Mercer struggled Saturday from the opening kickoff. It took the Bears three tries to finally get the outing kicked off, and it was simply a preview of the sloppy play to come in Mercer’s 20-3 loss to Samford.
The Bears forced two turnovers in the first quarter—an interception and fumbled punt. They couldn’t capitalize on the interception but did score a field goal off the fumble early in the second quarter.
It was all Samford after that. The Bulldogs tied the game with a 21-yard field goal, then took their first lead with less than a minute remaining in the half off a 6-yard pass to Chris Shelling.
Back-to-back turnovers by each team—an interception by Kaelan Riley and fumble by Shelling at the goal line—opened the second half.
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But Shelling would make up for his blunder by scoring his second touchdown of the game midway through the third quarter, giving Samford a 16-3 lead after a missed extra point.
The Bulldogs would never relinquish that lead, adding two safeties in the final 16 minutes. The Bears’ defense was bent but not broken, allowing 16 points on 465 yards of offense. Mercer’s offense managed only 191 total yards.
Three who mattered
Devlin Hodges: After an early interception, Hodges was solid for the Bulldogs, completing 36-of-49 passes for 367 yards, two touchdowns and the interception. He also ran for 39 yards.
Isaiah Buehler: The defensive lineman was one of the bright spots for Mercer, finishing with two sacks.
Shelling: Samford’s leading receiver, he finished with nine catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns.
Worst offensive game since re-establishment: Three is the least amount of points Mercer has scored since the program was re-established in 2013. The Bears couldn’t manage to move the ball through the air or ground. Riley completed 18-of-38 passes for 158 yards and an interception. The team ran 26 times for 33 yards. The Bears were averaging 26 points per game entering the outing.
Pressure on Riley: Mercer entered the contest allowing only 1.25 sacks per game, ranking 25th in the country. But Riley was knocked around throughout the game, including several big hits. Samford recorded nine quarterback hurries, the most the Bears have allowed all year. The previous high was eight against Auburn.
Sloppy second half: Mercer’s second half started poorly and didn’t get much better. The Bears lost three turnovers in a 15-minute span and nearly committed a fourth turnover with seven minutes remaining in the game. They also had a punt blocked, then gave up a second safety with less than three minutes remaining.
Kickoff chaos: The Bears had three opening kickoffs, and all three included penalties against Mercer. On the first attempt, the Bears were called offside. On the second and third attempts, kicker Cole Fisher kicked it out of bounds. Samford finally took the penalty and started the game at its own 45. Then, after Mercer’s first score, the Bears once again committed an offside penalty on the kickoff.
Bears haven’t beaten Samford since 1932: Since joining the Southern Conference, Mercer is 0-4 against Samford. The Bulldogs own the series 12-10-1 overall, but Mercer hasn’t won a contest in 85 years.
Touchdown streaks end: Running backs Tee Mitchell and C.J. Leggett both entered Saturday with a score in each of the last five games. Neither scored against Samford.
Injury to defensive leader: Dorian Kithcart left the game early in the fourth quarter and did not return. He entered the game with 20 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss on the season.
They said it
Head coach Bobby Lamb on the offense: “We didn’t do a good enough job of protecting. We didn’t do a good enough job of throwing, catching or coaching … We could not get anything going. When we did, I look out there and there’s a yellow hankie. We shot ourselves in the foot, especially in the first half … It’s all about execution. We dropped passes today that we don’t normally drop.”
Lamb on the pressure on Riley: “They have a good front four, first of all. They’re big, they’re athletic [and] they get up field … We probably didn’t go to our quick game soon enough to get the ball out of [Riley’s] hands a little sooner. At the end of the day, you have a man in front of you, and you have to win the battle. We didn’t win enough battles [Saturday].”
Lamb looking forward after the loss: “I told the team this: ‘At the end of the day, it’s all on my shoulders.’ We have to come back to work. We obviously don’t have anything to play for now, but you have to play for pride, and you have to play for the love of the game.”
Running back Tee Mitchell on the key to the offense’s struggles: “Honestly, I can’t even tell you. I can’t tell you … Everything that couldn’t go our way didn’t go our way [Saturday].”
Linebacker Lee Bennett on the defense’s performance: “My defense never gave up on me … Even to the last play, they gave their all. I appreciate and love them for all they do.”
The Bears travel to play Western Carolina in their final conference game of the year Saturday at 2 p.m.