MACON, Ga. – The Mercer University football team came inches away from an incredible rally for the second-straight week, as the Bears dropped a 28-26 decision to The Citadel (3-6, 1-3 SoCon) in Saturday’s Homecoming game at Mercer University Stadium.
Mercer (5-5, 1-5 SoCon) outscored the Bulldogs 16-0 in the second half to cut into a 28-10 halftime deficit, but would end up two points short after falling in similar fashion last week at No. 14 Chattanooga.
Trailing by 18 at halftime, the Bears took advantage of a short field on their second possession of the second half to start the team’s comeback. Mercer started its drive at Citadel’s 41 after another three-and-out by the Bears’ defense and would be inside the red zone moments later thanks to a 20-yard run by Chandler Curtis. The drive would stall though, as Mercer settled for Jagger Lieb’s 31-yard field goal to trim the deficit to 28-13.
The Bears’ pulled closer on their next drive, as a big stop by their defense on fourth down helped continue the momentum. Quarterback John Russ hit Avery Ward for a 65-yard touchdown strike on the team’s very next play to pull within 28-20 heading into the fourth quarter.
Mercer’s defense helped continue the rally midway through the fourth quarter, recovering a fumble in its own territory. The Bears were able to capitalize off the mishap, taking advantage of a pair of penalties to march 61 yards in 12 plays. The improbable rally was nearly a reality with three minutes remaining, as Alex Lakes punched in a score from two yards out to pull within a two-point conversion of tying the game.
The Bears used some trickery on their two-point conversion, as Chandler Curtis took the reverse and looked for John Russ who leaked out of the backfield and into the end zone. However, the pass and the Mercer’s comeback attempt would be broken up, as The Citadel picked up several key third down conversions on its ensuing possession to run out the clock and put the final touches on the victory.
The Citadel piled up 493 yards on the ground behind a career day from Cam Jackson, who ran for 142 yards on just eight carries. The SoCon’s leading rushing attack finished the game with 507 yards of total offense, while Mercer ended the night with 392 yards.
John Russ paced the Bears with 274 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, including 96 yards and a score on the ground. Lakes, the league’s top rusher, finished with 58 yards rushing and a score, while Avery Ward tallied four catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate start.
Tyler Ward notched 13 tackles and a sack to lead three Bears with double-digit tackle performances. Zach Jackson and Kelly Brooks each set career-highs with 10 stops on the day.
After trading scores in the first quarter, The Citadel pulled away with back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 28-10 lead into halftime. The two teams would combine for 498 yards of total offense in the first half.
The Citadel wasted no time setting the tone for the game, as Cam Jackson’s 64-yard run on third down help set up the game’s first score, a one-yard touchdown run by Isiaha Smith.
Mercer answered on its first possession, driving 64 yards and into Bulldog territory before stalling out. However, the Bears’ were able to get on the scoreboard to trim the deficit to 7-3, after Lieb connected from 48 yards out for the longest field goal in program history.
The Bulldogs put together another physical scoring drive on its next possession to take a 14-3 lead. Vinny Miller capped off the drive with a touchdown run, picking up 19 of the team’s 174 rushing yards in the first quarter.
The Bears once again answered The Citadel’s score, using a physical drive of its own to trim the deficit to 14-10 at the end of the opening quarter. John Russ capped off the 74-yard touchdown drive with four-yard score, as 69 of the team’s yards came on the ground.
Mercer would not get any closer in the opening period though, as the Bulldogs added two more rushing scores to head into halftime with an 18-point lead.
The Bears will have a week of rest, before closing out their 2014 home schedule on Saturday, November 15, with a 4 p.m. kick-off against Warner University on ESPN3.