EASTON – There are rules for a reason, but there’s also a right time and a wrong time to enforce some of the rules that are out on the fringe.
Sideline interference, especially when it’s not interfering with an opposing player, qualifies as a fringe penalty.
Late in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s 33-19 Stonehill victory over Merrimack, the game was tied. After an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-11, Stonehill appeared to be on the verge of punting away, but there was a flag on the field.
The Warriors were called for sideline interference, after the line judge collided with a Merrimack player standing too far forward on the sideline while running down the pass attempt.
There wasn’t a Merrimack player on the field, and no Warrior interfered with the Stonehill receiver, who was running a vertical route down the Merrimack sideline.
For those not in the know, there’s a line on the sideline that players are supposed to stand behind. It’s there so that collisions with officials sprinting down the line to see the play aren’t in danger of running into players or coaches.
Earlier in the game, the Warriors were warned for sideline interference. The collision happened, there’s no doubt, but whether or not it was the right time to make the call is up for debate.
Without question, the penalty influenced the outcome of the game.
“One of our kids is there by accident and the official ran into him,” Merrimack head coach Dan Curran said. “I know that those guys are good guys, and they’re doing what’s best, but to call that at that point in the game just to make a point? It was a critical point in the game. It is what it is.”
An official making that call is making it to drive home a point. He’s flexing some muscle. And again, a rule was broken, he has every right to do so. But was there a better time?
Was it the first time there was a player over the line since the warning? The warning, by the way, that came in the first half? If it wasn’t, why not throw the flag earlier in the game?
In hockey, if a game is tied late, you nearly have to decapitate someone to get whistled for a penalty. If a pitcher has a perfect game in the ninth inning, he’s probably not getting squeezed on balls and strikes. The penalty was a penalty, but every situation is different. Throwing a flag to make a point, at that point in the game, just didn’t seem like the best time.
The Skyhawks still punted on the possession, but it came 30 yards further down field. The Warriors also punted on their ensuing possession, but Jay White was standing in his own end zone instead of around his 30-yard line.
Nate Robitaille returned that punt for the game-winning touchdowns with just over two minutes left.
Despite Numbers, Defense Shines
On paper, the 33 points allowed makes it appear like a tough night at the office for Merrimack’s defense. But, that wasn’t the case.
The Skyhawks scored late after the Warriors went for it on fourth down in their own territory, already trailing 26-19. One of those touchdowns came on a punt return and two more points were added on a blocked PAT. Essentially, the Warriors’ defense allowed only 17 points.
Merrimack forced Stonehill to punt seven times and only allowed the Skyhawks to score points on only three of 14 drives, if you take away the late score from deep in their own territory.
Jon Hooper led the Warriors with 12 tackles and AJ Roberto chipped in with 10. Ben Polci finished with six tackles, two for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. Chris Unis and Ervin Johnson also had seven tackles each.
The Warriors are allowing 23.0 points and 317.5 yards per game, both improvements on last season, which saw the Warriors allow 30.9 points and 422.1 yards per game.
Demers Fitting Right In
Merrimack’s offense is young, but you wouldn’t be able to decipher that just by watching. Cody Demers is a true freshman out of Central Catholic and have four catches for 45 yards last night, mostly on underneath routes. Demers has 13 catches for 137 yards on the season, including a touchdown.
Senior receiver Steven Browne had missed the past two weeks after making three catches for 21 yards against Bryant in Week 1. He returned on Saturday making five catches for 19 yards, shaking off coverage on some quick-out routes.
Keeping Capobianco Upright
Curran spoke after the game about needing to keep freshmen quarterback Joe Capobianco on his feet more. He was sacked five times last night, and in four games (3 starts) has been sacked 17 times. The Warriors have allowed 18 sacks in four games.
McRae Finds Role in the Passing Game
Junior running back Armond McRae was held to his fewest rushing yards of the season, gaining 33 yards on 11 carries.
But, he proved to be a valuable weapon in the passing game on Saturday, catching a season-high five passes for 64 yards. McRae has the third-most receiving yards on the team this season, catching 15 balls for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike is also on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN