KINGS POINT, N.Y. – No one has to remind Merchant Marine head coach Mike Toop that his football team has little or no room for error against Springfield College this Saturday.
"We have to do everything right to win," he said.
Indeed, the Mariners do.
Last year Kings Points (1-3) went down to a 64-0 defeat at Springfield. The result was fourth most points allowed by the Mariners in their history – Rutgers recorded a 79-6 win in 1949 -- and the third largest margin of defeat.
"It was humiliating," Toop said. "You know 64-0. We put in a new offense for that game, so I knew things would be rough. But we didn't play at all on defense, which was really disappointing. Now we've run this offense for a while and hopefully we're going to show up on defense this year."
The Mariners will have an opportunity to right themselves, although Toop knew that his troops face a difficult task against the Pride (2-1) at Tomb Field, which kicks off at 2 p.m.
"There are no breaks in the schedule," Toop said. "We don't schedule W's. It's a tough league and Springfield will be in next year. So we put them on the schedule. We've played them in the past. Excellent, excellent football team."
Coached by Mike DeLong, the Pride (2-1) has outscored its opposition, 133-73, losing to 12th ranked Alfred, 30-22, last Saturday. The Pride has attempted but 26 passes this season, but then again it doesn't have to take to the air many times since its ground attack averages 404 yards a game. In contrast, its defense has surrendered only 411 yards on the ground – total – in three games.
"They're running the same offense we are," said Toop, referring to a wishbone attack. "Hopefully, we'll run it better than they do. "
In other words, the best way to battle Springfield is with a possession game.
"It will be very similar to SUNY," said Toop, referring to his team's 13-7 loss at SUNY-Maritime on Sept. 17. "They've been running this offense for about 40 years. They've got it done. Mike's been there a long, long time. He's done a tremendous job with that program. We'll see if we can slow them down."
Senior quarterback Josh Carter leads a bruising running game with 377 yards while averaging at an astonishing 8.5 yards per carry clip and eight touchdowns. Carter has passed only 22 times, but has completed 10 attempts for 256 yards and four TDs. Running backs Andy Bean (179 yards, 11.2, 2 TDs), Mike Davis (175, 1 TD) and Brodie Quinn (151, 8.9, 1 TD).
"Across the board they're an excellent football team," Toop said. "If you try to take away the fullback, the quarterback is going to zing you. If you try to take him away, they're going to kick the ball to the slots. They throw the ball. Defensively, they are very, very athletic. They run extremely well. They're an excellent football, an excellent football team."
Toop and his Mariners endured a frustrating afternoon at St. Lawrence last Saturday.
"It was disappointing because we had an excellent week of practice and we didn't play the way we practiced," he said. "The kids felt going into the game we knew who we were going up against. It was very, very physical, but football is a game where you've got to make plays and we didn't make plays.
"Offensively, we were one block away on probably a dozen plays where we make the block, we've got a chance to get, maybe not a touchdown necessarily, but 10, 15 yards or more; we keep moving the chains. We didn't do that."
The defense can't allow opponents to continue to score early in games, forcing the Mariners to play catch-up the rest of the game.
"Defensively, we continue to let people score early on us and that's been a problem we're trying to address," Toop said. "We're just starting extremely slow. I don't know why. But we changed the tempo at practice and those type of things. "
Toop hopes for improvement on special teams, which hindered the team at St. Lawrence.
"The things that really killed us last week was specials," Toop said. "They controlled field position with their special teams for the most part. The blocked field was a 10-point turnaround. They blocked field goal [and] first play, they score and it's 20-0. Special teams hurt us big time. We knew they were very, very good going into it and we just didn't play at their level on specials."
Photo: Chase Dunn catching a TD pass against Coast Guard. Photo by Gregg Matalas