HOBART — Before the Hobart football team started its homecoming game against Andrean, the Brickies’ fans chanted loudly and confidently, “THIS IS OUR HOUSE.” But when the 59ers stepped on the field, it was clear that they had no interest in being nice guests.
Quarterback Zack Merrill — who lives in Hobart — had a field day against the Brickies’ defense in Andrean’s 41-7 Northwest Crossroads Conference victory. The senior completed 8 of 10 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns. And if that wasn’t enough, he also did significant damage on the ground. Zack had 13 carries for 100 yards and three more touchdowns, reminding the Brickies’ fans that although Hobart was their house, it was still his home.
“This was a big personal game for me,” Zack said. “My teammates played their hearts out and I couldn’t ask anything more of them.”
Zack said he transferred to Andrean after his freshman year for better academic and athletic opportunities, but his younger sister Addie is still a freshman at Hobart. Attending rival high schools hasn’t changed their relationship, but at times it can still be challenging for Addie as a Brickies’ cheerleader.
“The older girls were yelling at her, saying she wasn’t allowed to cheer for me,” Zack said. “She was getting upset, and before the game she came out crying to me. ... That was just another thing to spark my effort.”
All three of Zack's rushing touchdowns were quarterback options, and he read the defense perfectly. During his most impressive run, a 39-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he fooled the Brickies’ first wave of defenders with a fake handoff to running back Ryan Walsh and outran all of the opposing defensive backs to the end zone.
The 39-yard rush was actually Andrean’s second-longest touchdown of the game. On the opening play of the 59ers' second drive, Zack threw a quick pass to wide receiver Tyler Thomas. On what appeared to be a short-yardage play, Thomas made a defender miss and took the pass up the home sideline – showing off his 40-yard dash time of 4.4. seconds.
“I saw one man,” Thomas said. “And then I saw the open field behind him, so I was like, ‘I might as well take advantage of this.’ We practiced it. We ran it last week and it's perfected. All we gotta do is run it and it works every time.”
Hobart cut the lead to six on the ensuing drive after running back Sal Valle – who racked up 99 rushing yards on 29 carries – scored on a 5-yard touchdown run. But that was as close as the Brickies’ would get. The 59ers turned it over twice in the second half on an interception by Zack and a muffed punt by Thomas, but Hobart was never able to capitalize.
Andrean dominated the time of possession, and the 59ers defense picked off quarterback Riley Johnston three times — despite not having standout senior linebacker River Walsh, who broke his ankle in the 59ers' second game of the season.
“River Walsh is a special player no doubt,” Andrean coach Chris Skinner said. “But I think some of the other guys have rallied the troops.”