Mercer

Mercer makes big plays to nip VMI in overtime thriller

Mercer quarterback John Russ passed to Avery Ward for the game-winning touchdown in Saturday’s 33-30 overtime win at VMI.
Mercer quarterback John Russ passed to Avery Ward for the game-winning touchdown in Saturday’s 33-30 overtime win at VMI. woody@woodymarshall.com

John Russ found Avery Ward on an 18-yard slant in overtime as Mercer held off VMI, 33-30 in the Keydets’ home opener.

Al Cobb completed a pair of clutch fourth-down passes in the final minute, then found Ryan Swingle for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left to give VMI a 27-24 lead with 19 seconds left in regulation.

Chandler Curtis returned the ensuing kickoff 30 yards. The Bears (2-2, 1-1 Southern Conference) then executed a hook-and-lateral when Russ passed to Kelby Brock, who then pitched it to Jordan Marshall for a 28-yard gain. A personal foul penalty on VMI added another 15 yards and put Mercer at the VMI 25.

“Oh my goodness,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said of the final drive in regulation. “We threw it to Kelby Brock, who is a true freshman, and he flipped it to JoJo (Jordan) Marshall. JoJo got downfield and out of bounds before they tackle him, drawing a 15-yard penalty.

“That left four seconds left for Cole Fisher. That is exactly what you want to do.”

Fisher booted a 42-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.

Cobb found Aaron Sanders on 3rd-and-17 in overtime to get VMI (2-2, 0-1) to the Mercer 8, where Dillon Christopher booted a 25-yard field goal for a 30-27 lead.

The game snapped a two-game win streak for VMI as the Keydets dropped their home opener.

“I think our team kept their composure really well,” Lamb said. “You have a lot of calls and a lot of plays that don’t go your way. We had some dropped balls and some missed assignments up front, but to win that game the way we did is a credit to our players.”

Thanks to a pair of 6-yard scores — a run by Alex Lakes and a catch by Marquise Irvin – Mercer had a 14-0 lead after a quarter, and the teams exchanged second-quarter touchdowns to give Mercer a 21-7 halftime lead.

VMI scored on a 3-yard run to set up a wild fourth quarter.

Lee Bennett had 11 tackles for Mercer, including a sack in overtime that helped force VMI to settle for a field goal.

Mercer’s defense had 11 tackles for a loss of 52 yards, including seven sacks for a loss of 45 yards.

Mercer stays on the road in Southern Conference play, visiting Chattanooga on Saturday before returning home against Western Carolina on Oct. 15.

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