By: Jeremy Leveille
This is what Winnacunnet head coach Ron Auffant envisioned coming into the season. His speedy son Brian Auffant and bruiser Mike Lewis forming a dangerous backfield duo, piling up the yards behind a strong offensive line that includes returning starters like Patrick Witt. It worked out according to plan on Friday night in Hampton, as Auffant and Lewis combined for six touchdowns, leading Winnacunnet past Merrimack 44-19.
"We've got a great o-line we're running behind" said Brian Auffant, a senior who is making the switch back to RB from QB this season. "I had a lot of carries where I went untouched, and that shows how good the line was. They are physical. We got great play calling."
Auffant had 104 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns plus a kickoff return for a TD. Lewis rumbled for 185 rushing yards and 2 scores.
"The biggest focus with Coach Auffant was is to play 48 minutes" said Lewis, who starts at both RB and LB for the Warriors. "The offense was moving the ball the whole time - we knew what we could do. In the 1st half every once in awhile we had a missed handoff or a penalty. In the 2nd half though we put it together."
Merrimack was led by junior QB Justin Grassini, who was 10/20 passing for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has a bright future and so do the Tomahawks, who only have 4 seniors on their roster. On the downside, Grassini did throw three interceptions, which proved costly in the loss for Merrimack.
"Turnovers" said Merrimack High first-year head coach Kip Jackson. If you're going to win football games you can't turn the ball over. Winnacunnet is a good team, we knew that coming in" "They almost beat Salem last week, and Salem is one of the best teams in the state."
"Turnovers - that's always the first thing I look at" said Coach Auffant. "Last week we were -3 in the turnover battle, this week we are +2."
Merrimack actually had the lead after 1 quarter, 7-3. They hung right in there with Winnacunnet for most of the way. Grassini connected with big TE Ian Roberts for a 48 yard TD pass, cutting the Warriors' lead to 23-13 in the 3rd quarter. Winnacunnet missed a couple of tackles on that play, and the Tomahawks now had the momentum.
On the ensuing kickoff, Auffant picked up a bouncing ball and raced up the right sideline for an 82 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Just like that, the momentum was back on the Winnacunnet sideline. It was now 30-13 Warriors with just 2:00 left in the 3rd quarter.
"The kick return was the biggest play of the game" lamented Coach Jackson. "We had four guys running past the ball."
"Everyone did their job and it worked out" said Brian Auffant, who missed most of last season with a back injury. "I picked up the ball, hit the wedge and then the middle opened right up."
On Merrimack's next possession Lewis made a great tackle on defense. He is a heck of a player, on both sides of the football. Lewis and Derek Clough are strong linebackers, while Cody Pierce and Gabe paster came up big on the defensive line. Containing the Merrimack spread offense passing attack led by Grassini is no easy task.
"The d-line did a good job with the pass rush" said Brian Auffant. "It was a 100% team effort."
Merrimack was able to break a few big plays, including the 48 yard TD pass from Grassini to Roberts and a 53 yard TD pass from Grassini to Alex Bronchuk. That cut the Winnacunnet lead to 37-19. The Warriors answered right back though, as Lewis busted loose for a 53 yard run followed by a 9 yard TD scamper by Auffant.
Winnacunnet's interceptions on defense were made by Matt Havey (pass was tipped by Clough), Liam Viviano and Dan Fields. Paster made a great defensive play, forcing a fumble and then recovering it on the same play. The Warriors then took a knee and won it 44-19.
The Warriors only 3 points in the 1st quarter came on a 30 yard field goal by Anthony Primavera. On Winnacunnet's next possession, they dropped a pass in the end zone and then Primavera missed a 43 yard FG attempt.
Another big play for the Warriors came with QB Patrick MacDougall running the option. It was a great play call, with MacDougall faking the handoff, keeping it himself and racing through the middle of the Merrimack defense for a 54 yard gain. That set up 1st and goal from the 5 yard line. Winnacunnet again ran the option, with MacDougall pitching it this time to Lewis who waltzed into the end zone, leaving a pair of Tomahawk defenders lying on the ground. That was the Warriors' first touchdown, as they went on top 9-7 with 9:46 left in the 1st quarter.
Overall it was a solid performance for MacDougall, who is only a sophomore starting his second varsity game. He was 4/7 passing for 50 yards and rushed for 64 yards. He did however, have one fumble on a handoff and one interception (picked off by Merrimack's Tyler DeNeill).
Winnacunnet went just 2-7 last season but they have a lot of kids back from last year - this is a veteran squad. They could give Exeter a run for their money in the conference.
As for Merrimack, they are a young team with just 4 seniors. Grassini is only a junior. Joe Eichman, who is a play maker at both RB and DB (he's fast, strong and tough) is only a sophomore. The speedy wideout Justin Weiser is only junior. Tough linemen Jason Theriault and Ryan Roberts are also only juniors. This could be a scary team next year.