‘The Ruling’: Riley shines in first career start


Hayes Rule, Lead Writer

Hello, World.

A three-man quarterback battle stole the headlines preseason for the Mercer Bears, and now the quarterback who won that competition is making sure we remember his name.

Redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley took his first collegiate snap Thursday and totaled five touchdowns in Mercer’s 48-7 rout of Jacksonville. The Bears controlled the game from the start.

Alex Lakes gave Mercer its first lead with an 18-yard run, which was followed by an 8-yard touchdown grab by Sam Walker to give the Bears a 14-0 lead after the first. Riley scored two more touchdowns in the second quarter, one with his feet and one through the air to Walker, giving Mercer a 27-0 lead at the half.

The rout continued into the third quarter. Riley connected with true freshman Edmond Graham on a 58-yard bomb, then scored another touchdown with his feet. C.J. Leggett tacked on the team’s final touchdown of the night at the end of the third quarter.

Jacksonville avoided the shutout by scoring early in the fourth quarter.

Mercer registered 397 yards on offense, 220 through the air and 177 on the ground. The Bears also finished the game 6-of-6 on red zone conversions.

Here are three big takeaways from Mercer’s victory:

(1) Bobby Lamb’s offense didn’t miss John Russ

Russ has been the only starting quarterback since the program was re-established; many questioned what the position would look like without him at the helm.

Riley did a pretty dang good job of silencing those doubters. The redshirt freshman finished the game 18-of-26 for 206 yards, three touchdowns and one interception; he also added 54 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

“Overall, he had a pretty superb game for his first college start,” said head coach Bobby Lamb. “I wanted to get him going and get him settled down with some short throws, and I thought he did a nice job of handling our offense.”

But it’s not just about the numbers. He looked poised and comfortable. He scrambled from the pocket when he needed. He made the throws, and he made them with accuracy.

He wasn’t perfect. Riley wasn’t on the same page with his receiver and missed an option route in the first half. He also floated a pass over the middle that was intercepted early in the second half.

But he was pretty dang good — five total touchdowns good. And yes, Jacksonville isn’t exactly an FCS powerhouse. The Dolphins play in the Pioneer League, the same conference Mercer played in for its first season of football.

Either way,  Riley did what he was supposed to do, and that’s very telling — especially since he hasn’t played in over a year.

“It took me a few snaps to get comfortable,” Riley said. “I wanted to get hit a couple times; it’s been so long. I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I did.”

(2) Tight end Sam Walker looks in store for a breakout season

Riley to Walker. Get used to it.

Walker entered his redshirt junior season with 49 receptions, 529 yards and five touchdowns during his career. Against Jacksonville, he finished with five receptions for 47 yards and two scores.

Mercer has plenty of weapons on offense this year, but it’s not a stretch to say Walker may be the most talented. He stands at 6-foot-4, 229 pounds and can be a nightmare in the red zone.

“[Walker] is the best mismatch we have,” Lamb said. “When you put him on linebackers and safeties, he can make plays … I look for him to have a big, big year for us.”

Riley said Walker is a big part of the team’s offense.

“[Walker] is a phenomenal player. He has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen,” Riley said. “He’s a big guy, big body [and] big target.”

(3) I love the no-huddle, shotgun offense

Specifically early in the game, we saw a fast-paced offense out of the Bears. Lamb had Riley in the shotgun for nearly the entire game, and the offense had little trouble moving the ball.

With Riley in the game — his night ended midway through the fourth quarter — the Bears scored on eight of their 12 offensive drives.

“We have a lot of weapons out there at wideout [and] running back,” Lamb said. “We’re trying our best to get them a lot of footballs. We spread the field pretty good tonight.”


Editor’s note: this article originally said that Sam Walker had 2 career touchdowns prior to this game. It has been corrected as of 9:15 a.m. 9/1/2017 to show that Sam Walker actually had 5 career touchdowns before the game.