On a rainy Homecoming weekend, the Mercer Bears football team got a little closer to the NCAA FCS playoffs with a win in the 2023 homecoming game against Samford University, 28-21. The game finished out the regular season for the Bears, who ended with a 8-3 overall record and went 6-2 in Southern Conference play.
The contest had two lead changes and the score remained within two touchdowns throughout the game.
Leading the Bears to victory was Carter Peevy ‘26 with 45 running yards and three touchdowns. He repeatedly extended plays and earned a handful of first downs on his feet. The three rushing touchdowns were a career-high for the quarterback, bringing his season total to 10. Peevy also had 137 passing yards as he threw 18-for-25.
Al Wooten II ‘25 led the team with 81 yards on the ground, averaging just over five yards per carry. Overall, the Bears rushed for 243 yards on the day, nearly 100 yards higher than their average for the season.
Brayden Smith ‘27 led the team with 34 receiving yards and Travion Solomon ‘26 had a career-long catch of 31 yards.
The wet conditions on the field led to a few fumbles, including one on the Bears' first drive of the game, but the ball was turned over just twice in the game. Samford had the other turnover when Lance Wise ‘24 recorded his fourth interception of the season with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Mercer’s defense was led by Marques Thomas ‘25, who had eight total tackles in the game, as well as Solomon Zubairu ‘24, who had two of the team’s five sacks. The Bears also limited SoCon’s second-ranked passing offense to just 210 yards through the air.
The defense struggled to contain the Bulldogs’ starting running back, Jay Stanton, who ran for 98 yards on 16 attempts. Stanton registered three runs of 15+ yards while Mercer had just one such run as a team. Stanton’s 30-yard run in the third quarter set up a game-tying touchdown for Samford.
This was the first time that Mercer's program won eight games in a season since 2013 when the team competed in the Pioneer League. Head Coach Drew Cronic highlighted that accomplishment that had been just out of reach for so many seasons in the press conference after the game.
“The kids have bought in and worked their tails off. So to see them be able to experience this, to do something for the first time, that’s all I wanted for them,” Cronic said. “I’m really happy that they’re getting that. They’ve earned that, they’ve earned the opportunity.”
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.