The Bears took to the gridiron on Saturday, registering their first win of the season against the Lions of the University of North Alabama, 17-7. The game, which took place in Montgomery, Alabama’s Cramton Bowl stadium, was the first FCS Kickoff game in which Mercer played, and was the first college football game of the season across the country.
The Bears were ranked 20th in the FCS going into the game while the Lions were unranked.
Mercer’s first drive of the game was their most efficient, sparked by Devron Harper's ‘24 kickoff return that went for 43 yards. After seven consecutive rush attempts and a toss to redshirt-sophomore Gavin McKay, the redshirt-sophomore and new captain, Carter Peevy, found preseason all-conference wide receiver Ty James ‘24 for a 14-yard touchdown, completing a 9-play, 49-yard drive to the endzone.
Mercer’s defense held North Alabama to a punt in their ensuing drive, but a "muffed punt" by Harper returned the ball to the Lions at Mercer’s 27-yard line. The defense, led by FCS Kickoff MVP Isaac Dowling ‘25, stopped North Alabama from scoring entirely. A three-and-out was followed by a missed field goal, maintaining the Bears’ lead.
Mercer's defense was strong throughout the game as the unit allowed just one touchdown on 10 drives by North Alabama. Mercer forced four punts from the Lions, in addition to two drives that ended with turnovers on downs by the Lions and two sacks throughout the game.
Mercer’s special teams had a strong game while the Lions struggled. North Alabama’s longest drive of the game came to an end with a blocked field goal by the outstretched hand of redshirt-junior Jordan Swain.
In their first game with a new quarterback "in the pocket," the Bears relied on their running game moreso than last year. After averaging more than 29 pass attempts per game in 2022, the Bears passed only 17 times, about 30% less, for 115 yards on Saturday.
Mercer handed the ball to redshirted freshman Micah Bell 20 times for 75 yards and a touchdown. However, they were unable to make much work outside of a handful of large, chunk plays. The average run gave the team just 3.2 yards compared to last year’s average of 5.1.
Mercer's offense did, however, maintain its strong fourth down conversion rate. Last year, the team converted 85% of their fourth down attempts, according to Mercer Athletics. On Saturday, they converted 2 of 3 attempts.
At the end of the game, the team was presented a trophy for its win in the FCS Kickoff game, as well as an MVP recognition for Dowling, who contributed 10 tackles, half a sack and a 1.5 tackles for a loss.
In a press conference following the game, Dowling was critical of his own performance, saying that he expects more out of himself. Head coach Drew Cronic came to his defense, however.
“He was being honest with you up here, he expects to play better. Even though he had whatever it was, 12 tackles, 13 tackles and made some huge plays, I promise you he’s gonna be critical of himself in that film and he’s gonna get better,” Cronic said. “That’s just who he is. There’s no one more deserving to win that MVP award of the game than he is.”
Heading into their second game of the season, Mercer has dropped two places in the FCS rankings, sitting at 22nd before they take on the Ole Miss Rebels.
Gabriel Kopp '26 is majoring in Journalism and Law and Public Policy at Mercer University. He has written for The Cluster since he started at Mercer, and currently works as the Sports Editor. When he isn't studying, he enjoys going for runs and reading the New York Times.