The Wildcats up their 2011 mark to 2-0, while MacArthur dropped to 0-2. Plano caps non-district play on Friday in its home opener, a 7:30 p.m. tilt against Mansfield Legacy at Clark Stadium.
"At the half, it was pretty much 0-0," Merrill said, "so we had to come out, scratch and claw, and it showed the character and resilience of our team."