KINGS POINT, N.Y. – The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy football team takes its longest road trip of the season to face St. Lawrence University on Saturday.
The Mariners just hope the ride home seems a lot shorter with a win.
After a bus ride that could take as long as 10 hours, Kings Point (1-2) battles the Saints in their Liberty League opener and for an opportunity to win back the Hoffman Cup at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"All I know is that I have done this a lot of years and we've got a bus ride like this, the trip's a lot shorter after you win than if you lose," Mariners head coach Mike Toop said.
"The biggest thing is that we're in the league now. They all count. That's what we're playing for because the winner of the league gets to go to the NCAAs. We're in the league and we're playing the defending league champion this week. This is huge."
The Mariners (1-2) prepared for their six-game league schedule against archrival Coast Guard and rival SUNY-Maritime and a season-opening encounter against a very good Johns Hopkins team.
"The nice thing about our non-league schedule is that it prepares us for the league from an intensity standpoint," Toop said. "The last two games, it makes no difference in the talent. You know it's going to go down to the last play. Hopkins is an excellent football team. Hopefully, that will prepare us well going into the league."
St. Lawrence (1-2) has struggled a bit this season, surrendering 98 points.
"Yeah, so have we," Toop said. "It's going to be a very, very physical game. It always is. . . . We haven't played well up there, so we have to step it up."
The Saints, who lost to Utica College at home last week, 48-35, have allowed an average of 219 yards on the ground per game, Toop, however, dismissed those numbers because he knows traditionally how different St. Lawrence has been.
"They have an excellent defense," he said. "They run to the ball really well. Offensively, they are very, very physical. They take their shots. One thing that is very impressive about them is their special teams."
Asked what stands out about the Saints' special teams, Toop replied, "Everything they do. They really make you work and they make you defend them. Their punt team, extra points, they'll go for two points. They play to win. I mean they play to win."
The Saints can put points on the board (76). They are led by senior running back Marcus Washington, who has run for 441 yards in 77 carries and four touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Nik Busharis has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 457 yards and seven TDs. His favorite target is senior wide receiver Ethan Sutton, who has caught 21 passes for 224 yards and four TDs.
The Hoffman Cup is a relatively young rivalry as this is its ninth year, having begun in 2003. The series is tied up at four games apiece. The Saints have won the last two encounters, including a 13-6 victory at Kings Point last year. Tom Hoffman, a 1975 graduate of St. Lawrence, who almost followed in the footsteps of his father, Capt. Richard A. Hoffman, a Kings Point graduate, came up with the idea for the cup for his dad's 80th birthday.
"It's developing into a rivalry because after the game, we have the same type of ceremony as we did after Coast Guard," said Toop, referring to the Secretaries Cup against the two academy teams. "They present the cup and MVPs from each team. So anytime you're standing at midfield after a game is over and you're on the wrong side of the score, it's not pleasant."
Photo by Greg Matalas