Mercer quarterback John Russ was quick and honest about the problems that faced the Bears’ offense in the first half Saturday against Western Carolina.
“Me. I don’t know if you saw the stats in the first half, but they were terrible,” Russ said Saturday night. “I played awful, and it all falls on the quarterback; especially in this type of offense.”
Well, Russ and that offense got going in the second half to pull out a 38-24 win in Southern Conference play. Russ did struggle in the first half, completing just 5-of-16 passes, but he was terrific after halftime, completing 13-of-16 passes. Russ finished with 224 passing yards and three touchdowns, and he also rushed 15 times for 60 yards.
After scoring just three points in the first half, the Bears scored 35 points in the second half and won a conference game by more than one score for the first time in the Southern Conference. The Bears won one conference game in 2014 and two in 2015, and they are 2-2 in the conference this season.
“I just had to believe in myself; I knew I was going to bounce back,” Russ said. “I just had to hit the throws. Coach called good plays for us, and we were in good situations.”
The Bears certainly took advantage of those situations and showed off their many weapons after halftime. Sam Walker, Marquise Irvin and Chandler Curtis all caught touchdown passes in the second half, and Alex Lakes had his best game of the season on the ground as the Bears finished with 275 yards rushing and 224 yards passing.
Lakes had 20 rushes for 112 yards and two touchdowns, while Irvin had six catches for 57 yards and a 21-yard touchdown, and Curtis had four catches for 96 yards and a 5-yard touchdown.
“Offensively, we just couldn’t get going (in the first half),” said Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb, whose team improved to 3-3 overall. “We wanted to run the ball because this team hasn’t stopped the run a whole lot. We needed Alex Lakes ... Payton (Usher) went out again early ... Kyle Trammell came in there. I also want to mention C.J. Kleckley from Rutland High School here in Macon. He really came in — this is his last year, and he’s paid his dues — and gave us a spark several times.
“It was a 7-3 game at half. I was proud of our coaches; we didn’t come in and scream and yell, but instead just made some adjustments and got ourselves a little rhythm by getting the ball to Chandler, Marquise, Avery Ward and Alex Lakes. We started protecting John better, and then everything opened up. What a performance by our defense getting five takeaways, so I’m very proud of the win — it’s a big step for us.”
The second half certainly was a big step for the Bears’ offense. Mercer had season highs in points, yards, rushing attempts and rushing yards. The Bears return to the road Saturday for a 5 p.m. kickoff against Austin Peay in a non-conference game.
“When we have those guys out there, our starting four receivers and tight ends, healthy and Alex running the ball like that, I don’t think any defense can stop us,” Russ said.