By: Ross Laorenza
For the first time in their history Merrimack Valley defeats Laconia, by a 20-17 final. The Pride gained possession with 4:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing 17-14, on their 29. Led by quarterback Ian Curtin (#19), Merrimack Valley would drive 71 yards and score the go ahead touchdown on a 2-yard rush by Colby Weyant (#18). Along the way Curtin would convert on two 4th downs over 10 yards with passes up the seam to Evan Martin (#25).
“He’s the most ball savvy receiver on the team,” said Pride head coach Jim Coll after the game.
Martin was hoisted overhead by his teammates as they gathered in their post-game huddle. Both passes were bullets from Curtin, who took over the starting role after an injury to Ivan Niyomugabo against St. Thomas.
“He’s been sitting very patiently, absorbing everything we teach him, said Coach Coll of Curtin. “When Ivan went down, he stepped right up. We have to tell him to take his shots. He’s just that kind of kid. Unselfish.”
Curtin also converted a crucial third down on the game winning drive with a quarterback keeper right over center. But this win didn’t come easy for the Pride. Here’s how it all broke down.
Laconia began their first possession of the game after an interception by Brenden Mooney (#8). The Sachems featured a balanced running attack with Kyle Chiasson (#2) and QB Matt Swormstedt (#9). After two gives to Chiasson, Laconia lined up with four wideouts on 3rdand 6. Swormstedt kept it himself on a designed run and picked up the first down. He would add three more rushes on the drive including a fourth and two pick up. Facing 2nd and goal at the one Swormstedt handed the ball of inside to Keith Schultz (#22) who jammed himself into the endzone. The PAT was good and with 5:16 remaining in the first quarter Laconia led 7-0.
After Merrimack Valley’s ensuing drive stalled at 38, they punted back to Laconia. The Sachems took over at their own 14 yardline and began running through the Pride defense. A pass to Chiasson ended the quarter, but Laconia continued the drive to begin the 2nd. Facing second and 20 at the 44 yardline, Swormstedt took off on another designed run and picked up 11. A pass interference call on third and 9 gave the drive new life.
Two solid defensive plays by Billy Thibeault (#44) and Josh Farmer (#55) set Laconia back to third down and 18. Swormstedt set up a screen pass to Shultz picking up 15 yards, but a tackle by Ben Thistle stopped the running back short of the first down. Facing fourth and three deep inside Pride territory, Laconia elected to go for it. Swormstedt threw a beautiful arching pass over the middle to Kyle Chiasson who tumbled into the end zone for the touchdown. The PAT was good and with 8:19 remaining in the first half, Laconia led on the road 14-0.
Merrimack Valley started their next drive with a bang as Colby Weyant (#18) rushed up the middle for a 42 yard gain. The Pride worked the ball inside the 10, but an off-sides penalty set them back to a fourth and 10 at the 13 yard line. Curtin dropped back and let the ball fly, but it was deflected and fell incomplete.
Laconia began moving the ball well again on the ground and in the air. As time wound down in the half Swormstedt looked poised to put his team up 21-0, but Zel Kerkel (#64), Evan Martin (#25), and Ben Thistle (#33), held the Sachems to a field goal attempt. The 36 yard attempt pulled left and fell no good. The Pride defense had some momentum at the end of the first half and looked to carry it over into the third quarter. At halftime the score was Laconia: 14, Merrimack Valley: 0.
Laconia started the second half with the ball and looked to grab some points to pad their lead. Cody Yale (#42) saw some time at running back, picking up 10 yards the first time he touched the ball. With the Sachems driving again, Zel Kerkel stuffed another run up the middle. After Swormstedt picked up 11 yards on his own, Laconia faced 3rd and one at the 23. The Pride front seven held again and forced a fourth down. A flag set the Sachems back further, but they still attempt to convert on fourth down. The pass from Swormstedt fell incomplete. Pride defense with a solid hold deep in their own territory.
In just four plays the Merrimack Valley offense took the ball into the red zone. Colby Weyant and Tucker Burt (#5) broke huge runs to get the Pride in striking distance. On fourth and four the Pride gambled to try and get into the endzone. The gamble paid off. Ian Curtin zipped a 12 yard pass over the middle, it got deflected but fell right into the hands of Tommy Schneider (#29) for the touchdown! The PAT was no good, so with 4:46 left in the 3rd, Merrimack Valley trails Laconia 14-6.
The Pride defense forced a three and out and gave the ball back over to their offense. Burt had a nice cutback run to pick up 11 yard. Weyant followed with a gained of 6 on first down. A jet sweep by Burt was snuffed out by the Sachem defense on second down, forcing a third and long. Ian Curtin found Schneider open for a huge first down gain. On the next play it was Weyant up the middle for a 37 yard touchdown run. He got the ball on the 2-point play and converted to knot the game at 14-14.
The scored remaining tied as we started the fourth quarter. With 10:00 remaining Swormstedt connected on a huge pass to Chiasson all the way down to the 7 yardline. An illegal shift penalty set them back to the 12, but they were still very much in business. First and goal saw a touchdown saving tackle by Ben Thistle in the slot. Swormstedt gained 8 on second down before being forced out of bounds by Trevor Hardy (#51). Laconia took a loss of 5 on third down as a swarm of Merrimack Valley tacklers fell on Swormstedt. Originally Laconia looked like they would go for the end zone on fourth down, but after a time out elected to kick the field goal. Chiasson drilled the 26 yarder to put the Sachems in front 17-14.
Both defenses stiffened forcing consecutive three-and-outs, before Merrimack started their final drive at the 29. The 15 play drive took 4:10 off the clock, ending with the 2 yard plunge by Colby Weyant.
Tucker Burt sealed the win with an interception on Laconia’s final play with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game. Coach Coll gave all the credit to his players and coaching staff. “They really rallied.”
Final Score, Merrimack Valley: 20, Laconia: 17.
Both teams are now (4-2) on the season. The Pride will host Plymouth next week and Laconia will be on the road at Kennett.
From Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook, New Hampshire; Ross Laorenza: New Hampshire Notebook