What would Saturday’s Nashua South-Merrimack High School football game been like without the Tomahawks’ seven critical turnovers?
Probably a tight, hard-fought contest to the end, but we’ll really never know. Instead, the Panthers said “Thank you very much” and rolled to their first win of the year, 43-14, at Stellos Stadium.
“We’re still trying to find our identity,” South coach Scott Knight said. “When you’re 0-2, your back’s not against the wall, but you’ve got to get that win, just for the kids’ confidence, they believe they can (win). When you’re 0-3 out of the gate, your back’s against the wall and your confidence can really take a nosedive.”
The Tomahawks (2-1) didn’t have that problem, coming in unbeaten, but mistakes (three interceptions, four fumbles) just handed the Panthers’ points. South’s Colin Morrow scored two TDs on a pair of 22 yard turnovers (kickoff return and interception), and another key miscue helped turn a close, 21-14 game into a rout in the second half.
“I don’t think we gave up a drive the whole day,” Merrimack coach Dante Laurendi said. “They (the Panthers) made the plays on defense. I think part of it was they’re very physical. We didn’t protect the ball. You can’t make those mistakes.”
Case in point: Trailing 21-7 at the half, the ’Hawks engineered a nine play, 77-yard drive capped by quarterback Justin Grassini’s 5-yard TD pass to Ryan Barry to close to 21-14 early in the third quarter.
After the ’Hawks recovered a Panther fumble at midfield, a bad snap turned into a 35-yard fumble recovery for South (Brian McKinley) at the Tomahawk 23. Seven plays later Panther Josh Perry raced in from 18 yards out and the Panthers were up 28-14 with 5:42 left in the period.
A minute and a half later, another Merrimack fumble helped South to another score, a Malik Langa 12-yard TD to help make it 36-19.
The Panthers tweaked their offense a bit, alternating without any pattern Langa and Shayne Holland at quarterback. Holland (50 yards in nine carries) ran around the right side for a 48 yard touchdown with 1:16 left in the opening quarter to help tie the game at 7 after Joe Giampietro’s 1-yard run gave the ’Hawks an early 7-0 lead.
Then the turnovers really began to take effect. The ’Hawks coughed up the ensuing kickoff and Morrow scooped the ball up and ran in from 22 yards out with 1:02 left in the first to give the Panthers the lead for good, 14-7. His 22-yard interception return for a touchdown came with 9:02 left in the half to make it a 21-7 game.
“It was really important for us to come out and do our thing,” Morrow said.
And that was win.
Merrimack will now host Alvirne on Friday at 7 p.m.