The Mercer Bears came into the game against Austin Peay Saturday with a lot of momentum following a pair of wins on the road to open the season. But the Governors turned Mercer mistakes into points as the Bears dropped their first game of the season by a score of 48-27.
A crowd of 11,478 came out to support the Bears on 478 Day and were treated with a score by the hometown team less than a minute into the game on a field goal by Caleb Dowden. The Governors would answer quickly with a touchdown by Kentel Williams.
The teams would trade scores back and forth to head into the half tied 13-13 after the Governors scored a field goal with just five seconds left in the half.
The game turned in the third quarter when Austin Peay scored 14 points in under a minute. The Bears looked poised to make a comeback when Robert Riddle hit Chris Ellington for a touchdown to cut the lead to seven.
The Governors put the game away when Kordell Jackson intercepted Riddle for the second time and once again he would return it for a score. This put Austin Peay up 41-20 with less than 7 minutes left in the game.
Mercer would briefly make a comeback an attempt but fell short, in the end, to fall to 2-1 on the season and will travel to Furman for its second conference game of the season. Furman has looked impressive despite a 1-2 start to the season as it has taken a pair of FBS opponents in Virginia Tech and Georgia State down to the wire.
“They are not a monster. They put 11 guys on the field just like we do,” wide receiver David Durden said. “As long as we execute, I think we will be alright.”
David Durden is electric
David Durden opened the game up with a 77-yard kick off return. He followed that up with 4 catches in the first half for 69 yards and a touchdown. He kept the Bears in the game in the first half when the offense seemed to stall out.
Durden’s ability to take the ball to the end zone on any touch makes him a fun player to watch. He has the ability to break a game wide open and has proven to be huge weapon for Riddle.
“We need more guys like him that can compete and want to compete and be the best,” head coach Bobby Lamb said. “He is just a true sophomore so it is pretty phenomenal what he has done since he has been here.”
He also demands a lot of attention which opens the field up for Tucker Cannon, another player who also has a knack for the big play. Durden finished the game with nine catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
Durden must continue to be an impact player for the Bears this season for them to have any success. Which success of the team is what Durden is striving for not stats.
“As far as the offensive performance, I really didn’t even realize my numbers,” Durden said. “I am more worried about the win which we didn’t get tonight.”
Avoiding disaster and letting it pile up
This game took a turn for the worse for the Bears in a two-minute span in the third quarter. Mercer had its punt blocked deep in its own territory. Austin Peay would find the end zone and on the ensuing possession, Riddle threw a pick-6 to Kordell Jackson.
“You can’t overcome stuff like that,” Lamb said.
The game went from tied to being down by 14 in a hurry for the Bears. But they didn’t let those mistakes pile up and that will be key for Mercer going forward.
The Bears briefly looked like they would get back into the game but that series of plays would ultimately cost them the game along with another pick-6 by Jackson in the fourth quarter.
Mistakes are going to happen but the Bears simply cannot let them compound as they did against the Governors.
The run game must get better
The Bears struggled all game long to get a consistent run game established. Devezin finished with just 48 yards on the ground on 16 carries. This resulted in the passing game sputtering after the first quarter. Riddle struggled to find open passing lanes. He finished 29-of-47 for 287 yards. He tossed four touchdowns but the two interceptions proved costly.
“The mistakes happened because number one, we weren’t able to run the ball,” Lamb said. “All the pressure went to Robert and he has to make every throw and every read. It is a tough game.”
The run game simply did not provide the impact it needed to for the Bears to be successful. It will be imperative going forward that the Bears find a way to get Devezin going on the ground.
“They were pretty physical on the inside,” Lamb said. “We had that one drive there in the second half where we really got going... once that run game stalls like it did tonight we are in trouble.”
The first two games saw them take advantage of lesser defensive fronts. Austin Peay made it a mission to force the Bears to become a one-dimensional team.
Mercer must find balance starting next week against conference opponent Furman on the road. If the Bears can find that balance then it is a team set up to make a run at a conference title. If not then the Bears could be in for a long season.