Unfortunately, for the Eagles, they suffered their first heartbreak in program history, while Mercer celebrated the first win on the football field since 1942, as the Bears downed the Reinhardt 40-37.
Reinhardt and Mercer were knotted at 37-all with less than a minute remaining in the game. Reinhardt had the ball in a fourth-and-seven on the Mercer 43. After calling time out, the Eagles elected to go for it. Quarterback Johnathon Chamblee was brought down following a short gain.
Coach Danny Cronic took credit for the call to go for it on fourth down. The coach relied on the adage that you play for the win on the road and play for overtime when you are at home.
“I didn’t punt it in the end, but I might have if I had more time to think about it,” he said. “We busted a play. We called the wrong direction. I would have liked to have seen us get that play off and get the first down and sustain that drive. I really want to win the game right there. But to be safer, we probably should have punted it.”
Mercer took over on downs and on quarterback John Russ’ second deep passing attempt he connected with a receiver inside the 10-yard line with 15 seconds remaining. The Bears took a knee and then used a down to center the ball before Josh Shutter connect on the game-winning 31-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining.
Despite being on the losing end, the Eagles have plenty to be proud of. From their 406 yards of total offense to an interception, a fumble recovery and three sacks on defense, the Eagles showcased many of the skills they will need to succeed in the Southern Conference.
The Eagles took a 29-28 lead near the end of the third quarter on a 78-yard run by Sam Jones, which saw the sophomore cut all the way across the field after making a move around Mercer defender Cody Jones. Reinhardt, which struggled at time on point after attempts, made the kick by Matthew Moon of this occasion.
The Eagle defense appeared to have the Bears on their backs on the next possession, but a late personal foul call moved Mercer across midfield and set up a touchdown pass from Russ to J.T. Palmer.
Up 34-29, the Bears elected to go to for the 2-point conversion. Tevin McCoy, who was all over backfield for much for the game, broke up the pass attempt and the score held.
The Eagles were held to a 3-and-out on their next possession, but caught a good break when they forced a fumble on the punt return. Adrian Hayes recovered it on the Mercer 11-yard line and two plays later L.J. Stegall returned to the end zone on a 3-yard run. The two-point conversion was good for the 37-24 lead.
Mercer tied the scored at 37-all with a 28-yard field goal by Shutter, which set up the final showdown.
Chamblee was 9-for-16 passing for 86 yards and a touchdown. Jones led the Eagles with 112 rushing yards on just six carries.
However, eight penalties for 76 yards were a major setback for Reinhardt, which stopped on the goal line late in the game on what Eagle fans though should have been a touchdown.
Early in the game, Juice Arnold helped quiet the Mercer crowd of more than 12,000 on the first play from scrimmage by intercepting Palmer’s first passing attempt of the night. While the Eagles would be forced to punt that possession away five plays later, Reinhardt eventually was the first of the two young teams to find the end zone.
With 9:11 remaining in the first quarter Stegall scored on a 3-yard pass from Chamblee. Moon’s point after attempt struck the upright and the score stood 6-0.
Mercer quickly scored on a 37-yard run by Robert Brown to take a 7-6 lead. It would be short-lived, however as Stegall found the end zone for the second time when he returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards.
Before the end of the first quarter the Bears would add another 2-yard touchdown run by Caleb Brown to lead 14-13.
The teams trade scores in the second quarter with Mercer scoring on a 22-yard pass from Russ to Palmer and Reinhardt following with a 28-yard field goal by Moon. Mercer led 21-16 at the half.
The Bears lead would swell to 28-16 early in the third quarter, but much of the stands at Anderson Field had already emptied. The Eagles had possession of the ball and attempted a hand, only to fumble on the play. The ball was eventually scooped by the Mercer’s Collin Oliver and taken 35 yards for a touchdown.
While the crowd might have been counting the Eagles out of the game, the players on the sideline certainly hadn’t given up.
Niagel Curtis caught a 44-yard pass from Ryan Thompson and the score was 28-22 when the Eagles failed on a 2-point conversion attempt.