Photo by Sheridan King.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 3, 2018) – For the sixth time in program history, and the first time since 1997, the USMMA football team has started the season with a program-best 7-1 record, as the Mariners defeated NEWMAC opponent Catholic, 44-10, on Saturday afternoon down in the nation's capital. The victory is the Mariners' fourth-straight and improves their NEWMAC record to 5-1, while the Cardinals suffered their ninth-straight defeat and drop to 0-9 overall (0-6 NEWMAC).
After forcing Catholic to a three-and-out in the game's opening drive, the Mariners got on the board first when junior Gavin Gartner (Cedar Park, Texas) nailed a 33-yard field goal at 8:16 of the opening quarter. Later in the first, junior Tyler Reihs (Moorpark, Calif.) found the end zone on a 12-yard run and Gartner's PAT made it a 10-0 lead for Merchant Marine at 1:14.
The Cardinals answered right back, however, with an 86-yard TD pass from sophomore Nick Gonzalez pass to freshman Johnny Hecht to pull back within three, 10-7, with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Mariners nearly got into the end zone on the ensuing drive, but were stopped on fourth-and-goal early in the second quarter. The USMMA defense came up strong with yet another three-and-out, forcing a punt from the one-yard line that went just 35 yards and was returned by junior Joe Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) 12 yards to the 24 yard-line.
Freshman Alec Kiernan (Centereach, N.Y.) scored on the first play of the next drive on a 24-yard rush and Gartner's PAT made it 17-7 in favor of the Mariners.
Senior Jake Wallace (Pittsburgh, Pa.) recorded a strip-sack on Catholic's next drive and Merchant Marine took over at the Card's 20 yard-line. Five plays later, Kiernan picked up his second rushing TD of the day, this from one yard out, and Gartner's PAT gave USMMA a 24-7 advantage.
Another three-and-out gave the Mariners the ball with 5:23 on the clock in the second quarter. They picked up a first down, but were forced to punt from the Catholic 40. The punt went into the end zone and was set to be returned, however, the Cardinals fumbled the ball. Freshman Matt Strong (Pacific, Mo.) jumped on it in the end zone for the special teams TD. Gartner nailed his fourth PAT to put KP ahead, 31-7, for what proved to be the final point of the first half.
In the closing seconds of the half, Wallace blocked a Catholic punt and the Mariners took over at the Cardinal 20 yard-line, but the half ended on a missed 42-yard field goal.
USMMA started the second half with the ball, but punted after five plays. However, senior Brooks Cannell (Ambler, Pa.) intercepted Catholic's first play of the half, giving the Mariners possession right back. Sophomore Matt Restifo (Hudson, Ohio) capped off a six-play, 65-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to put Merchant Marine ahead, 37-10.
Catholic added a field goal late in the quarter and the Mariners closed out the scoring in the game early in the fourth when freshman quarterback Ian Blankenship (McRae, Ga.) ran in a one-yard TD.
The Mariners finished the game with 448 yards of total offense (389 rushing and 59 passing) and allowed just 194 yards to the Cardinals (negative-36 rushing and 230 passing). The Merchant Marine defense had a total of seven sacks in the game and the Mariners forced three turnovers.
Kiernan led all rushers in the game with 69 yards and the two TDs. Reihs, freshman Brian McGovern (Cranford, N.J.) and senior Joseph Bellomo (Holliston, Mass.) all recorded 52 yards apiece on the ground. Junior quarterback Krystian Abbott (Lansing, Kan.) had 59 passing yards on two receptions, with classmate Luke Jamison (Tequesta, Fla.) hauling in one catch for 46 yards and Restifo with the other reception, good for 13 yards.
Defensively, Wallace was the team-leader with six tackles, three of them for combined losses of 13 yards with the one strip-sack. Two other Mariners had four tackles each – sophomores Noah Newburgh (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Garrett Johnson (Middletown, Md.).
Getting in on the sacks on the afternoon were junior Robert Grzymkowski (Stafford, Va.) with 1.5, freshman Eric Davidson (Savannah, Ga.) with one, and all of the following with a half-sack each: junior Reno Dubreuil (Moorpark, Calif.), sophomore Dan Walsh (Margate, N.J.), senior Jacob Davis (East Chatham, N.Y.), Charles Deegan (Huntington, N.Y.) and Garrett Irizarry (Blairstown, N.J.) and junior Eddie Wills (Riverhead, N.Y.).
For Catholic, Gonzalez threw for 162 yards on 12-for-23 passing with one touchdown and one interception. Hecht was his top receiver with five catches for 120 yards and the TD. On defense, four different Cardinals recorded double-digit tackles – freshmen Rocco Longo and Liam Dearing both had a game-high 15 tackles, sophomore Drew Thomas had 13 stops and classmate Andrew Funaki had 11 tackles.
Up next, the Mariners close out the regular season at home next Saturday, Nov. 10, with its huge rivalry game against Coast Guard, the annual Secretaries' Cup contest, which will be produced and streamed live on ESPN3. Kickoff has been confirmed for a noon start at Brooks Stadium. Tickets are still available for the game and can be reserved at this link. More information on the game will be available next week on www.USMMASports.com.
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