Colby’s Keon Smart looks to evade Bates’ Matthew-Michael Assivero as he scores the first touchdown of the game for the Mules in Saturday’s game at Garcelon Field in Lewiston. Brewster Burns photo

LEWISTON — Five plays were the difference in Bates College’s football matchup with instate rival Colby on Saturday at Garcelon field.

The Bobcats, though haunted by the first four, were undeterred. They kept coming back, slowly clawing their way back into the game, until they had a chance to win in the final seconds.

There wasn’t enough time to overcome the fifth play. Former Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School standout Lincoln Merrill intercepted a Cole Bosselait pass in the end zone with eight seconds remaining to seal the Mules’ 30-24 win in each team’s first round of the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin rivalry series.

“It was a special package for passing, and I just got to make a play,” Merrill, who was a key player on Oxford Hills’ first state championship team in 2022, said.

Merrill, a freshman linebacker, said he is used mostly in passing situations such as the play that resulted in his first college interception.

He is tied for sixth on the team with 10 tackles this season and already has established a reputation as a playmaker.


“It doesn’t surprise me,” Colby coach Jack Cosgrove said. “He had four interceptions like the first two weeks of preseason. He’s a guy who stood out all the way along. That (interception) didn’t surprise me at all. It’s the kind of play this kid’s been making for us.

“We think he’s going to be a great player for us.”

Merrill’s interception ended a Bates drive that began at the Bobcats’ 25 and reached the Colby 25.

A 15-yard completion to Sergio Beltran on the first play moved the ball to the Bates 40. Two plays later, Bosselait found running back Ryan Lynskey for a 19-yard gain.

On third-and-5 from the Colby 39, Bosselait connected to his favorite target on clutch downs, tight end Steven Guerrette, for a 14-yard gain to the Colby 25 with less than a minute left. A hands-to-the-face penalty was called on the play, which the Bobcats declined but it caused some confusion as the clock wound down.

Bates coach Matt Coyle said that the officials were standing over the ball as the Bobcats were trying to snap it. About 20 seconds ticked off the clock before the officials stopped it with 32 seconds left. Coyle said Bates wanted to snap the ball with about 39 seconds remaining.


Two incompletions brought up third down, and a false start on Beltran moved the ball back to the 30-yard line for a third-and-15 play. Bosselait heaved the ball to near the back of the end zone, where Merrill jumped in front and grabbed the interception.

The Mules improve to 1-2 while Bates remains winless at 0-3. But Cosgrove was impressed by the Bobcats’ performance Saturday.

“Bates outplayed us. I told Coach (Coyne) that after the game. I thought they outplayed us,” Cosgrove said, later adding, “You know, we’re fortunate to come out of here with a win.”

Coyne, in his second year leading the Bobcats, said it was a difficult loss to digest. But he also expressed his pride that the team battled through the adversity.

“Obviously, winning is the goal. Ultimately, it stinks to lose,” Coyne said. “But, you know, I thought the fight and how we gave ourselves a chance to win is promising. We just have to build off that, and keep working.”



Bosselait, a junior quarterback, completed 28 of 49 passes and finished with 312 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

“The quarterback was outstanding,” Cosgrove said.

Guerrette caught nine passes for 102 yards and two scores, while Beltran hauled in 10 for 67 yards. Matthew Holmes, a sophomore who entered the game without a reception in his career, had six Saturday for a team-high 110 yards and a score.

Holmes’ first catch resulted in the Bobcats’ first mistake. Bosselait completed the first two passes he attempted, then found Holmes for a first down, but Colby’s Mark Kassis forced a fumble that was recovered by Julian Young and returned 20 yards to the Bates 17.

From there, Keon Smart ran the ball two times, the second a 12-yard touchdown run. Colby led 7-0 one minute, 46 seconds into the game.

Bates finally scored on its third drive, which traveled 56 yards to the Colby 8 before stalling. Marcos Ruiz kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 7-3.


Bates’ defense, which was stout for much of the first half, faltered on Colby’s next offensive play — the second detrimental play for the Bobcats, which wasn’t technically a mistake, but they did let Smart turn a screen pass from quarterback Thomas Keeling into a 75-yard touchdown reception and a 14-3 Mules lead with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.

“He’s incredible. He’s amazing. He played so good today,” Merrill said of Smart.

Following punts by both teams, Bates moved the ball down the field in large chunks, including a 12-yard pass to Guerrette, 11-yarder to Beltran and 16-yarder to Holmes.

Then, from the Colby 7, Bosselait found Guerrette for a touchdown that cut Colby’s lead to 14-10 with 6:43 left in the first half.

The Bobcats defense forced a three-and-out and then a turnover on downs when Michael Spencer and Matt Juneau stopped Smart on a fourth-and-2 at the Bates 43.

Sacks by Colby’s Taj McDowell and Andrew Hart on consecutive plays and an incomplete pass put a quick end to Bates’ next drive. But, they were on the verge of going into half within one score — until their punt went awry with about 30 seconds to play.


Punter Parker Huynh-Benningfield dropped the snap then picked up the ball with a swarm of Mules closing in. He attempted a kick, but it was blocked by Trevor Smith, and the ball bounced into the end zone, where it was recovered by Mike Williams for a touchdown that pushed the Mules’ lead to 21-10.

Bates’ offense possessed the ball for 20 minutes, 25 seconds, while Colby only had it for 9:35 in the opening half.

Bates punter Parker Huynh-Bennington, left, tries to get a punt off after bobbling the snap. Colby blocked the kick and recovered it in the end zone late in the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Garcelon Field in Lewiston. Brewster Burns photo

“We did make some big plays,” Cosgrove said. “You know, we block a punt, we had a big fumble return … we had big plays from Keon. But we weren’t consistent at all. And I thought that’s what they were. You know, they controlled the clock … they won the third-down battles, and all those things. They just did.”


The Bates defense forced Colby to punt on its first two drives of the second half. The Bobcats’ second drive ended with their fourth mistake. And, like the first three, the Mules turned it into points.

Joshua East intercepted a Bosselait pass at the Colby 20, then Smart made another big play. First, he ran for an 11-yard gain, then on the next play he found a hole and sprinted 69 yards for a touchdown, extending the Mules’ lead to 27-10 with about four minutes left in the third.


“I just want, first off, thank God for my offensive lineman and my wide receivers,” Smart said. “They blocked their butts off. None of this would have happened without them; I just want to give them thanks. And coach (Shea) Dwyer’s good play calling allowed me to make a big impact on the team.

“This whole summer, I was working on my speed and everything, and I guess it just showed off on the field.”

Smart, a junior, entered Saturday with nine carries for 29 yards and 11 receptions for 54 yards in Colby’s first two games, a 35-22 loss to Williams and a 48-7 setback against Trinity. Against Bates, he gained 137 yards on the ground on 15 carries and caught six passes for 118 yards.

Smart accounted for 255 of Colby’s 314 yards of total offense.

“The thing that’s really good is that Keon has not been as productive in the first couple games. He, really — you know, that’s the type of ability the kid has,” Cosgrove said. “Really happy to see him perform like that, because we needed it. We really did.”



With all that had gone wrong, Coyne said that Bates teams of the past might have folded. Especially when they fell behind by 17 late in the third quarter. Instead, the Bobcats responded by playing possibly their best football of the game.

“And that’s the thing, the culture of this place is changing,” Coyne said. “It obviously will take some time, but we’re on the right path, and the leaders on our team are doing a great job.

“You know, a lot of things I’ve seen in the past, that game would have got out of hand, but we battled back and we gave ourselves a shot to win the game at the end. That’s all you can ask from your team.”

Bates went 80 yards on eight plays on its next possession, most of those yards coming on a 59-yard completion to Holmes. The Mules had jumped offsides, and when the flags were thrown, Bosselait realized the Bobcats had what was essentially a free play, so he immediately looked downfield, where he saw that Holmes had run past his defender. Bosselait lofted a pass that Holmes caught and moved the Bobcats to the Colby 10-yard line.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Bosselait connected with Guerrette on another 7-yard TD pass. After Marcos Ruiz’s kick, the deficit was down to 27-17.

The Bobcats defense forced another punt, and Bosselait led the offense on another scoring drive, which ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Holmes, cutting the deficit to 27-24 with 7:36 remaining.


Colby drove from its own 32 to the Bobcats’ 7 before its next drive stalled and led to a 28-yard field goal to make it 30-24 with 3:48 to play.

That set up Bates’ final drive, which ended with Merrill’s interception.

“This is our first win, so it’s been a little rough,” Merrill said. “But this will be a good step, and we’ll keep it rolling.”


Merrill’s Oxford Hills teammate, Eli Soehren, also is a freshman for the Mules.

“We got him and Eli here, and we love them both,” Cosgrove said.

Soehren is a backup quarterback who served as Colby’s punter the first two games. But he didn’t dress for Saturday’s game and his arm was in a sling due to a shoulder injury. Cosgrove said Soehren will have an MRI early next week to determine the severity of the injury.

Another Oxford Hills teammate, Zach Louvat, is part of the defensive lineman rotation for Bates and got in on several plays Saturday.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.