Tomahawks chop Alvirne, 28-13

MERRIMACK – The big play has become a staple of the Merrimack High School football team’s offense.

But the Tomahawks’ biggest play almost didn’t happen at all in their 28-13 win over Alvirne on Friday night.

Facing third-and-21 at its own 23-yard line, Merrimack called for a reverse to Chase Distasio. The play looked like it had nowhere to go when the Broncos’ line busted in on quarterback Zach Harris.

But at the last moment, Harris flipped the ball to Distasio, who raced past everyone to the end of the line and turned upfield. After juking one defender and getting a block downfield, Distasio raced down the sideline 77 yards for a touchdown that gave Merrimack (2-0 in Division II, 3-0 overall) a 13-7 lead with 7:15 to go in the first half.

“The second (scoring) drive, the biggest thing was we had them third-and-(long) and they run a reverse on us,” Alvirne coach Bobby Nimblett said. “They break contain. We’re a young football team, right. We don’t have a lot of varsity experience. You could see guys put their heads down, but we’re only down six and we get the ball back at halftime.”

That didn’t matter, as Merrimack shut down Alvirne (0-2, 0-3) for most of the second half, forcing two three-and-outs and two interceptions on the Broncos’ first four drives. Meanwhile, the ’Hawks added two more long touchdown runs – all four scoring jaunts went for 32 yards or more – and put up 360 yards of offense, 324 of it on the ground.

“I was happy with the way we ran the ball again,” Merrimack coach Joe Battista said. “We have explosive athletes and you’re seeing that on a week-to-week basis. We’re playing with a little mojo, and that’s something you haven’t seen here in a long time.”

Chris Smith led the way with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 carries for Merrimack, while Brody Williams had 11 carries for 72 yards and a score and Jackson King added 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Distasio also finished with 89 yards rushing.

“(Our offense) is a style of offense that they’ve got to play assignment-style defense, and if one guy makes a mistake, we have the potential to make a big play,” Battista said. “They came out aligned differently than we thought and we made some adjustments on the sidelines.”

Both teams were forced to punt on their first drives, and Merrimack got the ball back on its own 20 to begin its second. The ’Hawks got the ball to midfield and faced a third-and-11 when Smith ran 19 yards for a first down. On the next play, he found his way through the defense for a 32-yard scoring run – the kick failed – to cap the 11-play, 80-yard drive.

Alvirne answered right back, using two 15-yard completions, both on third down, from Patrick Reidy to Antonio Beaulieu and Keith McCarthy, respectively, to get past midfield. Jonathan Baldwin carried the ball on five straight plays, gaining 24 yards to get the Broncos to the 5.

After Reidy ran for 2, Baldwin, who finished with 20 carries for 89 yards, went in from 3 yards out. The extra point by Beaulieu put Alvirne up 7-6 with 9:17 to go in the second quarter.

But from there, it was all ’Hawks. Merrimack went up for good on its next possession, and led 28-7 until Beaulieu scored on a 6-yard run with 4:33 left in the game.

“It’s another situation where we’re down and we get back in the game,” Nimblett said. “I think once we get down a little bit, they feel like it’s insurmountable. Yeah, we came back once, and we’re excited, and then we might have to come back again. We’re OK. They’re going to make some plays.”

Merrimack is 3-0 to start a season for the first time since 1995, which is also the last time the ’Hawks advanced to a championship game.