TROY, N.Y. -- The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy wrapped up its season on a winning note on Saturday, winning at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for the first time since 1960.
Junior quarterback Alex Coviello ran for 135 yards and threw for 164 and three touchdowns to lead the Mariners to a 31-24 Liberty victory over RPI in the season finale for both teams.
The Mariners improved to 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the Liberty League, while the Engineers slipped to 4-5 and 3-3.
Coviello (Cape Coral, Fla.) completed 5 of 7 passes with scoring strikes of 21, 78 and 29 yards - all in the first half. He carried the ball 25 times, the same number as classmate John-Leon Gosselin (Nashua, N.H.), who rushed for a game-high 208 yards and a touchdown.
Merchant Marine, which has played RPI just 20 times in program history, last won in Troy on October 8, 1960. The Mariners relied heavily on its rushing game in recording their 11th win of the series (11-9), accruing 370 yards enroute to 534 offensive yards. Merchant Marine's defense held Rensselaer to only 158 yards on the ground. The Engineers accumulated 385 yards.
The Mariners pushed their way onto the scoreboard 7:48 into the opening quarter on a 14-play, 77-yard drive as Coviello capped it with a 21-yard pass to wide receiver Chase Dunn.
The Engineers responded on their next possession, which included a one-handed grab by wide receiver Steven Burpoe. That play brought RPI to the Mariners' 13-yard line, setting up a 29-yard field goal by freshman Andrew Franks.
Merchant Marine wasted little time in making it a two-possession game before the end of the quarter as Coviello hooked up with Dunn once again - this time for a 78-yard pass and catch down the left sideline. Dunn broke through several tackles to make it into the end zone. A successful point-after kick by senior Richard Grennan (Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.) saw the Mariners take a 14-3 lead entering the second quarter.
Momentum continued to favor Merchant Marine as Grennen nailed a 35-yard field goal at 11:47 to make it a 17-3 advantage. Rensselaer tried to pull closer with just over a minute remaining in the half, but Franks' attempted field goal into the wind from 39 yards went just wide to the right of the uprights.
The Mariners quickly capitalized as they charged 78 yards down the field on a drive that took only 40 seconds and resulted in a touchdown pass from Coviello to sophomore Connor Kennedy (Bellerose, N.Y.) with 28 seconds left. Grennan's PAT was good and the visitors held a 24-3 advantage into the halftime.
RPI found the end zone for its first TD of the day opening the third quarter as junior quarterback Mike Hermann broke through multiple tackles on the far left side for a 62-yard scoring run. The drive, which took two plays over 31 seconds, saw Franks hit the point after to make it a 24-10 with 14:21 left in the period.
Merchant Marine regained control and battled their way down to attempt another field goal, but RPI senior Kevin Frame came around the left side and blocked Grennan's kick.
Rensselaer tried to pull back into it late in the quarter, but despite a fine one-handed 24-yard catch under heavy coverage by sophomore Reggie Colas, the Engineers turned it over to the Mariners on downs to start the final period.
With solid field position on its own 36-yard line, Merchant Marine took advantage, aided by a 44-yard rushing effort from Gosselin. After opening the drive with several short gains, Gosselin kept the ball in the possession with a two-yard effort on a fourth-and-one situation. He added a seven-yard gain to set up first-and-goal before pushing it across from a yard out to make it a 31-10 lead.
The Engineers continued to battle late in the game as Hermann ran in his second score with 5:26 remaining to close the gap to 31-17. Highlighting the drive was a 32-yard pass to Burpoe under heavy pressure to get RPI to the eight-yard line and set up the touchdown.
Rensselaer's persistence on the Mariners next drive pushed the home team even closer as senior Bryan Carmody blocked Grennan's punt attempt. The ball rolled into the end zone, where it was recovered by junior Dustin Schuld for the touchdown.
Trailing 31-24, RPI attempted an onside kick but the Mariners recovered and sealed the win with a first down.
Defensively for Merchant Marine, junior Chris Dumesnil (Woodstock, Ga.) had 10 tackles, including seven unassisted, while junior linebacker Kevin Stapf (Fort Pierce, Fla.) had eight tackles (four solo).
Hermann was 23-of-37 passing for 229 yards. He also ran for a team-high 135 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns. Burpoe recorded 101 receiving yards in the game, hauling in eight catches, whileColas had five receptions for 52 yards.
RPI junior Matthew Day led all tacklers with 13 stops, while sophomore Ted Abriel made 11 tackles (four solo).
Photo: Junior quarterback Alex Coviello enjoyed another superb day for the Mariners, throwing for 164 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another 135. Photo by Shawn Antonelli.