Merrimack dismantles Pinkerton

DERRY – The numbers were gaudy. The win was a landmark.

Justin Grassini exploded for nine touchdown passes – including seven in the first half – and Merrimack rolled to a 68-29 victory at Pinkerton in Friday’s Division I clash. Merrimack’s sixth straight win ensures the Tomahawks (6-1) of a playoff spot, while the loss knocks Pinkerton (3-4) out of postseason contention.

"It’s great," said Grassini, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 506 yards en route to the nine aerial scores and one interception. "First time making the playoffs in a long time and we’re very excited about it."

Grassini evenly utilized receivers Joe Eichman, Justin Weiser and Danny Vanecek, as each reeled in over 100 yards and scored at least three times.

Eichman enjoyed the biggest night with 10 catches for 183 yards and three receiving touchdowns to go with 53 rushing yards and a TD on eight carries.

Weiser caught five passes for 133 yards and three scores, while Vanecek added four grabs for 109 yards and three touchdowns.

"I love spreading the ball out and getting it to every guy," Grassini said. "I trust them all to just catch the pass and let them do their thing in the open field and score a touchdown."

They made it a habit on Friday.

Grassini hooked up with Eichman for three touchdowns of 40, 25 and 5 yards in the first quarter to give Merrimack a 21-7 lead after one. Ryan Auger picked off Grassini and returned it 47 yards for a score to briefly tie it at 7-all before the Tomahawks answered with a pair of scores.

Grassini tossed TDs of 25 and 31 yards to Weiser in the second quarter, alternating 9- and 67-yard TD connections with Vanecek.

The final TD pass of the half came with 17.8 seconds left and gave the Tomahawks a 49-20 lead at the break after Pinkerton had cut it to a 22-point deficit on a 7-yard run from Terrell Hicks just 25 seconds earlier. The Astros also found the end zone on a 77-yard heave from Aiden Goujon to Nico Buccieri.

A safety and 30-yard TD pass from Goujon to Ty Hicks trimmed the Pinkerton deficit to 49-29, but that was as close as the Astros would come. Merrimack padded the lead with a 40-yard touchdown from Grassini to Weiser and the senior quarterback had a chance to hit double-digit touchdowns, but Eichman scored the final Merrimack points on a 5-yard run with 55.9 seconds left in the third.

It was Merrimack’s first victory over the Astros since 1995, knocking Pinkerton out of postseason contention for the first time since 2002.

Grassini has 30 TD passes for the year and is well on his way to breaking the single-season state record of 35. He believes the team benefitted from its 24-20 setback at Bedford on opening night.

"I think that loss Week 1 sparked a fire in us and made us hate losing. No one likes losing, but I feel that took a lot more pressure off of us and we came together as a team," the senior explained. "We have a very strong brotherhood, and I love that."

Grassini said Friday’s performance was the most touchdowns he’s thrown in a single game at any level. Some believed the performance to be a state record, although that’s unconfirmed.

"We’re always moving fast and when everything comes together, we just love it. We have so much fun," said Eichman, who had three TD catches in the first 10 minutes Friday. "I think we all just stayed true to our game – making good routes, taking good slants, catching the ball and moving up the field. I trust every one of my players on my team all day."

Merrimack has achieved the goal of making the playoffs, but head coach Kip Jackson won’t let his team shift into cruise control.

"It’s great for the program, it’s great for the kids and it’s great for the coaches who have put in a lot of work," Jackson said of the postseason berth. "But we want to keep moving forward, so it’s on to Timberlane."

Friday’s kickoff at Timberlane (1-6) is slated for 7 p.m.