MONTGOMERY – The Mercer defense set the tone in a 17-7 victory over North Alabama in the ninth annual FCS Kickoff at the historic Cramton Bowl.

The Bears limited the Lions to seven points and 248 total yards in the lowest-scoring FCS Kickoff game in history.

Isaac Dowling led the Bears with 10 tackles to earn Most Valuable Player honors. He added 1.5 tackles for loss, one-half sack and one quarterback pressure.

Myles Redding had nine tackles and broke up one pass.

The Mercer defense forced four three-and-outs and thwarted three fourth-down attempts, including two deep in Bears territory.

Defensive tackle Jordan Swain added a blocked field goal to contribute to the win.

“Our defense came up big in some critical situations,” Mercer head coach Drew Cronic said. “They stopped them on fourth down, they blocked a field goal. We knew the strength of our team was our defense. A lot of experience there.”

Mercer returned the opening kickoff to the UNA 49-yard line and then scored nine plays later to take a 7-0 lead.

Carter Peevey’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Ty James gave the Bears points on their first possession of the new season.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, Mercer muffed a punt that gave UNA the ball at the Bears 27-yard line.

The Bears defense held the Lions to five yards on the next three plays and North Alabama missed a 39-yard field goal attempt.

As the Mercer offense struggled, North Alabama tied the game at 7-7 when quarterback TJ Smith scampered three yards late in the first quarter.

North Alabama got a solid effort from its defense too, holding the Bears to 17 points and 285 total yards.

Safety Edwin White Schultz finished with a game-high 14 tackles, tying the FCS Kickoff record for most tackles in a game.

White Schultz had nine solo tackles, a tackle for loss, and one forced fumble that prevented a touchdown inside the five-yard line.

The 14 tackles tied the previous record set by Chattanooga’s Tavon Lawson in 2017 and North Dakota State’s Jordan Champion in 2015.

Mercer regained the lead 10-7 on Reice Griffith’s 24-yard field goal with 4:40 left in the first half.

The game was interrupted at the 11:39 mark of the third quarter due to a weather delay. The game was resumed at 5:58 p.m., after a 76-minute delay.

The 2022 FCS Kickoff also had an extensive weather delay and after a 2-plus hour delay the game was finally called giving Jacksonville State a 42-17 win over Stephen F. Austin.

Mercer’s defense seemed to be re-energized after the delay and held the Lions to 23 total yards on the final four possessions.

Mercer stretched the lead to 17-7 on Micah Bell’s three-yard touchdown run with 11:44 left in the game.

Bell led all rushers with 20 carries for 75 yards and one touchdown.

The Bears’ offense ran out the final 5:42 with the help of a fourth-down conversion early in its final possession.