LED BY HIGH-OCTANE OFFENSE, WARRIOR FOOTBALL HAS SIGHTS SET HIGH IN 2013
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – The 2012 Merrimack College football campaign could be summed up in many adjectives and expressions, but unexciting would be a bold-faced lie.
If anything, last fall's edition of Warrior football cemented the program's philosophy of high-octane offense, barnburner showdowns, down-to-the-wire contests and, arguably the most accurate description, a shootout each and every week.
Few teams not only in the Northeast-10 Conference but in the country had the offensive firepower to run and gun with the Warriors last fall, indicative of Merrimack's league-leading point-producing offense (41.0 points per game), one that ranked second out of 156 schools nationwide.
Those gaudy numbers helped Merrimack post a 6-4 record, one that was good for a fifth-place finish in the NE-10. A large portion of that success lie in the team's gun-slinging quarterback, Joe Clancy (Newburyport, Mass.), who rewrote nearly every single-season program and conference passing record.
In 2013, Clancy returns, this time guided by first-year head coach Dan Curran and a strong supporting cast that should threaten to tear apart offensive records once again. Tabbed to finish fifth for a second year in a row by the Coaches' Preseason Poll, the Warriors certainly have holes to fill from last year's record-shattering squad.
But, with a more-than-capable cast of returners, plus an intriguing group of newcomers, the Navy and Gold certainly boast an overall upside that could put the program in position to challenge for a berth in the NE-10 Championship come November.
The most surefire position on this year's roster starts and ends with Clancy. Returning for his fifth year on campus, the Newburyport, Mass., native will be hard-pressed to top what he accomplished last fall.
In 2012, Clancy – the NE-10 Offensive Player of the Year – led the conference and nation in yards per game (399.40) passing for 3,945 yards on a 323-for-510 (63.3 percent) conversion rate. Those numbers, along with his 31 touchdowns, all vaunted the quarterback at or near the top of virtually every passing category in the program and conference record book.
Behind Clancy, junior transfer Buddy Leathley (Manlius, N.Y.) and classmate Luke Bakanowsky (Ashburnham, Mass.) are plenty capable to step in when asked. Bakanowsky finished last fall 5-for-6 with a touchdown and no interceptions in limited duty, while Leathley enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign at Albany in 2011.
The Warriors will look to fill the void left by graduating senior Jimon Hill, but current senior Quinn McDonough (Medford, Mass.) is up to the challenge.
The hard-nose halfback, who has specialized as a pass protector in his first three years on offense, saw plenty of action last fall. McDonough rushed for 448 yards on 78 attempts, averaging a team-best 5.6 years per carry while adding a team-leading eight touchdowns during a breakout junior campaign. He will shoulder the load of the rushing duties this season.
Easily the most notable and hard-hitting departure from last year's squad comes in the form of Isaiah Voegeli, who graduated after enjoying easily the best four-year career of any wide receiver in Merrimack history.
In Voegeli's wake steps a pair of juniors in Steven Browne (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Zach Ingalls (Westford, Mass.). The duo started aside Voegeli last fall and will join senior captain Shane Ferguson (Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.) in the receiving corps.
Ingalls, who caught 37 passes for 461 yards and three scores last season, will look to top those numbers, while Ferguson (20 catches, 286 yards, two touchdowns) and Browne (10 catches, 191 yards, one touchdown) will enjoy more prominent roles on offense.
Steve Serwon, who was one of Clancy's favorite targets not named Voegeli last fall, represents another key departure from last year's graduating class. The former tight end ranked second on the team with 520 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
That, however, opens up competition for a number of capable candidates. A backup tight end last year, senior Greg Devine (Hanover, Mass.) joins the likes of first-year players Jayson Collette (Saint Albans, Vt.) and Brian Hurley (Wilmington, Mass.) alongside returners Nolan Dragon (West Newbury, Mass.) and Stephan Cronan (Hampton, N.H.) in the battle for play time at tight end.
Anchored by senior Preseason All-American and first-team all-conference selection Michael Hubbard (Wakefield, Mass.), the Warriors' offensive line is primed for another solid season in front of the likes of Clancy and McDonough.
Allowing just 16 sacks last year as a unit, the o-line did lose three graduating seniors, but Hubbard and rising junior Chris Picinic (Montvale, N.J.) are more than qualified to lead the way this season.
Last year, the offensive line helped Clancy produce his historic season while paving the way for 1,518 yards of total rushing offense (126.6 per game) over the course of the fall.
While the Merrimack defense as a whole ranked in the bottom-third of most team categories last fall, the Warriors return a slew of talent in the trenches on defense, led by rising senior and all-conference second team honoree Matt Tripicchio (Lake Zurich, Ill.).
The senior captain ranked third on the team last year with 57 total tackles but was first with a staggering 18 tackles for losses, accumulating in 55 yards. The Lake Zurich, Ill., native also boasted a team-high 5 ½ sacks and forced 11 hurries last fall.
Alongside Tripicchio will be a junior trifecta of Ben Polci (Newton, Mass.), Chris Unis (Gloucester, Mass.) and Justin Hood (Billerica, Mass.). The Warriors' 72.7 tackles per game was third-best in league play last fall, and Merrimack's new front four will look to improve on those numbers in 2013.
The Warriors' linebacker corps consists of a blend of experience and youth for the upcoming campaign. On the outside, senior Jimmy Holland (Billerica, Mass.) joins classmate Vincent Gallo (Schenectady, N.Y.) with sophomore John Hooper (Pembroke, Mass.) anchoring the middle. The trio combined for 54 tackles last season and will aim to improve upon last year's 428.9 yards allowed per game – just seventh-best in the conference.
Merrimack will turn to senior captain and team leader Artis Holt (Baltimore, Md.) to lead the secondary for the third year in a row.
Coming off a two-interception, 61-tackle campaign, Holt represented Merrimack's only first-team all-conference defensive member last fall after picking off two passes and recovering two fumbles. That, on top of a team-high 61 tackles, 18 breakups and 20 pass deflections gives the Warriors plenty of confidence in the secondary.
Alongside Holt, three underclassmen will look to make their mark on defense; sophomores Nick McDaniels (Boston, Mass.) and Zach Maiuri (Dedham, Mass.) join rookie Jared Mincey (Edison, N.J.) to comprise Merrimack's defensive backfield. Holt and Mincey will line up on the outside, with McDaniels and Maiuri slotted at safety.
After handling the starting kicking role last season, junior Nick Zwaan (Longmeadow, Mass.) will shoulder the team's placekicking responsibilities once again this fall. As a sophomore, Zwaan made all three of his field goal attempts – including two from 20-29 yards and one from 30-39 yards – last season. The Longmeadow, Mass., native finished 39-for-46 in point after attempts in 2012.
The team will be looking for a new primary punter after the graduation of Justin Marsan but should have plenty of capable replacements. Zwann will also handle the kickoff duties after tallying 13 touchbacks on 66 attempts last fall.
Holt and McDonough should be in line to handle kickoff turns after the former averaged a team-best 24.3 yards per return last season.
The 2013 season begins next Friday, Sept. 6, when the Warriors travel to Division I Wagner College for a bout with the reigning Northeast Conference and NCAA FCS Tournament participant Seahawks in Staten Island, N.Y. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.