GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Alex Lakes' 2-yard touchdown run in overtime gave Mercer the lead, and Zach Jackson's interception sealed a 27-20 victory over Furman in Southern Conference football action Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.
Furman (4-6, 2-4 SoCon) rallied from a 20-0 second half deficit to tie the game at 20-20 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Kealand Dirks with 43 seconds remaining, but Dirks was flagged for spiking the football in the end zone, leaving the Paladins with a 35-yard extra point to take the lead. Jon Croft Hollingsworth's PAT attempt missed, forcing overtime.
In the extra period Mercer (5-5, 2-4 SoCon) only needed three Alex Lakes' runs to reach the end zone, the final one covering two yards to put the Bears up 27-20 lead following the extra point.
On Furman's overtime possession, P.J. Blazejowski's pass down the middle of the field on first down was intercepted by Jackson at the 2-yard line to end the game.
Blazejowski, who started the contest before giving way to Reese Hannon late in the second quarter, came off the bench on the Paladins' final drive in regulation after Hannon was shaken up following an incomplete second down pass at the Furman 27. He connected with Jordan Snellings for 34 yards to the Mercer 39 and then hit Logan McCarter for 37 yards to the Mercer 2. Two plays later Dirks bulled over right tackle for the game tying score before the Paladins were flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, leading to the missed PAT.
"We got behind the first half but am proud of the way the guys fought back," said Furman head coach Bruce Fowler. "We had an opportunity there at the end, but we weren't disciplined enough to do what we needed to do to finish the game. Give Mercer credit. They ran it well there at the end."
Lakes rushed 19 times for 141 yards and the game winning touchdown. The Bears piled up 286 yards on the ground and finished with 374 total yards. Furman, meanwhile, nearly overcame a dismal first half that saw the Paladins shutout for the second time in the last three games and net only 34 yards, finishing with 285 yards in total offense.
Mercer led 13-0 at intermission and took advantage of a Furman fumble on the Paladins' first offensive play of the second half to go up 20-0 on a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jon Russ to Avery Ward.
Hannon ignited Furman's second half comeback with a pair of touchdown strikes to Andrej Suttles covering 22 and 26 yards — the second one coming with 11:41 remaining in the game to pull the Paladins to within 20-14.
The remainder of the fourth quarter saw both teams squander chances to win the game.
After Furman cut the Bears' lead to 20-14, Russ' under-thrown pass was picked off by Paladin cornerback Reggie Thomas at the 5-yard line. Following a Furman punt, Paladin defensive tackle Jordan Hawkins pounced on a Mercer fumble at the Furman 32, but four plays later Hannon was sacked by the Bears' Tosin Aguebor, who recovered his forced fumble at the Furman 40. From that point Mercer moved to the Furman 25 before a pair of penalties, one of which wiped out a first down, led to a missed 44-yard field goal by Jagger Lieb with 1:15 remaining.
Lieb booted a pair of first half field goals from 43 and 19 yards, and Mercer used the first of two Russ-to-Avery scoring strikes, covering six yards, to fashion a 13-0 lead heading into halftime.
The first half saw Furman initiate its first four drives at its own 17, 4, 10, and 18 yard lines.
The Paladins managed only 60 yards rushing on 26 carries.
Hannon completed 10-of-21 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Suttles caught eight passes for 101 yards and two scores.
Cory Magwood registered a game high 14 tackles for Furman. Redshirt freshman safety Joe Farrar added 13 tackles in his collegiate starting debut, and true freshman Aaquil Annoor, making his first start at free safety, contributed 11 stops.
Furman plays its season finale next Saturday at Wofford. Kickoff for the ASN televised game is set for 3:30 p.m. at Gibbs Stadium.
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information