MACON, Ga. — The Mercer University football team set program record with 42 first-half points, scoring on each of its first five possessions to run away with a 42-21 victory over Ave Maria on Saturday night at Mercer University Stadium.
“We got off to a great start,” head coach Bobby Lamb. “Our first string offensive and defensive lines really controlled the line of scrimmage, which set the tone for us early. We wanted to get the ball to our playmakers and were able to get our guys in space and get some early scores.”
The Bears (3-1) racked up 392 yards of total offense in the first half alone, before sitting their starters in the second half. Mercer outgained the Gyrenes 513-351 for the game, thanks to a balanced attack that compiled 270 yards passing and 243 yards on the ground.
John Russ finished 11-of-16 for 181 yards and three touchdowns through the air to go along with 18 yards and a score in one half of play. Alex Lakes, the Southern Conference’s leading rusher, ran for 109 yards and a score in two quarters of action, while Payton Usher compiled 131 total yards and a touchdown on the night.
Freshman Austin Barrett led the Bears’ defense with six tackles on the night, while Hank Avery notched three tackles including a sack. The Mercer defense forced one turnover in the game thanks to Nevin Harton’s fourth quarter interception, his second of the season.
Mercer got off to a fast start for the second-straight game, as the defense forced a quick three-and-out to help the Bears start their first possession of the game at midfield. The offense would take advantage of the great field position, as John Russ hit Payton Usher with a play-action pass down the middle of the field for a 53-yard touchdown on the very next play for an early 7-0 advantage.
Two more stops by the Bears’ defense resulted in another pair of touchdowns for Mercer. Russ connected with Chandler Curtis on a 28-yard slant route just over three minutes into the game, before Lakes broke several tackles and burst up the sideline for 54 yards to hand the Bears a 21-0 advantage.
Ave Maria got on the board on its next possession, as Kaleb Coffee sliced up the middle for a 54-yard touchdown run to pull the Gyrenes within two scores, 21-7. However, Russ would help orchestrate an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive, throwing for 41 yards including an eight-yard touchdown to Robert Brown for a 28-7 advantage.
Mercer pushed its lead to 35-7 minutes later, as Curtis took a punt back 61 yards for his second return touchdown of the year. The Bears added another score late in the half, as Russ capped off a 48-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run to send the team into halftime with a commanding 42-7 advantage.
Ave Maria added a pair of touchdowns in the second half to round out the scoring. The Gyrenes did most of their damage in the final stanza, outgaining Mercer 225-121 in the final stanza.
Mercer returns to Southern Conference action next week, as it travels to Lexington, Va. to face VMI. Kick-off is set for 1:30 p.m.