By Carey Phillips
Mercer broke a tie by scoring the final 10 points of the game Saturday to claim a 34-24 Southern Conference football victory from Western Carolina.
A homecoming crowd of 11,123 saw the Catamounts (0-6, 0-3) rally from a 21-7 halftime deficit to draw even before coming up short at the end.
Fred Davis carried 26 times for 128 yards and scored two touchdowns for the Bears. Brandon Marshall added 91 yards in 11 attempts.
Mercer quarterback Fred Payton completed 10 of 20 passes for 116 yards and a TD.
WCU’s Carlos Davis made his first start at quarterback and completed 18 of 32 passes for 221 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
Kenny Benjamin carried 15 times for 70 yards and a score and caught five passes for 74 yards and a TD.
Western tied it 24-24 on Richard McCollum’s 24-yard field goal with 14:45 left in the game. Carlos Davis completed a 35-yard pass to Benjamin for a first down at the 11, but the Cats were unable to get into the end zone.
Three plays after a punt, T.J. Moore intercepted Carlos Davis’ pass at the WCU 45. Devin Folser’s 51-yard field goal put the Bears on top 27-24 at the 9:06 mark.
The biggest play of the game came moments later when Lance Wise picked off Carlos Davis’ pass and had a 56-yard return to the 1. Fred Davis scored on the next play, and Folser kicked his fourth extra point for a 34-24 lead with 6:04 on the clock.
Benjamin fumbled on the game’s first possession, and Ken Standley recovered at the Mercer 46. Payton’s 14-yard pass to Ethan Dirrim and Marshall’s 23-yard run resulted in a first-and-goal. A 5-yard TD pass from Payton to Parker Wroble gave Mercer a 7-0 edge with 9:57 to play in the first quarter.
The Bears extended the margin to 14-0 with 13:08 left in the half on a 1-yard run by Payton. It capped an 84-yard drive in nine plays, including runs of 48 yards by Marshall and 27 yards by Fred Davis.
The Cats cut the gap to 14-7 at the 4:51 mark when Benjamin went over from a yard out and McCollum kicked the first of his three extra points. The drive took 12 plays and covered 50 yards. Highlights were runs of 11 yards by Carlos Davis on fourth-and-4 and 12 yards by Benjamin.
Mercer led 21-7 at halftime, following Fred Davis’ 2-yard run with 1:41 on the clock. It was set up by a 47-yard pass from Payton to Devron Harper.
Sparked by a 57-yard pass from Carlos Davis to Calvin Jones, Western drove 80 yards in six plays on its first possession of the second half. T.J. Jones scored on a 4-yard run, narrowing the deficit to 21-14 with 10:44 remaining in the third period.
Payton completed passes of 17 yards to Dirrim, 10 yards to Harper and 11 yards to Ty James to set the stage for Folser’s 50-yard field goal and a 24-14 Bear lead with 6:40 to go in the third quarter.
Two plays after a punt, Fred Davis fumbled with Ty Harris recovering for the Cats at their 48. After a personal foul penalty against Mercer, Carlos Davis completed a 36-yard TD pass to Benjamin for a 24-24 tie with 3:43 left in the third period.
Jacob Harris led WCU with nine tackles.
Wise and Standley both had eight tackles for the Bears.
Western will be off Saturday and return to action Oct. 23 with a 2 p.m. game at The Citadel.
50-223 Rushes-Yds. 38-116
10-20-0 Passing 18-32-2
116 Passing Yds. 221
6-35.5 Punts-Avg. 5-41
4-1 Fumbles-Lost 2-1
9-89 Penalties-Yds. 7-58
Mercer 7 14 3 10 34
WCU 0 7 14 3 24