Football Grinds Out 14-0 Victory over AIC on Homecoming
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – The Merrimack College football team battled torrential rain and high winds from start to finish and came away with a 14-0 shutout victory over visiting American International College on Homecoming Weekend on Saturday afternoon at Duane Stadium. The win was the third straight for the Warriors, who even their overall record at 4-4 on the season and move over .500 in league play at 4-3. Sophomore quarterback Cam Hayes had a say in both scores, rushing for one and passing for another and, considering the elements, had one of his best performances as a Warrior after stepping into the starting role midway through the week due to an injury. The defense, meanwhile, allowed only 122 yards of total offense on the way to the team's first shutout in nearly a decade, highlighting a blue-collar victory all the way through. The Essentials Score: Merrimack 14, American Int'l 0 Records: Merrimack (4-4, 4-3 NE10) | American Int'l (0-7, 0-7 NE10) Location: Duane Stadium | North Andover, Mass. Attendance: 3,105 Duration: 2:28 How It Happened
The first three drives of the afternoon saw the teams combine for negative five yards of total offense until the Warriors had a field goal opportunity early in the first quarter, but just missed on a 34-yarder that would've given them the first points of the game.
After the defense forced AIC another punt, Merrimack broke through with an eight-play, 42-yard drive that saw them take the lead on a seven-yard keeper from Hayes to cap off the sequence.
The defense was so dominant in the opening half that AIC did not even get into Merrimack territory until the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets threatened to get on the board early in the stanza and drove as far to the 19 before being turned away by the hosts, and then watched as their 36-yard field goal went wide left to keep it a 7-0 lead for the Warriors.
Merrimack added another score on its very next possession with a few more big plays by Hayes. The sophomore first connected with senior Cody Demers for a 62-yard completion to put the Warriors in the red zone. Three plays later, on 3rd & 3, Hayes found redshirt junior Marquis Spencealone for a nine-yard strike that made it a 14-0 lead halfway through the second quarter.
AIC went three-and-out on its final two drives of the half, as the defense yielded nothing after 30 minutes of play.
As the weather continued to wreak havoc throughout the afternoon, the themes from the first half continued over into the second. The Warrior defense was perfect, forcing AIC punts on their first five second-half possessions, including a drive that started in Merrimack territory following a fumble – the only turnover of the day by either side. In fact, AIC lost yardage on two of those five drives to keep the score at 14-0 heading to the final 10 minutes of regulation.
AIC's last attempt at getting on the board came on its final drive of the game, one that started with 9:04 left in the fourth quarter. The Yellow Jackets finally mounted some offense with a pair of big rushes, but they would ultimately be denied on a goal line stand by the defense, giving the ball back to the offense with 6:21 left in the contests.
From there, a 15-yard completion from Hayes to sophomore Jake Doherty got the Warriors out of harm's way, and then another big completion – a 23-yard strike to Spence – moved the chains again to eat up more clock. Hayes would get another first down on a four-yard keeper, and then redshirt freshman Jamari Venter sealed it with another scamper that allowed the Warriors to run out the clock and pick up another Homecoming Weekend victory.
Considering the elements, what Hayes accomplished was magnificent. The sophomore completed 16-of-21 passes for 202 yards and had a say in both scores – the keeper and the pass to Spence. He also added 44 rushing yards rushing on a career-high 14 attempts.
On the other side of the ball, four different players had five-plus tackles, led again by redshirt sophomore Michael Mercuri, who posted seven total tackles and one tackle for a loss, as well as a pass breakup.
Redshirt sophomores Jovan Grant and Jake Ragusa, as well as senior Jesse Jones all added five tackles apiece, while freshman Cory Hagerman recorded a sack in the victory.
Demers finished in familiar territory with his fifth 100-yards-receiving game of the season, hauling in a team-high eight catches. The senior's performance was highlighted by the 62-yard catch and run in the second quarter that set up Spence's score.
Speaking of Spence, he finished with next on the list with 49 yards on just three catches and the one score.
Notes & Numbers
Merrimack's defense denied AIC on all 14 third-down conversion opportunities they faced in the game, the best such mark since Saint Anselm went 1-for-17 last year in a home win.
The shutout win was also the first since a 23-0 victory over Husson on Sept. 12, 2009.
Merrimack won its fourth straight against AIC in a series that dates back to the team's earliest years as a varsity program. The four straight victories are the longest unbeaten run for the Warriors over the Yellow Jackets in the all-time series.
The Warriors strung together 302 yards of total offense, which was impressive within itself given the weather. The team has posted at least 300 yards of total offense every game this year.
Merrimack added another 100 yards rushing for the seventh time in eight games.
Total Yards (Rushing-Passing-Total): 100-202—302 // 67-55—122
Takeaways (INT/FR): 0/0 // 0/1
Sacks: 1 // 1
Total 1st Downs: 15 // 10
3rd Down Conversions: 6-15 // 0-14
4th Down Conversions: 0-0 // 2-3
Time of Possession: 32:46 // 27:14
Up Next Merrimack turns the calendar to November and travels to Pace next Saturday for a 12 p.m. kickoff from Pleasantville, New York.