Bulldogs hold off ’Hawks

BEDFORD – For three quarters, it appeared Bedford was on its way to a runaway victory in front of a packed house at Bulldog Stadium on Friday night.

The Bulldogs managed to hold on for a 24-20 win in the Division I football showdown, but Merrimack made it anything but comfortable.

The Tomahawks trailed 17-0 going to the final quarter, but scored on a 51-yard touchdown on a toss pass from Alec Bronchuk to Justin Weiser on the frame’s first play from scrimmage. Less than three minutes later, on a fourth-and-4, Justin Grassini hooked up with Tyler DeNeill from 19 yards out on a highlight-reel catch at the front right pylon to suddenly cut the deficit to 17-14 with 9:16 remaining.

"I didn’t feel at ease at all. This is a team that does well through the air and when you’re playing a team that does well through the air – BG last year against us twice – you can’t be at ease with anything because their ability to come back and to strike at will was evident tonight," Bedford coach Derek Stank said. "I felt a little better at halftime than I do right now (after the game), but at the same time, I’m glad we walked away with the victory."

With a chance to take the lead, the Tomahawks lost fumbles on consecutive offensive snaps, the latter giving Bedford possession at the Merrimack 12-yard line. Bedford’s Sean Tierney scored three plays later from 4 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 24-14 cushion with 3:38 left.

"Anytime your defense can get a turnover, it changes the momentum of the game," Stank said.

Merrimack answered right back with a six-play, 60-yard drive capped with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Dan McKillop on a quick slant. The two-point conversion pass failed and Merrimack still trailed 24-20 with 2:12 to go.

The Tomahawks recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Bedford 48, but Joe Eichman was stopped a yard short on a fourth-and-4 from the Bedford 42 to stall the drive.

Merrimack forced Bedford to punt with 35 seconds left and took over at its own 20 with 22.6 seconds to play and no timeouts. Grassini hit Weiser deep for 34 yards and proceeded to find DeNeill for a 33-yard gain to set up the Tomahawks at the Bedford 13 with 5.9 ticks left on the clock. However, Eichman was wrestled down for no gain as time expired, which ignited a celebration from the Bedford sideline that spilled onto the field.

Stank walked off the field feeling the night was a little bittersweet.

"I’m not happy," Stank said. "I told my kids I’ve never been so frustrated and joyous at the same time. I’m extremely proud they were able to face adversity and walk away with the victory. But at the same time, we had dozens of mental mistakes on the field that we can’t afford to have if we’re going to continue to be victorious on Friday nights."

Bedford struck first in the second quarter on a 23-yard pass from Connor Robert to Liam Greene and extended the advantage on a 31-yard field goal off the foot of Joseph Aiello on the final play of the first half.

The Bulldogs took the opening drive of the second half 76 yards in seven plays, punctuated by a 37-yard aerial strike from Robert to Noah Chaberek.

Robert finished 15 of 27 through the air for 164 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Chaberek was his top receiver, hauling in five passes for 83 yards and a score. Greene had four catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Nick Leahy led the Bulldogs in rushing with 95 yards on 25 carries. Tierney rumbled for 46 yards and a score on six totes.

Bedford (1-0) travels to Timberlane (1-0) on Friday.