MACON, Ga. – In its final non-conference test of the regular season, the Mercer University football team scored on all six of its first-half possessions and raced past Carnegie Mellon 54-21 Saturday afternoon at Mercer University Stadium.
The Bears (6-1) continue their perfect season at home, remaining among the unbeaten FCS teams on their home field, while Carnegie Mellon (3-4) dips below the .500 mark and falls to 1-4 in road games. In its six home games this season, Mercer is outscoring the opponent by 168 points.
“I want to commend our players for coming out and taking care of business,” said head coach Bobby Lamb. “Any time you’re playing a team where you are favored, you want to come out in the first quarter and give them a knockout punch and we were able to do that.”
The Mercer offense broke the 500-yard barrier for the second consecutive game, gaining 546 total yards, including 391 of those on the ground.
Payton Usher set the tone for Mercer’s dominant first half in the opening drive when the redshirt freshman broke free for a 52-yard touchdown run to give the Bears an early 7-0 lead.
Mercer marched right down the field on its next possession and John Russ capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to double the lead and make it 14-0.
Russ carved up the Tartan defense through the air on the next two drives and found wide receiver JT Palmer for touchdown passes of 18 and 9 yards respectively as Mercer raced out to a 27-0 lead.
While the offense was going to work, the defense was just as impressive, not allowing a Carnegie Mellon first down in the opening quarter and holding the Tartans to negative yards.
“I was happy the way our defense went out there and handled their business in the first quarter,” Lamb said. “Football is all about matchups and right now we are obviously matching up with run teams very well.”
Carnegie Mellon finally converted a first down in the second quarter and trailed 33-7 at intermission following a pair of Tyler Zielenske field goals in the final minutes of the opening half.
Mercer continued its domination in the second half when backup quarterback Michael Haynes capped the opening drive of the third quarter with a 13-yard run to make it 40-7.
The Mercer defense came up big on two straight possessions in the fourth quarter when Sytavious Brown and Josh Bennett recorded interceptions and the offense made them count with two more rushing touchdowns. Jabari Scruggs continued the relentless ground game with a 66-yard touchdown run and Caleb Brown’s 2-yard score gave Mercer a 54-7 advantage.
Carnegie Mellon added two late touchdowns in the game before Mercer ran out the clock and cruised to a 54-21 victory.
Russ ended the contest 7-for-13 for 126 yards and two passing touchdowns, while Usher paced the run game once again with 115 yards and one score.
Palmer’s five catches marked a career high, while his two touchdown receptions were the most since the season opener against Reinhardt.
Leading the country in rushing yards allowed per game at 76.8, Mercer surrendered 100 yards on the ground, marking just the second game this season the Bears gave up 100+ rushing yards.
The Bears return to action next week on the road, traveling to Campbell for the first of two straight road contests. Kickoff against the Camels is slated for 4 p.m. in Buies Creek, N.C.