CCSU Football Hangs On Against Merrimack

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CCSU Football Hangs On Against Merrimack

Trevi Alickolli, Assistant Sports Editor

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It’s late in the fourth quarter. More than 5,000 Central Connecticut football fans can be heard cheering for their team as they prepare to close out a blowout game. With less than six minutes to play and the Blue Devils up by 16,  some can be seen filtering out of their seats, looking to beat the foot traffic as CCSU marched to its second victory in as many games.

However, Merrimack had a different agenda and did not go down without a fight. The Warriors drove down the field, scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick and then proceeded to score again to tie the game at 37.

When all the momentum seemed to be against them, CCSU received the ball with about 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter and for the second week in a row, the Central drove right down the field to set up kicker Francis Cole in prime position for the potential game-winning 44-yard field goal.

Cole delivered, giving his team the 40-37 last-second win, just as he did a week ago against Fordham University. Cole seemed to be ready for the pressure of another game-winning kick.

“I seem to kick better with the game on the line,” Cole said with a laugh.

The Blue Devils escaped with the win, but as far as head coach Ryan McCarthy is concerned, they should have never been in that situation in the first place.

“I think the game should’ve been over long before the last two seconds on the clock. We really had chances to really just put them away and I’ll take responsibility,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also acknowledged his team’s struggles on offense passing the ball and took responsibility for that as well.

“I think we need to give [Aaron Winchester] things to get him going quicker,” McCarthy said. “But we have to improve on the passing game.”

The Sep. 7, 2019 home opener was the first time McCarthy stepped on Arute Field as a head coach. He would describe the night as “a roller coaster.”

“It felt great initially, then it went poorly, then it got better, then, in the end, it got worse and then at the very end, everything was right in the world,” McCarthy said with a smile on his face.

On offense, the passing game struggled at times but still managed nearly 200 yards. The rushing attack remained potent.

Central put up 474 total yards of offense and was led by Winchester and wide receiver Tyshaun James. Winchester had 199 yards passing and two touchdowns to go along with 92 rushing yards. James caught four passes for 95 yards, one TD and also rushed for two scores.

“It’s just the coaches game plan for me,” James said. “They want to get the ball in their best athletes’ hands and I feel like that’s what we were trying to do today.”

Even McCarthy emphasized the role James has with the team.

“We made it an emphasis to target him as many times as we could and he was carrying the football,” McCarthy said. “He’s too talented of an athlete and today he played to his potential.”

The defense looked strong for three and a half quarters. The Blue Devils defense held the Merrimack rushing attack to only nine yards the entire game despite facing a “very athletic” quarterback according to McCarthy.

“I really believed and our defensive staff believed that we were going to control level one, we felt like we had an advantage with our defensive line,” McCarthy said.

The defense scored for the second straight week, as safety Dj Exilhomme scooped up a fumble and returned to the house for a touchdown.

Going forward, McCarthy is hoping that the team will learn multiple lessons from their matchup with Merrimack.

“We’ve learned that our kids don’t quit, they never think they’re out of the game,” McCarthy said. “Our kids are resilient and believe that no matter what the score is or how much time there is they believe they have a chance to win.”

The Blue Devils will ride the momentum of being 2-0 into a four-game away slate that begins Saturday, Sept. 14, against the Valparaiso Crusaders. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.