The Mercer Bears near rally fell short against the Campbell Camels in 34-27 shootout.
The Bears offense got off to a sluggish start that included an early interception returned for a touchdown by Kam Prewitt that gave the Camels a quick 10-0 lead.
The Bears would eventually scored on a pair of field goals by Caleb Dowden including a 45-yarder right before the half to get Mercer within in a touchdown. Campbell also had a field goal, bringing the halftime score to 13-6.
In the second half, Mercer tied the game on a touchdown by wide receiver Tucker Cannon in the third quarter. Cannon high-pointed the football, got a foot down in bounds and did a front flip into the end zone to get the ball across.
Campbell got up by two touchdowns before running back Deondre Johnson broke a 65-yard touchdown to get the Bears back within seven.
In the end, Mercer’s rally fell short as Campbell iced the game with a long drive to milk the clock.
Mercer is in the midst of a three-game losing streak while Campbell extends its winning streak to three.
1. David Durden’s back injury creates questions for Bears in multiple areas, Johnson might be the answer to most of them.
Before the game it was announced that Durden would be out for at least six weeks with a back injury. Durden has been one of the most dynamic players in all of college football. A lot of that has to do with his ability to be an impact player as a wide receiver but also can take any kick return back for a touchdown.
The biggest hole might be in Durden’s ability as a wide receiver. Cannon stepped up in this game with a big catch for a touchdown but outside of that, quarterback Robert Riddle struggled to hook up with his wide receivers. Cannon also was more effective when Durden was drawing the double teams. Without him there it could mean less opportunities for Cannon.
Johnson emerged as a potential answer to some of those issues. He eclipsed the 170-yard mark his 65-yard touchdown run that gave Mercer new life in the fourth quarter. Johnson also had a pair of returns on kickoffs that set the Bears up with good field position. He could turn into a workhorse back for the Bears. Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said that he has a great one-two punch with Tyray Devezin and Johnson.
“Deondre is our juice guy,” Lamb said. “He has got the second gear and third gear that you need to go the distance.”
Lamb also mentioned that Devezin is dealing with an ankle injury that has kept the big back from practicing the last two weeks. He tweaked it midway through the game. Johnson stepped up when Devezin went down.
“I told Tyray, ‘Man, you have been fighting for me all this time. I am going to keep fighting for you,’ ” Johnson said. “I knew it was my turn to step up.”
2. Riddle’s interceptions starting to pile up but don’t give up on him yet
He has struggled recently with interceptions, he has nine on the season. Four of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. This has been a real killer for this Mercer team.
“Robert is a really good quarterback. We are just having trouble with interceptions,” Lamb said. “Those are back breakers. We have got to do a better job of coaching him, we’ve got to do a better job of calling plays. ... It is all of us.”
He was even pulled for one series in favor of former starter Kaelan Riley, who also tossed an interception. Remember Riddle doesn’t even have a full season under his belt after his last season was cut short with a collarbone injury. He is still getting his feet under him.
He came into the Furman game last week leading the nation in touchdown passes. Giving up on Riddle now might prove to be a mistake. He has all the tools to be one of the best passers in all of FCS football.
If he can clean up those mistakes, all of those tools will eventually come together for Riddle and the Bears.
However, he is going to endure some growing pains, like in Saturday night’s game with the pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Those growing pains will be worth it if Riddle reaches his potential.
3. Mercer entering tough stretch with six straight conference games
The game against Campbell marked the final non-conference game for the Bears until their game against North Carolina to finish out the regular season. This next set of games will prove to be the most important on the season for the Bears.
If they can win out in conference then all of their goals are still very much attainable. But the margin for error at this point is slim with one loss already in conference play against Furman. Despite that, Lamb said they are worried about getting their own mistakes cleaned up.
“At the end of the day we have got to fix ourselves,” Lamb said. “We can’t really worry about who we are playing.”
The mistakes the Bears have made during this three-game losing streak will have to be cleaned up quickly if Mercer wants to compete for the Southern Conference championship. The road to that title begins next week against Chattanooga. The Mocs are coming into the game at 2-3 on the season but beat Western Carolina on Saturday 60-36. The goal next week is to come out looking better, Lamb said.
“We have got to be better,” Lamb said. “It is all about getting Mercer better.”