WALTHAM, Mass. – After building a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter thanks to 21 unanswered points, the Merrimack College football team saw host Bentley claw back to make it a five-point game early in the fourth. But a momentum-changing strip sack from freshman Cory Hagerman and an ensuing return touchdown from classmate Tyler Roberts turned out to be the difference for the Warriors, who picked up their first win of 2018 after 35-30 decision over the Falcons in a back-and-forth affair on Saturday in Waltham.
Merrimack saw 271 of its 391 yards of total offense come from the rushing game, while the defense totaled two sacks and two very timely takeaways that led directly to 14 of their season-high 35 points.
Score: Merrimack 35, Bentley 30
Records: Merrimack (1-2, 1-1 NE10) | Bentley (1-2, 1-1 NE10)
Location: Bentley Field | Waltham, Mass.
How It Happened
- Similarly to last week, the Merrimack offense came out firing on its first drive of the game, finding the end zone after a methodical 10-play, 78-yard sequence that spanned the first five minutes of the contest. Freshman quarterback Christian Carter set the tone early with a 17-yard strike to classmate Johnny Rosario, and rookie Matt Brehonmoved the chains on a 3rd & 2 near midfield to move into Bentley territory. The Warriors would then turn to the ground game for the rest of the drive, as big carries by Brehon, Carter, redshirt freshman Jamari Venter and Spence brought the ball into the red zone, and Spence wound cap off the scoring sequence with a six-yard rush to give Merrimack a 7-0 edge.
- Bentley had an answer on its first offensive drive, scoring on a 10-play drive of its own and converting a pair of third downs in the process to tie the game. Then, the Falcons defense intercepted Carter for the first time in the latter’s career after going 82 attempts without a pick. A 42-yard completion from Stephen Sturm to Jordan Zlogar set the Falcons up inside the 10, and Bentley scored three plays later to take its first lead of the game, 14-7, late in the opening quarter.
- But Merrimack came right back to tie the game on its next drive that bridged the first two quarters. The Warriors picked up third-down conversions three times before found a gap on the right side and darted into the second level untouched for a career-long 27-yard touchdown, marking his second straight week with a score to get the Warriors seven at 14-14.
- Following a Bentley three-and-out, Merrimack’s offense kept the pressure on on its next chance, getting inside the Bentley 30 before ultimately being turned away on downs. But the defense picked them up shortly thereafter, as sophomore Caleb Holden grabbed his second interception of the season deep in Falcons territory to set up the Warriors’ go-ahead touchdown. A 10-yard carry by Brehon made it first and goal, and then Carter found Spence again for the latter’s second score of the day to give the Warriors a 21-14 lead that stood through the remainder of the half.
- The Warriors stretched their lead to as large as 14 points midway through the third quarter, and Venter was the star of the drive that led to the score. His 26-yard scamper brought it inside the Bentley 30, and then four plays later the redshirt freshman found the end zone from 13 yards away for his first career score to make it 28-14.
- Bentley chipped away at the lead on its next drive, driving as close as the Merrimack 13 before redshirt junior Samuel Francois picked up a momentum-changing sack to force the Falcons to settle for a field goal that made it 28-17.
- The hosts made it interesting on their next drive, starting with a short field and eventually ending with a touchdown after converting a 4th & 4 at the Merrimack 26. The ensuing two-point conversion failed, however, making it a five-point lead for the Warriors (28-23) early in the fourth.
- Carter nearly had a first down on the Warriors’ next possession, but came up inches short as the Bentley defense forced another punt. But on the very next play, the back-breaking moment came in the form of a Hagerman strip sack leading to Roberts picking up the loose ball at midfield and taking it 49 yards for a game-changing defensive touchdown that gave the Warriors some much-needed breathing room, pushing their lead to 35-23.
- The Falcons made it a one-possession game again after responding from the fumble with a 16-play scoring drive that lasted five minutes and went 64 yards. Bentley converted twice on third down and two more times on fourth down – including a 12-yard completion on a 4th & 6 near midfield – and ultimately found the end zone after a Sturm strike to Michael Correia from seven yards out to trim the Warrior lead to five points (35-30).
- With Bentley out of timeouts and the clock ticking inside of three minutes, the Warriors took over one last time knowing a well-timed first down would be all they needed to seal the victory. That was when Carter rose to the occasion, taking the direct snap on a 3rd & 3 at midfield and dancing to the outside for 13 yards and the first down that clinched the win, the first of the Warriors this season and their first against Bentley since the 2015 campaign.
Notes and Notables
- Merrimack would out-gain Bentley by 15 yards on the afternoon, finishing with a 391-376 edge in total offense with 271 of those yards coming on the ground. Both figures were the best single-game totals so far this season.
- The Warriors totaled 260 of those yards in the first half alone when they possessed the ball for 20:39; they would finish with a 12-minute edge in time of possession (36:00-24:00) in the game.
- Carter shook off the early interception and went on to post strong numbers for the third game in a row under center, completing a season-best 14-of-20 passes (70.0%) for 120 yards and the one touchdown while adding another 84 on the ground – a new season-high – while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
- Roberts had his best day as a Warrior on defense, leading the way with 11 tackles while forcing a fumble that ended a Bentley drive late in the first half and returning the other 49 yards for his first collegiate defensive touchdown that wound up to be the difference.
- Venter (84 yards, 5.6/carry) and Brehon (79 yards, 7.2/carry) were also instrumental out of the backfield, as both more-than doubled their total rushing output on the season from the prior two games with their performances on Saturday. Brehon secured his second touchdown while Venter notched his first.
- Senior Cody Demers hauled in a team-high four catches – three of which were for first downs – while Spence was lethal in the first half with a touchdown catch and another rush to account for two of the Warriors’ five scores, the only player to do so.
- Redshirt sophomore Corey Resendes was a perfect 5-for-5 in extra points, a new career-high.
- Senior Enrique McFarlane was quite the disruptor on defense, adding eight tackles, recovering another fumble and finishing with two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup, while Holden had the lone interception for the Warriors on the day.
- Merrimack held Bentley to 47% on third downs (7-of-15) while converting 6-of-11 third down tries of its own (55%).
Merrimack returns home for the first of back-to-back contests in North Andover against New Haven on Saturday, Sept. 22. Game time at Merrimack Stadium is set for 6 p.m.