ETSU battles; Bucs fall at No. 11 Mercer
Published 8:35 am Monday, October 17, 2022
MACON, Ga. – After cutting an 18-point deficit to five early in the fourth quarter, the ETSU football team couldn’t inch any closer as No. 11 Mercer scored the final 17 points to secure a 55-33 victory on Saturday night at Five Star Stadium.
The game featured 88 points and 893 yards of total offense as the teams combined to run 145 plays. The Bucs – who received huge plays from their special teams – finished with 316 yards (230 passing/86 rushing), while Mercer registered 577 yards (383 passing/194 rushing).
ETSU’s special teams blocked a punt to set up a 1-yard touchdown run, while tight end Jaylen Frierson (Franklin, Tenn.) had a 72-yard kickoff return, which resulted in a 2-yard touchdown. Trace Kelley (Gallatin, Tenn.) also had a career-long 66-yard punt to flip the field and eventually led to the blocked punt by Jawan Martin (Decatur, Tenn.). In addition, Alijah Huzzie (Franklin, Ga.) had a 43-yard punt return, while Tyler Keltner (Tallahassee, Fla.) tied the single-game program record with four made field goals.
In game that was a rematch from last year’s de facto winner-take-all conference championship game – where ETSU won 38-35 – the Bucs saw their record dip to 3-4 overall and 1-4 in SoCon play. Mercer improved to 6-1 overall and remained unbeaten in league play, moving to 4-0.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
ETSU 3, Mercer 0: ETSU struck first when Davion Hood (Kennesaw, Ga.) recovered a fumble after Mercer botched a toss play and Keltner knocked the first of his four field goals through from 32 yards out to cap off an 8-play, 16-yard drive.
Mercer 7, Mercer 3: The Bucs’ lead didn’t last long as Mercer responded with a scoring drive on its ensuing possession, finishing with a 25-yard touchdown reception to Austin Douglas from Fred Payton. The pass play came on 3rd-and-11 play, capping an 8-play, 75-yard drive in three minutes.
Mercer 14, Mercer 3: Following a missed 39-yard field goal by Keltner, Mercer wasted little time putting more points on the board. On the Bears’ first play after the miss, they hit for a 65-yard pass play – and after converting on a 4th-and-1 on the ETSU 4-yard line – Mercer scored three plays later on a third down pass to Drake Starks.
Mercer 14, ETSU 10: ETSU’s special teams came up big to set up the Bucs’ first touchdown of the day. Following the career-long 66-yard punt by Kelley to flip the field at the Mercer 20-yard line, the Bucs forced a 3-and-out, and Martin came through up the middle to block the punt. Erek Campbell (Memphis) recovered on the Mercer 1-yard line and the Bucs scored on a touchdown run by Jacob Saylors (Jasper, Tenn.), pulling the Blue and Gold within four points with 10:16 left in the half.
Mercer 21, ETSU 10: Mercer made it another two-possession game when the Bears marched 65 yards on eight plays and scored on 15-yard pass play from Payton to Ty James. Mercer’s drive was kept alive after a review gave the Bears the ball back when the Bucs looked to have recovered a fumble; however, the official ruled Austin Douglas’ knee was down on the play. Mercer went on to convert a 4th-and-2 play and scored two plays later.
Mercer 28, ETSU 10: On the Bucs’ first play after the Mercer touchdown, Baron May (New Philadelphia, Ohio) threw an interception on a tipped ball – and after a return by Mike Campbell – the Bears scored on a 21-yard pass to Starks, putting Mercer up by three scores with 7:04 left in the quarter.
Mercer 28, ETSU 17: The Bucs’ special teams showed up again when Frierson returned the kickoff 72 yards down inside the Mercer 10-yard line. Saylors finished things off with a 2-yard rushing touchdown with 5:17 remaining before the break.
Mercer 28, ETSU 20: ETSU got points on the board right before halftime when the Bucs went 40 yards on seven plays and got a 49-yard field goal by Keltner as time expired.
Mercer 28, ETSU 23: After Chris Hope (Madison, Ala.) picked off Mercer’s Fred Payton for his first interception of the season, Keltner kicked a 28-yard field goal, pulling the Bucs within five at the 10:28 mark of the third quarter.
Mercer 35, ETSU 23: As the Bucs were settling for field goals, Mercer found the end zone for the fifth time of the game when Devron Harper scored via a 48-yard run on a 3rd-and-5 play, making it a 12-point game with 8:27 remaining in the quarter.
Mercer 35, ETSU 26: ETSU missed a golden opportunity to find the end zone when they had first and goal at the 10 but had to settle for a 39-yard Keltner field goal – his fourth of the afternoon – with 1:44 left in the third. The Bucs had a touchdown wiped off the board on a holding call after Tyler Riddell (Tampa, Fla.) found Einaj Carter (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) in the end zone; however, tackle Blake Austin (Johnson City, Tenn.) committed the costly penalty.
Mercer 38, ETSU 26: The Bears answered the Bucs’ field goal with one of their own as they connected on a 25-yard try with 13:22 left in the fourth quarter.
Mercer 38, ETSU 33: ETSU continued battling and inched back within one possession when Riddell rolled out of the pocket after facing pressure and found Isaiah Wilson (Norcross, Ga.) in the back of the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown.
Mercer 45, ETSU 33: The back-and-forth scoring continued as Mercer used four plays to go 77 and scored on a 31-yard reception from Payton to Ty James, putting the Bears back ahead by double figures with 10:34 remaining.
Mercer 48, ETSU 33: The Bears tacked on another field goal as Devin Folser’s 33-yard kick made it a 15-point game with 2:51 left on the clock.
Mercer 55, ETSU 33: Mercer capped things off with a 41-yard interception return by Mike Campbell with 1:47 remaining.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
ETSU and Mercer have played at least once since the 2015 season with the Bears tying the all-time series at 4-4 … The Bears are 4-1 all-time against the Bucs in games played in Macon
Tyler Keltner tied the ETSU single-game record with four made field goals, joining JJ Jerman (2018, vs. The Citadel), Pat Crust (1992, vs. Western Carolina) and Herbie Campbell (1984, vs. Chattanooga) as the only Buccaneer kickers to accomplish the feat
Following his 15-point performance on Saturday, Keltner moved past Brandon Walker for second all-time on the ETSU scoring list with 273 points … Keltner now has 52 career made field goals, which is one shy of tying JJ Jerman for the ETSU record
Jacob Saylors was held to 25 rushing yards on 16 carries but had his third multi-rushing touchdown of the season with his two touchdowns
The Bucs held Mercer – who entered the game converting on 51% on third down chances – to 5-of-13 on Saturday … However, ETSU went 4-of-17 but was a perfect 4-for-4 on fourth down (Mercer was 2-of-2)
ETSU turned the ball over three times (all interceptions), while the Buccaneer defense forced two turnovers (one interception, one fumble) … The interception was Fred Payton’s first of the season and the first career for Chris Hope
Mercer outscored ETSU in points off turnovers, 17-6
For the second straight game, Erek Campbell led the Bucs in tackles as he totaled seven
Despite only having the ball for 10 minutes and 58 seconds in the first half, ETSU won the time of possession, 30:11 to 29:49.
ETSU’s average starting field position was Mercer’s 49-yard line, while Mercer’s was its own 26
There was only one punt in the second half – coming from Kelley on ETSU’s first drive of the third quarter … For the game, Kelley had four punts for 201 yards, including the long of 66 … Kelley averaged 50.2 yards per punt and had two land inside the 20.
NEXT GAME UP
The Bucs finally return home next Saturday when ETSU hosts No. 15 Samford on Homecoming. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. in Greene Stadium.
For more information on Buccaneer football, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the football page.