MACON, Ga. - VMI led early in its Southern Conference football contest Saturday afternoon in Macon, Ga., but that lead was short-lived as Mercer scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes in the second quarter, posting a 49-14 victory.
The Keydets struck first when linebacker Allan Cratsenberg returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown, his first career pick-six, and when Tommy Smith added the extra point, the Keydets enjoyed a lead that held up through first quarter. Early in the second, the Bears exploded for 21 points in a span of 4:28 to take control of the game.
The first came with less than a minute gone from the second-quarter clock as quarterback Kaelen Riley connected with Chandler Curtis on a 61-yard touchdown pass, and at the 10:24 mark, Riley found Tee Mitchell on a 79-yard scoring strike. Mercer (2-3, 1-2) completed the outburst with a Travonte Easley 51-yard interception return, and the Bears took a 21-7 lead into halftime.
The Keydets had missed earlier in the second quarter to cut into the deficit when kicker Tommy Smith was unable to connect on a 26-yard field goal attempt that was hampered by the snap-hold exchange execution.
Riley had a big day running the Mercer offense. Though he completed just 13 of 24 passes, he finished with 313 yards and three touchdowns. The Bears amassed 575 yards of total offense, with C.J. Leggett leading the ground attack, carrying the ball 16 times for 89 yards and a score.
The Mercer lead grew to 35-7 before VMI found the end zone again. With just over a minute to play in the third period, quarterback Duncan Hodges found a streaking Javeon Lara for a 79-yard touchdown pass, the Keydets’ longest play from scrimmage this year. That duo connected on a 73-yard scoring play last week against Chattanooga.
Hodges, in his first career start at quarterback, completed 11 of his 19 pass attempts for 135 yards to pace the VMI offense. But the Keydets (0-5, 0-2) found little room to run on the ground, finishing the game with just 52 yards rushing.
Turnovers plagued the Keydets for the second straight week. Hodges threw a pair of interceptions, bringing VMI’s turnover total to 11 for the season.
The Bears put the game away with a pair of fourth-quarter scores. First, Riley teamed up with Curtis again from 21 yards, and Alex Lakes capped the scoring with a 2-yard TD run with 5:32 remaining in the contest.
Offensively, the Keydets posted encouraging numbers in the first half converting three of seven in third down conversions and controlling the ball for 9:11 in the opening quarter.
Senior free safety Greg Sanders finished with a game-high 11 tackles to lead the Keydet defensive charts.
Cratsenberg’s interception return for a touchdown was the first by a Keydet since Greg Walker returned a pass attempt 58 yards against Charleston Southern on Oct. 23, 2010.
The Keydets return to Lexington to take on Samford Saturday, Oct. 7, at Foster Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m.
Head Coach Scott Wachenheim –
“I thought we came out and Allan Cratsenberg gave us a spark defensively with a big pick six interception. We just had bad field position all day offensively. I thought Duncan Hodges in his first start played well and threw a nice touchdown pass to Javeon Lara. I also think Reece Udinski in extended action came in and played extremely well. I was excited to see those two quarterbacks compete. I think the Mercer Bears are a very talented football team and they decided to take some one-on-one shots with their talented receivers and they have great speed and they connected on them. Against Wofford, they missed those passes and today they connected. I thought that was the biggest difference in the game. Again, I know we have a young football team and they are working hard to get better and we got to keep getting better and next week it’s the Samford Bulldogs at home in Lexington and we’re looking forward to that.”