Southern Pigskin

Mercer On the Brink of History


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By BJ Bennett
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Though this is new territory, for Mercer, the Bears enter this weekend with the same mindset that has led to so much success.


I like our kids, I like our team and I believe in our guys, I really, really do.

n~Drew Cronic

nMercer, less than a decade after reinstating football for the first time since 1941, is suddenly one win away from a Southern Conference championship and an automatic bid into the FCS playoffs. Both would be milestone firsts for the Bears. Having won three games in a row and six of seven contests overall, Mercer, now into the national polls, next has a showdown for the SoCon title at 8th-ranked East Tennessee State. The Bears are currently on a run for the record books.

nHistory, for Mercer, is on the horizon.

n”I’m proud of our kids. We’ve come a long way,” head coach Drew Cronic shared. “We got the right kids here, they’re believing in what we’re doing, they’re believing in each other, they’re playing their tail off, they’re overachieving and they’re a lot of fun to be around. And they’ve managed to put themselves in a situation where they’re one win away from an outright conference championship. We’re very blessed, worked very hard. I’m proud of my kids, proud of my staff. Bottom line is we’ve got to go win a game.”

nThe Bears have been in playoff mode for weeks. Last Saturday’s triumph over Chattanooga was the starting point for this Saturday’s spotlight. In a game with championship implications, against an opponent that had made at least the second round of the playoffs as recently as 2014, 2015 and 2016, Mercer found a way. It was a statement victory for a team on the national radar and a program on the rise. The Bears, with the finish, officially became contenders.

nOne of the biggest wins ever at Mercer created the chance for more of the same.

nIn a contest with just 16 total points, Mercer scored the last ten, holding the Mocs scoreless over the final 40-plus minutes of the game, in a performance to remember. A special weekend in Macon turned into a showcase.

n”It was a heck of game. Chattanooga is loaded, with a lot of talent, and a very good football team,” Cronic recalled. “That was a huge for us. Our kids played their tail off to put themselves in this position. It was a homecoming weekend for us, it was a big weekend. It was a great day on Saturday.”

nMoving forward, the challenge awaiting is an immense one. So, too, is the opportunity. Mercer will play on the road in Johnson City in a showdown with one of the top teams in the FCS. East Tennessee State is 9-1, a resume which includes a 20-point win at Vanderbilt, and has not lost at home this season. The Buccaneers are ranked in the top ten in the polls and made the playoffs in 2018. East Tennessee State ranks second in the SoCon in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

nThe Bears will take the field this Saturday with the momentum of perhaps the biggest win in program history and, going back to the SoCon’s spring season, confidence from a victory against East Tennessee State in April. That afternoon, Mercer got a touchdown pass and run from Carter Peevy and a fumble return for a score from Yahsyn McGee in a 21-13 triumph. Since then, the Bears have emerged as a leading name in the league, quickly introducing themselves on the big stage.

n”East Tennessee is an outstanding football team. They play great defense, they run the ball. They have a tough-minded program. I like them. I like how they are. And they’re a team that can make some noise in the playoffs. They beat Vanderbilt,” Cronic added. “We were able to beat them in the spring season. I felt like that was one of the better games that we played. I’m sure that they are using that for motivation as well.”

nThough Mercer is obviously still focused on winning this weekend, preparation, for Saturday, has come with considerable context. Not long ago, the Bears didn’t even have a football program. First, in the modern era, football was just an idea. Now, Mercer is on the verge of potentially winning a conference championship and competing for a national title. The Bears are one win away from a new status quo. There is a special energy and momentum around a team clearly doing remarkable things.xc2xa0xc2xa0xc2xa0

nTradition is taking shape.xc2xa0

n”We’re very appreciative of the progress that has been made here, but it is a group effort. It is a lot of people working together and believing in each other to give us this opportunity to play for championships. And this is where we want to be,” Cronic continued. “That takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of people being unselfish and working together. But I like our kids, I like our team and I believe in our guys, I really, really do.”

nThough this is new territory, for Mercer, the Bears enter this weekend with the same mindset that has led to so much success.xc2xa0

n”Our kids understand what it means,” Cronic detailed. “My job is to get us to go play at the very highest level we can every single Saturday. Consistently be the best we can be. Prepare for each team the same way and worry about us. That’s what we have to worry about, the Mercer Bears.”

nAs a relatively new program continues to add to an impressive profile and resume, the expectations still remain high. Mercer, after all, promptly won ten games in 2013 in its first season back in over 70 years. Even as the Bears now compete for championships, there are still areas where Mercer can grow and improve. The consistent standard remains the Bears being the best they can be.

n”We got a lot of work to do. The glue hasn’t totally dried,” Cronic acknowledged. “But I like where we are and I like where we’re headed.”

nMercer is now where every program wants to be. The Bears control own their destiny for a conference championship and the playoffs.xc2xa0

n”It’s the last two teams standing and it’s kinda cool that it gets to be decided in the last game,” Cronic concluded.

nThe schedule has aligned. The stars have, too.

BJ Bennett – B.J. Bennett is’s founder and publisher. He is the co-host of “Three & Out” with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the “Southern Pigskin Radio Network”. Email: [email protected] / Twitter: @BJBennettSports

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