By Charlie Hatch, firstname.lastname@example.org
Standing in his own end zone, Griffin Merritt wanted to keep his offense calm.
Moments before, a Moeller pass rush sent the La Salle quarterback scrambling to his right side, where he eventually threw the ball to the feet of his receiver. Moeller fans screamed for the officials to call intentional grounding.
With 4:37 left in the game, the Lancers were pinned back to their own 2-yard-line, trailing by 24-21. The home crowd was beginning to play a factor, too. In essence, La Salle was one mistake away from losing.
But it never came. Instead, what followed was a Merritt delivering a masterpiece of a final drive: a 13-play, 98-yard marathon that gave the Lancers a 28-24 lead with 21 seconds remaining.
It was the drive that sealed a win, but the game that cemented the status of Merritt into one of the city’s best quarterbacks.
“He keeps getting better and better and better,” La Salle head coach Pat McLaughlin said about his quarterback after his team’s win over Moeller on Friday night at Roettger Stadium.
Built with a 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame, Merritt went 24 of 35 for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception. Rushing-wise, the senior had 20 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown.
The rushing touchdown came on fourth down in goal, with La Salle lining up inside Moeller’s 1-yard-line with under 30 seconds to play. Merritt, who kept the ball for seven yards the play before, kept it once more and ran off the left side of his offensive line for the go-ahead score.
“I know a lot of people would tell you I don’t have anything going through my head but just go and execute,” he said of his thoughts before the fourth down. “I’m 17 years old. There is an element that I’m excited. I want to score. I want to do this. I want my team to score. But there’s also the part that needs me to stay calm and just execute.”
With Friday’s win, the Lancers are 5-1 and won their opening game of Greater Catholic League South play. The lone loss was an 18-15 upset on Sept. 22 to Winton Woods.
Through those six games, Merritt has gone 88 of 149 for 1,032 passing yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also run 56 times for 150 yards and three touchdowns.
“I just like to take it one step at a time, one week at a time,” he said. “It’s a new game every week. I try to have the best week of practice I can have, personally. As quarterback, it’s your job to run the offense. I try to make the guys better every day, they made me better every day. It’s just a team effort.”
Moeller quarterback Mitch McKenzie spent the first five games this season backing up statistically the best quarterback in the GCL. Miles McBride had thrown for 956 yards and 17 touchdowns, while only accounting for two interceptions.
Coming into the matchup with La Salle, McKenzie had already thrown two interceptions to only 10 completions.
So for him to deliver a 15-for-24, 219-yard night proved should be seen as an optimistic sign for the Crusaders, who are now 3-3 and 0-2 in conference.
There were tough times. Occasionally, McKenzie made poor judgments on read options that resulted in either a loss or-low yardage gains. But then there were moments of excellence, too.
On 4th-and-6 from the La Salle 14, McKenzie rolled to the right and found Jack McCracken, who made an outstanding, diving one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone. It put the Crusaders up 24-21 with 9:22 remaining, and was the second touchdown connection of the night between McKenzie and McCracken.