High Schools: Merrimack Valley football team ends 14-game skid with rout of John Stark
John Stark's Adam King, left, celebrates his touchdown against Merrimack Valley with teammates Parker Welsh and Christian Coughlin during the game on Saturday afternoon, September 7, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Merrimack Valley's Cole Martin runs the ball down the field on a a play that resulted in a touchdown in the first half of the game against John Stark on Saturday afternoon, September 7, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
WEARE – Merrimack Valley hadn’t won a football game since Sept. 23, 2011, a painful string of 14 straight losses. But the Pride snapped the streak yesterday, opening the season on a very different foot with a 48-26 win at John Stark.
“It’s a long time coming,” MV Coach David Jackson said. “We had a good preseason. More kids were dedicated enough and we finally feel like we deserve to win.”
The Pride finished with a 300-yard advantage in total offense (520-220), held a 28-6 halftime lead and didn’t punt once (there was one fake). Feelings about the win should be tempered since the Generals went just 1-8 last year themselves, but MV did assert its dominance from the start, scoring on its first two offensive plays of the game.
“We were ready to go out there and do something, and I guess it showed,” junior quarterback Ivan Niyamugabo said.
Niyamugabo was the star of the show, going 12-for-18 for 214 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, and running for 74 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
“Not only does he run the ball well, he throws the ball well, and he’s got a nice presence that you like in a quarterback,” Stark Coach Jim O’Rourke said. “He’s a real pleasure to watch – not so much fun when you’re on the receiving end of it.”
Senior Cole Martin led the MV receiving corps with three catches for 114 yards and three touchdowns, but Niyamugabo spread the ball around to six different receivers.
“We had some chemistry today, probably the best chemistry we’ve ever had,” Niyamugabo said. “It was great.”
Junior Tucker Burt finished with a game-high 142 rushing yards on just seven carries, highlighted by a 76-yard touchdown run on Merrimack Valley’s first offensive touch, giving the Pride a 7-0 lead with 8:37 left in the first quarter.
“Thank goodness Tucker Burt came back after a year at New Hampton; what a spark that kid is,” Jackson said. “We thought he only wanted to run outside in the preseason, then late in preseason he started getting down and dirty and getting the tough yards, and then when you can run through contact at any moment you can squirt free and go.”
While Burt decided to give prep schools a chance, the talented Niyamugabo, who’s been starting since his freshman year, chose to stick with MV despite all the losses in the last two years.
“No, I didn’t (consider going to prep school). I’m not a quitter and I didn’t want to quit on my team,” Niyamugabo said. “I knew we had something, so I knew I needed to stay, stay in my hometown, get it done and make a difference.”
He began making a difference yesterday on MV’s second series after a high snap on a Stark punt gave the Pride the ball on the Generals 14. Niyamugabo immediately found tight end Ryan Head (three catches, 37 yards) for a touchdown, giving MV two scores on two plays and a 14-0 lead with 6:31 remaining in the first.
John Stark answered with a reverse on the ensuing kickoff that helped spring Adam King for a 75-yard touchdown return. Pride defensive lineman Taylor Blanchette, who was a force in the middle all game, blocked the point after attempt to keep MV’s lead at 14-6. And Niyamugabo soon increased it to 21-6 when he lofted a perfect spiral to Martin for a 65-yard touchdown down the right sideline.
The Generals slowed the Pride’s momentum with an interception from Phil Thibeault at the end of the first, and a 14-play drive that lasted for more than half of the second quarter, but they couldn’t cut into the lead. And they couldn’t stop Martin when he took a short pass on a third-and-9 and turned it into a 20-yard touchdown with 3:21 to go in the first half for a 28-6 MV lead.
Stark picked itself up one more time, putting together a 67-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard scoring run from Carson Dunn (11 carries, 54 yards) to make it 28-12. But Niyamugabo knocked the Generals back down when he scrambled 38 yards for a touchdown with only seven seconds left in the first half, sending the Pride into halftime with a 34-12 advantage.
MV scored the first two touchdowns of the second half – a 29-yard pass from Niyamugabo to Martin and a 13-yard pass from backup Ian Curtain to Kyle Carmichael – to go up 48-12 and push the game into running time with 2:43 left in the third. Stark got fourth-quarter touchdowns from freshman quarterback Drew McQuarrie (2-yard run) and freshman running back Zach Leuci (1-yard run).
“We’ll come in Monday and look at the film and try to correct the errors that we made, which were many,” O’Rourke said. “You also tell (the players) to partly forget about it. Leave it where it was. We all saw we were over-matched and beaten soundly by a very well-coached, athletic and deep team.”
There was one glaring problem for MV – 16 penalties for 137 yards. It’s an issue that will have to be addressed, but it couldn’t dampen the Pride’s spirits.
“There were a lot of penalties,” Jackson said. “The good news is we’ve got two great film angles and we’ve got a lot of work to do. And this team just wants to work and get better and better, so the sky’s the limit right now if these guys keep pushing themselves.”
Pelham 7, Bow 0
The Falcons defense limited the Pythons to a third-quarter touchdown, but two missed opportunities kept Bow off the scoreboard in its season opener at home.
Late in the first quarter, Bow had a fourth-and 3 on the Pelham 3, but a running play was stopped for no gain. Then in the third quarter the Falcons missed on a 30-yard field goal attempt.
“It was an early game full of early-game mistakes,” Bow Coach Paul Cohen said.
Sophomores Chris Robbins and Gavin Lacourciere ran well, Teddy Nappen had a solid day on the defensive line, and Matt Ehrenberg played well on both sides of the ball at running back and safety.
Inter-Lakes 27, Franklin 26
The Golden Tornadoes found themselves down 19-14, but scored two unanswered touchdowns to take a 26-19 lead. Inter-Lakes answered, however, scoring with no time left and making the two-point conversion to steal the win in the season opener for both teams.
Corey Parent shined on both sides of the ball for Franklin (0-1), recording two rushing touchdowns and returning an interception for a score. Patch Kaplan had two sacks, while Lucas Gagne and Isaac Muniz played well on the defensive line.
Guard Noah Nadeau left the game with a concussion, but according to Coach Jeff Kaplan is doing well.
Winnisquam 36, Mascoma 22
Sophomore Christian Serrano finished with 167 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries as the Bears opened the season with a win at home. Junior Andrew Serrano had a 102 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and the Serrano brothers each scored on Winnisquam’s first two drives (both set up by Mascoma fumbles) to give the Bears an early 14-0 lead.
The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter and Winnisquam went into halftime with a 22-14 lead. The Bears salted the game away in the second half with sustained drives powered by the ground game.
“Overall we controlled the ball and the offensive line was outstanding,” Winnisquam Coach Pat Riberdy said. “Almost all of the runs were between the tackles.”
Richard Mills led the Winnisquam defense with 10 tackles and two sacks, Andrew Serrano had 11 tackles, Patrick Boyle and Dakota Van Tassell each had five tackles, and Cody Rubel had a sack and a fumble recovery.
BOYS’ CROSS COUNTRY
Bow Second, Concord fifth
Andrew Weckstein won in 17:25, leading Bow to second place behind runaway winner Oyster River at the Coach Korcoulis Invitational at Hollis-Brookline. The Bobcats won the nine-team race with 32 points, followed by Bow (94), Hollis-Brookline (99), Windham (109) and Concord (122).
For the Falcons, Weckstein was followed by Peter LaRiviere (15th, 18:44), Andrew Attorri (21st, 19:30), Zachary Zbehlik (28th 20:10) and David Udelson (29th, 20:13).
Pepper Smith led Concord, placing seventh overall in 18:12, followed by Alex Saveliev (22nd, 19:33), Michael Alexander (26th, 19:49), Jamie Nelson (32nd, 20:18) and Brad Hicks (35th, 20:37).
GIRLS’ CROSS COUNTRY
Concord first, Bow fourth
Concord placed first at the Coach Korcoulis Invitational at Hollis-Brookline with a score of 33 points, well ahead of runner-up Oyster River’s 66. Hollis-Brookline placed third with 85 points, followed by Bow (97) and St. Thomas (117).
Smita Boesch-Dining was Concord’s top runner, placing third with a time of 20:47. The Tide’s next five runners swept the sixth through 10th spots: Erin Waters (21:44), Michaella Conery (21:45), Cassie Shea (22:01), Kate Andy (22:02) and Fiona MacWhinnie (22:07). Kaelin Willette (19th, 22:54) also ran well for the Tide.
The top finisher for fourth-place Bow was freshman Olivia Krause (13th), followed by fellow freshman Sohani Demian (15th). Allie Krause (16th), Ashlie Tucker (24th) and Hannah Weckstein (29th) rounded out the Falcons’ scorers.
White Mountains 1, Winnisquam 0
Tim Voigui scored the game’s only goal to lift the undefeated Spartans (3-0) over the Bears (1-2) on Friday.
Goalie Mike Buxton made 10 saves for the Bears.