MODESTO — Be careful what you ask for.
The Lathrop game plan coming into Friday night’s Western Athletic Conference tilt with Grace Davis of Modesto was to force the high-octane passing offense, which averages 350 yards a game, into a ground attack.
The strategy worked, until it did not.
Grace Davis running back Francisco Mercado had a breakout game with 209 rushing yards and five touchdowns to lead his squad past Lathrop 55-28 at Modesto Junior College.
“We knew going in that they were going to throw the ball, so we were going to force them to run the ball,” Spartans coach Joe Pirillo said. “We thought that our guys would be in position to make plays and we didn’t in the first half. We were trying to shut down the pass and rely on our guys up front to make plays in the run game and that didn’t happen.
“We made our adjustments to the run game and then they were able to hit some passes in the second half.”
Grace Davis coach Tim Garcia acknowledged that Lathrop stymied his passing game.
“He did a good job,” Garcia said of Mercado. “He’s a senior that plays running back for us and we are primarily a passing offense. Schematically, they forced us to run the football and he did a great job of running the rock and we did a great job of blocking up front for him.
“He is a great kid and most of the time he is pass blocking, and tonight he got a chance to run.”
Mercado averaged better than 10 yards per attempt, gaining 209 yards on 20 carries with scoring runs of 3, 10, 15, 30 and 40 yards.
Lathrop (2-2 WAC, 2-5 overall) stayed with Grace Davis (1-3, 2-5) early. After Mercado got his first score with 4:45 left in the first quarter, Isaac Ramos (16 carries, 158 yards) exploded for a 69-yard touchdown run to give Lathrop a 7-6 lead.
Lathrop scored again in the first half on a 4-yard run by Sebastian Iniguez with 4:37 left in the second quarter, but Grace Davis took a 28-14 lead into the locker room at halftime before putting three consecutive scores on the board to start the second half and never looking back.
With 2:18 left in the third quarter, Maurice Saulsbury II scored on a 15-yard pass from Justin Manuel (15 of 22 passing, 118 yards, touchdown, two interceptions) to make the score 48-20. Following a 50-yard run midway through the final period, Ramos scored the game’s final touchdown on a 5-yard run with 5:50 left in the fourth quarter.
Saulsbury’s touchdown was set up by an Adrian Corona fumble recovery. Iniguez, Felipe Renteria and Justin Munoz Romero all had four tackles apiece for Lathrop.
Lathrop 7 7 6 8 — 28
G. Davis 6 22 20 7 — 55
G—Francisco Mercado 10 run (kick failed), 4:53.
L—Isaac Ramos 69 run (Jesus Fierros kick), 3:06.
G—Mercado 40 run (Mercado run), 10:48.
G—Michael Sherrod Jr. 58 pass from Xavier Rodriguez (kick failed), 9:00.
L—Sebastian Iniguez 4 run (Fierros kick), 4:37.
G—Mercado 3 run (Elijah Diaz pass from Rodriguez), 0:34 .
G—Mercado 15 run (Nehemiah Jones kick), 9:26.
G—Elijah Diaz 48 pass from Rodriguez (kick failedl), 6:21.
G—Mercado 30 run (Jones kick), 4:30.
L—Maurice Saulsbury II 15 pass from Justin Manuel (kick failed), 2:18.
G—Nick Arrietz 21 pass from Rodriguez (Jones kick), 8:11.
L—Ramos 5 run (Ramos brun), 5:50.