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The Ruling: We’ll talk about one play

Mercer Bears' Alex Lakes (27) is tackled by Chattanooga's Marshall Cooper (40) in their game on Saturday, October 14 in Mercer's stadium.
Mercer Bears' Alex Lakes (27) is tackled by Chattanooga's Marshall Cooper (40) in their game on Saturday, October 14 in Mercer's stadium.

One play.

One play stands out among the rest from Mercer’s 28-21 loss to Furman Saturday. With the game tied and five minutes remaining, Furman’s Antonio Wilcox took a handoff from Mercer’s 4 yard line.

He burst forward and leapt toward the goal line. Touchdown.

Or was it?

As Wilcox jumped for the goal line, a Mercer defender punched the ball loose. It was a bang-bang play, and Mercer players jumped on the ball while Furman players threw their arms up to indicate a touchdown.

The referee agreed with the Paladins. Strangely, though, the official with the worse view made the call. From the referee’s perspective, Wilcox’s body covered the ball, making it nearly impossible for him to determine whether the ball crossed the goal line before coming out.

But, hey… the officials could simply take the play to instant replay to determine whether Wilcox had crossed the goal line.

In theory, yes. But Furman doesn’t have instant replay. The Southern Conference doesn’t mandate that all teams have and utilize instant replay. So, the play on the field stood: touchdown.

“If you’re wearing orange, [the ball] came out early. If you’re wearing purple, it was a touchdown,” head coach Bobby Lamb said. “It’s just one of those plays – and take it for what it’s worth – but they benefitted from not having replay.”

That touchdown would ultimately  be the difference in the game. You can watch it here.

But that one play doesn’t define this game. That one play is not the reason Mercer lost to Furman Saturday.

It was simply one of 133 plays run. And, truly, we don’t know if it would have been overturned even with replay. (I mean, it probably would have and should have, but still.)

The Bears will be disappointed with the loss, as LeMarkus Bailey and Marquise Irvin obviously still were during Monday’s press conference, but it’s not a bad loss; Furman is tied for the best record in the Southern Conference and is a formidable foe.

More so, it’s disappointing because it puts Mercer in a hole if it wants to make the postseason. The Bears are fifth in the conference at 3-3, behind four squads at 4-1.

The top four teams from the conference will usually make the postseason, so in order to have a chance, the Bears will need to win their next two games against Samford and Western Carolina, and then hope that at least one of Samford, Western Carolina, Wofford or Furman lose two conference games the rest of the year.

Lamb said Saturday was a tough blow, but their chances are not over.

“Anything can happen in this league, if you’ve seen over the last several weeks,” Lamb said. “We have to take the same mindset as coaches, the same mindset as players, going into the Samford game. It’s Homecoming. It’s our seniors’ last football game at home as well, so a lot is riding on it. Hopefully we’ll have a big fan turnout to see these seniors.”

Here are the takeaways from the loss:


(1) Chandler Curtis is becoming more and more involved

It’s a breath of fresh air to see Curtis healthy this season. He made a major impact as a freshman, leading the conference in all-purpose yards per game and leading the team in receiving yards.

But he played in only three games as a sophomore and simply didn’t have the same impact last season.

Against Furman, Curtis caught 11 passes for 112 yards -- on top of what he does as a punt returner. This performance comes one week after grabbing eight catches for 77 yards and a touchdown against Chattanooga.

“When he gets the ball in his hands, good things happen,” Lamb said. “So we’re trying to get the ball to our playmakers.”

Earlier in the season, Curtis was more of a big-play presence who didn’t receive a large volume of targets. But with 19 catches the last two weeks, it’s obvious quarterback Kaelan Riley is looking his way more often.

Which makes sense. The two have known each other since well before their Mercer days, as both played at Calhoun High School. Riley said he has known Curtis since he was 9 years old.

Riley simply attributes their chemistry to their friendship: “We’ve just known each other for a long time.” 


(2) It’s about the little things [related title="Related Stories" stories="22532,22479,22406" align="right" background="on" border="none" shadow="off"]

Mercer won some of the more discussed statistical categories -- offensive yards, for example.

But some fundamental, smaller parts of the game didn’t go the Bears’ way. Mercer committed 10 penalties for 93 yards. You just can’t do that and expect to beat a team like Furman.

“Number one, you get back-to-back holding calls. I look up and it’s 1st-and-40, and you don’t have 1st-and-40 quite often,” Lamb said. “That was [a result of] some technique errors. I don’t know if it’s [Riley’s] cadence, but we jumped off sides in key situations…we’re going to get down to the bottom of that when we meet as a group. Those are things that can’t happen in a game like this.”

What’s concerning is that this is the second game this year the Bears have had 10+ penalties. They also committed 10 penalties on the road against ETSU.

On top of the penalties, Mercer also allowed Furman to go 4-of-4 on 4th down attempts and missed another field goal. Cole Fisher is now 6-of-10 on the season.


(3) SoCon mandating video replay in 2019

Right now, only Mercer and The Citadel have video replay in the SoCon. This is the first season those two programs are using it, and all programs will be mandated to use it by the 2019 season.

Thank God.

Because I don’t think anyone wants to deal with anything like this again.

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