Merrimack Tops Stonehill in Shootout, 42-39

Senior running back Eddie Vachon had 156 yards rushing and a touchdown, adding another touchdown pass, for the Skyhawks on Friday night. (PHOTO BY Richard Orr)

Warriors take offensive shootout with over 900 combined yards

EASTON, Mass. (September 24, 2010) – Merrimack College outscored Stonehill College 42-39 in Northeast-10 Conference football action at Timothy J. Coughlin Memorial Field at W.B. Mason Stadium tonight.

The game featured a combined 910 yards of total offense between the two teams, 11 fumbles, eight turnovers, two field goals, a fumble recovery in the end zone for a score and kickoff return for a touchdown. Merrimack finished with 500 total yards on the night, including 273 yards rushing and 227 through the air, while Stonehill posted 410 total yards with 293 passing and 117 on the ground. The Warriors turned the ball over three times, while the Skyhawks committed five turnovers.

Junior quarterback James Suozzo (Everett, Mass.) led Merrimack's attack, finishing with 304 yards of total offense. He completed 19-of-33 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns with one interception to go with another 89 yards on 18 carries (4.9/rush). Suozzo tossed two first half touchdown passes in leading the Warriors to a 24-10 lead at the break.

Junior Anthony Smalls (Dorchester, Mass.) rushed the ball 24 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns – both in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. Senior Greg Abelli (Billerica, Mass.) caught 12 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, while junior Omari Mobley (Hanover, Pa.) had three catches, two for touchdowns, and 54 yards.

Junior linebacker Shawn Loiseau (Shrewsbury, Mass.) led the Merrimack defense with 11 tackles (nine solo), a forced fumble and quarterback hurry. Sophomore Artis Holt (Baltimore, Md.) added seven stops (six solo) and also finished with 67 return yards for the night. Classmate Michael Wiggins (Dolton, Ill.) chipped in with four tackles (all for a loss of 28 yards), a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Freshman quarterback Logan Meyer completed 17-of-35 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown, adding another score on the ground, tonight.

Senior running back Eddie Vachon (Newton, Mass./Blair Academy) led Stonehill with 182 all-purpose yards and 181 yards of total offense. He carried the ball 23 times for 156 yards (6.8/rush) and a touchdown, while completing 1-of-2 passes for 25 yards and another score. He also returned one kickoff for 26 yards.

Freshman quarterback Logan Meyer (Ventura, Calif./Saint Bonaventure) completed 17-of-35 passes in just his second collegiate game for 268 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, adding another touchdown rush. Junior Oscar Alvarez (Framingham, Mass./Cushing Academy) caught seven passes for a career-best 108 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Kyle Norwood (Rehoboth, Del./Cape Hanlopen) had five receptions for 99 yards and a score.

Junior Stephan Neville (Foxborough, Mass./Foxborough) finished with 172 yards on five kick returns on the night (34.4/return), including a 90-yard return for a touchdown (fifth career) with 1:31 to play to draw the Skyhawks within three after converting the two-point conversion. He also added three solo tackles on the night.

Sophomore Jonathan Poth (Nahant, Mass./Swampscott) paced the defense with a career-best 20 tackles (16 solo), including one for a loss of a yard. Classmate Jareed Gaines (Lumberton, N.J./Rancocas Valley) added ten tackles (eight solo), including three for a loss of four yards, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a blocked extra point. Junior Jason Dellorco (Franklin, Mass./Franklin) chipped in with eight stops, five solo, including one for a loss of five yards and a quarterback hurry.

Stonehill scored 29 second half points after trailing 24-10 at halftime. Meyer sparked the comeback effort with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Norwood on second and nine with 10:48 left in the third quarter. The Skyhawks got the ball after freshman Tim Bennett (Fillmore, Calif./Saint Bonaventure) intercepted Suozzo at the two yard line and returned it 24 yards to the 26. Merrimack answered with a Suozzo scoring pass to Mobley from 11 yards out to cap an 11-play, 80 yard drive. Gaines blocked the extra point attempt for Stonehill.

Sophomore Jonathan Poth had a career-best 20 tackles, including one for a loss, tonight. (PHOTO BY Richard Orr)

Stonehill responded off a bizarre series of plays in the latter third of the third quarter. After Vachon recovered a fumbled snap, Meyer was intercepted by Merrimack junior Ryan McCarthy (Newton, Mass.) at the 47, but Smalls fumbled the Warriors first play from scrimmage with Gaines pouncing on the loose ball. The Skyhawks scored two plays later when Meyer tossed the ball out wide to Vachon who threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Alvarez with 2:00 left in the third.

Merrimack engineered a 9-play, 54 yard drive on its next possession, capped by a four-yard touchdown run for Smalls with 13:36 to play. Meyer and Vachon led a 12-play, 80 yard drive to pull Stonehill within 36-31 with 4:45 remaining, capped by a one-yard plunge from Meyer. He completed four-of-seven passes for 33 yards, while Vachon had four carries for 27 yards on the drive.

Stonehill forced Merrimack to three and out on its next possession and got the ball back on its 19 with 3:41 remaining. Meyer was sacked for the only time all night on first down. He completed a 13-yard pass and catch to sophomore John Gomes (Hyannis, Mass./Barnstable) to the 24, but the pass on fourth and five fell incomplete.

Merrimack looked to have sealed the win when Smalls ran in from the six to take a 42-31 lead with 1:43 left, but Neville ran the kickoff all the way from the ten to give Stonehill another life with 1:31 to play. Meyer's two-point conversion pass to sophomore tight end Daniel Oakes (North Haven, Conn.) was good and the Skyhawks were within a field goal (42-39).

Junior Stephan Neville ripped off his fifth career kick return for a touchdown, a 90-yarder, to give the Skyhawks a chance late.

Merrimack got excellent field position to try and run out the final 91-seconds after Stonehill's onside kick went out of bounds at the 33, putting the Warriors at the Skyhawks 28 Stonehill's defense held strong and forced a punt, getting the ball at the ten yard line with 21-seconds left. Meyer's first two passes fell incomplete and then Vachon took a pitch and gained 20-yards before tossing the ball off before it was eventually fumbled with Merrimack recovering to end the game.

Merrimack opened the scoring on its first drive when junior Greg Molloy (Newmarket, N.H.) booted a 22-yard field goal to cap a 9-play, 42-yard score. The Warriors forced Stonehill to punt on its next possession, but the kick was fumbled by Holt at the ten and Gained collected the loose ball at the Merrimack 16. Vachon took the first play from scrimmage in 16-yards out for his 26th career touchdown overall, tying the program record set by Rob Olivar from 2000-03.

Merrimack regained the lead for good when Suozzo completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Abelli to cap a 13-play, 80 yard drive. The Warriors extended their lead to 17-7 when Suozzo completed a 21-yard scoring pass to Mobley at the end of an 11-play, 64 yard drive with 8:46 left in the half.

Merrimack appeared poised to break the game open when it forced Stonehill into a three and out and then the snap on the punt sailed over the punter's head and was recovered in the end zone by junior Tony Johnson (Lynn, Mass.) for a 24-7 lead with 7:44 to go in the half. The Skyhawks closed out the half with a 37-yard field goal by sophomore Nicholas Salvo (Middleton, Mass./Masconomet) to go into the lockerroom down 24-10.

Stonehill (2-2, 0-2 NE-10) is back in action next Saturday when it hosts the University of New Haven for an NE-10 matchup as part of Alumni Weekend at the College at 1 p.m. Merrimack (1-2, 1-0 NE-10) host Saint Anselm College next Saturday at 1 p.m.

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