Merrimack gets by Portsmouth

It wasn’t that Portsmouth High School’s team defense didn’t make a play or two in its season opener against Merrimack on Friday.

Christian Peete thwarted two drives with interceptions. Beau Arsenault crashed through for a red-zone sack before halftime and Joey Auger collected a fumble that served as the foundation of a scoring drive.

But those were the aberrations. The default setting was Merrimack quarterback Justin Grassini enjoying all kinds of time to unload the ball to his receivers, and his team cruised past the Clippers, 35-21.

"We were very resilient," said first-year Merrimack coach Kip Jackson, whose team trailed for much of the second quarter before taking the lead for good just before halftime. "I think in the past they hadn’t been. … I think that’s a testament to the hard work that they’ve put in and how much they want to win."

Grassini, who barely felt a pass rush all night, hit on 26 of 36 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns, getting intercepted twice.

Joe Eichman caught 11 passes for 173 yards and ran for a touchdown. Brody Kelley added 92 yards and two TDs on the ground on 15 carries.

The Clippers, a Division I playoff team a year ago, made no secret that they wanted this result, with defending champion Pinkerton Academy coming to the Port City in Week 2, the first meeting between the two programs in a generation.

"And we saw it the same way," said Jackson. "All the teams in their division and our division play a very tough schedule. We’re 1-0 this week and we want to do the same thing next week."