Bears fall to #17 Paladins 25-20 in their first home loss since 1941

In their first Southern Conference game of the season, the Mercer Bears fell to the #17 Furman University Paladins 25-20. The Bears played well despite their shaky performance in the season opener against Reinhardt University.

The defeat marked the first time the Bears have lost at home since 1941, and the Bears failed to come through when needed the most. The Bears’ offense could not seem to get it going in the first quarter, as they had only one yard of total offense. The Paladins had no trouble moving the ball, however, as their first drive of the game went 70 yards in 15 plays and took 7:50. The Paladins took a 3-0 lead, the only points in the quarter.

The Paladins opened the second quarter with the ball. After 12 plays and 46 yards, Jon Croft Hollingsworth, Furman kicker, kicked a 35-yard field goal to put the Paladins, ahead 6-0. Soon after, the Bears answered with a drive of their own: an 87-yard drive capped by Alex Lakes’ two-yard touchdown gave the Bears a 7-6 lead with 4:31 left in the second.

Furman silenced the crowd at Anderson Field as Hank McCloud entered the end zone untouched from five yards out. At this point, the Paladins regained the lead, 13-7 with 58 seconds left in the half.  On the ensuing Mercer possession, John Russ, quarterback for the Bears, coughed up the football, giving the Paladins prime field position on the Mercer 35 with 51 seconds left in the half.  The Bears’ special teams came up big and blocked Hollingsworth’s third attempt on the night, and the Bears entered the locker room down 13-7.

The Bears started the third quarter with the ball and returned the kick-off to their own 27. Several plays later, John Russ hit D’Vante Penamon for 41 yards as the Bears marched their way into Furman territory.  An 18-yard scamper by John Russ set up an nine- yard pass to Robert Brown, which put the Bears ahead 14-13 with 11:06 left in the third. A great punt return by the Paladins’ Chad Scott set up another Hollingsworth field goal that put the Paladins back in control, 16-14 with 4:25 left in the third.

The Paladins started the fourth quarter with ball. An eight play, 51-yard drive capped by a Hollingsworth 50 yard field goal once again put Furman on top, 19-14 with 12:52 left in the fourth.

Mercer’s first offensive play in the fourth quarter ended with John Russ throwing an interception to Gary Wilkins on a screen play. Wilkins returned the interception 19 yards and gave the Paladins a commanding 25-14 lead with 12:38 left in the fourth.

After the Bears failed to convert on fourth down, Tyler Ward picked off Dillion Woodruff, the Paladins quarterback, to keep the Bears in the game.  The turnover led to a JT Palmer and John Russ connection from seven yards out. A failed two-point conversion left the Bears trailing 25-20 with 3:34 left in the fourth. A failed onside kick attempt gave the Paladins great field position, as they were able to run the clock down and give the Bears the ball back on their own 21.

A final heave downfield fell short as the Furman Paladins defeated the Mercer Bears 25-20. Failures to convert on third down and to stop the Paladins on third down proved to be the Bears’ downfall.

Robert Brown, sophomore tight end for the Bears, was disappointed the team lost, but he believes the Bears have a bright future ahead of them. “Even though we lost, we still feel like our goal of winning the Southern Conference championship is attainable,” said Brown. “Furman was #17 in the country and is the SoCon defending champs, so knowing we can play with one of the top teams in the nation for four quarters is huge in the progress of our young program.”