SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (Oct. 13, 2018) – The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy football team earned a huge, statement win on Saturday over a Springfield College team that was receiving votes in the AFCA Top 25 Poll, 17-14, handing the Pride their first-ever NEWMAC Conference loss in the process.
The Mariners, who scored the final 14 points in the game to claim the victory, are now 5-1 on the season for the first time since 2003 and move to 3-1 in NEWMAC action, while Springfield falls to 5-2 (3-1 NEWMAC).
In a game that featured two of the top rushing offenses in the country, it was the play of each teams' defensive units that was the story. Springfield held Merchant Marine to just 149 rushing yards, nearly 140 below its season average. However, the Mariners limited Springfield to just 4-of-15 on third down conversions as the Pride had 257 yards of offense, including 199 on the ground.
Junior quarterback Krystian Abbott (Lansing, Kan.) was effective throwing the football, going 12-for-19 for 172 yards, while also carrying the ball 25 times for 25 yards and a score. Classmate Joe Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) had a huge game on the outside with eight catches for 128 yards. Senior Jake Wallace () had 11 stops for the Mariners, while freshman Eric Davidson (Savannah, Ga.) and senior Brian Harris (Yonkers, N.Y.) each chipped in 10 tackles apiece. Junior kicker Gavin Gartner (Cedar Park, Texas) was 3-for-4 on field goal attempts, connecting on tries from 22, 24, and 27 yards.
Merchant Marine took advantage of a Springfield fumble at the 7:46 mark of the first quarter to begin their third possession of the game at the Springfield 46-yard line. Following a 31-yard pass completion to junior Luke Jamison (Tequesta, Fla.) to get inside the Pride's red zone, Springfield's defense limited the Mariners to a 27-yard field goal from Gartner with 5:53 on the clock.
Just 1:35 into the second quarter, Springfield struck for the game's first touchdown as Belzo punched in a two-yard score to cap off a nine-play, 34-yard drive. Springfield forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive to regain possession at their own-39 yard line with 11:42 on the clock. A 31-yard pass completion gave the Pride a critical third-down conversion, but three plays later, Springfield was looking at a 4th-and-9 from Merchant Marine's 29 yard line. Sophomore Ryan Deguire took a pitch to the right and broke free down the sidelines for a touchdown run with 9:03 on the clock, as the Pride opened up a 14-3 lead.
The Mariners marched the ball right back down the field, getting a 54-yard strike to Vitelli to once again get inside the Pride's 10-yard line. However, the drive ended on a missed field goal attempt off the right goal post. Merchant Marine would get the ball back with just over four minutes in the half and use a 12-play, 43-yard drive to get on the scoreboard one again, benefitting from a 24-yard field goal from Gartner with 11 seconds remaining to make it a 14-6 game at the half.
On its second possession of the second half, USMMA went 80 yards in just 3:21, using a 10-play drive in which Abbott barreled over the goal line from four yards out to make it a 14-12 game. Abbott then punched in a two-point conversion to even things up at 14-apiece. Despite having the ball for over nine minutes in the quarter, Springfield was unable to muster any points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Gartner buried his third field goal of the game, this time from 22 yards out to make it a 17-14 game. Springfield got great field position at their own 45 after a fumble that was forced by Giorgio with 10:42 left in regulation. However, after getting the ball to the Merchant Marine 26, a costly false start penalty backed the Pride up, and the hosts would turn the ball over on downs two plays later.
The Mariners sealed the game with a methodical, 17-play drive that chewed up over eight minutes off the clock. Springfield would get one final shot, getting the ball back from their own eight yard line with seven seconds left, but Merchant Marine held the Pride from mustering up any final-second heroics to hold on for the victory.
For Springfield, sophomore QB Tim Callahan had a team-best 86 yards on the ground, while junior Hunter Belzo had 52 yards on the ground and 58 in the air. Defensively for the Pride, sophomore AJ Smith made a game-high 13 tackles, junior Chaz Ruffin totaled 11 stops and senior Nick Giorgio registered eight tackles, including four tackles-for-loss and a pair of sacks, while also forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble.
The Mariners return to action next Saturday, Oct. 20, when they play host to WPI in a key NEWMAC Conference showdown. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Brooks Stadium. Live stats and a live video stream of the game will be available with links on the USMMA Football Schedule Page.
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