Mercer sets record for wins by start-up football program

ATLANTA — With a 41-14 victory over Stetson on Saturday, Mercer picked up its tenth win of the season and broke the NCAA’s all-time record for victories by a start-up program.

The previous mark for wins by a start-up program was nine.

“I can’t say enough about our players,” Mercer Coach Bobby Lamb said after the win. “This exactly what I’ve dreamed Mercer football would be and I think we’re off to an incredible start and now we’ve got to take another step up.”

Against Stetson (2-9), quarterback John Russ accounted for three touchdowns, including one rushing and another receiving. Russ’ touchdown reception came on a 32-yard completion from receiver Josh Jones.

Russ ended the day completing seven of 11 passes for 107 yards and rushing for 135 yards on 17 carries. The performance earned the quarterback the Pioneer Football League’s Offensive Player of the Week honor.

Earlier this month, Russ was added to the watch list for the Jerry Rice Award, which honors the top Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) freshman or redshirt freshman. The winner will be announced Dec. 16 in Philadelphia.

Saturday’s win before 12,027 at Mercer University Stadium in Macon, Ga., gave Mercer a 6-2 record in Pioneer League play. The win, in which the Bears racked up 316 yards on the ground, gave the Bears a Division I best 8-0 record at home.

Auburn (10-1), which is 7-0 at home this season, is looking to tie the mark next week against Alabama (11-0) in the Iron Bowl.

Butler (9-3) and Marist finished atop the Pioneer League with 7-1 conference records. Butler won the tiebreaker to earn the league’s automatic qualifying bid to the FCS’ championship tournament.

Mercer, which restarted its program this year after a 72-year hiatus, kicked off its 2013 campaign with a pair of wins over NAIA squads — Reinhardt (6-4) and Warner (1-10). The Bears’ two other non-conference wins came against Division III opponents — Berry (1-9) and Carnegie Mellon (3-7).

“Well from the first night to now you’ve seen a group of freshmen, let me say a group of young men, really grow up,” Lamb said. “You’ve seen a maturation process over a 12-game season.”

The Bears suffered their losses this season at the hands of their stiffest opponents — San Diego (8-3) and Marist (8-3).

The Pioneer Football League is a FCS football-only conference. Mercer, which finished third in the conference, is moving to the FCS’ Southern Conference next year, replacing Georgia Southern. The Eagles, which upset Florida on Saturday by a 26-20 margin, are moving Football Bowl Subdivision’s Sun Belt Conference for the 2014 season.

Note: Coach Bobby Lamb’s quotes were provided by Mercer University.

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Todd DeFeo

Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits The Travel Trolley and Railfanning.org.