NORTH ANDOVER — In the win-loss column, the Merrimack College football team isn’t where it wants to be. Falling to 0-2 after Saturday’s loss to Assumption, the Warriors are trying to recover this week before heading to Bentley on Saturday for the Falcons’ homecoming game. When the Warriors arrive, they’ll be without at least five starters on defense who are all out of the lineup with injuries.
But that doesn’t mean head coach Dan Curran isn’t excited about some things to build on. The Warriors are lining up starters as the youngest team in the NE10, with several true freshmen getting significant playing time, including starting quarterback Christian Carter.
Carter has been efficient in his first two college outings, completing 50.6 percent of his passes for 451 yards and three touchdowns … most importantly, he’s thrown no interceptions.
On the ground, Carter also leads the Warriors in rushing with 89 yards on 22 carries (4.0 average). The average would be even higher if it didn’t include 32 yards lost on plays where he’s taken sacks (non-running plays).
“The first thing people will notice is how well our quarterback has played,” Curran said. “His composure, his toughness and his arm strength are really good. He has everything. I don’t want to give him too much, too early, but he’s a great kid who works hard and is getting better every week.
“I think at the end (of the Assumption game) he just tried to do a little too much.”
Merrimack opened the season with Bloomsburg, traditionally a playoff team in Division II out of the very competitive PSAC conference. The Warriors were in the game at halftime (trailed 16-13) and were victimized by a questionable call in the second half, when an apparent interception by the Warriors in the end zone was instead ruled a Bloomsburg touchdown by the officials, calling the play a simultaneous catch.
“We knew looking at the schedule that there was nowhere to hide,” Curran said. “We were playing the top-four ranked teams in the NE10 right out of the gate and then we open with a regionally-ranked and traditional playoff team in Bloomsburg. We felt like we let that one get away against Bloomsburg. There was a tough call, we thought it should have been a pick, but we came out of the gate flying.”
The Warriors also came out of the gate flying against Assumption, taking a lead over the team that many expect will win the league title on the game’s opening drive before the Greyhounds’ experience began to show.
“Special teams broke our back a little bit,” said Curran, whose team allowed a punt return for a touchdown. “But the kids responded in the second half.”
Merrimack was without Rob Hulse against Assumption, after he broke his hand in warmups. There’s hope he will be able to play this weekend against Bentley while wearing a cast. Merrimack also lost receiver Cody Demers for the second half after he was hit hard on a play in the first half. Receiver Johnny Rosario was ejected on the same play that Demers hit, going after the Assumption player who made the play in a scrum. The Warriors also left some plays on the field, with balls going off the hands of receivers in the red zone.
Curran hopes to get some of the defensive starters back this season, including Hulse.
“I feel for our defense, because you’re down six starters against a really good offensive team like Assumption,” he said. “Hopefully we get some of those guys back. In the meantime, we need guys to step up. Bentley is another task in front of us, and we’re on the road. We need to rally around the guys we have. (Against Assumption) I like what we did early and what we did late, we just need to clean up the middle.”
Despite missing those six starters, the Warriors still forced three turnovers, recovering two fumbles and Daekwon Shepherd had an interception in the end zone.
“Jovan Grant has played really well, as has Shepherd,” said Curran. “They’ll be the first to tell you that we need to tackle better, especially in the run game. We need to consistently stop the run. There were times where we’d be off the field for six minutes because we had trouble stopping the run, and it came down to tackling, so that’s definitely an area we need to improve.”
Kickoff on Saturday at Bentley is scheduled for 2 p.m. with the Warriors returning home to Merrimack Stadium on Sept. 22 against New Haven under the lights at 6 p.m.