There are plenty of reasons for Mercer’s success in its first season since 1941.
The Bears (9-1, 5-1 Pioneer Football League) have a strong running game and shut down other teams.
John Russ is having an outstanding year at quarterback.
They’re 7-0 at home and have the best turnover margin (plus-11) in the PFL.
Oh, and one other thing.
“We’re all freshmen, pretty much, and no one told us we weren’t supposed to be good,” tight end Robert Brown said. “We had no idea we could actually do this, so yes, there is a little surprise there.”
Mercer’s players have gained more confidence after every victory and are at the point where they believe they can win the PFL and earn the conference’s automatic berth to the FCS playoffs.
They need Morehead State to beat Butler on Saturday and also need to win their remaining two games (at Marist on Saturday and vs. Stetson next week).
“Nobody believed we could do it, but it’s right there in our hands,” linebacker Corey Lockett (Northside-Warner Robins) said. “We have great chemistry and great energy and we believe in each other. We can bring this home.”
Mercer – which starts 19 freshmen and three sophomores — is fueled by a running game that is second in the FCS with 290 yards a game and by a defense that is 15th against the run, allowing 114.7 yards.
Russ (Mill Creek) has rushed for 732 yards and 11 touchdowns and thrown for 1,701 yards with 19 scores and only three interceptions.
Payton Usher (Northgate) leads Mercer with 776 yards rushing, but he’s been injured, providing carries for JeTarii Donald, who has 652 yards and six touchdowns.
Linebacker Tyler Ward (Tattnall Square) leads Mercer with 84 tackles and linebacker Tosin Aguebor (Chattahoochee) has eight sacks.
“When we started the season, I had no idea what to expect,” coach Bobby Lamb said. “A lot of the teams we play have fourth- and fifth-year seniors. They’re just bigger and stronger, and I didn’t know how we’d match up.
“We’re winning the games partly because (our players) don’t know any better. They expect to win. It’s been a fun year.”
Albany State’s defense has shined during its four-game winning streak.
The Golden Rams (5-4) have allowed an average of 7.7 points the past three weeks heading into Saturday’s SIAC championship game (7 p.m., Lakewood Stadium) against Miles (6-3).
They held Clark Atlanta to 54 total yards, Benedict to two field goals and Fort Valley State to 42 yards rushing on 38 carries.
Larry Whitfield (Monroe) leads Albany State with 76 tackles, and fellow linebackers Marcavius Dudley (Brunswick) and Glen Stanley were dominant last week.
Dudley had 16 tackles and recovered a fumble, and Stanley had 10 tackles, two sacks, recovered a fumble and broke up a pass in the win over FVSU.
All-America safety Dexter Moody (Emanuel County Institute) has two interceptions, down from seven in 2012.
Around the state
Top-ranked Georgia Military College (11-0) will play No. 2 East Mississippi Community College (11-0) for the NJCAA national championship in the Mississippi Bowl at 2 p.m. Dec. 8. GMC running back Jovon Robinson, a former Auburn signee, leads the NJCAA with 2,189 yards rushing and 31 TDs. … Clark Atlanta DB LaRelle Muldrow is the SIAC defensive player of the week after intercepting three passes and returning one for a TD in a win over Edward Waters. DJ Cain is the conference’s special teams player of the week for scoring on a 60-yard punt return. He also scored on a 25-yard run. … Morehouse finished 2-8, its worst record since finishing with two wins in 1999. The Tigers have a combined five victories the past two seasons after averaging 7.2 wins from 2007-11.
Shorter 24, Point 10
West Georgia 38, Delta State 20
LaGrange at Averett, 1 p.m.
Mercer at Marist, 1 p.m.
Savannah State at N.C. A&T, 1 p.m.
Reinhardt at Campbellsville, 1:30 p.m.
Georgia Southern at Elon, 3 p.m.
Miles vs. Albany State, SIAC Championship, 7 p.m. (Lakewood Stadium)
Clark Atlanta at Southern, 7 p.m.
Valdosta State at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 8 p.m.
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