Salem shuts out Merrimack

Charles Sibanda rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns as the visiting Salem Blue Devils shut out host Merrimack on its own Senior Night for a 28-0 Division I South conference victory Friday night.

Sibanda scored on runs of 6, 4, and 15 in the first half while the Blue Devils slowly dismantled a Merrimack defense that allowed 334 yards on 48 carries.

“They have good backs with a very tough, physical offensive line,” Merrimack coach Dante Laurendi said of Salem, now 6-1, “and they were executing that offense very well. They’re a very good football team.”

It took some time for the Blue Devils to keep drives alive as two were halted by the Tomahawks in the first quarter on fourth-down attempts. Andrew Stockhausen and Ryan Roberts sacked Salem quarterback John Cerretani (3 for 9, 50 yards) on the Blue Devils’ first drive, and then Dylan Beaulieu intercepted him on their next possession.

“The defense was making plays, but our offense was turning it right back to them,” Salem coach Rob Pike said. “I think we just settled in and took care of the ball better and our kids executed pretty well on offense tonight after that.”

Although Sibanda’s biggest run was a 44-yarder in the first quarter to set up his first score, he and counterparts Johnny Bartose (11-43) and Nick Shumski (10-44) added just two more runs over 10 yards throughout the night.

“He’s a great runner,” Pike said of Sibanda. “He’s fast, elusive, runs hard when he has too. He’s been great for us all year and tonight was no exception.”

Merrimack (2-5), meanwhile, watched its offense sputter for just 173 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Justin Grassini (3 of 5, 41 yards) was picked off on his second pass attempt before leaving the game with an apparent head injury at the start of the second quarter.

The rest of the way, another sophomore quarterback for Merrimack, Kyle Talbot, completed 9 of 17 for 69 yards and another pick. Merrimack also fumbled twice on bad snaps in the shotgun formation, including on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

“Our defense played great,” Pike said. “We did a good job on the back end, covering, and up front the kids read their keys well.”

James Leblond added the final touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 44-yard run.