Merrimack falls to Bedford

MERRIMACK – The Bedford High School football team’s Aaron Palys and Michael Vailas each scored two first-half touchdowns and the Bulldogs picked Merrimack apart in a 55-7 rout Friday night in Division I cross-conference action.

Merrimack quarterback Devin Gillis had what was most certainly his roughest outing of the fall campaign, getting picked off three times – the first of which was returned 63 yards by Vailas for a pick-six in a 21-0 first quarter. Bedford, which also recovered two first-half Merrimack fumbles, turned four turnovers into points to improve to 7-1. Merrimack is 3-5.

“He takes everything hard,” Merrimack coach Dante Laurendi said of Gillis. “As the quarterback, you ride it when it’s good and you deal with it when it’s bad. It was one of those nights, but he’s had a great year to this point.

Merrimack’s night started with a special teams error reminiscent of their game last week as Bedford sent a high but short opening kickoff to the Tomahawks’ returners. Jordan Miranda and Jeff Genet couldn’t handle the ball as it hit the turf, and the Bulldogs recovered on the Merrimack 24 to open play.

“I don’t know, we actually changed the return coverage for that exact reason,” Laurendi said. “I think we had a communication problem with who called for it, misjudged it in the air, and so set the tone of the night.”

Bedford ran a seven-play, three-minute drive to set up Palys’ first touchdown from the 1, but Genet took the ensuing kickoff back 50 yards to get things going for the Tomahawks.

It took just four more plays before Vailas stepped in front of a Gillis pass and sailed untouched for 63 yards and 14-0 lead.

“I think he just misread the coverage,” Laurendi said, “and didn’t see the corner sitting there.”

“At first, we thought we were mad at him,” Bedford coach Kurt Hines said of Vailas. “We were a little confused on the sidelines as coaches because we were in cover 2. We saw someone go over the top and he kind of let them go. He actually, in fact, made a great read.”

The next Merrimack possession lasted just three plays before Gillis was picked again, this time by Thomas O’Rourke, who returned it to the Merrimack 31. Bedford needed two plays before Daniel Colella found Nathaniel Jaeger from 21 yards out and a 21-0 lead.

Gillis was again picked off on the next drive at the goal line, but only after Merrimack had driven 55 yards to the Bedford 15. Nicholas Vailas (who scored on a 57-yard sprint to open the second half) picked him off just inside the 1 to set up another Bedford score.

The other Vailas, Michael, went back to work on the next drive, scoring from 4 yards out on a pass from Colella.

Palys scored his second touchdown of the night on a 2-yard run with 55 seconds left in the half.

Merrimack freshman quarterback Justin Grassini scored on a 26-yard run, set up by a nice block by Kyle Newman, with 7:51 remaining.