Astros avoid upset

MERRIMACK – Merrimack High School gave Pinkerton Academy – widely considered the best team in the state – all it could handle Friday night.

The upset scare was real, but the Astros escaped with a 42-32 victory to remain undefeated.

The Tomahawks pounced early, taking advantage of an Astros fumble on the opening kickoff, one of three Pinkerton fumbles in the first half. Brody Kelly scampered in from 15 yards out to give the Tomahawks a 6-0 lead, just 20 secconds into the game.

Three forced fumbles, an onside kick recovery, and a strong air attack led by junior quarterback Justin Grassini allowed the Tomahawks to control the game throughout the first half.

After Pinkerton answered that first Merrimack score with a touchdown of their own, Merrimack once again took the lead, scoring the next two touchdowns.

First, on a trick play, as running back Joe Eichman took the snap and found Ian Roberts in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown just 30 seconds into the second quarter. Less than two minutes later, Grassini connected with Eichman on a 52-yard bomb that got the Merrimack crowd and sideline rocking. That touchdown gave the Tomahawks a 19-7 lead.

Eichman’s touchdown pass and reception were not the only trouble he gave the Astros defense. The sophmore gave Pinkerton’s secondary all it could handle, racking up a game-high 170 receiving yards.

Making the Grassini-Eichman connection possible was a strong showing by Merrimack’s offensive line led by Ryan Roberts, James Murray and Zach Hensen.

Pinkerton would make it a 26-21 game with less than a minute before halftime.

The Merrimack offense would be unable to replicate it’s success in the second half. Pinkerton’s defensive line wreaked havoc up front, and Merrimack was unable to convert big plays into touchdowns, as it had earlier in the game.

The Astros opened up the second half on a 21-0 run, putting the game out of reach with a 41-yard rushing touchdown by junior Nikolas Coombs with 1:46 left to play.

Merrimack would score on an Eichman 3-yard run with 38 seconds left to cap the scoring.