MERRIMACK – Kip Jackson has nothing against Kyle Newman, but the Merrimack High School football coach didn’t want to see his senior attempting a game-winning field goal against Exeter on Oct. 23.
But when the Tomahawks’ drive stalled at the Exeter 3-yard line with 24 seconds left, Jackson called on Newman and the kicker delivered with a 20-yard field goal with 18.4 seconds left to give Merrimack a 30-28 win over previously unbeaten Exeter.
"We had to play physical and finish the game," Jackson said. "We played Salem and Pinkerton and we were winning in the second half, just like we were (Friday), and we found a way to lose. Obviously, the other teams played well, but we didn’t finish those games. We had the opportunity to not finish, but the kids picked it up on that last drive."
The finish was a bit of redemption for both coach and player.
When the Tomahawks (5-3) scored to take a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter, and Exeter was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the point after closer, Jackson elected to go for two. Tyler DeNeill was stopped well short, leaving Merrimack up 13 points, 27-14.
Exeter (7-1) got within six on Kyle Ball’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Long with 7:31 to play, and Ball again hit Long for a 28-yard gain to set up the Blue Hawks’ go-ahead score. Newman was in coverage on both plays.
"I thought it was going to bite us," Jackson said of the failed conversion. "We thought it would be a close game. If you’ve watched any of Exeter’s games this year, we felt it would come down to that and I wanted to be a point up, not a point down.
"Newman kicked the field goal, which was great because he had the blown coverage earlier in the game. I didn’t want him to kick at all. I wanted to score a touchdown. I love him and all, and he even said it, he wanted us to score a touchdown."
It was Newman’s first successful field goal all season, on just his second try.
"It was a little down because I let that touchdown back there," he said. "I was trying to come back from that and work hard and kick that field goal. I looked at the holder, Ryan Fournier, got to give him some love for getting that ball down."
Both teams scored on their first two possessions, but a Justin Grassini 3-yard touchdown pass to Ian Roberts with 14.1 seconds left in the first half gave Merrimack a 21-14 lead at the break.
The Tomahawks kept the Blue Hawks from picking up a first down on its first two drives of the third quarter. After the first one, Grassini was picked off by Ball in the end zone, but Merrimack got the ball back at the Exeter 34-yard line, and eight plays later, Joe Eichman ran it in from 3-yards out to make it 27-14.
Grassini finished the game 22 of 37 for 192 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, while DeNeill had 122 yards of offense and two rushing touchdowns.
Merrimack finishes out the regular season Friday at Timberlane.