Mercer football’s historic 2023 season came to an end in the second round of the FCS Playoffs after they fell to #1 South Dakota State University, 41-0. The Bears’ season ended with a 9-4 record, the team’s greatest number of wins since it was reinstated in 2013, as well as its first-ever run in the FCS Playoffs.
Going into the game, the odds were stacked against the Bears, who, according to ESPN, never had greater than a 40% chance of winning the game.
Mercer went just 1-of-10 on third downs while SDS went 9-of-14. Overall, the Bears tallied only six first downs while the Jackrabbits had four times as many.
SDS’s defense is the top-ranked unit in the FCS as it has allowed just 10 points per game, which is four fewer than the second-ranked defense, and only 14 touchdowns through 12 games. Mercer, on the other hand, is ranked 36th in the FCS while it gave up a little less than 24 points a game.
Mercer’s offense, led by Carter Peevy ‘26, was unable to get any sort of momentum throughout the game and were shut out for the first time all season. Peevy threw 14-for-22 and 75 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. His leading receiver, Ty James ‘24, caught just two passes for 28 yards. James had the offense’s longest play of the game, reeling in a 26-yard pass late in the third quarter. A costly penalty during a 33-yard reception by James erased what was the team’s best chance at putting points on the board.
On the ground, the Bears totaled 76 yards. Nearly a third of those yards were from a trick punt play by Chris Hill ‘24, who ran the ball 24 yards for his second-career rush. The play earned him the most rushing yards of the game for the Bears.
SDS had its way with the Bears’ defense, recording 571 yards of offense compared to Mercer’s 151. The undefeated Jackrabbits passed for 225 yards, a touchdown and an interception between two quarterbacks.
The Bears’ rushing defense, which is one of the team’s brightest spots, allowed 346 yards of total yardage and four touchdowns, led by two 100-yard rushers for the Jackrabbits. Twins Jaxon and Jadon Janke led SDS in the receiving corps with 148 yards and a touchdown between the two brothers.
However, the defense was not inactive during the game, causing multiple turnovers yet again. Ken Standley ‘25 intercepted his second interception of the year and Donovan Watkins ‘27 recovered his first career fumble. Along the defensive line, Isaac Prince ‘27 registered his first career sack against SDS.
Looking forward to next year, there have been some coaching changes that Head Coach Drew Cronic mentioned at a press conference on Monday. The Bears’ defensive coordinator, Joel Taylor, accepted the head coach position at the University of West Georgia, leaving a vacancy that Cronic said would be filled from within the program.
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.