Paul Rains doesn’t mind that Mercer County is getting a late start.
While every other area team was playing its first game of the season last week, the Titans were making the most of the extra time before they kick off the season Saturday against Collins in Boyle County’s new bowl.
The game in Boyle County’s new bowl will be Mercer’s first under Rains, who has repeatedly said the team is all but starting from scratch after three straight losing seasons.
“Any time you’re starting a new program per se as a new coach coming in, you want as much time as you can before the games actually start counting,” Rains said.
The clock runs out in four days, when Mercer faces a Collins team — also nicknamed the Titans — that is coming off an 11-2 season in the school’s first year.
“We’re capable of pulling out a win this week, but it’s definitely a formidable foe and a tough first game,” Rains said.
Collins, a Shelby County school, opened its season last week with a 33-25 loss to Meade County, and Rains said he was impressed with its athleticism.
“They had some really nice looking kids,” he said. “I haven’t seen much of Boyle County or Allen County-Scottsville (the other teams in Boyle’s bowl), but they may be the best-looking team down there this weekend. I wouldn’t think that would be a stretch.”
Collins returns its top two running backs from last season, seniors Darian Dugle (824 yards, eight touchdowns) and Michael Brooks (335 yards, 12 touchdowns), who are part of a wide-open offense.
“We think we run a spread attack; they run a bigger spread attack,” he said.
Both sets of Titans will start strong-armed sophomores at quarterback, and Rains said Collins’ Lawson Page is similar to Mercer’s J.T. Long, who will make his first start.
Mercer will be without guard Curry Brown, a sophomore who had earned a starting spot on the offensive line but who will likely miss the entire season with a broken collar bone. Brown recently underwent surgery that included the insertion of a steel plate and six screws.
“He had really come out of nowhere for us,” Rains said.
Rains said it may take some time for Mercer’s offense to execute as he hopes it will, so he’s hoping the defense will be sharp enough to pick up the slack.
Skipping the first week of the season means Mercer was allowed two scrimmages. Rains said they improved in both, although they won neither.
“Green County told us we’ve got a long way to go. (Last week) against Central Hardin we got better, but we’ve still got to work on the defensive side of the ball on attacking the football,” he said.
He also said he’s hoping the Titans can quickly become a confident team, though he knows nothing will speed that process more than winning.
“We haven’t walked on the field yet ready to play,” Rains said. “We need to work on the confidence part of things, being mentally ready to play the football game from the very first snap.”
Taylor County (1-0) at Casey County (0-1)
There can’t be many teams that are feeling better about a season-opening loss than Casey.
The Rebels found a lot to like in a 34-9 loss last week to Simon Kenton — the largest school they have ever played — that was close for more than half the game, and coach Sam Marple said he likes the fact that they seemed to have an extra spring in their step when they came back to practice Monday.
“We didn’t really have to drag anybody to do anything. They came in with a little swagger,” Marple said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t intimidated by Simon Kenton, and now you’ve just got to stay humble and hungry and be prepared every single week. I really don’t feel like with this class of seniors that’s going to be a problem.”
Casey makes a major move down in class Friday to play Taylor, which went 1-9 last season but opened this season with a 21-0 win at McCreary Central.
Eric Graves, who was previously at Adair County and Campbellsville University, is the Cardinals’ third coach in three years, and Marple knows him well.
“They’re a typical coach Graves team, well coached,” Marple said. “They’re an option team, and they like to do a lot of stuff out of the I(-formation). It’ll be one option team against another, so it’ll probably go quick.”
Marple said that while Casey’s option plays typically go up the middle, Taylor is more inclined to try to the get the corners or to turn to a play-action pass.
“It’s a game where we just have to be sound defensively. If we do that, I think we’ll be in position to be successful,” Marple said.
While Casey played close to home last week at Lincoln County, Marple said the Rebels are excited about their home opener.
“We’re all excited to be back at home. There ain’t nowhere better to play football than right down here in our little football stadium,” he said. “And it’ll be fun to show our product to all the people at Casey County.”