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Five takeaways from Merrimack’s 40-37 loss at Central Connecticut

Photo: CCSU

Merrimack fell on the road at Central Connecticut on Saturday night, 40-37, on Francis Cole’s field goal with three seconds remaining. Here are our takeaways from Week 2 …

(1) Am I alone in thinking CCSU got lucky at the end of the game? Granted, Merrimack’s defense has trouble stopping the Blue Devils on that final drive, allowing three completions of eight, 16 and 26 yards to put CCSU in field goal range to begin with.

But, Cole missed his first attempt at the kick, and it wasn’t negated by a Merrimack penalty, it was negated by a CCSU penalty.

Cole’s first kick sailed wide left but flags were thrown on the snap because CCSU snapped the ball a split second after the play clock hit zero; the Blue Devils were hit with a delay of game penalty (which isn’t declinable by the Warriors) and got the chance to re-kick; Cole split the uprights on his second attempt.

(2) Not only did Christian Carter look like he belonged against a CCSU team that’s picked to finish third in the NEC, he out-performed CCSU starter Aaron Winchester, who is a transfer from Georgia State.

Winchester was more effective on the ground (11 carries for 100 yards) but Carter was better through the air, throwing for 278 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. Winchester was 14 for 25 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Through nine games as a starter — going back to last season — Carter has 2,105 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions.

Kudos should also go to Merrimack’s offensive line, which gave Carter plenty of time to look downfield, particularly as the game wore on.

(3) The ESPN broadcast did a nice job talking up MLB Mike Mercuri, and with good reason. He finished with 10 solo tackles and 13 total tackles. Mercurci also had a big interception in the first half that he returned for a touchdown to get the Warriors rolling. At that point in the game, Merrimack’s offense looked largely ineffective against CCSU and Mercuri’s pick-six lit a spark.

After that interception, the Warriors forced CCSU to punt and then scored its first offensive touchdown on its next possession when Carter hit Marquise Spence for a 5-yard touchdown pass; the drive also included a big 56-yard pass from Carter to Johnny Rosario.

(4) Merrimack’s run defense needs to be better. Granted 100 of the 289 yards allowed on the ground came from Winchester, who broke some rushes on broken plays, but the Warriors still allowed 8.6 yards per carry to Danley Exilhomme, 6.5 yards per carry to Enyce Walker and 7.9 yards per carry to Keonte Lucas on a combined 21 carries.

Last week against Virginia of Lynchburg, the Warriors held the Dragons to 2.4 yards per carry on the day (29 carries for 70 yards).

On the flip side, Merrimack netted just nine yards rushing on 24 carries. The Warriors run game was non-existent. CCSU did a good job up front and forced the ball into Carter’s hand. But, Carter is Merrimack’s best weapon on offense, combined with a diverse and tough receiving corps.

(5) Jovan Grant — somewhat quietly — had a terrific day in coverage. He made nine tackles and also broke up a pass. Grant and the rest of the secondary kept Winchester relatively ineffective through the air until CCSU’s final drive to set up the field goal.

Grant had a big game against VUL and he’s in store for a breakout season.

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