KINGS POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 7, 2019) – The USMMA football team lost its home- and season-opening game to visiting FDU-Florham on Saturday by the final of 56-48. The Mariners came back from a 15-point deficit early to take a second-quarter lead, but the two teams went into the halftime break tied at 28. The Devils went ahead again in the third quarter and thwarted any chance of a comeback for Merchant Marine, holding on for the victory.
Senior quarterback Krystian Abbott (Lansing, Kan.) had a hand in five of the Mariners' seven touchdowns on the day, as he threw three and ran in two. He was 8-for-17 on completions for 148 yards and amassed 83 yards on the ground. Classmate Joe Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) hauled in two TDs and finished with four catches for 87 yards.
Junior Matt Restifo (Hudson, Ohio) had USMMA's final two touchdowns, as he ran in a 33-yarder in the third and also caught a TD in the final seconds of the game. He ran for a total of 81 yards and had three catches for 51 yards. Sophomore fullback Alec Kiernan (Centereach, N.Y.) recorded 16 touches for 84 yards and a second-quarter go-ahead touchdown and senior James Early (Middletown, Md.) led the Mariners with 92 rushing yards on 21 carries and also ran in a two-point conversion.
Defensively, junior Jayden Fernandez (Bremerton, Wash.) and sophomore Eric Davidson (Savannah, Ga.) had a team-best six tackles apiece, as Davidson led the Mariners and tied for the game-high with 1.5 tackles for losses. Three other players recorded five tackles each – senior Tanner Carter (Columbiana, Ala.), junior Noah Newburgh (Gilbert, Ariz.) and freshman Xavier Coleman (San Ramon, Calif.). Carter had an interception and one tackle for a loss, Coleman broke up a game-high four passes and Newburgh swatted away two attempts.
Vitelli compiled 194 yards on seven kick returns with a long of 40 yards. Sophomore Jack Ruark (Urbanna, Va.) averaged 33 yards on three punts with a long of 37 and all three landed in the opponents' 20-yard line. In addition to running for 51 yards, junior Brian McGovern (Cranford, N.J.) also had at least three special teams tackles, finishing the game with four total stops, and senior Gavin Gartner (Cedar Park, Texas) made 4-of-5 extra points.
After back-to-back punts on the opening possessions of the game, the Devils jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the first of three first-quarter TD passes from junior Anthony Caserta to sophomore Connor Perez. The Mariners responded with Vitelli's first touchdown catch of the day at 7:41, but FDU answered right back with two-straight scores – on their next drive and the drive after the first of the Mariners' three fumbles on the day – to take a 21-6 lead at 4:22 of the opening quarter.
Merchant Marine scored on each of their first three drives of the second quarter to take the lead – the first two on a pair of six-yard runs by Abbott, the second was followed by a two-point conversion to tie up at 21-all at 6:20, before Kiernan capped off a 10-play, 44-yard drive with a three-yard TD rush with 1:28 to play to put the Mariners ahead. The Devils responded with a four-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard TD pass, and they tied up the game with just 23 seconds left in the half.
After a Mariner fumble to start the second half, FDU-Florham scored on their first two possessions and never looked back. There were a total of four-straight drives that ended in TDs for a stretch of the third quarter, but when Merchant Marine scored to make it a one-possession game, the Devils answered right back to make it 49-35 with 3:08 to go in the quarter. Restifo found the end zone less than 40 seconds later thanks to a 40-yard return by Vitelli and an extra 15 yards added for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against FDU, and two plays later the junior scrambled for his 33-yard TD run at 2:18 to bring the Mariners back to within seven, 49-42.
The fourth looked to start off in the Mariners' favor with an interception by Carter early, but USMMA gained one first down before punting away, and on the Devils' ensuing drive senior running back Robert Blakely scampered down the middle and blew past the secondary for a 57-yard TD that was a dagger. Merchant Marine's next drive ended on a fourth-down play at the FDU six-yard line and the Mariners didn't get the ball back until there was just 1:43 left to play. Restifo had the final touchdown of the day, but the Mariners fell short.
For the Devils, Caserta finished with 462 yards on 30-for-51 passing with seven touchdowns. Senior Damarquis Price and Perez both caught three TDs each, with Price finishing with 10 catches for 223 yards and Perez hauling in five for 89 yards. Blakely ran for 130 yards and the fourth-quarter touchdown.
FDU Senior Jose Caceres led all players in the game with 13 tackles and two fumble recoveries, and two other players recorded double-digit tackle efforts – junior Tyre Williams with 12 and senior Eli Guzman with 11.
The Mariners have an early-season bye week next week and will return to action on Saturday, Sept. 21, for the Homecoming/Hall of Fame Weekend game against rival SUNY Maritime. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. on Tomb Field 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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