MACON, GA. — John Russ connected with Jordan Marshall on a fourth down, 33-yard touchdown strike with 31 seconds remaining to lift Mercer to a 27-24 victory over Furman in the 2016 Southern Conference football season finale for both teams Saturday at FiveStar Stadium.
Russ’ game winning strike on a fourtth-and-10 play came after Furman took a 24-20 lead on a Reese Hannon 36-yard connection to Richard Hayes III on a fourth-and-two play with 1:25 left.
The Bears returned the ensuing kickoff to their own 36, and a Marquise Irvin 12-yard catch gave Mercer a first down at the Furman 33. After three incomplete passes, and following a Furman timeout, Russ found Marshall open in the middle of the Paladin defense, and the redshirt senior avoided several defenders to reach the end zone put the Bears up, 27-24, with the extra point.
Furman, which benefitted from an excessive celebration penalty enforced on the kickoff, used a pair of Hannon passes for Triston Luke to get to the Mercer 31 with 10 seconds remaining. Instead of attempting a potential game tying 48-yard field goal, the Paladins elected to throw the ball into the end zone, where Hannon’s pass was picked off by Jeremy James to preserve the win over the Bears.
Furman trailed 10-9 at intermission, but took its first lead of the game after Aquill Annoor stepped in front of a Russ pass the Mercer 35 and returned it to the 4-yard line. Two plays later Hannon connected with tight end Kevin Mall for a 4-yard touchdown strike, and a two-point conversion gave the Paladins a 17-10 lead less than three minutes into the second half.
Mercer answered following an interception by Lendell Anderson at the Furman 48, covering the distance in 12 plays, which included a 15-yard run by Russ to the Paladin 1 on a third-and-10 play. Russ dove into the end zone on the next play, and the PAT tied it a 17-17.
A Cole Fisher 32-yard field goal gave the Bears a 20-17 lead with 2:35 to go, but Furman countered behind Hannon, who moved the Paladins 66 yards in seven plays, capped by his 36-yard hook-up with Hayes, who on a fourth-and-two-play broke free in the middle of the Mercer secondary and raced to the end zone to put Furman up, 24-20, with 1:25 to go.
Russ completed 14-of-30 passes for 191 yards and two touchowns while also rushing for 119 yards and a score to pace Mercer, which finished with 384 total yards.
Fuirman produced 319 yards in total offense, paced by Hannon, who passed for 251 yards and two touchdowns, completing 23-of-34 passes Hannon also led the Paladins in rushing with 41 yards and a score.
Both quarterbacks were picked off twice.
Hannon completed his Paldain tenure with 7,740 passing yards and 7,922 yards in total offense — both Furman standars. His 41 career touchdown passes put him in a third place tie all-time at Furman.
Paladin linebacker Carl Rider led all defenders with 15 tackles to finish his Paladin career with 349 stops, good for 15th in Furman history.