KINGS POINT, N.Y. (Oct. 20, 2018) – Junior quarterback Krystian Abbott's (Lansing, Kan.) rushing touchdown with 38 seconds remaining and Gavin Gartner's (Cedar Park, Texas) subsequent PAT helped cap a furious Merchant Marine rally on Saturday, as the host Mariners rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit to defeat WPI, 25-24, in a NEWMAC football contest played at Brooks Stadium.
Merchant Marine is now 6-1 overall, its best start since 2003, and 4-1 in the NEWMAC action, while WPI dips to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in conference play.
Prior to the game, the USMMA football program paid tribute to its 17 graduating seniors with a special Senior Day ceremony honoring Joseph Bellomo (Holliston, Mass.), Tyson Blauw (Strasburg, Colo.), Max Braddock (El Dorado Hills, Calif.), Jesse Byorth (Billings, Mont.), Brooks Cannell (Ambler, Pa.), Jacob Davis (East Chatham, N.Y.), Charles Deegan (Huntington, N.Y.), Alec Furiak (Quantico, Va.), Brian Harris (Yonkers, N.Y.), Trever Huss (Orange City, Iowa), Garrett Irizarry (Blairstown, N.J.), Wiley Martin (Polo, Mo.), Addison Radcliff (Orlando, Fla.), Dominic Spadafore (Lodi, Calif.), Beau Turner (Mandeville, La.), Ing Hao Veasna (Hampton, N.H.) and Jake Wallace (Pittsburgh, Pa.).
WPI took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field and scored on a 21-yard strike by junior Julian Nyland to classmate Billy Mitchell in the front corner of the end zone by the pylon just 1:53 into the game. The Engineer defense limited Merchant Marine to one first down on the ensuing drive before forcing a punt. WPI then embarked upon a 13-play, 83-yard drive that saw Mitchell catch a pass from Nyland at the five yard line and spin around a tackle and into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.
For the rest of the half it was the WPI defense that took center stage. First they stiffened at the end of an 18-play Mariner drive to stop the hosts on a 4th-and-goal at the WPI 1. Then the Engineers forced turnovers on three of the next four Merchant Marine drives – the last two resulting in a 26-yard field goal from senior Spencer Herrington and a pass from junior receiver Nic Rossi off a pitch to senior Erik Fyrer, who streaked down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown. Harrington's third PAT of the game sent the guests into the locker room with a 24-0 halftime lead.
The third quarter was almost all Merchant Marine. After the two teams traded punts to open the half, Martin capped a 16-play, 63-yard scoring drive with a four-yard rushing score. He also tacked on the two-point conversion on a rush to make it 8-0, and then the Mariners forced a quick three-and-out and cut the WPI lead to 24-11 with a 33-yard field goal by Gartner.
USMMA drew closer midway through the fourth quarter following a WPI interception, when junior Tyler Reihs (Moorpark, Calif.) scampered in from five yards out and Gartner drilled the PAT to make it 24-18 with 7:56 remaining.
The Merchant Marine defense again stopped the Engineers quickly, including a big sack by freshman Eric Davidson (Savannah, Ga.) on the first-down play that dropped WPI back eight yards and help to force a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the USMMA offense with just 6:18 to go on its own 41 yard line.
The game-winning drive featured 14 rushing plays and just one pass and was kept alive by a Martin three-yard rush on fourth down at midfield and a two-yard plunge by Bellomo on 4th-and-2 at the WPI 15. Abbott got into the end zone four plays later with the game-tying score. He then held Gartner's game-winning PAT.
WPI had one final chance and drove to just short of midfield, but Veasna sealed the victory for the Mariners with an interception with 12 seconds remaining.
Abbott amassed 127 rushing yards on the day on 33 carries and also completed six passes for 53 yards. Martin and Bellomo both notched 14 carries for 85 and 46 yards, respectively, while junior Luke Jamison (Tequesta, Fla.) caught three passes for 28 yards.
Three of junior Reno Dubreuil's (Moorpark, Calif.) eight tackles on the day for Merchant Marine were for losses and he added a pair of QB hurries. Cannell made seven stops and accounted for USSMA's first interception, and Davidson was credited with a five tackles.
WPI's Nyland was 17-of-36 on the day for 233 yards and the two touchdowns. Fyrer (91 yards), Rossi (69 yards) and Mitchell (62 yards) all absorbed five catches for the guests while freshman Josh Smith rushed five times for a team-best 22 yards. Defensively, junior Nick Ostrowski paced all players with a career-best 16 tackles and was joined in double digits by seniors Blayne Merchant and Sam Malafronte, who each made 10 stops. Junior Mike McGoff tallied a pair tackles-for-loss for the guests, while Malafronte swiped an interception.
For the game Merchant Marine outgained the Engineers, 381-300, and held a sizeable advantage in time of possession, 36:23-23:37, and converted 5-of-6 (83.3%) fourth-down attempts, while the WPI defense forced three of the game's five turnovers.
The Mariners will go into a bye week and return to action on Saturday, Nov. 3, when they travel down to Washington, D.C. for a NEWMAC showdown with Catholic University. Kickoff is slated for noon at Cardinal Stadium in our nation's capital. 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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