ERIE - Eisenhower coach Jim Penley couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift.
The Knights came back from a 19-point first-half deficit in a game that featured three lead changes in the final 10 minutes to defeat Mercyhurst Prep, 29-26, on Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
With the victory, the Knights improved their record to 3-1, including a perfect 3-0 mark in Region 2 play.
After the Knights quickly went three-and-out to start the game, Mercyhurst Prep didn't waste much time jumping on the board. The Lakers ran the ball on 10 straight plays, finishing off their drive with a one-yard touchdown run from Eric Baer.
Lakers quarterback Nick Evanoff would increase his team's lead to 12-0 early in the second quarter, when he broke free and scrambled for a 42-yard touchdown run. Evanoff ran for another with just 36 seconds remaining in the half.
Just when it appeared the game was destined to head to halftime with the Lakers leading 19-0, the Knights found new life. Alex Johnson broke free from his own 38-yard line and rushed 62 yards downfield to put Ike on the board with just eight seconds left.
"I told the kids, I didn't come here to lose," Penley said, regarding Johnson's touchdown run. "I told them (Mercyhurst Prep) is gonna sit back, and we're gonna run it right at them. It was huge."
The Knights made sure their momentum carried over to the second half. They found themselves in good starting field position on their second drive of the half, when a Lakers punt went out of bounds at Prep's 36-yard line. The Knights continually ran the ball, with Johnson running in his second touchdown from 10 yards out.
Two penalties and an eight-yard sack on Prep's next drive again gave the Knights great field position, this time starting on the Lakers 45-yard line. It didn't take long for the Knights to gain their first lead, as Johnson found a hole on the first play of the drive and raced into the end zone. Johnson also ran in a two-point conversion, putting the Knights up 22-19.
Undaunted, the Lakers (1-2, 1-3) drove back and regained the lead with just 4:47 left.
The Knights stayed on the ground for their final drive, and ended up facing a crucial fourth-and-three on Prep's 39-yard line. A second burst from Johnson pushed him just past the first down marker, and a few plays later, he scored his fourth touchdown of the game with only 1:06 remaining.
The home team didn't lie down, ensuring a wild final minute. Two passes of over 20 yards and a pass interference penalty put the Lakers on the Eisenhower 21-yard line with 16 seconds left. Two plays later, Evanoff scrambled out of bounds at the 15, and a late hit moved the Lakers to the 8-yard line for one final play. Evanoff's pass fell incomplete, and the Knights charged onto the field, celebrating.
"This is probably the first time I'll remember my birthday in about six years," joked Penley. "It's special because we were down. There was no quit. They were smacking us around on offense in the first half. For us to come back was special. (Lineman) Jared Flaisman played an amazing game, playing hurt. Alex Johnson played an amazing game. He was beat up and hurt."
Johnson finished with 225 yards on 22 carries, to go along with all four Ike touchdowns.
Eisenhower will face another region opponent next week, traveling to Cochranton.
Eisenhower-Mercyhurst Prep Stats
M-Eric Baer 1 run, 5:05 (kick blocked)
M-Nick Evanoff 42 run, 11:50 (2-pt attempt fails)
M-Evanoff 9 run, :36 (Alex Schroeck kick)
E-Alex Johnson 62 run, :08 (Grant Venman kick)
E-Johnson 10 run, :59 (Venman kick)
E-Johnson 45 run, 9:24 (Johnson 2-pt. run)
M-Joe Swanson 4 run, 4:47 (Schroeck kick)
E-Johnson 8 run, 1:06 (Venman kick)
RUSHING-E-Johnson 22-225, 4 TD, Rob Wilston 14-9, Carter Farrell 1-(-1); M-Swanson 17-87, 1 TD, Evanoff 9-57, 2 TD, Baer 20-51, 1 TD, Scott Goring 7-51, Braxton Klomp 1-2.
PASSING-E-Wilston 2-7-0, 24 yards; M-Evanoff 3-8-0, 56 yards.
RECEIVING-E-Johnson 1-11, Louie Head 1-13; M-Tommie Elias 1-28, Swanson 2-28.