By: Ross Laorenza
The Merrimack Tomahawks got off to a great start with their 35-0 shutout of the Keene Blackbirds. Coach Laurendi said it was a “good start” for his club but they have a “steep climb ahead.”
Sophomore quarterback Justin Grassini (#15) shined in his debut, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for a third. “He showed great composure, Laurendi added after the game.
The Tomahawks opened the scoring with a 64 yard touchdown strike from Grassini to senior wideout Andrew DeGregorio (#11). After DeGregorio got separation for the Keene cornerback Grassini hit him in stride for the score.
When their next drive stalled the Tomahawks special teams unit forced a fumble on the ensuing punt return and gave the offense excellent field position near mid-field. Stephen Gage (#54) came up with the ball for Merrimack. Gage was a crucial part of the defense in the shutout.
It took Merrimack only six plays to grab their second touchdown of the game. Tyler DeNeill rushed off the right side for a six yard score the put his team up 14-0 with 3:39 remaining in the first half.
Stephen Gage had a huge tackled for loss on Keene’s next drive as they tried to respond. After an incompletion of third and fourteen the Blackbirds were forced to punt.
Senior Ryan Barry (#9) ripped a huge run down the near sideline to put his team in the red zone with less than two minutes to play in the half. A holding penalty knocked the Tomahawks back 10 yards but they pressed on. Grassini completed passes to Barry and Ian Roberts (#85) before calling his own number and rushing for an 8-yard score with less than a minute to go. The half would end with Merrimack leading 21-0.
Senior Joe Giampietro (#24) rushed for his first touchdown of the season to cap a 10 play drive in the third quarter. The Tomahawk defense forced a fumble on Keene’s next possession setting up their offense at the Keene 24 yardline. It didn’t take long for Grassini to find Dylan Beaulieu (#22) in the endzone on a 13 yard pass.
Keene came close to getting on the board in the fourth quarter, but facing a fourth-and-goal from the nine Robert Knowles (#33) came up short on the goal line.
“We have to get better,” said Keene Head Coach John Luopa. “All three phases of the ball.”
Final score, Merrimack: 35, Keene: 0
From Merrimack, New Hampshire, Ross Laorenza: New Hampshire Notebook