The back-and-forth contest saw just one scoring drive last 5 minutes or longer.
In the end, Reinhardt came up short by missing its second field-goal attempt of the night.
Early in the first quarter, freshman kicker Ryan Hopper, a product of Etowah High School, missed a 39-yard field goal when he struck the center of the crossbar. With 3 seconds left in the game, Hopper made another attempt — this time from 43 yards. Knowing he needed some extra distance, he pushed the kick a bit, resulting in the ball sailing wide right as the Mercer crowd celebrated.
Much like last year, when officials denied Reinhardt a touchdown that would have won the game, there was some controversy, even in the final seconds, when the Eagles attempted their field goal.
"The had 12 folks on the field, and they broke the huddle with 12 folks," Reinhardt coach Danny Cronic said. "That is a substitution infraction. We get that call and we get the ball 5 yards closer to kick the field goal. That's what I was upset about."
Cronic was so fired up about the non-call that he nearly followed the officials off the field. When asked how the officials responded to his criticism, Cronic shrugged.
"They said (the extra player) got off the field," he said. "Getting off the field didn't have anything to do with it. You can't break the huddle with 12 people."
Using two quarterbacks and nearly a dozen running backs, Reinhardt found a way to poke holes in the Bears' defense. Cronic said that while the difference in the score was the same as it was last year, playing so well this time might mean more.
"Mercer, in my opinion, was better than they were last year, but I think we were, too," Cronic said.
In 2013, Mercer was a non-scholarship program, but the Bears are now part of the Southern Conference and have been able to extend scholarships and bring in transfers to up their level of play.
Ryan Thompson, who started the game at quarterback for Reinhardt, finished 6-for-12 for 88 yards, but he was knocked from the game in the second quarter and did not return until the final minutes. In his absence, Jonathon Chamblee proved adequate, going 7-for-13 for 111 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground, Reinhardt spread the ball around.
Niagel Curtis led the team in both carries and yards. He carried the ball 13 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Nathan Lingo had seven carries for 64 yards and a touchdown, and Ian McIntosh, who missed all of last season with injuries, ran the ball eight times for 40 yards and and his first touchdown as an Eagle.
McIntosh wasn't the only Reinhardt player to record his first touchdown. Center Sharrod Pittman scored with 3:36 remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles had possession of the ball and were attempting to score from a yard out when the ball was fumbled. It was Pittman who emerged from the bottom of the pile, without his helmet, but with the ball firmly in his grasp..
L.J. Stegall once again wowed the crowd handling kickoffs. He opened the second half with a 92-yard kickoff return that set up a touchdown for the Eagles.
Aaron Kennedy made five catches for 45 yards, but his biggest play also came on special teams.
In the first quarter, Mercer faked a punt and attempted to pass. Kennedy, who was back to receive the punt, put a hard hit on the receiver and knocked the ball out of his hands to force the Bears to turn the ball over on downs.
Key members of the defense included Jabari Nelson and Jarred Johnson, who each finished with seven solo tackles and three assists . Nelson also intercepted a pass. Javier Dyer finished with nine tackles and forced a fumble, which Lenard Robinson recovered in the first quarter.
Reinhardt was twice penalized for taunting — a violation Cronic called "unacceptable." Both were significant as Mercer went on to score on each drive.
Cronic believes his team can take the field a better team next week. The Eagles played without a pair of offensive linemen, who Cronic hopes will be healthy enough to travel to Lindsey Wilson.
"If we can coach them up, then we can learn from this," Cronic said.