by Jake McDonald, CORE 360 Magazine
John Russ and Peyton Usher each rushed for over a 100 yards to lead Mercer to a 35-21 win over Valparaiso Crusaders in Macon, Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
Valpo through down the gauntlet early with a 7 play 65 yard scoring drive on their first offensive series of the game. Tanner Kuramata set up the first score with a 39 yard catch and run from quarterback Eric Hoffman. Running back Denzell Conway punched it in from 7 yards out on second and goal.
Mercer came out the gate firing scuds at the Crusaders secondary. On their very first offensive play quarterback John Russ found D’Vante Penamon 20 yards behind the nearest defender but the red-shirt freshman could not hold on to the well-thrown pass. The Bears punted the ball after failing to gain a first.
The Crusaders found the going a bit tougher the second time around. Penalties and the Bears defense combined to shut down the engine at midfield after two first downs.
It was just the spark the offense needed. Mercer, playing in their first game since suffering a loss to San Diego on the road, mounted a 15-play scoring drive from their 4 yard line. A good mixing of the run (9 plays) with the pass carried the Bears steadily down the field. Inside the redzone, Russ called his number scampering easily into the endzone.
Penamon’s dropped pass and starting field position did nothing to discourage the Mercer offense. Despite being pinned against their endzone by Alex Kozlowski’s 45-yard punt being downed at the 1 yard line by Patrick Derbak, the Bears did the unthinkable. Go big or go home right? Russ decided big was better and threw the ball 53 yards in the air to a streaking Josh Jones. Jones’ 20 yard head start was enough to outrun CB Dale Cook to the goal line.
Hoffman went back to Kuramata to set up Valpo’s second score. Kuramata picked up 49 of his game high 170 receiving yards beating Sebastian Hicks down the sideline to the Mercer 19. The junior from Rancho Cucamonga, California finished off the drive catching a 25 yard touchdown pass on a seemingly unwise 4th and 16 call.
The answer from Mercer didn’t come right away but answer they did. Instead of going over the top Russ went underneath hitting unattended tight end Robert Brown for a 25 yard touchdown catch and run.
Mercer posted two more scores after Brown’s touchdown while the defense held Valpo’s offense to 50 yards on 19 plays over four series.
Kuramata added one more score, a 9 yard TD reception, before time expired but there was no catching the Bears.
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