On a day destined for a shutout, Mercer University had other plans. Amidst a Tide of points for the University of Alabama in Saturday afternoon’s game, the Bears were able to score two touchdowns of their own against the No. 1 team in the country.
Though the Crimson Tide would eventually defeat Mercer by a score of 48-14, the Bears left Tuscaloosa with a small victory of their own thanks to their two touchdowns and early defensive stands. Mercer Head Coach Drew Cronic commented on the team’s performance after the game.
“I think our kids competed… that was important for us moving forward,” Cronic said. “The problem has been, this program didn’t believe in itself, this program didn’t think it could win, they played hard when they wanted to. And now I think we’re building on something, the glue is beginning to dry.”
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban also commented on Mercer’s performance against the Crimson Tide following the Bears’ two unexpected trips to the end zone.
“I think Mercer has a good team,” Saban said after the matchup. “They play hard. They play with toughness.”
Mercer used two quarterbacks against the Crimson Tide, swapping between Carter Peevy and Fred Payton during the contest. Payton eventually got most of the playing time at quarterback during the second half.
The Bears opened the game with an impressive three-and-out on defense, including a sack of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young on third down that brought the Mercer student section to its feet. The Bears couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity to score, however, as the Bears ran the ball three times and gained just six total yards.
The Crimson Tide’s next drive was a dud as well, as Bama was plagued by mistakes. Holding penalties, a dropped pass and a personal foul after a first down resulted in another punt for Alabama.
The Bears defense held the Tide offense to a total of just 6 yards on its first two drives.
As the Bears began to punt after their second stalled drive, Alabama’s Chris Braswell got his hands on the football, blocking the punt and giving Tide teammate Jase McClellan a chance to return it for a touchdown.
With Alabama leading 7-0, Mercer took the ball back on offense and converted a first down with Peevy in at quarterback. The first down was quickly followed by a nine-yard rush for Peevy, putting the Bears close to converting another first down.
On the next play of the drive, Peevy attempted a pass that was batted in the air by the Crimson Tide’s defensive line and intercepted by Kool-Aid McKinstry to flip the field.
Alabama used the turnover to strike again on offense, working down the field and letting Brian Robinson Jr. run into the end zone to make the score 14-0. Mercer’s next drive ended with another punt, giving the Tide the momentum they expected coming into the matchup.
The remainder of the first half went as most people expected. Bama’s offense capitalized on Mercer mistakes and beat the Bears in the trenches, scoring multiple touchdowns and a field goal to bring the score to 31-0 at halftime.
The score after the first reflected what many were predicting after Mercer’s easier first game against Point University last week, including Cronic himself.
“It was the opposite end of the spectrum, wasn’t it?” Cronic said of Mercer having to play against the Tide just a week after facing a much easier opponent. “Our kids were going into this game excited to play this game, it’s a blessing… I told them the truth, they’re the best team in the country. Can you go in there and hang with them and show you belong on the same field as them?”
In the second half, Mercer proved they belonged.
After a punt to open the third quarter and another Alabama touchdown, Mercer got the ball back at its own 15-yard line. Fred Payton completed two passes to guide Mercer to a first down before a 1st and 10 from the Bears’ 40.
Payton dropped back and threw a floating pass downfield to receiver Devron Harper for a 60-yard touchdown reception. It was Mercer’s first score of the game and sent the Mercer section of Bryant-Denny Stadium into a frenzy.
The Alabama defense had a bust in its coverage that allowed the play, leading to Saban’s comments following the game.
“Next week they’re playing a really good Florida team, so if they don’t wake up and shake themselves, they’ll get shook,” Saban said of his own team.
With the score at 38-7, the Tide scored another touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Young to McClellan. A Mercer interception followed, putting Bama in field goal range. The Tide kicker Will Reicher missed the field goal, however, holding the score at 45-7.
The Bears reclaimed possession and pieced together a scoring drive, moving 80 yards downfield in 10 plays to score a touchdown. The drive was capped by a 22-yard pass from Payton to Ty Lewis to take Mercer into the endzone.
The score in the fourth quarter was 45-14, resembling the final score of Alabama’s game last weekend against a strong University of Miami team. The difference: the Hurricanes only scored 13 points against the Tide. The Bears were also able to score more points against Bama than the Clemson Tigers scored against the Georgia Bulldogs last Saturday.
“We had kids playing as hard in the fourth quarter as they were in the first quarter,” Cronic said after the game. “They made some really good plays.”
After one more Alabama field goal, the game ended with a score of 48-14. Payton finished with 159 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns.
Mercer will look to build on their momentum following the Alabama game with a matchup against Furman Sept. 25.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.