After narrowly missing the NCAA Football Championship Series playoffs the last two seasons, the Mercer Bears earned their first-ever post-season berth on Nov. 19 with a second-place finish in the Southern Conference.
The 8-3 and No. 17-ranked Bears received an at-large bid and will host Gardner-Webb on Saturday at Five Star Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
Mercer enters the 24-team playoffs with considerable momentum, having won six of its last seven games and four straight to close out conference play.
Gardner-Webb, this year’s Big South Conference regular season champion and automatic qualifier with a 7-4 record, is a familiar opponent. The Bears traveled to Boiling Springs, N.C., last year and knocked off the Runnin’ Bulldogs, 45-14.
“It’s a great opportunity for us, and I am proud for our kids. They earned the right to be in the playoffs,” said fourth-year head coach Drew Cronic. “I want people around here to get used to playing (during Thanksgiving week) and adjust to that. It’s a lot of fun to still be playing during Thanksgiving week. I am very proud of the support that we have here that has allowed us to grow the program in the right direction.”
Mercer this year has fielded one of the best defenses in the country. The Bears have forced 17 of their 19 turnovers this season over the last seven games, including 16 takeaways in their current four-game winning streak. The offense has gotten stronger as the season progressed under the leadership of quarterback Carter Peevy, a sophomore from Lawrenceville. Peevy has been rated near the top in several SonCon statistical categories this year and earned SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honors after the Bears’ Oct. 28 win over then-No. 10-ranked Western Carolina.
Two seniors on the team were named finalists for post-season honors this week. Safety Lance Wise Jr. was named one of 30 finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, presented annually to the national defensive player of the year in the FCS. Wide receiver Ty James, a pre-season All-American, was named one of 30 finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the top offensive player in the FCS.
Nine Bears were also decorated with All-SoCon laurels today, including seven all-conference selections. Two other players were named to the SoCon’s All-Freshman Team.
Mercer has earned a reputation for having the best gameday atmosphere in the conference, and Saturday will be no different.
Black Field will open for tailgating at 11 a.m. and feature the Fall Line Beer Garden for fans 21 and over and Dr Pepper Fansville for the kids. The Michigan-Ohio State football game will be on the big screen beginning at Noon and the traditional Bear Walk will be at 12:30. Electric Avenue (80s MTV Experience) will take the stage at 12:45 for the always-popular Ford Concert Series. Gates to Five Star Stadium will open at 2 p.m.
The Bears are 42-20 all-time in Five Star Stadium, and have won 10 of their last 12 games in Macon.
General admission and reserved seat tickets are available for $20 at Mercer Ticket Sales. Students can pick up complimentary tickets, underwritten by a Mercer donor, and free t-shirts and pom-poms at a special tent on Black Field beginning at noon.
If you can’t be at Five Star Stadium on Saturday, you can watch the game on ESPN+ or listen on 100.9 FM, The Creek, or online.