NORTH ANDOVER — This was not the type of loss Merrimack coach Dan Curran was willing to chalk up to Football Championship Subdivision inexperience.
No, in his team's 24-17 Northeast Conference loss to Bryant on Homecoming, Curran felt he had the better team, just could not close out the win.
"The teams we played beforehand, Central Connecticut, Lehigh, I don't (put Bryant on the level) with those guys," Curran said. "To be quite honest with you, I usually take the high road, but I thought it was one of the worst-officiated games we've been a part of. We were on the wrong end of a lot of bad calls, game-changing calls. Their first touchdown was a gift off a punt return muff. I thought our kids played hard. I thought we outplayed them. I thought we were a better football team than them. No disrespect to them, I think they're well-coached. I think their kids hung in there, but I think we deserved that one, to be quite honest with you."
Indeed, Merrimack (2-4) had its chances to get its first win against an FCS team this season. The Warriors led, 14-7, in the second quarter off a touchdown run from quarterback Chris Carter and a 33-yard scoring toss from the signal-caller to Marquis Spence.
But there were missed opportunities from then on, as a trip inside the red zone led to a turnover on downs, and a Cory Resendes field goal in the third quarter was blocked.
Chris Carter's touchdown run in the fourth quarter is called back on a hold.
Bryant blocks a Cory Resendes field goal in the third quarter.
"I thought we were the better team," Curran said. "I thought we outplayed them. I think they got some breaks. I think they got a couple calls, to be quite honest with you."
Carter completed 16-of-36 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. He was inaccurate at times, but Curran defended the sophomore.
"He missed a couple throws, and he's a great competitor, great leader, and a really good teammate," Curran said. "I know he felt like that one was on him, but we obviously don't agree with that. He put us in position to win the game, and made a bunch of really, really good plays. I don't know too many other people could have made. That's all a part of the maturation process. He'll get some of that back. He was seeing the field well today. Some of the times the ball just got away from him a little bit. But I thought he played really hard and competed his tail off."
Chris Carter's pass to Johnny Rosario fades a bit long to the back of the end zone.
Chris Carter is swarmed under by the Bryant defense on Merrimack's last possession.
Spence caught six passes for 89 yards, and had a 27-yard punt return. The slippery receiver is a tough cover and is shifty after the catch.
"He's a talented kid. He's a real good football player, and you could see he played his tail off again today," Curran said. "I think he's one of the top two or three wideouts in the league. He's unique in the sense that we can get him to do a lot of different things. We get him the ball on the jet sweeps. He helps us in the special teams, return game as a returner. And as a receiver, we move him all over the place to try and free him up."
Marquis Spence catches a pass and makes a move in the third quarter.
The Warriors had some nice contributions from running back Malachi McFadden, who carried the ball three times for 44 yards, and caught two passes for 15,
Malachi McFadden breaks free for a nice run up the middle.
Malachi McFadden takes a swing pass to the sideline for a solid gain.
The Merrimack defense was solid, especially at the linebacker position. Jake Ragusa made three tackles for loss and was active all day.
"He's a Canton kid. He was actually a lacrosse guy in high school," Curran said. "A little too big for that now, but he's a good football player. He was banged up at the beginning of the season. He was hurt a lot of last year, but now he's getting back to the form he was in in 2017. He did a good job not only this week, but last week, as well, knowing he was on the NEC Honor Roll last week."
Jake Ragusa smothers a pass attempt in the third quarter.
"We rotate linebackers here," Curran added. "There are things that other linebackers have that are a little short on a coverage or first two tight ends, so we have three really good linebackers, and we play five. So (Michael) Mercuri's kind of our ringleader there. Jake's like our big-play guy. He does a lot of stuff where he's slicing and blitzing. Enrique McFarlane is a really talented kid. Rotates through there as well, and then Cam Tillman and Brett Rayner are in there, as well, as part of the rotation."
Merrimack travels to Delaware State next weekend.