The Mercer Bears football team recorded its first ever victory in the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, beating the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, 17-7, in Macon. The Bulldogs, who were the champions of the Big South Conference, came into the game riding a five-game win streak while Mercer had won six of their last seven contests.
The defenses from both teams had strong games as neither team’s offense was able to get much done outside of the 21 points scored in the second quarter.
Gardner-Webb recorded five sacks against Mercer, led by star defensive end Ty French, who had three in the game. French was also credited for 10 total tackles, four of which were for a loss of 21 yards, and a quarterback hurry.
The rest of the Runnin’ Bulldogs defense helped hold the Bears’ offense to its lowest point total since Mercer lost to Chattanooga on Oct. 14. While they did not record a turnover, they did force the Bears to punt the ball 11 times.
Mercer’s offense recorded 289 total yards, just nine more than Gardner-Webb. Going into the game, the team’s average for successful third-down conversions in the season was 37%, but on Saturday, they went 2-for-16 on third downs.
Quarterback Carter Peevy ‘26 was responsible for both of the team’s touchdowns, both scored on rushing plays in the second quarter. With the two rushing touchdowns, Peevy moves into a tie with former Bears running back Fred Davis for fifth on Mercer’s all-time rushing touchdown leaderboard with 16.
Without factoring in the five sacks Peevy took, he registered 84 yards on the ground. The lion’s share of that yardage was gained on a 72-yard scamper. The run was Peevy’s longest since his 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of regulation against Ole Miss and the longest play from scrimmage in the entire game.
Elsewhere, Mercer relied on Al Wooten II ‘25 and Tyrell Coard ‘27, who combined were responsible for 114 of the team’s 167 yards.
The Bears lost, on average, 8.6 yards every time Peevy was sacked. Each sack effectively killed Mercer’s drives as the team did not register a first down on any drive after taking a sack.
Ty James ‘24 led all receivers with 100 yards on seven receptions. It was James’ fifth 100-yard game of the year and the 13th of his career. The rest of the team was unable to match that production as the next-closest Bear in reception yardage was Devron Harper ‘24 with 14 yards.
On the defensive end, the Bears held the Runnin’ Bulldogs to just 49 yards on the ground, the fourth-lowest for Mercer’s opponents this season. Solomon Zubairu ‘24 had five total tackles and 1.5 sacks, including one on a 4th-and-3 play from Gardner-Webb that gave the ball back to Mercer near midfield. Zubairu leads the team in sacks (9), quarterback hurries (12) and tackles for loss (17.5).
Mercer allowed Gardner-Webb's freshman quarterback Jaylen King to throw for 231 yards, making a game-high pass of 39 yards to receiver Ephraim Floyd. King, however, was inaccurate when it counted and threw three interceptions to a Mercer defense that has caused havoc for opposing quarterbacks all season.
Cornerback Myles Weston ‘27 registered his first and second career interceptions in the game, the second of which sealed the game for the Bears. Lance Wise ‘24 also intercepted a pass for his fifth pick of the season, bringing the team’s total to 13 in 12 games.
This week, the team will head to Billings, South Dakota to take on the reigning champion South Dakota State University Jackrabbits on Saturday. SDSU is 11-0 this season and last lost on Sept. 3, 2022 to the University of Iowa.
This will be the first matchup between the programs and they have no similar opponents from this or previous seasons.
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.