Stonehill Claims Share of First NE-10 Championship

Junior Brian Harrington led the Skyhawks defensive effort with 16 tackles, setting a new single-season program record with 134. (PHOTO BY Emily Reynolds)

Skyhawks quiet high-powered Merrimack, 26-14, to earn a share of NE-10 Regular Season Title

Will battle co-champions American International in first NE-10 Championship appearance next Saturday in Springfield at 2 p.m.

BROCKTON ENTERPRISE: "Stonehill earns share of Northeast-10 regular-season football title"

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. (November 9, 2013) – Stonehill College, among teams receiving votes in this week's American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II poll, ranked ninth in the first NCAA Division II Super Region 1 rankings and fifth in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Lambert Meadowlands poll, earned a share of its first Northeast-10 Conference regular season championship in program history with a 26-14 victory over Merrimack College in the NE-10 regular season finale at Martone-Mejail Field this afternoon.

Stonehill (8-2, 8-1 NE-10), which clinched its first berth in the NE-10 Championship Game last weekend, will square off against NE-10 co-champions American International College (8-2, 8-1 NE-10) next Saturday in Springfield, Mass., at 2 p.m. The Yellow Jackets clinched the top seed with its 33-14 win over Southern Connecticut State University today. The Skyhawks have won five straight games for the first time since 1996, which also marks the last time Stonehill has won eight games in a season – one shy of the program record of nine wins in 1995. The winner of next weekend's title game will likely represent the NE-10 in the NCAA Division II Tournament starting the following weekend.

Junior Sterry Codrington added a career-best 12 stops, including 1.0 for a loss, a forced fumble, interception and pass breakup. (PHOTO BY Jan Volk/SportsPix)

Stonehill's defense quieted the Northeast-10's top offense, which entered the game averaging 42.3 points and 525.2 yards of total offense per game, holding the high-powered Warriors to just 14 second half points and 359 total yards, including just 62 yards in a scoreless first half and forcing four turnovers for the afternoon. Junior linebacker Brian Harrington (Rockland, Mass./Rockland) paced the defense with a game-high 16 tackles (eight solo), with 1.0 sacks for a loss of nine yards and a pass breakup. The 16 stops today give him 134 for the season, breaking the program's single-season record of 128 set by Steve Sheeler, '04, in 2003. Harrington enters next week's Championship Game 14 tackles shy of the NE-10 record of 148 by Joe Streany of Pace University in 2007.

Junior cornerback Sterry Codrington (Freehold, N.J./Freehold Boro) added a career-high 12 tackles (nine solo), including 1.0 for a loss of two yards, a forced fumble, interception and pass breakup. Classmate Eric Schneider (Ventura, Calif./Saint Bonaventure) was a force off the edge with six stops (four solo), including 2.5 for a loss of 19 yards, with 2.0 sacks for a loss of 18 and a breakup. Junior Taylor Russell (Keene, N.H./Keene) posted five tackles (three solo), including 1.5 for a loss of ten yards, 1.0 sacks for a loss of 10, a fumble recovery and an interception that he returned 24 yards.

Sophomore running back Colin Markus (Monroe, Conn./Masuk) went over 100 yards for the fourth-straight game as he posted a career-high 31 carries for 185 yards, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Junior Nate Robitaille (Attleboro, Mass./Attleboro) had seven receptions for 119 yards and two touchdown, giving him 12 for the season – just one shy of the single-season program record of 13 by Mike Plichta, '06, in 2005. Junior Joe Della Vecchia (Stratford, Conn./Saint Joseph) made his first career start at quarterback for the Skyhawks and was 12-for-20 for 119 yards and the two Robitaille touchdowns.

Junior Nate Robitaille caught two touchdown passes to spark the offense. (PHOTO BY Vaughn Winchell)

Sophomore Steve Gryzwacz (Manchester, N.H./Manchester Central) kicked a pair of field goals for Stonehill, including a career-long 45 yarder to put the Skyhawks on the scoreboard in the first quarter. It marks the longest Stonehill field goal since Brandon Gorey, '10, had a 45 yarder in 2009. Grzywacz's two extra points on the afternoon give him a program-record 35 for the season, surpassing the previous record of 34 by Michael Kielbasa in 2011.

Merrimack senior quarterback Joe Clancy (Newburyport, Mass./Newburyport) was held in check on 33-of-56 passing for a season-low 251 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, while being sacked four times. He entered the game ranked second in Division II with 400.6 yards per game and Division II leading 42 touchdown passes.

Sophomore Jere Brown (Freeport, N.Y./Freeport) caught nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown for Merrimack, while senior Shane Ferguson (Point Pleasant Beach, N.J./Bridgton Academy) had ten receptions for 54 yards. Senior Quinn McDonough (Medford, Mass./Malden Catholic) rushed the ball 16 times for 102 yards.

Junior Justin Hood (Billerica, Mass./Billerica) led the Merrimack defense with ten tackles (five solo). Senior Matt Tripicchio (Lake Zurich, Ill./Carmel Munderline) added nine stops (six solo), including 1.0 for a loss of five yards, a forced fumble and pass breakup. Classmate Jimmy Holland (Billerica, Mass./Billerica) contributed eight tackles (six solo), including 0.5 for a loss of a yard, an interception and pass breakup.

Sophomore Colin Markus went over 100 yards rushing for the fourth-straight game, carrying the ball a career-high 31 times for 185 yards. (PHOTO BY Vaughn Winchell)

Stonehill opened the scoring on its third possession of the afternoon after forcing Merrimack off the field twice on a combined seven plays on its first two possessions. Grzywacz connected on his personal-best 45-yard field goal with 1:01 to play in the opening quarter at the end of a 14 play, 45-yard possession that chewed up 6:36 on the clock.

Stonehill took a two possession lead one play after Clancy was intercepted by Codrington at the Merrimack 21. Della Vecchia hit Robitaille on the first play from scrimmage after the pickoff for a 21 yard touchdown pass, the first of his career. The Skyhawks extended their lead to 13 points on their next possession after a Merrimack punt when Grzywacz added a 32-yard field goal with 4:38 left in the half.

Merrimack got on the scoreboard on the opening possession of the second half as Clancy engineered a 15 play, 84-yard drive in 4:35. He connected with Brown for a four yard touchdown toss and finished 10-for-13 for 74 yards on the drive.

Stonehill answered right back with a nine play, 76 yard drive over 4:17, capped by Della Vecchia's second touchdown pass to Robitaille from 38 yards out. Markus rushed the ball four times for 35 yards on the drive, including a 29 yard scamper on third and 14 from the Skyhawks 20. Stonehill converted three times on third down on the drive, including the touchdown pass.

Merrimack followed that with a 12 play, 69 yard scoring drive to pull back within six (20-14) with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter. Clancy found freshman Justin Mount (Westford, Mass./Westford Academy) for a 14 yard touchdown pass on third and ten.

Stonehill had an immediate response as senior Paul Piccirillo (Shelton, Conn./Shelton) ran the ensuing kickoff 90 yards up the visitor's sideline for a touchdown to regain the two possession lead (26-14) with 2:22 to play in the third. It marks the ninth-straight season the Skyhawks have returned a kickoff for a score dating back to 2004.

Neither team scored in the fourth quarter and Stonehill came up with a handful of big plays on defense to seal the win. Ferguson fumbled at the Stonehill 25 yard line that was recovered by Russell on Merrimack's first possession frame. After a Skyhawks turnover, the defense forced Merrimack to turn the ball over on downs as a fourth and goal pass from the 15 by Clancy to Mount was incomplete.

Merrimack marched to the Stonehill 11 on its next possession, but Schneider sacked Clancy for a loss of 12 on fourth and eight for a second turnover over downs. Stonehill sealed the win when Codrington forced a fumble at the Skyhawks 37 that was picked up by freshman Vincent Burton (Randolph, Mass./Blue Hills Regional) with 2:23 to go.   

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Highlights (Courtesy of Merrimack)