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Mercer downs Chattanooga in defensive showdown, earns chance at first conference title

<p>The Mercer defense (orange) lining up across from the Chatanooga on Saturday, Nov. 15. The Bears would go on to win 10-6.</p>

The Mercer defense (orange) lining up across from the Chatanooga on Saturday, Nov. 15. The Bears would go on to win 10-6.

When Mercer iced the win in front of a homecoming weekend crowd at Mercer’s Five Star Stadium, it was done with an onside kick. The Bears fell on the ball and with it secured their first chance at a conference title since the program was reinstated in 2013.

The Bears took down the UT Chattanooga Mocs in an intense conference game Saturday, winning by a score of 10-6 to bring their record to 7-2. The win continues Mercer’s successful season and puts them in second place in the Southern Conference standings.

"Our kids just hung in there and found a way to win,” Mercer Head Coach Drew Cronic told Mercer Athletics after the game. “Our defense was amazing. Chattanooga was leading the conference in turnover margin, and we couldn't let that happen today, and we didn't.”

The Bears and Mocs both knew the matchup had high stakes coming into Saturday’s afternoon showdown. Both teams were within striking distance of the top of the conference standings, and Mercer knew a win would secure a chance at the conference championship.

The first quarter of the game showcased solid defense for both squads, as neither team was able to score until the second quarter. It was UTC that struck first, scoring a touchdown thanks to running back Allym Ford punching it in from 10 yards out. The touchdown would end on a bitter note for the Mocs, though, as their kicker would miss the PAT to keep the score at 6-0.

The missed kick would prove huge for the remainder of the low-scoring affair. Mercer scored a touchdown of their own later in the second quarter when tight end Drake Starks caught a short pass from quarterback Fred Payton in the end zone. The PAT was good for Mercer and the score was 7-6.

The score would hold here for most of the rest of the game, as the two teams traded intense drives and sudden turnovers throughout the second half. The Bears forced three fumbles and notched two interceptions throughout the game and kept Chattanooga’s offense in check.

After back-and-forth defensive stops for the majority of the game and several promising drives stalling out, Mercer finally found themselves in position to secure the victory near the end of the fourth quarter. Kicker Devin Folser drilled a field goal from 38 yards to make the score 10-6 in favor of the Bears. 

With just a minute and a half remaining on the game clock, it looked as if Mercer would need to come up with one last defensive stand to take care of the Mocs. In a turn of events, Mercer made the bold decision to go for an onside kick and recovered it. With the ball back, it only took a few quarterback kneels for the Bears to make the victory official.

The win brought Mercer’s conference record to 6-1 and set a program record for conference wins in a single season. The victory also gives the Bears a chance at a conference championship, something that didn’t seem likely after the team’s struggles in recent years.

"It's a credit to a lot of people. When we came here, we came here with a vision. How far we've come in the last year is amazing to me,” Cronic said. “We're very demanding and these kids have listened and trusted and learned to love each other and now they're overachieving."

Mercer’s chance at a Southern Conference Championship will come next weekend when they face off against East Tennessee State University. ETSU, who are now tied with Mercer atop the conference thanks to their own 6-1 record, are led by star quarterback Tyler Riddell and 1000-yard rusher Quay Holmes. Riddell has over 1800 yards passing with 13 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions.

The Bears’ climactic matchup against the ETSU Buccaneers will be played in Johnson City, Tennessee this Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

Micah Johnston

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.


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