Auburn didn’t enjoy as easy a Homecoming Saturday on the Plains as they may have like, scoring a 24-10 victory over the Mercer Bears to improve to 2-1 on the season.
Three lost fumbles in the first half allowed Mercer to stay in the game despite the fact that Auburn rolled up nearly 300 yards in that time.
On the Tigers’ opening drive, Jarrett Stidham exhibited much more poise in the pocket, completing three quick passes and getting rid of the ball when he faced pressure, but Kyle Davis fumbled a reception and Mercer took over at their own 25 barely a minute into the game. The Auburn defense forced a three-and-out and the Tigers took over after a punt.
After just three plays, Auburn was forced to punt, and Mercer slowly moved the ball out past midfield before punting themselves at the five-minute mark of the first quarter. Then Auburn began to move the ball -- a long pass to Will Hastings put Auburn into the Mercer end of the field, then a run by Pettway moved the ball inside the 30-yard line, and a flat pass to Devan Barrett gave Auburn a first and goal situation. Kam Pettway scored from four yards out for the first points of the afternoon. The drive covered 85 yards on 10 plays and gave Auburn a 7-0 lead.
Through the first quarter, Auburn accrued 147 total yards, with Pettway rumbling for 51 yards and the game’s only touchdown. The Tigers began their next drive, which was the first of the second quarter, at their own 15-yard line. With fifteen minutes gone, Jarrett Stidham had completed eight passes to seven different receivers, but the Tigers went three-and-out and kicked it back to the Bears early in the second period.
Mercer had won the field position battle for most of the first half, and they pinned the Tigers inside their own five with a punt in the second quarter. After a first down play, Darius James sustained an injury and was carted off on the stretcher after being immobilized. Then the issues continued for the Auburn offense, as Eli Stove fumbled a completed pass that would’ve converted a third down, and Mercer took control deep in Auburn territory. A pass interference penalty on Carlton Davis moved the ball inside the Auburn 15, but the defense held and forced a short field goal. With five minutes to play in the half, Mercer cut the lead to 7-3.
Two straight completions to Noah Igbinoghene moved Auburn’s next drive out near midfield, then a long gainer to Hastings flipped the field and gave the Tigers possession near the Mercer 20-yard line. However, Pettway fumbled once Auburn drove near the goal line, setting Mercer up at their own 9-yard line. It was the third fumble recovered by the Bears in the first half, and this one ended a long and fluid drive.
Still, the Auburn defense forced another three-and-out, and the Tigers got the ball back with roughly 60 yards to go with 90 seconds left before halftime. Two completions to Nate Craig-Myers and Kam Pettway, plus a late hit quickly zipped Auburn into the red zone once again. Daniel Carlson came on to attempt his first kick of the day, and the 29-yarder gave Auburn a touchdown lead once more at 10-3 as we hit halftime.
Mercer’s first drive of the half went backward and the Bears punted to Auburn, but Ryan Davis returned the kick and fumbled it right at midfield. It was the fourth turnover for the Tigers through 32 minutes of play, and set Mercer up with new life. The Bears got their first big runs of the afternoon and moved toward the Tiger 30, but Mercer tried a fake field goal that fell short, keeping the margin at 10-3.
On the ensuing possession, Auburn quickly moved out past midfield, and two third-down conversions by Pettway from the Wildcat got Auburn into the end zone. Pettway scored on 3rd and 1 from the Mercer 9-yard line to give Auburn a 17-3 lead. That touchdown drive covered 77 yards and took 10 plays.
After another three-and-out, Auburn once again moved the ball deep into Mercer territory, but this time an interception stifled the drive for the fifth turnover of the day. Jarrett Stidham tried to fit it in to Nate Craig-Myers on a quick slant, and the route was jumped for the pick. A roughing the passer penalty by Dontavius Russell gave the Bears the ball at the Auburn 41, then a completion to Tee Mitchell put Mercer right into the red zone as the third quarter ended.
With a first and goal to start the final period of play, Mercer found the end zone for the first time on a Kaelan Riley touchdown pass to Marquise Irvin to cut the lead down to just one possession again at 17-10.
Auburn responded with a heavy dose of Kam Pettway, both running and catching passes, then a long completion to Kyle Davis set Auburn up inside the Mercer five, but an unsportsmanlike penalty on Jalen Harris moved the offense back for a first and goal from the 18-yard line. The Tigers couldn’t get into the end zone, and then Daniel Carlson missed a short field goal to begin the complete meltdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Down just a touchdown, Mercer went three and out from their own 20 with eight minutes left to play, and a punt return by Stephen Roberts gave Auburn the ball at the Bears’ 41. After the play, a targeting penalty gave Auburn the ball at the 26, and the Pettway Wildcat moved Auburn inside the five for a first and goal, and then finished the drive with his third touchdown of the game. At that point, the lead ballooned to 24-10 with less than five minutes to play, all but securing the win for the Tigers.
Kam Pettway led the rushing effort with 34 carries for 128 yards and three touchdowns, while Jarrett Stidham had an efficient day, going 32-37 for 364 yards and an interception.
Auburn will head out on the road for the second time this season, as they’ll make their way to Columbia, Missouri for the first time to meet the Missouri Tigers next Saturday at 6:30 pm CST. Missouri got drilled at home against Purdue earlier today. It will be Auburn’s SEC opener, while Missouri already sits at 0-1 in the conference after losing to South Carolina last weekend.