If you live in middle Georgia, you have probably heard the buzz over Mercer University’s revival of football. In 2013, the Bears played their first season since 1941. The Bears finished their inaugural campaign with a 10-2 record (setting the NCAA record for a startup football team) and third in their conference, the Pioneer Football League.
While the PFL is a non-scholarship conference and some of their competition was a little weak, Mercer’s statistics are still impressive. The Bears led FCS in red zone offense, second in rushing offense, and thirteenth in scoring offense. The Bears also went 8-0 at a usually capacity crowd Anderson Field, continuing their home winning streak that began in October 10th, 1941, with a 25-0 win against Georgia Teachers College (now Georgia Southern).
On August 28th of this year, Mercer opened up again with the Reinhardt University Eagles, and finished with a similar result, a win by three (45-42 in 2014, 40-37 in 2013). As I was at the game, I wasn’t able to hear DJ Shockley’s commentary about the crowd on ESPN3, but I can tell you that the sellout crowd in the stadium was full, loud, and on their feet. Reinhardt lost the game when they missed the field goal that would have tied it up at 40.
Tomorrow, the Bears will open a new chapter in their history as they play their first conference game as a member of the Southern Conference (SoCon) against the Furman University Paladins (formerly Furman University Christian Knights and Greenville Women’s College Ankle Skirts). The game will be streamed on ESPN3 live at 6:00. Mercer coach Bobby Lamb was an award-winning quarterback for Furman and was their head coach for nine years in the 2000’s, and was named SoCon Coach of the Year in 2004 and SoCon Player of the Year in 1985.
Mercer is led by quarterback John Russ and linebacker Tyler Ward. Russ, from the Metro Atlanta area, can pretty much do it all and is a great field general. Ward, a homegrown Macon boy, was expected to get decent playing time in 2013, has turned into a tackling machine and is the emotional leader of the team. Both of these young men find and even create ways to win. This talent joined in by a young, fast running back core and Mercer’s first scholarship recruiting class which had transfers from several FBS schools; including 6’6” 321 pound junior offensive tackle A.M. Posey fresh from the University of Tennessee.
Furman leads the series with Mercer, 6-4-2, and leads in Macon, 4-3. 100 years ago, Mercer and Furman met on the field for the first time and Mercer won 39-0. I don’t quite see the same outlook for this reunion of Bobby Lamb and his old team however. Mercer is playing a Furman team itching to get back to the level of football they played a few years ago. Furman’s quarterback, Reese Hannon went out in the third quarter of their game again Garnder-Webb, and is out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury. While the Paladins still won after Hannon departed, the team didn’t score again. This combined with the Mercer home fans and extra practice days for the Bears leads me to believe that the series in Macon will be tied at four wins a piece when the whistle is blown the final time in this close gridiron battle.
NOTE: Corndawg is a featured columnist here will keep us updated on Mercer Bears athletics.