setting the stage
The Merrimack College football team returned at least five starters on both sides of the ball, as well as one all-region selection and three all-conference picks, from a team that won seven of its final eight games in the regular season to finish third in the Northeast-10 Conference standings, winning six league games for the first time in six years under the tutelage of fourth-year head coach Dan Curran.
Merrimack garnered plenty of respect from coaches from around the Northeast-10 Conference, as the Warriors were picked to finish fourth in the 10-team 2016 NE-10 Football Coaches' Poll at the beginning of the year. Merrimack went a combined 1-2 against the top-three teams in the preseason poll in 2015, but the combined margin of defeat in those two losses was just 10 points. Merrimack came from behind to defeat New Haven, 14-10, on the road for the first time school history last October. The Warriors nearly downed 2015 NE10 champion Assumption in a wild, back-and-forth affair last September, and also came within a field goal of sending the game to overtime in another narrow road defeat at LIU Post.
- For the second straight season, the Warriors' 10-game regular season schedule featured five home games, including a Saturday night matchup under the lights against AIC in the conference opener.
- For the second time in three years and third time in the past four, Merrimack faced a member of the Division I Northeast Conference, as the Warriors met former NE-10 member Bryant University to open the season on Saturday, Sept. 3.
- Merrimack's Homecoming Weekend matchup was against Southern Connecticut State on Oct. 22.
DEFENSE PAVES WAY TO HOME OPENING WIN OVER AIC
Merrimack stormed back from a 13-point deficit thanks to a stellar defensive effort, a huge punt block and timely scoring down the stretch to defeat AIC 16-13, in the team's home and Northeast-10 Conference opener on Sept. 10.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Trailing by a 13-0 score, Merrimack got on the board with a touchdown pass to first-year junior tight end Dillon Salva for his first career score to make it a six-point game.
- Redshirt freshman Damion Wood came up with the biggest play of his young career, blocking an AIC punt straight back and out of the end zone for a safety.
- Merrimack went ahead for good on the following drive, as junior Justin Mount hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass to wrap up a seven-play, 50-yard drive.
- AIC threatened on its penultimate drive of the game, but redshirt sophomore Avery Taylor and Samuel Francois joined up for a sack, senior captain Matt Clifford broke up another pass, and fellow senior captain Josh Hill turned the Yellow Jackets over on downs with his third sack of the game.
- Hill once again factored in on AIC's final drive of the game, forcing an errant pass that was intercepted by senior Nick Laspada to clinch the win.
HONORING THE '06 WARRIORS
While it might be hard to believe for those who were a part of it, the 2016 campaign marked a decade since one of the most memorable seasons not just in Merrimack Football history, but in Merrimack College history: the 2006 NE10 Champion team.
The Warriors won a school-record eight games during that memorable season and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first and only time in school history. The Athletic Department paid tribute to that team by inviting football alumni from the 2006 season for the Warriors' home game against the University of New Haven on Saturday, Oct. 8. Members from that team were recognized with a special halftime presentation and other activities throughout the weekend.
ROAD WARRIORS WIN AT PACE
Merrimack scored four uninterrupted touchdowns at one point and racked up nearly 450 yards of total offense en route to a 35-21 victory on the road at Pace midway through October.
First-year sophomore Brenton Martin had a career day with three total touchdowns, including a career-best two passing scores, and finished 15-for-23 (65.3%) for 173 yards while adding 72 more on the ground. Junior Derrick Villard piled up a team-high 96 yards rushing (5.3/carry) while sophomore Shamik Perry set a new career-high with 87 yards on 12 carries (7.3).
Sophomore Enrique McFarlane led the defense with 12 tackles – two shy of his career mark – and had three tackles for losses and a sack; senior Carey Wells-Jowers and classmate Josh Hill split the other sack for the Warrior defense.
The Merrimack Football Class of 2017 as a group led the team to 20 victories over the course of their careers, which included a six-win season in the Northeast-10 Conference last fall for the first time in six years, as well as a memorable seven-win campaign in 2013. Signature moments for this senior class include wins over New Haven, Assumption and Division I Wagner, as well as multiple victories over traditional conference powers LIU Post, AIC and Southern Connecticut.
MERRIMACK FOOTBALL CLASS OF 2017
- Shaun Bowman (Graduate Student)
- Santino Brancato
- Matt Clifford
- Stephen Camarro (Redshirt Junior)
- Billy Carnes (Graduate Student)
- Brian Carroll (Redshirt Junior)
- Anthony Foti
- Josh Hill
- Tyree Holmes
- Darian Johnson
- Devonte Jones (Redshirt Junior)
- Judemario Josaphat
- Nick Laspada
- Armond McRae
- Justin Mount (Redshirt Junior)
- Joseph Peduto (Redshirt Junior)
- Preston Perry
- Deric Wagner
- Carey Wells-Jowers
MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM THE CLASS OF 2017
- Sept. 6 - 2013 - In what was the first game ever in their careers, the Class of 2017 helps Merrimack defeat Division I Wagner College, 42-41, on the road in one of the biggest moments in school history.
- Oct. 5, 2013 - Merrimack defeats LIU Post, 26-21, on the road in the first matchup between the two schools in six seasons.
- Nov. 16, 2013 - Merrimack secures its first seven-win season in four years with a win over SCSU on NE10 Championship Weekend.
- Sept. 20, 2014 - Now in their sophomore season, the Warriors grind out a 19-17 home win over LIU Post, marking their second win in as many seasons against the Pioneers; Merrimack was one of just two teams to defeat the eventual league champions in conference play in 2014.
- Oct. 11, 2014 - Merrimack wins at Bentley for the first time since the 2008 season, 28-25.
- Oct. 3, 2015 - The Warriors win for the first time in three tries at DellaCamera Stadium, using a fourth-quarter touchdown to defeat New Haven, 14-10.
- Oct. 31, 2015 - Merrimack snaps a nine-game losing streak against AIC with a huge third quarter en route to a 20-3 road victory against the Yellow Jackets.
- Nov. 7, 2015 - Merrimack uses another late-game comeback to earn its sixth conference win of the year at Southern Connecticut, finishing with six league wins for the first time since winning the NE10 regular season title in 2009.
- Sept. 10, 2016 - In their first home game as seniors, the Warriors claw back from a 13-0 deficit en route to a thrilling 16-13 comeback victory over league rival AIC.
- Nov. 12, 2016 - Merrimack ends the year on a high note with a 28-18 victory over Pace on NE10 Championship Weekend.
Merrimack saw four student-athletes earn NE10 All-Conference recognition in senior Josh Hill, sophomore Enrique McFarlane, and freshmen Erick Browne and Sebastian Lucas.
Hill concluded his career in record-setting fashion, leading the conference with nine sacks – a new single-season high for the former all-conference second team selection. By doing so, it marked the second straight year that a Merrimack student-athlete led the conference in sacks. The Glastonbury, Connecticut native also finished with a conference-best 13-1/2 tackles for losses totaling 76 yards, and ranked 28th nationally in sacks per game (0.82). He logged 53 total tackles (27 solo), three off his previous single-season career-high, and also forced two fumbles and broke up a career-best six passes. The two-time captain wrapped up his career with 176 tackles (104 solo) and 23 sacks, the latter mark ranking second in the all-time program record books, as well as six forced fumbles and 10 pass breakups.
In eight games, McFarlane was the team's leader in tackles by a longshot. Overall, the West Hempstead, New York native racked up 67 tackles (41 solo) and three sacks while contributing 8-1/2 tackles for losses totaling 35 yards. His 8.4 tackles-per-game average was the fifth-best in the conference, and he also recovered and returned a fumble for a touchdown, accounting for the only defensive touchdown scored this season. McFarlane recorded over 10 tackles three times in eight games, including two games in which he registered 14 tackles.
Lucas, who appeared in 10 games, showed plenty of promise over the course of his freshman campaign. The Baltimore, Maryland native hauled in 15 catches for 285 yards, and plenty of those catches were spectacular in nature. Representing one of Merrimack's top deep threat receiver options, Lucas averaged over 19.0 yards per catch and finished with three receiving touchdowns. He had five of the team's 13 receptions of 25 yards or more, including a 68-yard touchdown pass in a game against Assumption back in September, which was the longest pass completed at any point his season.
Finally, Browne established himself as a potential left tackle of the future after starting at arguably the most important spot on the offensive line in 10-of-11 games. The only game that he didn't start at left tackle was when he started at right tackle. His efforts limited the opposition to only 24 sacks on the year while helping create opportunities for an offense that averaged over 165 rushing yards per game, its highest per-game rushing average since the 2011 season.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2017
Merrimack will return several key components on both sides of the ball to challenge for the conference crown next fall. The Warriors are slated to bring back nine starters on offense and seven on defense, while a few key players who missed this past fall due to injury should be back in the fold, as well.
With a few months still separating the team from spring ball, the Warriors will still be keeping busy not just with offseason conditioning, but in the classroom and -- more importantly -- the community, as the football program continues to uphold its long tradition of volunteering at various elementary schools in the area as part of local "Literacy Night" programs, as well as volunteering at Lazarus House, Special Olympics Boston, and more.