POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – In a game to decide the Pioneer Football League playoff picture, the Mercer University football team was held scoreless following its opening drive of the game and fell to Marist 33-7 Saturday afternoon at Tenney Stadium.
The Bears (9-2, 5-2) see their five-game winning streak come to an end with loss, while Marist (8-3, 7-1) captures a share of the its first PFL championship in program history.
“Marist has a really good football team and it’s disappointing we didn’t give them our best shot today,” said head coach Bobby Lamb. “I thought we played well enough defensively to win, but with six turnovers you won’t beat anyone at this level.”
Trailing 7-0 after just 75 seconds of action, Mercer proved resilient on its opening possession, driving down the field on eight plays and John Russ found Robert Brown for an 18-yard touchdown to knot the score at 7-7. The touchdown pass marked the 19th score for the Bears in 19 trips inside the red zone during PFL action.
“Our offense had a beautiful 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game early, but then we did some uncharacteristic things that hurt us,” Lamb said.
Both defenses flexed their muscles over the next 18 minutes and the score remained tied until Mercer fumbled the ball inside its own 10 yard and Marist recovered and scored on the following play to take a 13-7 lead.
The turnover bug continued to bite the Bears on their next possession when Russ was picked off for the first time in six games, and again the Red Foxes converted on the ensuing play and raced out to a 20-7 advantage heading to intermission.
Marist opened the second half much like the first, forcing turnovers and cashing them in on the other end. The Red Foxes’ lead swelled to 26-7 in the third quarter when Marist quarterback Chuckie Loonie weaved through the Mercer defense for a 14-yard touchdown run to make it 26-7.
That lead was extended to 33-7 in the fourth quarter, as Marist scored 26 consecutive points, all coming off Mercer turnovers.
While the Bears were nearly dead even with Marist in all major statistical categories, Mercer’s season-high six turnovers sealed its fate as the Red Foxes ended their 2013 season with the most wins in program history.
“We just didn’t play as well as I would have liked to give us a shot,” Lamb said. “We forced four fumbles and couldn’t recover one, so it was just one of those days where everything bounced their way.”
Mercer will be looking to make some history of its own next weekend, returning home to host Stetson with the chance to finish the season a perfect 8-0 at home. A victory over the Hatters next Saturday would give the Bears a 10-win season and send them into the record books as one of the best start-up football programs in NCAA history.
Kickoff against Stetson in the first Mercer homecoming football game in 72 years is slated for 4 p.m. at Anderson Field.