Injuries have struck the Mercer Bears hard four games into their 2015 season.
Sitting at 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the Southern Conference after a 34-33 overtime loss to Wofford on Saturday, Mercer faces a key issue in its quest to win close Southern Conference games: keeping players on the field.
The Bears were without starting running back Alex Lakes after the sophomore suffered a punctured lung Sept. 19 at Tennessee Tech. Wide receiver Chandler Curtis missed his third straight game after suffering a high ankle sprain early in the team’s first game. On defense, Mercer was also without linebacker LeMarkus Bailey, while defensive lineman Austin Wysor is out for the season.
But the injury report added several names during the Bears’ game with the Terriers. Freshman cornerback Stephen Houzah injured his ankle after being tackled low on a kickoff return while linebacker Kyle Trammell -- who blocked two kicks before leaving the game -- and JeTarii Donald also left the game with knee and bruised ribs ailments, respectively.
On offense, the Bears lost tight end Grant Radakovich and tackle Wilson Heres. After Saturday’s game, Lamb said he did not “have any idea” on the status of the players for this week’s game with Western Carolina, calling them day-to-day.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries; it’s part of football,” Lamb said.
Despite injuries to the key players, Lamb was optimistic because of the play of backups who took the field.
“We really had some guys step up (Saturday), which I was proud of,” Lamb said.
One player Lamb singled out was linebacker Corey Lockett, a third-string player behind Bailey and Trammell who played the entire second half and registered four total tackles. Lockett also recovered a Wofford fumble on the Terriers’ 44-yard line with 3:15 remaining in regulation, giving Mercer a chance to tie the game with a field goal at the end of regulation.
In his second start at running back, Tee Mitchell ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns while trying to carry the load without Lakes. Mitchell wasn’t satisfied with his performance, pointing to two fumbles, including one the Terriers recovered.
“Definitely having Alex there, that makes it better,” he said. “We both stay fresh all game. (He’s a) pretty good back; I get to come in and spell him and try to make some plays. Without him there, I kind of showed a little bit of some fatigue.”
Without Curtis, other receivers -- like Avery Ward and Jordan Marshall -- stepped up. Ward caught eight balls for 95 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, while Marshall added three catches for 33 yards. Quarterback John Russ said he is still confident in his weapons without Curtis and Lakes.
“Guys step up. That’s what this team is,” Russ said. “We have so many injuries, everybody is just stepping up. (Jordan Marshall), he’s the one who took Chandler’s spot, and he made plays (Saturday). He made big plays (Saturday) for us.”
With Curtis and Lakes still questionable for Saturday’s road trip, the backups will have to play an instrumental role once again. Russ said he has players ready in the wings.
“I’ve got targets all over the field,” he said. “I love Chandler, and I know he’s going to be a great ballplayer for us, but I have players behind him y’all don’t even know about that are balling for me and making plays for me.”