Close games were the norm for the Mercer Bears in their first Southern Conference season in 2014.
That theme continued Saturday as the Bears faced Wofford in this year’s conference opener at Five Star Stadium. And just like last year, the close game went against Mercer as Wofford pulled out a 34-33 overtime win.
Mercer got the ball first in overtime, and John Russ wasted no time, hitting Avery Ward for a 25-yard score on the Bears’ first play. Jagger Lieb, however, missed the extra point, leaving the door open for the Terriers (3-2, 1-0 Southern Conference). And they took advantage with a 14-yard touchdown run by quarterback Evan Jacks, while David Marvin, who had two short field goals in regulation blocked, along with an extra point blocked, nailed the extra point for the win.
“I’m extremely proud of our effort,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. “We could have mailed it in right at the start of the fourth quarter when they had a big play for a touchdown, but we kept fighting and kept battling and got back into it. I’m very excited about where we go from here. The resiliency that the team showed was outstanding. We didn’t make enough plays there at the end.
“I told the team, ‘Every player in this room can look at it and say, bottom line, if I had just made one more play. If I had tackled that dive instead of him running 30 yards for a touchdown, we might have won the game.’ It’s a team game, and you win as a team and lose as a team. Unfortunately, it’s a tough pill to swallow because we played so well and played so hard at the end.”
Wofford led 13-10 at the half and carried a 20-17 lead into the fourth quarter before padding its advantage with a 53-yard run by Lorenzo Long to make it 27-17. The Bears, however, responded down the stretch. Russ hit Ward with a 17-yard touchdown pass to pull within three, and Mercer went for the onside kick, which was covered by the Terriers.
But on the first play of the ensuing series, Wofford fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Mercer linebacker Corey Lockett, giving the Bears life, and they tied the game on a 24-yard field goal by Lieb with three seconds left to force overtime.
“Personally, I don’t take positives out of losing; that’s just the way I am,” running back Tee Mitchell said. “Some people may see it as we didn’t lose like we lost last year (a 34-6 decision at Wofford), but I just like to win. If we had won by half a point, that’s fair enough to me. I don’t really take it as a positive.”
Wofford finished with 434 yards, including 391 on the ground on 52 rushes. Long led the way with 187 yards on 25 attempts, while Jacks had 112 yards on 10 carries. Mercer finished with 277 yards passing as Russ completed 23-of-41 attempts and 187 yards rushing, including 110 yards and two touchdowns from Mitchell.
But on the Bears’ first five drives, they had 23 plays in Wofford territory that amounted to just three points.
“It’s frustrating, we want to win. It’s not Jagger Lieb’s fault, like Coach Lamb said,” Russ said. “I had so many opportunities out there to lead this team, and I honestly blame myself for this game. The first four drives I did not make plays to win the game for us, and those first four drives hurt us.”
Mercer heads back out on the road this week as it travels to Western Carolina for another Southern Conference game.