The leading rusher was done for the game before the second quarter had started, and the No. 2 tackler among defensive linemen was out for the entire second half.
And his backup has been sidelined for a few weeks.
Then Mercers big lead on the road began to disintegrate.
But the Bears held on and got enough of a clock-eating drive at the end to stave off Campbell 38-31 on Saturday and stay among the contenders in the Pioneer Football League race.
Mercer improved to 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pioneer League. Butler, Dayton, Marist and San Diego are all 4-1 in conference play, with Drake, Jacksonville and Morehead State at 3-2.
Mercer had pretty much two games in one Saturday, leading 31-10 at halftime but losing the second half 21-7.
They scrapped what they were doing on offense and went to a wholesale throwing the ball and speeding up the tempo, Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. Defensively, we did a masterful job in the first half and kept them with just 10 points on the board.
The second half was a different story.
Mercer was outgained 150-49 in offense in the third quarter alone as Campbell quarterback Brian Hudson was a remarkable 14-of-15 for 112 yards during that 15-minute stretch.
They had to go to a wholesale speed-up offense, throwing the ball, a two-minute situation, Lamb said. He started the up-tempo, we got a little tired there the second half, they made a couple big plays.
Fortunately, for us, we were able to win at the end.
The Camels got within a touchdown with nearly three minutes left, their defense not long removed from sending JeTarii Donald backward for a 7-yard loss on a fourth-and-3.
But Donalds 5-yard gain on third-and-4 allowed the Bears to take two knees and complete the win.
Mercer lost running back Payton Usher to a concussion in the first quarter and defensive end Kelly Brooks to a knee injury in the second.
Brooks is likely to return to practice, perhaps Wednesday, after his diagnosis was less serious than expected, to more of a bone bruise. Mercer will still be without No. 2 defensive end Cody Jones (ankle) for another week.
Usher is day to day, taking the regular concussion tests to gauge his progress. But Donald showed that things were in pretty good hands with his 23-carry, 128-yard afternoon.
Hes a great player, as well, Lamb said. He came in there and gave us a lift, just did a lot of amazing things in there. Both of them are very good.
Theyre very similar, which is good as well. Gives us the opportunity to continue to run our offense. We dont have to change anything.
Quarterback John Russ rushed for 132 yards on 13 carries, with a long of 71 yards. That was yard short of his first-quarter touchdown pass to JoJo Marshall. Russ completed 11-of-16 passes for 180 yards.
Mike Gray led the defense with eight tackles, but there Bears were unable to pick off any of Hudsons 46 passes. Hudson, also the Camels leading rusher, was 33-of-46 for 308 yards for 308 yards, adding 84 yards on the ground.
They were a quarterback run team, their quarterback was their best player running the ball, Lamb said. They aborted that the second half. The second half, they went against everything we had worked on. I hate to say it, but us being up 31-10 probably hurt (us) in the second half more than it helped because of their offense.