Mercer’s schedule is about to get tougher.
The Bears (3-0) had little trouble through their first three games, outscoring three other first-year programs 144-37, including back-to-back shutouts.
Pioneer Football League teams fill eight of the next nine spots on the schedule, a significant jump in the level of competition. Mercer opens conference play against Drake (1-2), which has shared the PFL title the past two seasons.
“It’s still unknown to me whether we can compete or what we can do with these guys,” coach Bobby Lamb said. “We’re going to find out in a hurry.”
Mercer has defeated Reinhardt, Warner and Berry, freshmen-laden teams from smaller divisions, also in their first season.
Drake will be more representative of what is ahead.
It’s an established FCS program filled with experienced and bigger upperclassmen.
All of Drake’s starters are juniors or seniors. Mercer has six sophomores, 66 redshirt freshmen and 34 freshmen.
“We’re all freshmen, but we’re executing the offense and the defense,” quarterback John Russ said. “We’re just meshing as a team very well.”
Russ (Mill Creek) has thrown eight touchdown passes, and running back Payton Usher (Northgate) has averaged 122.3 rushing yards per game. The Bears held Berry to 68 yards of offense and lead the FCS in total defense with an average of 209.3 yards per game.
“(Having a year to practice) obviously helped us,” Lamb said. “We found some playmakers on both sides of the ball, and now, we’re running the ball really well, and we’re stopping the run on defense. That’s been the key to our success right now.”
Tough start for Shorter: Shorter, which is 0-3 after a loss to defending national champ Valdosta State, knew it would be making a tough jump from NAIA to Division II.
The Hawks also know they need to cut down on turnovers.
They’ve lost six fumbles and thrown three interceptions, in addition to giving up 10 sacks in three games.
“We’ve got to be realistic about our schedule and where we are, and you’ve got to remember that we are just a little over a year from playing NAIA football,” coach Phil Jones said on the athletic department’s website. “But I feel confident that our guys are headed that way, and I’m real proud of them.”
Many honors for Morehouse: Morehouse’s first win of the season — 42-20 over Central State — resulted in SIAC weekly honors for quarterback Monquavious Johnson (newcomer), Ajene Robinson (offensive lineman) and Thomas Williams (special teams).
Johnson (M.L. King) was 10-of-18 for 181 yards and two TDs, Robinson (Douglas County) led an offensive line that helped the Maroon Tigers gain 496 yards and Williams returned a kickoff 95 yards for a TD.
White hits milestone: Albany State coach Mike White earned his 100th career victory when the Golden Rams defeated Elizabeth City State 34-13 on Saturday.
White had been stalled on win No. 99 since Oct. 27 because they lost their final game last season and their first two this season.
White, who has been with Albany State since 1984 and the head coach since 2000, is 100-46 with five SIAC titles.
Around the state: Loranzo Hammonds, who signed with Florida International out of North Augusta (S.C.) High in 2011, has transferred to Paine and is expected to be the first quarterback for the new program. He attempted six passes and rushed for 56 yards for FIU in 2012. … Albany State’s Adrian Alexander (Southwest Macon) is the SIAC offensive player of the week with 126 yards rushing and a TD on 10 carries. … Fort Valley State rover Deron Furr (Carver-Columbus) earned defensive honors with 17 tackles and a pass breakup in a win over Clark Atlanta. … CAU RB Bradley Battles had 126 — 95 rushing and 31 receiving — of the Panthers’ 188 total yards in the loss. … Reinhardt DE Tevin McCoy (Carrollton) leads the NAIA with 9 1/2 tackles for loss after he had two sacks and 5 1/2 tackles for loss in the Eagles’ upset of then-No. 23 Faulkner. He also batted down two passes. … Georgia Military’s Jovon Robinson has rushed for 907 yards — 335 more than the next closest player — and 12 TDs in five games. The Bulldogs (5-0) are ranked fifth in the NJCAA. … West Georgia has allowed 144.7 yards passing per game, 13th in Division II.
Bethel (Tenn.) at Reinhardt, noon
Drake at Mercer, 1 p.m.
Iowa Western at Georgia Military, 1 p.m.
Greensboro at LaGrange, 1 p.m.
West Georgia at Shorter, 1:30 p.m.
Berry at Rhodes, 2 p.m.
Fort Valley State vs. Benedict (Augusta), 2 p.m.
Chattanooga at Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.
Delaware State at Savannah State, 6 p.m.
Point at Gardner-Webb, 6 p.m.
Albany State at Miles, 7 p.m.
Edward Waters at Morehouse, 7 p.m.
Angelo State at Valdosta State, 7 p.m.