WILMINGTON – Penalty flags slowed the progress of the Salesianum football team on Thursday night.
But ultimately, nothing could stop the Sals.
Sallies rolled up an incredible 467 yards on 44 rushes on the way to a 45-8 steamrolling of Sussex Tech at Baynard Stadium.
The Sals (6-3), ranked fourth statewide in Division I, had three touchdowns negated by penalties. But they kept pushing ahead.
“I was really happy with the way we stepped up,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said. “We overcame a lot of stuff. … Even after the mistakes we made, which were numerous, the kids bounced back from every single one of them. I could not be prouder of their heart.”
There were plenty of highlights, none bigger than the career-best performance from running back Nick Merlino. The junior rushed 22 times for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
“Nick Merlino really took a step forward for us tonight,” DiNardo said. “Josh [Patrick] was banged up, so we went with Nick the whole time. We’ve been waiting for Nick for three years to step up and be a force, and he definitely was tonight.”
Merlino ripped off a 34-yard gain on the Sals’ first play from scrimmage, then went for a 34-yard touchdown on the next play. A holding penalty canceled that, so Zach Gwynn threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Michael DiNardo on the next play. A second holding penalty rubbed out that score, so Merlino broke a 25-yard gain, then took it in from the 7.
“It was awesome,” Merlino said. “I promised the line if they gave me a hole, I was going to hit it hard like my coach told me.”
A defensive chop block penalty on the Ravens aided Sallies’ next drive, which stalled despite a first-and-goal from the 6. Cooper Urban booted a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
It stayed that way until the third quarter, when the Sals really got the running game going behind the offensive line of John Cohill, Sean Keating, Josh Williams, Dom Marra and Randy Sinnott and tight end Logan Bushweller. Gwynn rolled around right end for a 33-yard keeper, Merlino ripped off 27 on the left side and Michael DiNardo scored on a 10-yard end around.
“Our offensive line did a tremendous job,” Bill DiNardo said. “When they’re good, they’re really good.”
A fumble recovery by Jassiem Lynch set up the next Sallies score, an 11-yard pass from Gwynn to tumbling fullback Joe Wesselman for a 24-0 lead with 7:51 left in the third quarter.
“I just went out in the flat, and I was wide open,” Wesselman said. “He made a beautiful pass, and I caught it.”
Merlino capped his big night three minutes later with a 57-yard touchdown burst.
“It was like running through the Red Sea,” he said.
Eight-ranked Sussex Tech (5-4) generated a couple of highlights when Tyzhir Morris unloaded a 70-yard bomb to Noah Jones, then hit Jones again with a fourth-and-goal scoring pass from the 5 early in the fourth quarter.
But the Sals’ reserves were just as effective. Jesse Wheatley carried six straight times on a 51-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run. Then Alex Hinton broke free for a 70-yard gain, and scored from the 1 on the next play to trigger the running clock and end the game.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.