Macon has been the location for film productions in the past. Add “Mercer versus Furman” to the list.
Senior wide receiver Jordan Marshall caught a 33-yard game-winning touchdown Saturday with 0:31 remaining to lift Mercer (6-5, 4-4) over Furman (3-8, 3-5) 27-24 in the team’s final outing of the season.
But this win was extra special for Marshall, a Day One -- the players who have been with the team since the first practice after re-establishment -- along with quarterback John Russ.
“It seems like something that would happen in a movie,” Marshall said.
It was Marshall’s first catch of the game. It was Marshall’s first reception over 15 yards this year. It was Marshall’s first touchdown of the season.
The Hollywood-esque scene occurred after Furman scored a 36-yard touchdown on fourth down with 1:25 remaining to lead 24-20.
It was the second time the Paladins took the lead in the game. The Bears held the lead 10-9 at halftime thanks to a 43-yard strike to Chandler Curtis only over a minute and a half into the game.
A Russ interception, which was returned 31 yards to Mercer’s 4-yard line, led to a 4-yard touchdown pass that gave Furman a 17-10 lead with 12:25 in the third after a 2-point conversion. Russ would later make amends at the end of the third quarter, tying the game on a 1-yard rush.
Mercer regained the lead as Cole Fisher reeled in a 32-yard field goal with only 2:35 remaining, but would later lose it when Furman scored on fourth and two from Mercer’s 36.
The Bears drew final blood, but the final 30 seconds weren’t without drama. After an unsportsmanlike penalty moved the kickoff 15 yards back, Furman drove to Mercer’s 31-yard line with 10 seconds remaining.
But Furman quarterback Reese Hannon launched a pass toward the end zone that was picked off by Mercer’s Kam Lott to secure the win.
STARS OF THE GAME:
Russ: The senior filled the stat sheet in multiple ways during his final outing as a Mercer Bear. Russ passed for 191 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions but also added 123 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Buford native finishes his career as a four-year starter, passing for 8,559 yards, 78 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He also rushed for 2,340 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Curtis: The junior was quiet after his 43-yard score on the first possession, but he still led the team in receiving with four catches for 67 yards and the score. It was the sixth straight game Curtis caught a receiving touchdown.
Hannon: Furman’s quarterback accounted for all three of the Paladins’ scores, as he passed for 251 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 47 yards and a score on the ground.
Thomas Gordon: The Paladins’ freshman receiver torched the Bears with seven receptions for 100 yards in the first half; Mercer limited him in the second half, as he finished the game with eight receptions for 112 yards.
STATS THAT POP:
Running for no gain: Furman ran for only 68 yards in the loss, averaging 2.7 yards per carry. Before the game, the Paladins ranked sixth in the Southern Conference with an average of 139.3 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
John “Rush” leads Bears’ ground game: Mercer ran for more yards (193) than it passed for (191) in the game, led by Russ -- a quarterback. It’s the third straight outing in which Russ led the team in rushing.
(1) Bears send Day Ones out in fashion
Saturday was the final game for the Day Ones, the group of players still on the team who joined the team on the first day of re-establishment. Head coach Bobby Lamb has raved about how much of an impact the Day Ones have made on the program.
(2) Oh sweet victory
Mercer has experienced more than its fair share of close, stinging losses. See: Wofford at home in 2015, The Citadel in 2015 and 2016, VMI at home in 2015 and Western Carolina on the road in 2015.
After Furman’s late touchdown, it looked as if the script may be rewriting itself. But the senior-to-senior connection converted a play when it was most needed and flipped the script.
(3) What does the quarterback position look like next season?
Russ has been the only quarterback Mercer has seen since the football program was re-established. His impact on the program was capped by his balanced performance Saturday, leading the offense through both the air and ground.
Redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley and redshirt sophomore Tanner Brumby are the two remaining quarterbacks currently on the roster. Whoever wins the starting position will have large shoes to fill; it will be the biggest question going into 2017.
Marshall on the game-winning touchdown: “I knew when they went up 24-20, something in my gut just told me that we were still going to win that game. I didn’t know that I’d be the one that would score, but I just knew we were going to win that game, and it was just a blessing that I came up with that in my last game here.”
Russ on Marshall’s touchdown: “I can’t even put into words how excited and how happy I am for him. He’s been my roommate ever since I came here. You’ll never see a guy work as hard as he will at practice, [the] weight room, everything... It’s a memory.”
Lamb on the relationship between Russ and Marshall: “They’re like best friends. They’re hip to hip.”
Lamb on senior class: “It’s a special class… They’ve stayed the course. We signed 104 and 31 in year two. It was 135 players who could have stayed the course, and 30 stayed the course. That shows you how special these young men are. They didn’t waver. We put them through offseason training, summer training. They did everything we asked them to do to be a part of Mercer football and to build Mercer football from day one. They did that.”
Marshall scores 33-yard touchdown in final minute to defeat Furman 27-24