North Andover, Mass. – The Merrimack football team pulled out a victory in a showdown of undefeated conference teams, as they won by the score of 33-29 on Saturday afternoon in front of 2,085 fans at Martone-Mejail Field. The win improves the Warriors record to 4-1 (3-0 NE-10) on the season and makes New Haven and Merrimack the only remaining NE-10 schools without a loss in conference play.
The game started off with Bentley marching down the field and punching in a one-yard touchdown run by Bobby Tarr but the ensuing point after attempt was blocked by junior cornerback Jesse Fowler (Lynn, Mass.). This marked the second consecutive week that Fowler blocked a kick as last week against Saint Anselm he blocked a field goal attempt.
With the score at 6-0 Bentley, Artis Holt (Baltimore, Md.) returned the first kickoff of the game for the Warriors 76 yards, setting up a first and ten from inside the red zone. The Falcons defense held tough and forced Merrimack to attempt a 27-yard field goal which freshman Nick Zwaan (Longmeadow, Mass.) connected on to push the score to 6-3.
The Warriors defense could not contain the pass game of the Falcons as Bryant Johnson orchestrated a 5-play, 60-yard drive for another touchdown as he completed the pass to Sean Cross making the score 13-3 Bentley. Bentley pushed the score to 19-3 as Johnson connected with cross yet again but the point after attempt was missed wide right.
With the momentum clearly favoring Bentley, junior quarterback Joe Clancy (Newburyport, Mass.) entered the game at quarterback taking over for James Suozzo (Everett, Mass.) who shifted out to wide receiver. Clancy led the Warriors on a nine-play, 50-yard drive for a touchdown as he completed a perfectly thrown 12-yard pass to Omari Mobley (Hanover, Pa.) for the score, cutting the score to 19-10.
Tarr broke a 63-yard touchdown run on the first play of the ensuing drive to push the score to 26-10 for the Falcons.
The early deficit however did not phase Suozzo one bit as he led the offense on an eight-play, 55-yard drive for a score. Quinn McDonough (Medford, Mass.) shot through the left side of the line almost untouched for the 10-yard scoring run. The Warriors decided to go for two and were successful as Suozzo connected with Isaiah Voegeli (Hyannis, Mass.) for the two point conversion.
Bentley added a 28-yard field goal late in the first half to make the halftime deficit 29-18 for the home team. Merrimack was outgained in the first half 286-130 by the visiting Falcons.
With the 11-point deficit looking Merrimack right in the face, they needed one of their senior leaders to step up and Suozzo did as he opened the second half with a five-play, 69-yard scoring drive capped off by a 38-yard scamper for a touchdown by himself. The Warriors yet again went for two and were successful as Voegeli caught the two point conversion for the second consecutive time. The score was 29-26 Bentley with 13:11 remaining in the second half.
The turning point of the game came on Bentley's first drive of the second half as they lost starting quarterback Bryant Johnson to injury after he was sacked for a six-yard loss by defensive end Matt Tripicchio (Lake Zurich, Ill.). Johnson left the game with 198 passing yards and two touchdowns as he had his way with the Warriors defense in the first half.
With Johnson done for the afternoon, the Falcons offense struggled mightily as they were unable to score a point in the second half with backup quarterback Danny Guadagnoli under center. The Warriors defense made it tough on the young quarterback as they intercepted him three times. The first interception came on the opening series for the backup as senior Ryan McCarthy (Newton, Mass.) read his eyes and intercepted his pass for 42-yards out to the Merrimack 45-yard line. Guadagnoli was later picked off by Jason Fischer (S. Freedland, Md.) and Jimmy Holland (Billerica, Mass.) as the Warriors defense solidified the passing lanes and did not give the receivers any room to maneuver.
With the Warriors trailing 29-26 heading into the fourth quarter, Clancy connected on a 83-yard scoring strike to Voegeli to give Merrimack a 33-29 lead. This was the first lead of the game for Merrimack with 14:47 remaining in the last frame.
With the defense holding strong the Warriors took over possession of the ball with 2:30 on the clock, and they wore away the rest of the time for the 33-29 victory.
Offensively the Warriors were led by Clancy who finished the game 10-17 for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Suozzo also chipped in with 124 passing, 58 rushing and six receiving yards and one touchdown. Voegeli led all receivers with 154 yards and a touchdown as he broke the 100-yard receiving plateau for the third consecutive game. Mobley recorded a game-high six receptions for 46 yards and one touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball All-American Shawn Loiseau (Shrewsbury, Mass.) led all tacklers with 12 tackles on the day including a half sack early on in the second half. With his performance on Saturday afternoon, Loiseau needs only six tackles next week against Assumption to break the school record for tackles in a career with 325, which is currently held by Jimmy Festa. Other key performances were handed in by McCarthy who recorded eight tackles and an interception and Holland who racked up seven tackles and an interception.