Tomahawks beat Cardinals

Merrimack running back Joe Giampietro capped off a 74-yard performance by scoring the game-winning touchdown with four minutes remaining in the Tomahawks 16-13 win over Bishop Guertin at Stellos Stadium on Saturday night.

The senior proved that he’s officially healthy after missing the majority of the 2013 season with an injury. He carried the ball 20 times, including 12 rushes in the second half. On the Tomahawks’ game-winning drive, Giampietro was responsible for 19 of his team’s 78 yards.

“That’s what we expect of him. He wants that,” said Merrimack coach Dante Laurendi. “He wants that responsibility and he’s earned that responsibility. To come back from what he’s been through, to be our rock, that’s what we look to. We counted on him and he came through.”

Bishop Guertin penalties were responsible for another 30 yards on Merrimack’s winning drive, as the Cardinals were called for pass-interference and helmet-to-helmet infractions.

“That’s tough on the last drive,” Cardinals coach Travis Cote said. “The pass interference seemed kind of tough to me. I thought it was a pretty good play myself. Not that that won the game, but it certainly helped on that last drive, to move the ball down the field. That’s part of the game, so you’ve got to be able to overcome those things.”

The Tomahawks didn’t get off to the best start, as Kyle Cushion picked off quarterback Justin Grassini on the team’s first offensive play. The Cardinals scored moments later when Chase Hughes found the end zone on a 5-yard run.

Bishop Guertin extended its advantage to 10 when Hughes finished a 76-yard, seven-minute drive by connecting on a 21-yard field goal. The Tomahawks finally got on the board towards the end of the first half when Grassini connected with Ryan Barry on a wide-open, 27-yard score.

The teams traded possessions to start the second half before Merrimack marched down the field towards the red zone. The Cardinals ultimately prevented the Tomahawks from scoring a touchdown, but Merrimack still tied the game on Kyle Newman’s 24-yard field goal.

Both teams gambled on failed fourth downs in the final quarter, and the Cardinals managed to take a 13-10 lead halfway through the quarter following a Hughes kick.

“It was huge to hold them to a field goal,” Laurendi said. “For our defense to step up and basically save our butts, that was outstanding. And for us to come back and answer was huge.”

That answer came on the next possession, when Merrimack scored the eventual winning touchdown. The extra point was blocked, giving Bishop Guertin an opportunity to tie the game on a field goal. The Cardinals had one last chance at the end of the game, but Cushion’s pass was picked off by Justin Weiser.

“Great game,” Laurendi said. “That was a great battle from both sides. Both teams were physical, flying around. We just happened to make one more play at the end.”

Barry had a standout game for the Tomahawks, compiling 95 total yards on offense. Grassini finished with eight completions for 106 yards while also contributing 34 rushing yards. Ian Roberts had a pair of catches for 39 yards.

The Cardinals were missing three of their top running backs to injury, and the trio of Brandon Levesque, Dylan Fagan and Keenan Dwyer combined for 98 yards rushing.

“I thought they did a decent job,” said Cote. “Now we’ve got a lot of guys who are playing both ways, are on special teams and aren’t coming off the field. We’re trying to manufacture what we can with what we’ve got.”

Cushion finished 10-of-16 for 57 yards passings. He also added 22 yards rushing.