MARS HILL, N.C. – The Lions' football team won their home and South Atlantic Conference opener Saturday afternoon over Lenoir-Rhyne, 43-28 at the Ammons Family Athletic Center and Meares Stadium. Big plays were key in Mars Hill's victory.
David Salmon completed 15-28 passes for 296 yards and three touchdown passes in the win. Craig Rucker caught eight passes for 186 yards and two touchdown receptions. Keshaun Taylor was on the receiving end of three passes for 93 yards and one score while also throwing one touchdown pass that covered 44 yards to Rucker. Malik Prescott rushed 18 times for 85 yards and one score. Preston Lockwood led MHU with a game high 15 tackles followed by Tray Smith with nine stops (7 solo), a pass break-up and a forced fumble. Jerjuan Edwards and Andrew Wilkins added seven tackles apiece. Wilkins tallied three pass break-ups. The Lions accumulated 516 yards of total offense in the win, 359 in the air.
Jarrod Kellar threw for 289 yards completing 25-51 pass attempts and four touchdowns. Nelson Brown rushed for 140 yards on 20 carries averaging seven yards per carry. T.J. Smith caught five passes for 95 yards and one score. Kyle Duggar led the Bears defense with seven tackles followed by Max Boyd who recorded four tackles, a sack and two tackle-for-loss.
Penalties plagued both teams in the contest. Mars Hill had 18 penalties for 159 yards while the Bears suffered 13 penalties for 166 yards.
Salmon found Kedar Bryant on a 19-yard touchdown strike with 7:35 left in the first quarter to give the Lions a 7-0 lead. On Mars Hill's next possession, the Lions were pinned down to their own five yardline after a 41-yard punt by Hayden Burgiel. Two plays later, the Bears defense caught Prescott in the endzone for a safety and L-R cut the lead to 7-2 with 3:03 left in the first period.
The Bears took the lead with 8:33 left in the second quarter after Kellar found Smith on a 35-yard touchdown strike. Exactly one minute later, Salmon threw a 70-yard pass to Taylor to give the Lions a 14-9 lead with 7:33 on the clock. Kellar and Brown connected on a 19-yard scoring pass play with 5:35 left in the half to put the Bears back on top, 16-14. A 21-yard field goal by Tyler Stewart sent the teams into the locker rooms with the Lions holding a 17-16 advantage at the intermission.
The third quarter belonged to the Lions. Mars Hill outscored the Bears 20-6 in the third stanza to seal the win. Rucker hauled in a 67-yard pass from Salmon with 9:33 left in the third frame to extend the Lions' lead to 24-16. Sam Carmargo caught a 14-yard pass from Kellar at the 5:37 mark to bring the Bears within two points (24-22) of the Lions after a failed PAT pass by Kellar. That was as close as L-R would get down the stretch. Taylor scored on a 48-yard end around rush with 1:46 left in the third period to make the score 31-22. Taylor then hit Rucker on a 44-yard pass with nine seconds left in the third quarter to put the Lions up 37-22, after the Lions' PAT kick missed wide right. Kellar hit Carmargo with 12:33 on the clock in the final period on a seven yard touchdown pass with 12:33 left in the final quarter. After a failed PAT pass by the Bears, MHU maintained a 37-28 lead. That ended the scoring for the Bears. Prescott added an impressive 17-yard touchdown rush with 9:55 left in regulation to end the scoring in the contest and make the final tally, 43-28 in favor of the hosts after MHU missed another PAT kick attempt.
Mars Hill will play at SAC rival Catawba next Saturday, September 23. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.