The Mercer Bears have had two home openers since the program returned in 2013, but this year’s has a bit of a different feel.
For the first time, Mercer has a game under its belt before its home opener after opening its season last week with a win at Austin Peay. On Saturday, the Bears host Stetson at Five Star Stadium in their only home game this month.
“There’s a lot of excitement around the campus and around the city because we are coming home with a win under our belt,” head coach Bobby Lamb said. “In the past, we have had the home opener be our first game, but this is different. But then again, we’re expecting a big crowd. It’s the first game, everybody’s excited, and I know our players are excited about coming home to play.”
Mercer leads the all-time series 9-1, and it has dominated both of the games the teams have played the past two years, winning by a combined score of 90-14. The Bears are 7-2 against Pioneer Football League programs since 2013.
The Hatters opened their season with a 42-13 win over Webber International.
“Basically, Stetson is the same players, and they’re a lot like us in that they haven’t graduated a whole lot,” Lamb said. “They have added some new pieces to their puzzle, but their defensive scheme and offensive scheme are the same they have been doing the last couple of years. Obviously, we have won big the last two years when we played Stetson, but we won big over Austin Peay last year, and we were in a dogfight up there last week. No matter who you’re playing, you have to take care of your game. So we really want to concentrate on what we need to do to get better.”
The Mercer defense would be hard-pressed to play better than it did last week when it held Austin Peay to 244 yards and just 33 yards rushing.
Lendell Arnold led the way with seven tackles, while Stephen Houzah and Zach Jackson each had six.
“It’s like a first step to the championship,” said linebacker Lee Bennett, who forced a key turnover in the fourth quarter of that win. “I felt like we played pretty well for the first game, and we’re excited about this game coming up.”
Junior defensive end Tosin Aguebor is especially excited about the first home game. He missed all of the 2014 season with an injury, but he had a strong showing last week with three tackles, a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Aguebor on one end and Isaiah Buehler on the other is a combination that gives the Bears a dynamic combination with Buehler opening the season with 1.5 tackles for loss and four tackles.
“It was a great feeling to be back on the field with my teammates, a blessing really,” Aguebor said. “We played really well, but we still made some mistakes and have some things that we can improve on so we can be the best defense we can be. We’re really looking forward to playing at home. There is no better feeling than to be out there in front of you own fans, and we’re really excited about that.”