MACON, Ga. — Mercer University relied on a strong running game and a stout defense during a rainy affair Saturday to defeat Berry College by a 43-0 margin to remain unbeaten.
The Mercer Bears (3-0) racked up 513 total offensive yards, including 379 rushing yards, while their defense kept the visiting Vikings to just 68 total offensive yards.
Running back Payton Usher led the ground attack for Mercer, rushing for 154 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, good for an average of 12.8 yards per carry. The Bears, playing their first football following a seven-decade hiatus, have played three upstart programs to start the season and kick off Pioneer Football League conference play next week against Drake University (1-2).
“Overall another great victory for us as we move forward,” Mercer Head Coach Bobby Lamb said. “I told our team on the field after the game that we need to be excited about where we are, however the real season begins now because you have the Drake Bulldogs coming to town and they have been a part of the PFL for a long time and have an outstanding program.”
Game time conditions were messy with a driving rain present for much of the contest, making a sustained passing attack more challenging. Still, Mercer’s quarterbacks combined to complete 12 of 22 pass attempts for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“As we got out there and I saw how hard it was raining and how wet it was I said ‘we’re not throwing this ball,’” Lamb said. “Certainly we had a lot of success running the ball and we made a couple of quick throws and got the ball out to the people who need to catch the football.”
Berry, a Division III squad, is playing in its inaugural season. The Vikings (1-2) begin Southern Athletic Association conference play next week against Rhodes College (2-1) in Memphis, Tenn.
On Saturday, Berry struggled to jumpstart its offense, rushing for just 10 yards, led by running back Gavin Black who rushed for 19 yards on seven carries.
“I told them at half time … ‘we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves as a team and individually,’” Berry Head Coach Tony Kunczewski said in a post-game interview. “When things are going good, it’s easy to play. When things are tough, that’s what separates you from the pack.
“Moving forward, I like where we’re at right now from an attitude standpoint,” Kunczewski added. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy this year. And, we knew this game in particular was going to be very difficult, facing a team that’s a I-AA program.”
Berry lost its inaugural effort by a 37-0 margin to Maryville College. The Vikings bounced back a week later to defeat the LaGrange College JV squad by a 37-27 margin for the program’s first ever win.
But, for Kunczewski, improvement is as important as winning.
“While we fought hard until the end, and that’s all we can ask for, we just keep on moving forward,” Kunczewski said. “We still have a lot to learn, but we can see improvement literally every day in practice. As long as we’re moving forward, that’s the main goal. And, I know that we’re moving forward right now.”
- Mercer completed all three of its fourth down conversions while completing five of 14 third-down conversions.
- Berry quarterback Dale Jackson completed three of nine pass attempts for 33 yards in his second action of the year. Against LaGrange, Jackson only attempted one pass, which went for an interception.
- Berry punter Mitchell Blanchard saw plenty of action, kicking the ball away 11 times and netted a 41.5-yard average per punt. Blanchard also saw three punts of more than 50 yards.
- Berry saw success on kickoff returns, bringing back a total of six kicks for 125 yards, good for an average of 20.8 yards per kickoff return.
- Through three games, Mercer running back Payton Usher leads the Pioneer Football League in rushing. Usher has rushed for 367 yards on 42 attempts, good for an astounding 8.7 yards per carry average.
- Mercer won the possession battle Saturday, holding the ball for 33:22 compared to 26:38 for Berry.
Note: Coach Bobby Lamb’s quotes were provided by Mercer University.