State notebook: Mercer has emotional Southern Conference opener for Bobby Lamb

Bobby Lamb spent 29 years as either a player, assistant coach or head coach at Furman. (Mercer photo)

Bobby Lamb spent 29 years as either a player, assistant coach or head coach at Furman. (Mercer photo)

Mercer coach Bobby Lamb is glad the Bears host Furman today.

A home-field advantage can be helpful, but Lamb spent 29 years as either a player, assistant or head coach at Furman and is in the school’s athletic hall of fame, so it would be tough for him to stand on the other side of the field.

“It’ll be different facing (Furman),” Lamb said. “I spent so many years in that stadium and on the home sideline. We’ve got to play them some time. It just happened we get them right out of the gate.”

Lamb helped built Furman (1-0) into a successful program and now is attempting to do the same at Mercer (1-0), a second-year team playing its first Southern Conference game after spending its first season in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.

He either played or coached in three national title games at Furman, and was an assistant coach on the team that won the 1988 national championship, so Lamb has a thorough knowledge of the Southern Conference. Despite the loss of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to the FBS Sun Belt, it remains one of the premier FCS conferences.

Mercer recruited and signed bigger and faster players, and spent the offseason building depth.

“We got bigger on the offensive line,” Lamb said. “The Southern Conference is a more physical, faster league, so we have to match that. We had some nice pickups along the way.”

John Russ (Mill Creek) returns at quarterback and Mercer added size in its backfield with 214-pound running back Alex Lakes (Northgate), who redshirted last year.

Mercer is missing outside linebacker Tosin Aguebor (Johns Creek), who is out for 8-10 weeks with a lower leg injury. He started all 12 games and finished with 10 sacks in 2013.

Lamb said there are 10 fifth-year seniors on Furman’s roster that were on his final team there in 2010.

“My past at Furman creates a lot of excitement here,” he said. “It’s also our first Southern Conference game, so add the dimension that it’s Furman, and it’s a big game.”

On the rise: Like Mercer, Reinhardt is a second-year program. And like Mercer, the Eagles have had quick success.

Reinhardt, which went 6-4 in the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference last year, gave Mercer problems with its run game and almost upset the Bears before losing 45-42 in both teams’ opener on Aug. 28

“They’re much better than people imagine,” Lamb said.

Mercer had trouble defending Reinhardt’s Wing-T offense, which had 469 total yards, 270 on the ground.

Paine loses first: Paine College almost won its first game since 1962, but Shorter held off the Lions 28-24 on Thursday.

“I was proud of them. You talk about a first-year football program, and we’re looking at 28-24 and it could have gone the other way,” Paine coach Greg Ruffin told the Rome News-Tribune. “We’ve got something to build on.”

Paine played four club games last year and is competing in the SIAC this season.

Still searching: Berry, another second-year program, is looking for its first victory after going 0-9 in 2013. The Vikings open at Maryville (Tenn.), which went 8-2 last year.

Anthony Batey, Berry’s best defensive player, moved from outside linebacker to strong safety this year.

“Anthony is a playmaker, and we like to move him to where we think the ball is going,” coach Tony Kunczewski said in a release.

Around the state: Fort Valley State’s 21-year-old Division II single-game record for total defense was broken Thursday. Tusculum held College of Faith to minus-100 total yards in a 71-0 victory, breaking the mark of minus-69 yards, set by the Wildcats against Miles in 1993. … Albany State quarterback Frank Rivers is the SIAC preseason offensive player of the year. Rivers threw for 2,004 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions last year after transferring from Grambling. … Three senior running backs will carry the bulk of the carries for West Georgia, which opens against Mars Hill. They include Seth Hinsley (Norcross) and two transfers: Brandon Lucas (Mundy’s Mill) and Justin Billings. Lucas transferred from Delta State, where he starred for two years, but he hasn’t played since 2011, and Billings rushed for 1,491 career yards at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. … Valdosta State and Albany State will play for the first time since 2011. The Blazers lead the series 14-1.

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