A record-breaking 12,172 fans filled Moye Football and Lacrosse Complex on Saturday Aug. 31, counting down the minutes to the kickoff that would mark the start of Mercer University‘s first football game since 1942.
It had been 72 years since Mercer University’s football team stepped foot onto the gridiron, and the wait proved to be well worth it.
The Bears defeated Reinhardt University in a 40-37 victory that saw eight lead changes. Josh Shutter’s 31-yard field goal split the uprights with three seconds left in the game, giving Mercer the lead with no time left for an Eagles comeback.
“It felt unreal to be a part of a game like that,” said Mercer’s captain, Tosin Aguebor. “It was the first game in 72 years and a last second win. I was nervous going into the game because it was my first college game, but after the first hit, I was ready to go.”
The Bears and Eagles went back and forth for the entire 60 minutes, fighting to keep control of the lead.
Reinhardt scored 13 unanswered points to erase Mercer’s lead and pull ahead 29-28 in the waning seconds of the third quarter.
Mercer proved they would not be shaken so easily. The Bears jumped ahead 34-29 in the beginning of the fourth quarter, with quarterback John Russ delivering a fade route to J.T. Palmer for the touchdown.
Reinhardt recovered a fumbled punt return on the Bears’ 11-yard line and went in for the touchdown, followed up with a 2-point conversion. Once again, the Eagles were in the lead with a 37-34 score.
After completing a 13-play drive, Mercer came back and tied the game 37- 37, with a 28-yard field goal by Shutter.
With 30 seconds left in the game, Mercer stopped Reinhardt from a first down, forcing them into a punting situation and giving the Bears possession of the ball.
Russ completed a 46-yard pass to Jordan Marshall,setting up Shutter for his game winning kick that would bring the Bears to victory.
Mercer took the dramatic win over the Reinhardt Eagles, and after 72 years, the Bears remain undefeated.
During Saturday’s game, Mercer’s quarterback John Russ threw for 218 yards, which included two touchdown passes to J.T. Palmer. Palmer led Mercer’s receivers in catches, after bringing in four catches for 70 yards.
Freshman linebacker Tyler Ward led the Bears defense with 10.5 tackles, which included a sack and a tackle-for-loss.
“I feel like we performed well in Saturday’s game,” Ward said. “We had some positive stats, but we also had too many loafs. It was only our first game though, and we’re going to continue to get better as a team. I believe that the key to any good team is practicing hard with a lot of intensity, and that is what’s going to get us where we need to be this season.”
The Bears will return to Mercer’s Anderson Field for their upcoming game against Warner University on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.