Eichman’s OT TD propels Merrimack to semis

Staff photo by TOM KING Nashua North's Curtis Harris is waiting to grab onto Merrimack back Ben Eichman (5) while his Titan teammate,Spencer Whiting, tries to grab the back's legs during the first of two Eichman overtime carries in Saturday's 6-0 Merrimack win in the Division I quarterfinals.

MERRIMACK – Ben Eichman strikes again.

It certainly was tough footing throughout Saturday’s Division I quarterfinal at Merrimack High School’s Student Memorial Mudbowl, but the Tomahawk senior was able to break through for a 4-yard TD run in overtime to snap a scoreless tie and send the ‘Hawks to the semis with a 6-0 win over Nashua North.

Not only did Eichman (123 yards on 19 carries) make two runs in the extra session including the game-winner, but he also blocked North’s field goal attempt in the Titans’ lone OT possession. This just two weeks after beating North (7-3) here with four TDs in the regular season matchup that gave the ‘Hawks home field for this one.

“I had faith in my O-line, I knew they were going to push them back,” said Eichman, who started the ‘Hawks’ big possession with a 6 yard run to the 4. “All I had to do was walk in.

“It was a great game, very physical, we went back and forth,but we pulled out the win. … It was a tough game, we fought through it, we’re used to the bad field.”

The Tomahawks may have set the stage for the victory midday Friday when they ultimately squelched any plans to move the game to the Motta Field turf at Stellos Stadium. To be sure, their field was slick and muddy, and the Titan offense was just not able to generate any points, despite a few opportunities. North couldn’t go east-west with explosive back Curtis Harris, who need 30 carries to get 68 yards from the quarterback position.

“It was terrible, very slippery, any time anyone tried to make a move, everyone was falling,” Harris said. “Very frustrating. Things that would work in the dry weather, it’s not working in the wet weather.”

Or the windy weather, which had a huge impact in the second half. Don’t be mistaken, they weren’t working for the Tomahawks, either, who survived four interceptions by James Dowling, three missed North opportunities in the red zone, and managing just 59 yards of offense in the second half.

In the overtime, three Harris runs gained a total of 5 yards. Merrimack, going second, got a 6-yard run right away from Eichman and after Dowling was stopped for no gain, Eichman ended the game.

“Our kids were determined to score right there,” said Merrimack coach Kip Jackson. “We talked to the kids before the game and told them there were certain times they’d have to deal with adversity, and at some point, you’d have to draw a line and say you’re going to cross it. And they did that.”

While Merrimack (8-2) moves on to visit top North-West cluster seed Bedford (10-0) in next Saturday’s semifinal, the Titans will now finish things on Thanksgiving Eve vs. Nashua South.

“Tough conditions, we battled back, we didn’t take advantage of the chances we had,” North coach Dante Laurendi said. “It was equal footing for both teams, we’re probably two of the highest scoring teams in the league, and to have to go to overtime with no points on the board, it obviously hurt both teams.”

“They (the Tomahawks) made the plays when they needed to in the overtime … Every time we had break, they had a defensive stop.”

North had three chances to get on the board. The first, in the first quarter, ended with Harris being intercepted on fourth-and-24 from the ‘Hawks’ 25 by Bobby Bunis.

The Titans, though, were literally a yard-and-a-half from a score in the second quarter. However, a motion penalty pushed them back and an Issac Smith sweep attempt lost 9 yards, and ultimate a Sam Nicholls 29 yard field goal attempt went wide.

But what really killed them was a stalled drive with 3:50 left in regulation, as Merrimack’s Devin Wood stopped North’s Austin Ouellette at the Tomahawk 15 on fourth down, about 3 yards shy of a first down.

“It was a great high school game,” Jackson said. “We just happened to have the ball at the end, that’s all.”