Stonehill Surges Past Merrimack, 33-19

Senior Nate Robitaille's 52-yard punt return for a touchdown sparked a late push to victory for the Skyhawks. (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)

Robitaille punt return for touchdown sparks Skyhawks to win

EASTON, Mass. (September 27, 2014) – Stonehill College scored twice in the final 2:15 to claim a 33-19 triumph over Merrimack College in Northeast-10 Conference football action before a sellout Family Weekend crowd of 2,400 at Timothy J. Coughlin Memorial Field at W.B. Mason Stadium tonight.

Senior Nate Robitaille's (Attleboro, Massachusetts/Attleboro) 52 yard punt return for a touchdown put Stonehill back in front with 2:15 remaining and then junior running back Colin Markus (Monroe, Connecticut/Masuk) scored his second touchdown of the night with a powerful 21-yard run up the middle on the first play after Merrimack turned the ball over on downs to seal the win with 1:11 on the clock.

Robitaille posted a team-high 181 all-purpose yards for Stonehill as he caught five passes for 88 yards to go with five punt returns for 69 yards and a 24 yard kickoff return. His 181 all-purpose yards tonight give him 2,488 over his career to move into ninth place on the program's all-time list, while his 1,979 career receiving yards rank third all-time. Markus posted his third straight 100-yard rushing performance (seventh career) with 113 yards on a career-high 32 carries and the two scores, cracking the program's career top ten for rushing yards and moving up to eighth all-time. He also added three receptions for 64 yards to finish with 177 all-purpose yards. Junior Gordon McLeod (Weymouth, Massachusetts/BC High) caught five passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Sophomore Tom Sydeski (Brockport, New York/Brockport) got the start at quarterback in his collegiate debut and completed 15-of-28 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. The Skyhawks didn't turn the ball over once tonight after committing a back-breaking seven at American International last weekend, while the defense forced two.

Senior Sterry Codrington paced the defense with 11 tackles (ten solo) and two more blocked kicks, giving him a program record matching six for his career. (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)

Senior Sterry Codrington (Freehold, New Jersey/Freehold Boro) led the Stonehill defense, which yielded just 207 yards after the first quarter and forced two turnovers, with a career-high matching 11 tackles (career-best ten solo) and a pass breakup. He also blocked two more extra point attempts, giving him four blocks over the last two weeks and a total of six blocked kicks over his career, matching Stonehill's career record set by former All-American Jareed Gaines, '13.

Senior All-American linebacker Brian Harrington (Rockland, Massachusetts/Rockland) posted his third double-figure tackle outing of the season (13th career) with 11 stops (two solo), including 2.5 for a loss of 13 yards, and 1.0 sacks for a loss of eight. Junior Anthony Masucci (East Haven, Connecticut/Notre Dame-East Haven) added a season-high ten tackles (eight solo) and his first interception of the season, while senior Nate Morris (Bristol, Rhode Island/Wheeler School) chipped in with three tackles (one solo), an interception near the goal line in the final minute to clinch the victory, two pass breakups and also returned a blocked extra point for a safety. It marks the second-straight week Stonehill has scored two points after a blocked extra point.

Stonehill finished with 333 yards of total offense with 231 passing and 102 on the ground, while Merrimack finished with 417 total yards with 399 through the air and just 18 on the ground. The Skyhawks scored on all three trips inside the red zone, compared to 2-for-4 for Merrimack, and won time of possession 33:27 to 26:33. Of Merrimack's 417 total yards, just 207 came after a first quarter in which the Warriors built a 12-2 lead.

Freshman Joe Capobianco (Oceanside, New York) completed 35-of-56 passes, including a string of 13-straight over Merrimack's two first quarter scoring drives, for 399 yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted twice and sacked five times on the night. Junior Jere Brown (Freeport, New York) caught 11 of those passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, while junior Armond McRae (Nashua, New Hampshire) had five receptions for 64 yards to go with 11 carries for 33 yards. Senior Zach Ingalls (Westford, Massachusetts) and sophomore Justin Mount (Westford, Massachusetts) both chipped in with touchdown receptions for the Warriors.

Junior Colin Markus had a career-high 32 carries for 113 yards and two scores. (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)

Junior Jon Hooper (Pembroke, Massachusetts) led the Merrimack defense with 12 tackles (two solo), including 0.5 sacks for a loss of two yards and a pass breakup. Senior AJ Roberto (Lynnfield, Massachusetts) added ten stops (six solo), including 1.0 for a loss of two yards, while senior Ben Polci (Newton, Massachusetts) chipped in six tackles (two solo), including 2.5 for a loss of 12 yards, with 1.5 sacks for a loss of 11.

Capobianco was intercepted on the opening drive of the game, but recovered after the Merrimack defense held, to engineer two lengthy scoring drives on the Warriors next two possessions. Capobianco first connected with Brown for a 45 yard touchdown 5:03 into the game at the end of a seven play, 82 yard drive, in which he completed 7-of-7 passes for all 82 yards, converting once on third and five at midfield.

Capobianco followed with a nine play, 79-yard drive, after Stonehill junior Steve Grzywacz (Manchester, New Hampshire/Manchester Central) missed a 38-yard field goal. Capobianco capped the drive with a 15 yard touchdown pass to Mount with 1:59 left in the opening quarter. He was 6-for-6 passing on this drive for 87 yards on the possession, converting twice on third down, including the scoring pass. Codrington got his hand on the second-straight extra point attempt by Merrimack, but Morris was able to corral the kick and run it back the other way for a two-point safety conversion.

Stonehill scored the next 19 points in all from there to take the lead. Grzywacz made amends for his earlier miss by converting a 22-yard field goal, the school-record 22nd of his career, 1:24 into the second quarter. The Skyhawks drew even 42-seconds before halftime as Sydeski threaded a pass to McLeod in the end zone for his first career touchdown pass from 15 yards out. Sydeski was 3-for-4 passing on the drive for 70 yards, including a 16 yard pass to Markus on third and seven at the Stonehill 30.

Stonehill took its first lead of the night when Markus capped the opening drive of the second half with a three-yard run off the left end 3:01 into the half. His first touchdown of the night ended a six play, 72-yard drive as Markus ran the ball four times for 25 yards and Sydeski completed a key seven yard pass to sophomore Colin Smith (Ipswich, Massachusetts/The Governor's Academy) on third and five from the Skyhawks 33, and also connected with McLeod for a 25 yard pass to set up the score.

Sophomore Tom Sydeski led the Skyhawks to victory in his collegiate debut at quarterback.

Merrimack knotted the score with 6:46 remaining in the fourth quarter as Capobianco had his first real sustained drive since the opening quarter with a seven play, 80-yard possession, capped by a 15 yard touchdown pass to Ingalls. After his first pass fell incomplete, Capobianco completed the next six for all 80 yards on the drive.

After a Stonehill punt rolled into the end zone for a touchback, the Skyhawks defense turned up the pressure, starting with a Taylor Russell (Keene, New Hampshire/Keene) sack on first down. After an incomplete pass, McRae was hauled down for a loss by Harrington and freshman Alex Parenteau (Keene, New Hampshire/Keene), forcing Merrimack to punt from its own ten. Robitaille settled under the kick at the Stonehill 48 and then returned it down the near sideline 52 yards for his first career punt return touchdown with 2:15 remaining.

Stonehill forced Capobianco and Merrimack to turn the ball over on downs at the Warriors 21 and then Markus took the ball on the first play and bowled through two Merrimack defenders on his way to the end zone for his second touchdown of the night to seal the win.

Merrimack got good field position with a 46-yard kickoff return by freshman Cody Demers (Dracut, Massachusetts) and then drove to the Stonehill 24 before Capobianco was picked off by Morris at the two, with pressure up the middle from sophomore Andrew Kibarian (Lynnfield, Massachusetts/Lynnfield), to clinch the victory.

Stonehill (2-2, 2-1 NE-10) is right back in action here at W.B. Mason Stadium next Saturday, October 4, to host the University of New Haven at 6 p.m. Merrimack (2-2, 2-1 NE-10) hosts unbeaten Saint Anselm College next Saturday at 1p.m.

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