Bears averaged 10.8 yards-per-play in season-opening win
Aug. 27, 2022
The 2022 Southern Conference football got underway in record-setting fashion, as Mercer blasted Pioneer Football League member Morehead State, 63-13, in the week zero season opener Saturday night at Five Star Stadium.
Mercer dropped 60 or more points in a season-opener for the second-straight time under head coach Drew Cronic, having posted a 69-0 win over Point to begin the 2021 campaign with a 1-0 record.
Morehead State, which has strung together consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2002 and ‘03 entering the 2022 campaign, started 0-1 for a second-straight campaign, taking a 68-10 shellacking at the hands of the No.2 James Madison Dukes last fall to open what would be an eventual 7-4 finish to the season.
Mercer, which returned to the football gridiron following a 72-year hiatus in 2013, originally called the Pioneer Football League its home conference, however, never faced the Eagles during that season that saw the Bears set a Division I record for wins for a startup program with 10, as the Bears finished 10-2 overall, which included a 6-2 mark in PFL play. The win saw Mercer improve to 7-3 in season-openers since the program was resurrected in 2013.
The offensive fireworks and big-play machine of Drew Cronic’s Bears offense were on full display from the outset of the contest, which was highlighted by a 28-point outburst in the second quarter, as the Bears rolled up 625 yards of total offense in the win.
The 625 yards of total offense were the second-most in program history, as the Bears amassed an astounding 778-yard worksheet in the 2021 season-opening win over Morehead State. All told, the Bears have out-gained foes 1,403-377 in total offense, while outscoring each of its past two season-opening opponents by a combined score of 132-13.
The five passing touchdowns registered by the Mercer offense also represented a new school mark. Bears senior quarterback Fred Payton had a big night throwing the ball, connecting on 11-of-17 passes for 248 yards and four scores, while throwing no INTs in the win. Mercer backup quarterback Daniel Shock came off the bench to connect on 2-of-3 passes for 18 yards and another touchdown.
Payton’s top target in the passing attack was standout Ty James, who picked up right where he left off the 2021 season. In Mercer’s regular-season finale, 38-35, setback at East Tennessee State in the de facto Southern Conference championship game last November, James set a new school single-game receiving mark, hauling in eight passes for 224 yards and a touchdown.
James hauled in scoring passes of 43, 29 and 90 yards in the opening half, as the Bears trotted in the halftime locker room with a 42-10 halftime advantage. James put the finishing touches on the opening half of play, with a 90-yard scoring catch from Payton with just 36 seconds remaining in the half. The 90-yard scoring catch marked the third-longest in program history, bested only by Rob Lake’s 98-yard scoring catch against Presbyterian in 2019 and Josh Jones’ 93-yard catch vs. Valparaiso in 2013.
James got his season off to a flying start, as his five-catch, 192-yard and three touchdown receiving effort Saturday night marked the second-highest tally in program history. His three scoring catches in one game set a new school-record, and with his 2022 season-opening effort, now holds the school’s top four passing performances.
The ground attack, like the aerial assault, was also clockwork and finished the night by charting a hefty 359-117 advantage in total ground yards, averaging almost a first down (9.4 YPR) per rush. James Madison transfer Austin Douglas highlighted the rushing performance, churning out 140 yards and a pair of scores on just five attempts in the game. Douglas averaged an outrageous 28 yards per attempt, which included back-to-back scoring runs of 65 and 56 yards, respectively.
The second Bears back to threaten 100 yards rushing in the contest was Al Wooten, who finished the contest just four yards short of that eventual total, posting 96 yards on a team-high 13 carries.
All told, offensively the Bears ran just 58 plays on offense, however, averaged a school-record 10.8 yards-per-play.
Highlighting the Mercer special teams performance in Saturday night’s season-opening win was Devron Harper’s 93-yard kick return to make it a 35-7 game with just under a minute remaining in the third quarter. It was part of a big night for the all-conference return threat, as he also added two catches for 35 yards, which included a 29-yard scoring reception in the second quarter.
The Bears were stout on the defensive side of the ball as well, limiting the Eagles to just 117 total yards on 42 rush attempts on the ground. That averaged out to a meager 2.8 yards-per-rush. It was a well-balanced effort from the Mercer defense, which had six players with five or more tackles, with linebacker Zach Hopkins pacing the Bears defense with seven stops, while the all-league tandem of Lance Wise and Isaac Dowling posted five tackles apiece, with Wise adding a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, while Dowling had 1.5 tackles-for-loss.
Backup signal-caller Daniel Shock registered his first-career scoring pass as a Bear when he connected with Travion Solomon to record the fifth and final touchdown pass of the evening, making it a 63-13 contest with 7:26 left in the game.
All-SoCon defensive lineman Solomon Zubairu added a sack, while Richey Coffey also posted a quarterback takedown to equal both Bears sacks in the game. The Bears registered a pair of caused turnovers, with Cam Smith recording his first-career INT in the second quarter, while Savio Frazier, who was a SoCon All-Freshman selection last season, recovered a fumble forced by Dowling just before time expired in the opening half.
The Eagles were paced offensively quarterback Grady Cramer, who connected on 16-of-24 passes for 95 yards, with a TD and an INT. His favorite target was Kyle Daly posted five catches for 36 yards and a score. Preston Toner led the Morehead State defense with 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Qtr Time Scoring Play MOR MER
1st 13:20 MER – Ty James 43 yd pass from Fred Payton (Devin Folser kick) 5 plays, 65 yards, TOP 1:40 0 7
1st 10:59 MER – Austin Douglas 65 yd run (Devin Folser kick), 2 plays, 66 yards, TOP 0:41 0 14
2nd 14:50 MER – Austin Douglas 56 yd run (Devin Folser kick), 5 plays, 82 yards, TOP 1:54 0 21
2nd 09:31 MOR – K. Daly 10 yd pass from G. Cramer (N. Hazlett kick) 6 plays, 30 yards, TOP 1:58 7 21
2nd 07:30 MER – Ty James 29 yd pass from Fred Payton (Devin Folser kick) 5 plays, 69 yards, TOP 1:55 7 28
2nd 03:39 MER – Fred Jackson 11 yd run (Devin Folser kick), 7 plays, 46 yards, TOP 2:39 7 35
2nd 01:22 MOR – N. Hazlett 33 yd field goal 8 plays, 49 yards, TOP 2:17 10 35
2nd 00:36 MER – Ty James 90 yd pass from Fred Payton (Devin Folser kick) 2 plays, 91 yards, TOP 0:39 10 42
3rd 12:10 MER – Devron. Harper 29 yd pass from Fred Payton (Devin Folser kick) 4 plays, 45 yards, TOP 1:31 10 49
3rd 01:15 MOR – N. Hazlett 36 yd field goal 13 plays, 55 yards, TOP 6:22 13 49
3rd 00:59 MER – Devron. Harper 93 yd kickoff return (Devin Folser kick) 13 56
4th 07:26 MER – Travion Solomon 15 yd pass from Daniel Shock (Devin Folser kick) 12 plays, 75 yards, TOP 6:42 13 63
Up Next: at Auburn (Sept. 3, 2022/6 p.m. EST)