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Defense lifts Merrimack Valley to 28-7 win over Sanborn

It’s not uncommon to hear a football coach preach about “winning the turnover battle” to his team. Merrimack Valley proved just that very point last night by turning turnovers into points and points into a win.

Led by the defense and its seven forced turnovers, MV beat visiting Sanborn, 28-7, to improve to 5-1.

Though the night belonged to the defense, the Pride’s Tucker Burt (18 carries for 106 yards) was first to bring the MV fans to their feet. With time dwindling in the first quarter, MV Coach David Jackson elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 on Sanborn’s 9-yard line. Burt flew past the first-down marker and into the end zone for the 9-yard score, giving MV a 7-0 lead after the Ryan Simoneau extra point.

“I think everyone on our offense can put up points if they get the ball,” Burt said. “We had a couple mental mistakes but once we got those out of the way I think we handled business and everyone made plays when they had opportunities.”

Sanborn (3-3) responded with a score two possessions later. On the first play of the second quarter, Mike Rich broke to the outside and took off for 41 of his 57 rushing yards in the game, and what would turn out to be the Indians’ only score of the night, tying the game at 7-7 after the Jackson Morton extra point.

Clearly unsatisfied, the MV defense allowed the Sanborn offense almost nothing on its next two possessions, the first of which ended in a fumble.

On the ensuing possession, MV used the arm of quarterback Ivan Niyamubago (19-for-32 for 147 yards passing, 16 carries for 73 yards) to drive 53 yards. The QB capped the drive when he hooked up with Cole Martin on a 10-yard pass for the score and a 14-7 lead.

“Believe it or not, we want to be balanced, but it’s so tempting when you have a kid like Ivan that throws the way he does,” Jackson said. “When you’ve got receivers like Ryan Head that almost never put the ball on the ground and Cole Martin who just makes crazy circus catches week after week, it’s too tempting to throw it all the time.”

The Pride defense would ensure the lead going into the intermission as Martin came up with MV’s first interception just two plays into the Indians’ ensuing possession.

“As far as the secondary, we want to put our guys in the right position,” MV assistant coach Jeff Abbott said. “With that group of kids, they’ve got speed behind them, they’ve got knowledge behind them and they make great plays on the ball.

The second half played out like an exaggerated version of the first. Every time the Pride offense was forced to give the ball up, the defense was there to give it another chance. In the third it was Jacob Davidson who punched the ball out of the hands of Zach Matthew (15 carries for 76 yards, three catches for 42 yards) and the Pride defense was able to jump on it.

The next time the MV defense was on the field, it was Blake Gaboriault’s interception that gave the offense another opportunity. When the offense was forced to punt, though, the defense was there to force yet another fumble just two plays later. The offense obliged this time as Niyamugabo hooked up with Tommy Schneider for a 9-yard touchdown to cap the drive.

The ensuing Sanborn possession was halted with yet another Gaboriault interception, which was followed by another Niyamugabo score, with him doing it on his own with a 2-yard dive up the middle.

“When I was talking to the guys on the sideline I was saying to them that we’re going to have to start calling each other off,” Abbott joked. “We were trying to take the ball from each other on a couple of those picks.”

The following kickoff was met with, what else, a loose ball that MV’s Tristian McNeel jumped on, allowing the MV offense to run out the clock.

“That was another defensive win for us,” Jackson said. “(Offensively) we couldn’t get out of our own way at times, but the defense did what it had to do.”

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