Avant's pick-6 makes national news

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Trey Smith / Cluster Staff

Trey Smith / Cluster Staff
Trey Smith / Cluster Staff

The Mercer University football team holds a 4-1 record after facing off against Drake and San Diego University.

The Bears pulled out a 31-17 win against Drake Sept. 28, giving them their fourth consecutive win of the season.

The biggest play of the game came in the second quarter, from defensive back Alex Avant, with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown that put the Bears up 17-0.

After Mercer’s victory over Drake, Avant was announced as the Pioneer Football League Defensive Player of the Week by the conference office Sunday, Sept. 29.

His interception return started at the number four spot on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays, but earned the top spot by Sunday, according to the Mercer University Football Facebook.

“It was really cool to win the PFL Defensive Player of the Week and even more shocking to get my play on ESPN Top Plays,” Avant said. “I had no idea that it would get that publicized. I’m just glad I could help our team win because Drake was a really big game for us. The win meant a lot for us and the Mercer community.”

Mercer took control of the first half against Drake, forcing five turnovers to lead the Bulldogs 17-7.

After a catch by JT Palmer and a 1-yard quarterback keeper by John Russ, the Bears led Drake 24-7 with 5:51 left in the third quarter.

Drake responded with a 7-yard pass for a touchdown to make the score 24-14.

After a 24-yard field goal by Drake with 8:14 left in the fourth quarter, it appeared as though the Bulldogs might catch the Bears as they trailed by seven points with a 24-17 score.

Mercer proved they would not back down easily as they climb ahead on the scoreboard with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Josh Jones, putting them ahead 31-17.

The Bears’ defense did work as they held Drake, giving Mercer back the ball to run the clock up at the end of the fourth to take the win.

John Russ threw for 172 yards and rushed 55 to score 21 of Mercer’s 31 points.

The Bears’ winning streak came to an end Oct. 5 with a 45-13 defeat after facing off against the University of San Diego for their first away game of the season.

San Diego jumped on the board right away as the Toreros returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Mercer suffers their biggest deficit of the season when the Toreros score a 46-yard touchdown to give them 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

With a double reverse, Jones found Palmer for a 28-yard touchdown to put Mercer on the board late in the first quarter.

After another touchdown from Drake, Mercer’s Tyler Zielenske converted a 20-yard field goal to make the score 21-10 Drake.

Another Torero touchdown gave Drake a 28-10 lead with 3:44 left in the opening half of the game.

With halftime approaching, Zielenske drilled another field goal to make the score 28-13 and give the Bears their last points of the game.

The Bears’ defense would hold USD to only two more touchdowns of the game. However, Mercer was unable to make a comeback as they suffered their first loss in 42 years.

Although Mercer lost the battle against San Diego, they won possession time, holding the ball for 30 minutes and 55 seconds, while converting on 5-of-15 third down attempts.

Palmer had four receptions for 100 yards, while Russ finished 15-for-32 for 160 yards with one interception.

The Bears will return to action at home Saturday Oct. 12 at noon, where they will face off against the Valparaiso Crusaders.