MACON, Ga. (MERCER RELEASE) – The Mercer University football team hits the road for a showdown of top teams in the Pioneer Football League this Saturday, traveling to Marist as the Bears and Red Foxes have their sights set on a conference championship.
The Bears are in the midst of a season-high five-game winning streak and are a perfect 7-0 at home after a comeback 45-42 win over Jacksonville, but Mercer need to capture its third straight road victory Saturday to keep its hopes alive for the FCS playoffs.
Date: Sat. Nov. 16 | 1 p.m. EST
Teams: Mercer (9-1, 5-1 PFL) vs. Marist (7-3, 6-1 PFL)
Location: Poughkeepsie, N.Y. | Tenney Stadium (5,000)
Radio: New Country 96.5 | iHeartRadio
Radio Talent: Rick Cameron (play-by-play)
Live Stats: GoRedFoxes.com
Twitter: @MercerFootball | #BearTrax | #BeatMarist
Tracking the Marist Red Foxes
In search of its first PFL championship in its fifth year in the league, Marist would secure at least a share of the title with a victory over Mercer Saturday.
The Red Foxes are currently tied for the most wins in program history with seven. They accomplished that feat in 1990, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2009 and now in 2013.
Marist is riding the second-longest winning streak in the league at four games and will look to halt Mercer's PFL-leading five-game winning streak.
Mercer and Marist have identical 4-1 records against common opponents and are both chasing San Diego who holds the tiebreaker over both clubs.
The Red Foxes are outscoring their opponents by nearly 13 points per game, led by senior quarterback Chuckie Looney who has thrown five touchdown passes in a single game two different times this season, including in a three-point loss to San Diego.
Russ Makes National Headlines
Quarterback John Russ was deservingly added to the Jerry Rice Award watch list last week, as the redshirt freshman has 11 total touchdowns over the last three games, including 100-yard rushing performances in all three of those contests.
Russ ranks No. 14 in the country in pass efficiency and No. 1 among freshman. He has 30 total touchdowns and is No. 2 in the country in yards per completion at 16.5.
He has led the offense to the fewest interceptions in the country and his five total touchdowns against Jacksonville marked a career-high and landed the Buford, Ga., native PFL Offensive Player of the Week honors and National Freshman of the Week honors by The Sports Network.
The national award was the first of its kind for the Bears this season and marked the fifth time a Mercer player received weekly honors from the league office this season.
Mercer is one of two NCAA Division I FCS or FBS programs in the country with a 7-0 record at home. The Bears share the perfection with Sam Houston State.
While Mercer is the second best offense in the PFL and seventh in the country at 41.1 points per game, the Bears are going up against the second best defense in the league, facing a Marist squad that gives up just 21.9 points per contest.
Saturday is a contest that could be decided in the red zone where Mercer has converted on 18-of-18 possessions in PFL play and ranks No. 3 in the country in red zone offense. Marist brings the league's No. 2 red zone defense into the affair, allowing only a 66.7 percent (14-of-21) conversion rate in PFL action.
The Bears and Red Foxes are two of four teams in the conference with positive turnover margins. Mercer's +11 turnover margin tops the league charts, while Marist is third at +3.
The Bears rank No. 1 in the country in fewest interceptions with three, while ranking second in the land in fewest turnovers lost with nine.
The Mercer rushing attack continues top the charts across the country, ranking as the No. 2 rushing attack in the nation at 290.0 yards per game on the ground.
While Mercer can claim at least a share of the PFL championship if it wins out and finishes 11-1, the Bears can only make the FCS playoffs with wins over Marist and Stetson, coupled with a Drake win over San Diego and a Morehead State victory over Butler.
Mercer is one of eight FCS programs in the country with one loss or less and the only team in the PFL with less than three losses.
The Bears are looking to their winning streak to six games this Saturday tie the program record for consecutive wins. The only other six-game winning streak spanned two seasons from 1910-1911.
Straight from the Lamb - Head Coach Bobby Lamb's Game Week Quotes
Looking back at the win over Jacksonville...
"First of all let me just say that our environment and atmosphere here on Saturday was pretty incredible. We had the blackout going, but the fans showed up in full force. Our kids just fed off that atmosphere and I really believe the reason we were able to hang in there in the third and fourth quarter of the game was because of our crowd. We made just enough plays and won it at the end. It was an incredible football game."
On John Russ taking over the game...
"Once Payton (Usher) went out I made up my mind that we were going to run a lot of zone reads and John (Russ) was going to be the guy to help us win the game. He had 17 carries for 149 yards and threw for 217. He had five responsible touchdowns and just made play after play after play. He came here limping a little yesterday but he just really gutted it out and when our team sees our quarterback doing that it really elevates the rest of our team."
On winning the turnover battle...
"We basically only won two statistical categories and that was turnovers, they had three, we had zero, and then we won time of possession. Thank goodness we won the time of possession because if they had a few more possessions we would have been in trouble. We did what we needed to do in those two areas. We did enough on the defensive side of the ball and on offense we moved the ball over 490 yards again."
On the flea-flicker game-winning touchdown...
"Well you know we're a run base team first and there is no secret that we like to run the ball. That's kind of our niche this year. And you know we've got safeties biting up in the box so we just said hey lets run it and see what happens. JeTarii Donald goes up the line, he flips it back to the quarterback and then John Russ threw a magnificent pass but JT Palmer made an unreal catch in the corner of the end zone. It was just one of those plays that was called at the right time and executed the right way. It's one that people will talk about for years."
Looking ahead to Marist...
"There is still a lot of ball left to play. But we are tied with Marist, San Diego, and Butler for first place in the league. Obviously one of us will be eliminated from the race this week. Marist is a very good football team. They beat San Diego on a last second field goal and they probably have the best football team they have had in team history. They are a senior laden football team and have an outstanding quarterback."
Putting the season into perspective...
"Well I'll tell you what, it's been a remarkable season. Right now having nine wins in our first year is pretty special with all these young men. They have stayed the course and we've just had a lot of good things go our way. But the bottom line is the kids play for 60 minutes and any time you've got a team that plays for 60 minutes you'll have a chance to win games."