Unfortunately for the Eagles they suffered their first heartbreak instead of earning their first victory.
Reinhardt and Mercer were knotted at 37-all with less than a minute remaining in the game, and the Eagles had the ball on fourth-and-7 at the Mercer 43. After calling timeout, Reinhardt elected to go for it, and quarterback Johnathon Chamblee was brought down following a short gain.
Mercer took over on downs, and quarterback John Russ connected with a receiver on his second deep passing attempt, bringing the ball inside the 10-yard line with 15 seconds remaining. The Bears took a knee and then used a down to center the ball before Josh Shutter connect on the game-winning 31-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining.
Despite being on the losing end of the 40-37 decision, Reinhardt has plenty to be proud of.
From their 406 yards of total offense, to an interception, fumble recovery and three sacks on defense, the Eagles (0-1) showcased many of the skills they will need to succeed in the Mid-South Conference.
Reinhardt took a 29-28 lead near the end of the third quarter on a 78-yard run by Sam Jones, which saw the sophomore cut all the way across the field after making a move around Mercer defender Cody Jones. Reinhardt, which struggled at times on point-after attempts, saw a make by Matthew Moon on this occasion.
The Eagle defense appeared to have the Bears (1-0) on their backs on the next possession, but a late personal foul call moved Mercer across midfield and set up a touchdown pass from Russ to J.T. Palmer.
Up 34-29, the Bears elected to go to for the 2-point conversion. Tevin McCoy, who was in the backfield for much of the game, broke up the pass attempt and the score held.
The Eagles were held to a three-and-out on their next possession, but caught a good break when they forced a fumble on the punt return. Adrian Hayes recovered it on the Mercer 11-yard line, and two plays later, L.J. Stegall returned to the end zone on a 3-yard run. The 2-point conversion was good for the 37-34 lead.
Mercer tied the score at 37-all with a 28-yard field goal by Shutter, which set up the final showdown.
Chamblee was 9-for-16 through the air for 86 yards and a touchdown. Jones led the Eagles with 112 rushing yards on just six carries.
However, eight penalties for 76 yards were a major setback for Reinhardt, which was stopped on the goal line late in the game on what Eagles fans though should have been a touchdown.
Early in the game, Juice Arnold helped quiet the vocal Mercer crowd of more than 12,000 by intercepting Palmer’s first passing attempt of the night. While the Eagles would be forced to punt that possession away five plays later, Reinhardt eventually was the first of the two young teams to find the end zone.
With 9:11 remaining in the first quarter Stegall scored on a 3-yard pass from Chamblee. Moon’s point-after attempt struck the upright and the score stood, 6-0.
Mercer quickly scored on a 37-yard run by Robert Brown to take a 7-6 lead. It would be short-lived, however, as Stegall found the end zone for the second time when he returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards.
Before the end of the first quarter, the Bears added another 2-yard touchdown run by Caleb Brown to lead 14-13.
The teams traded scores in the second quarter with Mercer scoring on a 22-yard pass from Russ to Palmer and Reinhardt following with a 28-yard field goal by Moon.
Mercer led 21-16 at the half.
The Bears’ lead swelled to 28-16 early in the third quarter, but much of the stands at Anderson Field had already emptied. The Eagles had possession of the ball and attempted a handoff, only to fumble on the play. The ball was eventually scooped by the Mercer’s Collin Oliver and taken 35 yards for a touchdown.
While the crowd might have been counting the Eagles out of the game, the players on the sideline certainly hadn’t given up.
Niagel Curtis caught a 44-yard pass from Ryan Thompson, and the score was 28-22 when the Eagles failed on a 2-point conversion attempt.