Mercer football coach talks about upcoming season
When the Mercer Bears kick off their season in a few weeks on the road, it starts a journey for a team that is hoping to finally break through this season.
The Bears have been hovering around the .500 mark since joining the Southern Conference in 2014. They have had a lot of close calls but have been unable to close out the key games to compete for a shot in the playoffs.
Here is a look at five games that will be a key part of the Bears’ season.
Away @ Western Carolina on August 31
It is rare that a season opener is a must-win game, but this is probably as close as it gets for the Bears.
A loss would serve as a crushing blow to the team’s confidence and certainly hurts their chances of competing for a SoCon title right out of the gate.
A season ago, these two teams competed in one of the most exciting games of the year. Mercer got down by a couple of scores early before battling back to take the lead on a program record-long kick off return by David Durden.
Each team traded body blows throughout the third quarter before Mercer put the game away with 21 unanswered points. The Catamounts did tack on a pair of scores late to close the gap, but the Bears came away with the 59-46 victory.
Something to keep in mind: Robert Riddle had already gone down with his season-ending injury before this game. Kaelan Riley lit up the Western Carolina defense with three touchdowns and nearly 300 yards of offense.
The Bears will need Riddle to carve up the Catamount defense in this game if they hope to extend their win streak over Western Carolina to three games.
Away @ Furman on Sept. 21
Head coach Bobby Lamb made a name for himself as the starting quarterback for the Furman Paladins in the 1980s. He took the Paladins to the national championship in 1985 and then came back the following season as an assistant coach. He took over as the head coach of the Paladins in 2002 and led them to four playoff appearances and a SoCon title.
Since taking over as the head coach of the Bears in 2013, Lamb has gone 2-3 against his alma mater. This is one of the most exciting series that the Bears have been a part of. Neither team has won a single game in the series by more than a touchdown.
The 35-30 loss a season ago was a heart breaker for the Bears who were trying to play spoiler and keep the Paladins from winning a share of the SoCon title.
A healthier team could be the difference this year for the Bears as they look to get off to a hot start in the conference and on the road.
Wofford on Nov. 9 at Mercer
The Bears final home game of the season could determine the winner of the SoCon title. Mercer has beaten every team in the SoCon at least once since joining in 2014, except for the Terriers.
The Bears have come close on multiple occasions, including a pair of one-point losses in the last two home games for the Bears in the series.
Mercer is looking to break through in the conference and the only way that it can do that is if it can finally break through against Wofford.
In last year’s matchup, the Terriers dominated the Bears by a score of 42-21. The Bears, however, scored 14 of its 21 points when the game was already out of reach.
The Terriers have won at least a share of the last two SoCon titles. They were once again tabbed as the preseason favorite heading into the season. If the Bears are still in the race for the title this late into the season, then this becomes a must-win game.
Away @ ETSU on Nov. 16
A season ago, the Bears’ SoCon title hopes were running on fumes when they matched up against the Buccaneers. The three-point loss at home ended all hopes of making the playoffs or winning a share of the title.
The Bears have lost two straight games to this team by three points. This comes after Mercer won 52-0 in the first meeting and 21-13 in the second. ETSU has turned into one of the better teams in the conference since resurrecting its program four years ago.
The Buccaneers will have to replace a few key pieces of the team that won a share of the conference title a season ago.
Mercer’s Tyray Devezin ran wild last year against the Buccaneers. It was one of his big breakout games as he carried the ball 29 times for 119 yards and a touchdown.
This is arguably the most important two-week stretch for the Bears this season as it could determine the difference between a title and another season hovering around .500.
Away @ North Carolina on Nov. 23
Mercer has consistently scheduled big-time FBS programs with most belonging to one of the Power 5 conferences. This year is no different as the Bears take on North Carolina from the ACC to close out the season.
Most times it is easy to pencil in a loss against one of the big schools, but that would not be a wise decision. This could be an upset special to watch.
North Carolina is coming off of a 2-9 season, with one of the wins being over Western Carolina. Unless the Tarheels are drastically improved, the Bears could go out with a bang this season if they are able to pull off an (unlikely) upset.
It is possible that the playoffs will be out of reach at this point for the Bears. That could be a dangerous situation for the Tarheels as this will, in some ways, be like a championship game for Mercer.
Regardless, this could be a fun road trip for Mercer fans and will give the players a chance to get out on the field against a Power 5 opponent.