(ERIE, Pa.) – Some may say there is no such thing as a good loss, but Lake Erie has a lot it can take away from Thursday's 21-16 season opening defeat to Mercyhurst. The Storm trailed by 18 at the half, yet still had an opportunity to win in the final minutes.
Eric Zokouri started the rally with a 36 yard run to pay dirt for the first touchdown of the season for the Green and White with 1:57 left in the third quarter. Later in the fourth, Kolston Brewster found Nathaniel Dantley Jr. on a dime down the left sideline to make it 21-16 with 2:34 to go.
After Mercyhurst recovered the onside kick, a Storm defensive stand provided one last opportunity, but a hook-and-ladder resulted in a fumble recovered by the hosts as time expired.
"I'm proud of the guys. When adversity hit they stood tall, but I didn't expect anything else from our team," said Head Coach Reilly Murphy his first game at the helm. "It's a disappointing loss though because we could have beat them."
The Lakers scored on their opening drive of the game, but were largely dormant afterwards. A turnover set Mercyhurst up with a short field on its next score, and a fumble was nearly recovered by the Storm defense before the Lakers recovered the loose ball in the back of the end zone for the third touchdown.
Justin Smith provided the field goal for the Green and White as he capped a nine-play, 76 yard drive to answer Mercyhurst's opening score.
Both teams were nearly balanced offensively with the Lakers edging the Storm 338-316 in total yards. The majority of the Storm's gains came through the air with 203 net yards passing. Javarian Smith was 13-for-20 with 127 yards, while Brewster finished the game 7-for-10 with 76 yards.
Dantley was the favorite target with six receptions for 58 yards. Zokouri sparked the ground game as he surpassed the century mark with 117 yards on 20 carries.
Defensively TJ Flowers was a magnet for the ball with 14 tackles on the night. Justin Growel picked up where he left off last year with two tackles for loss, while Tareeq Welch provided a momentum swing with an interception.
The Storm will now take advantage of the long week to prep for the home opener against Davenport. They'll host the Panthers next Saturday with kickoff slated for 2 p.m.
"A lot of time the biggest jump is from game one to game two," added Coach Murphy. "We expected to come in and compete, but we made some mistakes, and that contributed to the loss. If we eliminate those, that will give us a better chance next week."