NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Senior WR Craig Dennis (Atlantic City, N.J.) put together a career day in his final collegiate game, but the eighth-seeded Saint Anselm College football team ended its season with a 62-26 loss to fifth-seeded Merrimack College in a Northeast-10 Championship Weekend tilt at Martone-Mejail Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Hawks close out their 2012 season at 2-9, while Merrimack wraps up its season at 6-4.
Dennis set career highs in both catches (12) and receiving yards (140) to close his career. Junior RB Keith Charles (Laurel, Md.) composed his second career 100-yard rushing game as he carried 13 times for 113 yards. Freshman QB Andrew Murphy (Franklin, Mass.) wound down his sensational rookie campaign by going 32 of 61 for 327 yards and four touchdowns, while also throwing a trio of interceptions. Murphy, who set the program's single-season touchdown passing record last week, finishes the year with 26 touchdowns, while coming up just 154 passing yards short of that single-season mark.
The Hawks drew first blood as they took the opening kickoff and marched down the field in just three plays. Charles set up the score with a 59-yard run that brought the Hawks down to the Merrimack 10-yard line. Charles then made it into the end zone just two plays later when he pulled in a swing pass toward the far sideline from Murphy and scampered in from six yards out. Senior K/P Shea Cerio (Canastota, N.Y.) had his extra point carom off the upright and the Hawks led 6-0 after the game's opening drive.
The Warriors answered by moving the ball quickly down the field. They were threatening on the doorstep when junior DB Joey Polverini (Longmeadow, Mass.) put a hit on Merrimack WR Steve Serwon that forced the ball loose. Polverini recovered the loose ball and the Hawks took over at their own 5-yard line.
Facing a third-and-6 minutes later, Murphy aired one out down the left sideline for Dennis, who made a spectacular catch as he fell to the ground, but the officials ruled he came down out of bounds and the Hawks were forced to punt.
Merrimack took over at the Saint Anselm 34-yard line and finished the short drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Joe Clancy to Jere Brown. Nick Zwaan's extra point was no good and the game was tied at six with 9:43 to go in the opening quarter.
Merrimack then grabbed the lead with 6:19 left when Clancy hit Isaiah Voegeli for a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle. Zwaan made the game's first extra point and the Warriors led it 13-6.
The Warriors added to their lead on the opening play of the second quarter. After getting the ball back on an interception by freshman DB Jack Hopkins (Brandywine, Md.), the Hawks were staring at third-and-12 from their own 14-yard line when Jesse Fowler intercepted Murphy's pass near the left sideline and returned it 30 yards, diving inside the pylon on the opposite side of the field after a circus-like return that lasted 19 seconds. Zwaan knocked the point-after through and Merrimack led 20-6 at the 14:41 mark of the second quarter.
On the ensuing Saint Anselm drive, Murphy was once again picked on a second-and-11 by linebacker Ryan McCarthy, who raced 45 yards down the left sideline for a score that made it 27-6 after Zwaan's kick with 12:38 remaining in the second quarter.
The Hawks got it right on their next drive as they went 58 yards in just five plays and 43 seconds to reach the end zone. Dennis highlighted things by pulling in a 32-yard pass down the right sideline from Murphy, who hit junior WR Eric Feehan (Bedford, N.H.) for an eight-yard touchdown just two plays later. Cerio split the uprights and the Merrimack lead was sliced to 27-13 with 11:55 to play in the first half.
The Saint Anselm defense caused another turnover on the following Merrimack drive as Clancy tried to force it in on a second-and-15 at their own 38, but was picked by senior LB Matt Gordon (Methuen, Mass.), who went down at the Hawks' 44 after a one-yard return. It was the first interception of Gordon's career.
The Hawks then put together a nine-play, 47-yard drive that brought them down to the Merrimack 9-yard line. Murphy tried to go to Dennis in the left corner of the end zone, but was again intercepted by Fowler and Merrimack took over at its own 2-yard line.
The Warriors gave it right back two plays later, however, as Clancy overthrew Voegeli and freshman DB Tyler Lindsay (Temple Hills, Md.) went up to make the pick and the Hawks had it at the Merrimack 37-yard line.
After Saint Anselm went four-and-out, Merrimack scored on its fifth play of the drive as Clancy found Steven Browne for 53 yards and a score. Zwaan tacked on the extra point and the Warriors led 34-13 with 5:04 left in the second quarter.
On the ensuing Saint Anselm drive, the Hawks moved the ball 29 yards after Murphy connected with Dennis over the middle for 10 yards. Fowler then hit Dennis, forcing and recovering a fumble to give Merrimack the ball at its own 35-yard line. The Warriors would turn the ball over on downs at the Saint Anselm 20-yard line and Murphy took a knee to end the half.
The Warriors opened the second half with a 9-play, 65-yard drive that was capped with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Clancy to Serwon. Zwaan's extra point gave Merrimack a 41-13 lead with 12:14 left in the third quarter.
Following a three-and-out for the Hawks, Merrimack finished a seven-play, 80-yard drive with a 43-yard touchdown run by Quinn McDonough. Zwaan converted the extra point and the Warriors grabbed a 48-13 advantage with 8:21 remaining in the third.
Merrimack forced another three-and-out before Voegeli returned Cerio's 45-yard punt 40 yards down the right sideline. On the first offensive play of the drive, Jimon Hill raced in on the left side from 18 yards out to make it 55-13 after Zwaan's point-after with 6:49 to go in the third.
After both teams traded punts, the Hawks completed a six-play, 54-yard drive with a spectacular play on fourth-and-seven. Murphy rolled out to the left, then stood in and took a hit as he aired it out down the left side of the field where sophomore Ahkeen Williams (DeWitt, N.Y.) pulled it in as he ran into the end zone from 41 yards out. Cerio added the PAT and the Hawks cut it to 55-20 with 1:56 to go in the third.
Clancy expanded Merrimack's lead later in the fourth quarter when he hooked up with Brown on a 91-yard catch-and-run that brought the score to 62-20 following Zwaan's extra point with 10:40 to go.
Saint Anselm made it a little closer after a seven-play, 59-yard drive that was capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass from Murphy to junior WR Justin Bernard (Cambridge, Mass.) that trimmed the deficit to 62-26. Cerio's extra point was no good.
Bernard completed the day with 10 catches for 74 yards and the score. He also wrapped up the single greatest receiving season by a Hawk with 97 catches for 1,110 yards and 15 touchdowns – all single-season program marks. Bernard, who became the school's all-time leader in touchdown catches last week, adds to that mark and now has 20 heading into next season. Williams made five grabs for 76 yards and a score.
Senior LB Chris Bent (Dracut, Mass.) finished with 12 tackles and ends his career as the all-time leading tackler in program history with 345 stops. Bent also closes the 2012-13 campaign with the second most tackles in a Saint Anselm single season as his 111 tackles are just three short of Dan Bohenek's 114 stops from the 2009 season.
This marks the final career game for seniors P.J. Senatore (Norwell, Mass.), LB Brendan Timmons (Franklin, Mass.), DL Tyler Williams (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), DB Tyler Crawford (Lamoine, Maine), Dennis, Cerio and Bent.
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