Merrimack’s miracle comeback spoiled by last-second field goal

Photo: Brian Foley

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – Down 37-14 with less than eight minutes to play in the third quarter, the Merrimack College football program scored 23 unanswered points to tie its contest Saturday night at Central Connecticut State University. The matchup aired on ESPN3 and marked the Warriors’ first-ever matchup against both a Northeast Conference (NEC) and NCAA FCS opponent in the program’s new Division I era. After Merrimack fought all the way back to tie the game, the host Blue Devils orchestrated a drive that ended with a field goal and left five seconds on the clock, giving CCSU the 40-37 victory

Links: Box Score // Highlights

The furious rally ended when sophomore quarterback Christian Carter threw his third of three touchdown passes to redshirt-senior wide receiver Marquis Spence – who made highlight-reel catch in traffic – with 58 seconds left to pull the Warriors within two, 37-35. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Carter scrambled to his right and ran crossed the goal line just inside the far pylon to tie the game. Merrimack scored 16 points in a span of one minute late in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Merrimack’s night started strongly, with the Warriors taking a 14-3 lead in the second quarter after an interception was returned for a touchdown followed by a quick-strike drive that ended with Carter’s first touchdown pass of the day to Spence. From there, however, the Blue Devils recorded the night’s next 34 points to create a 37-14 contest. Carter threw two more touchdown passes to start Merrimack’s rally, one to redshirt sophomore Malachi McFadden in the third quarter and another to Spence in the fourth.

The Essentials
Score: Central Connecticut 40, Merrimack 37
Records: Merrimack (1-1) | Central Connecticut (2-0)
Location: Arute Field | New Britain, Conn.

How It Happened

  • After falling behind 3-0, Merrimack’s defense made sure it did not trail for long. On the first play of a Central Connecticut drive, redshirt-junior Michael Mercuri intercepted a deflected pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. The pick-six put the Warriors ahead, 7-3
  • Late in the first quarter, Merrimack started a quick drive that ended with a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Christian Carter connected with classmate Johnny Rosario on a 56-yard strike to close the first quarter. The play put Merrimack on the Blue Devils’ five-yard line, and the first play of the second quarter saw Carter connect with Spence for a short touchdown
  • From there, however, the hosts scored five touchdowns to build a 23-point lead at 37-14. Merrimack’s offense found its rhythm again in the third quarter, though, as Carter led a 10-play drive in the third quarter that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to redshirt-sophomore Malachi McFadden. The fourth quarter begin with the Warriors facing a 16-point deficit, 37-21
  • Merrimack’s 16 fourth-quarter points all came in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. A missed field goal with 5:36 remaining gave Merrimack its first opportunity to score. Carter completed five passes, and converted a third-for-17 with a 17-yard scramble on the drive, which ended with a 17-yard scoring throw to Spence. Carter rushed for the two-point conversion, making it a 37-29 game
  • Graduate student Corey Resendes successfully executed an onside-kick, getting the Warriors possession back right at midfield with 1:58 left. Carter was 4-for-4 on the drive, and found Spence for a 21-yard touchdown pass to pull the Warriors within two, 37-35. After a timeout, Carter ran in the two-pointer himself again, tying the game up
  • With less than one minute left, the Blue Devils were able to move the ball into Merrimack’s territory, and kicked a 44-yard field goal to win the game.

Individual Highlights

  • Carter finished the night 278 yards through the air and four touchdowns, the second most passing touchdowns in a game in his career
  • Spence hauled in a career-best three touchdowns to go along with a team-best eight catches for a team-high 83 yards
  • Rosario and classmate Anthony Norcia combined for seven receptions for 118 yards
  • Mercuri had a monster game on defense, leading Merrimack with 13 total tackles including 10 solo stops. He picked off his second career pass, and recorded his first career touchdown. His first career interception came during one of the two games he appeared in during his true sophomore campaign
  • Sophomore Cory Hagerman led the way on the defensive line with 1.5 sacks. Redshirt-sophomore Darion McKenzie notched Merrimack’s other takeaway, recording a fourth-quarter interception

Notes & Numbers

  • Merrimack made a bid for its second-ever victory against a FCS opponent,
  • Saturday’s contest was the second-ever meeting between the Warriors and Blue Devils
  • The Warriors played their first of four NEC foes this season as the program begins to reclassify into the conference. Saint Francis University, Bryant University and Long Island University remain on the Warriors’ schedule
  • Total Yards (Rushing-Passing-Total): CCSU – 275-199—474 // MC – 9-278—287
  • Takeaways (INT/FR): 2 (1/1) // 2 (2/0)
  • Sacks: 2 // 3
  • Total 1st Downs: 22 // 20
  • 3rd Down Conversions: 5-12 // 5-15
  • 4th Down Conversions: 1-1 // 1-1
  • Time of Possession: 28:22 // 31:38

Up Next
Merrimack takes on its second NEC opponent in as many weeks on Saturday when the Warriors visit Saint Francis U. for a 12 p.m. kickoff at Degol Field in Loretto, Pa.

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