DELAND, Fla. — The Mercer University football team exploded with a huge first half, before cruising to a 49-0 victory over Stetson on Saturday evening at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium.
Mercer recovered a fumble on the opening kick-off of the game and never looked back, building up a 35-0 halftime lead in a contest that it led for all but 48 seconds. The Bears’ offense rolled to a season-high 508 yards of total offense, as Alex Lakes paced the attack with a career-high 151 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
However, the Mercer defense did not need much help, forcing five turnovers to help pitch its first shutout of the season. The Hatters were held to 249 yards of total offense in the contest, as the Bears’ defense racked up six tackles-for-loss and two sacks on the night.
The Bears jumped all over Stetson from the start, taking advantage of the early fumble recovery to grab a quick 7-0 lead moments later on a 12-yard score by Lakes. Mercer would move 79 yards in five plays on its next possession en route to a 21-yard touchdown run by Tee Mitchell, before Lakes capped off a physical 83-yard drive later in the quarter with a nine-yard scamper for a 21-0 advantage.
The offense continued to pour it on in the second quarter, as a 49-yard bomb from John Russ to Avery Ward set up Lakes’ third rushing touchdown of the night. The Bears added another score in the final minute, after an incredible goal line stand by the defense.
Mercer stopped the Hatters on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line and then proceeded to march 95 yards down the field in just over a minute for the final score of the half. Russ threw for 90 yards on the drive, including his 37-yard touchdown pass to JT Palmer that handed the team a 35-0 advantage at the break.
The Bears forced another turnover to keep the rout going in the third quarter. Payton Usher raced 40 yards on the play immediately following an interception by Alex Avant to push the lead to 42-0 with 6:30 left in the period.
Mercer’s defense, who forced four of its five turnovers in the second half, came up with another interception on Stetson’s ensuing possession, as Lee Bennett picked off Stetson quarterback Ryan Tentler to set up the final score. Two plays later, JeTarii Donald would run straight up the middle for 39 yards and the team’s final touchdown of the game.
After ranking second in the FCS in rushing a year ago, the Bears once again used the ground game to dominate the contest. Mercer ran for a season-best 275 yards on the ground, as three players (Lakes, Payton Usher and Tee Mitchell) posted over 11 yards per carry in the game.
Russ used a big second quarter to finish 11-of-21 for 199 yards and a touchdown. Palmer once again led the receiving corps with five receptions for 77 yards and a score, while Avery Ward hauled in two catches for 61 yards.
Lee Bennett was the standout on the defensive side of the ball, posting a team-high seven tackles to go along with his first career interception. Tunde Ayinla added five tackles including 2.5 tackles-for-loss, while Nevin Harton intercepted his first career pass.
The Bears will return to action next Saturday, September 20, when they host Ave Maria at Mercer University Stadium. Kick-off is set for 6 p.m.