CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The Mercer University football team nearly rallied from a 21-point deficit, before dropping a shootout to No. 14 Chattanooga, 38-31, on Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium.
After a 28-straight points by Chattanooga (5-3, 4-0 SoCon) gave the Mocs a 35-14 advantage in the third quarter, back-to-back touchdowns pulled the Bears (5-4, 1-4 SoCon) back into the game.
Trailing by just one score late in the fourth quarter, Mercer drove into the red zone thanks to a 39-yard run by Alex Lakes. However, two passes into the end zone would each fall inches short of the equalizer, as the Mocs took over and essentially ran out the clock. The Bears got one more opportunity with four seconds remaining, but their Hail Mary attempt fell short.
Both offenses were on full display, as the two teams combined for 982 yards of total offense including 700 yards through the air. Mercer finished with 440 yards of total offense, the most given up by Chattanooga, the SoCon’s leading defense, this season.
John Russ broke his own school record with 293 yards passing, finishing with 310 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns. Alex Lakes tallied 100 yards rushing in the contest to record his second-straight triple-digit rushing performance.
For the first time in program history, the Bears had three players with over 80 yards receiving. Chandler Curtis led the way with five receptions for 89 yards and a score, while Robert Brown and Tee Mitchell combined for 166 yards receiving on five catches.
Mercer scored on its second drive of the game thanks to some good field position, moving 61 yards in three plays for the game’s first score. The Bears opened the drive with a 49-yard strike from Russ to Brown, which set up a first down from the UTC 12-yard line. Two plays later, Russ would punch in his third rushing touchdown of the year,
Chattanooga threatened on its next drive, as C.J. Board rolled 53 yards off a bubble screen to move the Mocs to the Mercer 15. However, Lendell Arnold recovered a fumble on the very next play to give the ball back to Mercer.
The Bears were unable to take advantage though, going three-and-out to hand the ball back to the Mocs. Chattanooga overcame an early penalty to answer with a 10-play, 55-yard scoring drive to tie the game, as Jacob Huesman threw for 59 yards on the drive including a four-yard touchdown pass to Troy Dye.
It didn’t take long for Mercer to put itself back on top though, scoring on its next offensive play. Russ hit Mitchell on a screen pass that went 74 yards for a touchdown, the longest play allowed by the Mocs’ defense this season, to hand the Bears a 14-7 lead heading into the second quarter.
Chattanooga rallied in the second quarter, behind a pair of scoring drives. Huesman wrapped up a Huesman wrapped up a 63-yard drive with a six-yard score on a quarterback draw early in the period, before Keon Williams’ touchdown dive on fourth and goal sent the Mocs into halftime with a 21-14 advantage.
The Mocs pushed their lead to 35-14 with two-straight scores in the third quarter. Huesman keyed the run with a 48-yard scamper that set up Derrick Craine’s one-yard score, before connecting with Xavier Borishade for a 61-yard touchdown and a 35-14 lead.
Mercer responded with a 75-yard, 10-play drive to stop the bleeding. Russ and Brown connected again for a 35-yard gain to move inside the 15-yard line, before a trick play cut the deficit to 35-21. JeTarii Donald took the pitch from Russ and tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to JT Palmer.
The Bears kept the momentum going, as Alex Avant picked off his third pass of the year on the next series to hand the offense the ball at the Mocs’ 41-yard line.
Mercer took advantage of the turnover immediately, as Russ hit Curtis for a 41-yard touchdown pass to pull within a score, 35-28.
The Mocs pushed their lead back to double-digits on Henrique Ribeiro’s 44-yard field goal, but a 42-yard field goal by Jagger Lieb and a quick stop by Mercer’s defense set up the team’s final push.
The Bears will return home next Saturday, October 25, when they host The Citadel at Mercer University Stadium for a 4 p.m. kick-off on Homecoming weekend.