Salem rallies to beat Tomahawks

SALEM – Merrimack’s Justin Grassini threw for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough, as the Tomahawks fell 37-26 on the road to the Blue Devils in a Division I South Conference game at Grant Field on Oct. 16.

Grassini was 18 of 36 for 249 yards and four touchdowns, including two to Tyler DeNeill, but Merrimack (4-3) saw Salem score 17 straight points in the second half to take control of the game.

With the game tied 13-13 early in the third, Salem appeared to take the lead when Charles Sibanda (190 yards rushing, two touchdowns) raced around the left end and went 63 yards to the end zone. But the official on the far sideline thought another Salem player had the ball and blew the whistle when Merrimack tackled him. Instead of a touchdown, Salem had the ball at its own 45-yard line.

Two plays later, Merrimack’s Avery Paulson picked off a pass, and on the next play, Grassini hit DeNeill for an 18-yard touchdown and a 20-13 lead.

The Blue Devils (5-2) answered by scoring on their next four possessions, including a 4-yard TD run by Sibanda that made it 30-20 with 6:42 left. Merrimack answered on Grassini’s 4-yard scoring toss to Joe Eichman, but Salem blocked the extra point and recovered the onside kickoff.

Merrimack returns to action Oct. 23, as it hosts Exeter.

Merrimack football this week

EXETER (7-0) at MERRIMACK (4-3)

WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Student Memorial Field.

2014: Did not play.

LAST WEEK: Salem 37 Merrimack 26; Exeter 37, Dover 14.

FYI: The Tomahawks have been up in the second half of a few games down this tough stretch of contenders on their schedule, but inexperience has hurt them despite the play of junior QB Justin Grassini (249 yards passing last week). The ‘Hawks will have to defend against Exeter’s running game (350 yards last week). Mason Wallace is a breakaway threat for the Blue Hawks.