No. 15 Auburn overcomes 5 turnovers to beat Mercer 24-10

Published 10:09 pm Saturday, September 16, 2017

By Paul Newberry | The Associated Press

AUBURN (AP) — Auburn turned in another ugly offensive performance.

This time, the No. 15 Tigers couldn’t pin it on their opponent.

In an inexcusable display of sloppiness, Auburn turned the ball over five times — four fumbles and an interception — but still managed to win only because it was going against an overmatched opponent.

A 24-10 victory over FCS school Mercer on Saturday provided little reason to believe that coach Gus Malzahn’s team is ready to challenge Alabama’s dominance in the Southeastern Conference.

Kamryn Pettway ran for 128 yards and three touchdowns , while Jason Stidham completed 32 of 37 for 364 yards.

But this is not exactly what the Tigers (2-1) were looking for after being held without a touchdown in a 14-6 loss at third-ranked Clemson the previous week.

“Obviously, it was a little sloppy,” Malzahn said in quite an understatement. “It kind of snowballed on us.”

Mercer, which only resumed its football program five years ago and plays a division down in the Southern Conference, gave the Tigers all they could handle, much to a chagrin of a disgruntled crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium — many of whom didn’t bother returning to their seats after a lackluster first half in which the home team led only 10-3.

Auburn’s woes could be attributed largely to an inability to hold onto the ball. The Tigers lost three fumbles in the first half and another returning a punt on what should’ve been their first possession of the second half.

Stidham was picked off when Kam Lott ripped the ball away from Nate Craig-Myers , a lackluster effort by the intended receiver that symbolized the entire afternoon.

The Bears (1-2) fell behind 17-3 on Pettway’s second TD, a 9-yard run midway through the third quarter. But the private school from Macon, Georgia made things interesting with its only drive of any significance in the game. Mercer pushed 83 yards in 12 plays, capped by Kaelan Riley’s 7-yard scoring pass to Marquise Irvin with just less than 14 minutes to go.

Even when the Tigers managed to keep possession of the ball, they couldn’t help but shoot themselves in the foot. After Riley’s TD pass, Auburn drove downfield for what should have been a decisive score.

But two holding penalties and an unsportsmanlike conduct kept the Tigers from reaching the end zone, and normally dependable kicker Daniel Carlson hooked a chip-shot attempt from 26 yards to keep Mercer within range of a massive upset.

The Bears couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Auburn finally put the game away with Pettway’s third TD — a 4-yard run with 4:50 remaining.

But the Tigers were more relieved than excited when this one ended.

“A few mistakes here and there, but a tremendous effort,” Mercer coach Bobby Lamb said. “I can’t be more proud of a football team for coming into a place like this and playing the way we did.”