BUIES CREEK, N.C. - In a year full of firsts, the Mercer University football team marked one more off the list Saturday evening when it marched into Barker-Lane Stadium and knocked off Campbell 38-31 to capture the program's first road victory in 74 years.
The Bears (7-1, 3-1) continue to shock the Pioneer Football League as they keep pace with the conference leaders and hand the Camels (1-7, 0-5) their sixth straight loss and fourth defeat on their home field. With the win, Mercer is one-half game behind Butler for the conference lead and even with the Bulldogs in the loss column.
"This was an unbelievable win for our program, said head coach Bobby Lamb. "When you go on the road you have to just keep fighting for 60 minutes and we did that. We jumped on them early with some big plays and our defense held on in the fourth quarter."
In just its second trip away from Anderson Field, Mercer quieted the capacity homecoming crowd for Campbell on the first play from scrimmage when John Russ stood tall in the pocket and fired a strike across the middle to Jordan Marshall. After catching the ball in stride, Marshall was off to the races for a 72-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead just 18 seconds into the contest.
After the Mercer defense forced a punt, Russ did some damage with his legs when he broke through the line for a 71-yard run down to the Campbell 11-yard line. The Bears were pushed back on a pair of penalties before Tyler Zielenske drilled a 39-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
After Campbell got on a board with a touchdown to cut the Mercer lead to just three, the furious ground game of the Bears took over when Russ broke two tackles, spun away from another and leaped into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown to extend the lead right back to double digits at 17-7.
JeTarri Donald was in charge of the heroics from there as the freshman put together explosive touchdown runs of 43 and 7 yards respectively to lead Mercer to a 31-10 halftime advantage.
"With Payton Usher going out early, JeTarri Donald did a fantastic job coming in and carrying the load for us," Lamb said. "We are so deep at running back and our guys continue to step up in big situations."
The second half started much like the first, as Campbell fumbled the opening play from scrimmage and Mercer followed on the next snap with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Russ to Robert Brown to extend the lead once again and make it 38-10.
The Campbell offense started to click on all cylinders in the third quarter and connected for consecutive touchdowns to cut the Mercer lead to a pair of scores at 38-24.
After both teams went scoreless over the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, the Camels struck for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 2:47 left in the game to make it 38-31. Mercer put the game on ice from there with a first down run by Donald that sent the offense into victory formation as the clock ticked down to all zeros.
Russ once again led the offense with 180 yards passing, 132 yards rushing and three total touchdowns, while Donald's coming out party was complete with 138 yards on 23 carries and two scores, highlighted by a 43-yard touchdown run.
Three Mercer defenders secured double-digit tackles, led by 11 from Tyler Ward and Mike Gray, while Lendell Arnold chipped in 10.
Corey Lockett, Alex Avant and Michael Rainwater all forced fumbles in the contest, while Arnold and Rainwater each recovered fumbles as Campbell's two turnovers led to seven points for the Bears.
Mercer returns to the state of North Carolina next weekend, traveling to Davidson to take on the Wildcats in another Pioneer Football League contest. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Richardson Stadium.