Recap written by Sean Engel.
KINGS POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 21, 2019) – The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy football team closed out the non-conference portion of its slate with a convincing 45-0 victory over cross-sound foe SUNY Maritime on Saturday afternoon at Brooks Stadium. The game was part of Kings Point's 2019 Homecoming and Hall of Fame Weekend - prior to the game there was an Alumni March On of the anniversary classes ending in 4's and 9's as well as a recognition of the 10 Athletics Hall of Fame Inductees who are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame in O'Hara Hall.
For the Mariners it was the program's first shutout victory since the 2003 campaign, when USMMA blanked Plymouth State by a 28-0 margin. The 45-point victory was also the ninth-largest margin of victory in Academy history.
As a team the Mariner defense held the Privateer offense to just 147 yards of offense, while the Mariner offense averaged over six yards per play amassing 551 yards on 86 offensive plays. The Mariner offense moved the ball well throughout the matchup, registering 30 first downs on the game to SUNY's four first downs.
A balanced defensive effort helped the Mariners pitch the shutout, as a dozen players ended the contest with at least two tackles. Junior Noah Newburgh (Gilbert, Ariz.) and sophomore Eric Davidson (Savannah, Ga.) led the way with seven tackles apiece, while sophomore Ethan Brady (Palm Coast, Fla.) had five stops. Newburgh also led the team with a pair of pass breakups, while Davidson also forced a fumble. Freshman Colton Ray (Bellevue, Ohio) was credited with a fumble recovery on the afternoon, while classmate Xavier Coleman (San Ramon, Calif.) had an interception late in the second quarter.
The Mariner defense also penetrated the Privateer offensive line with seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including sacks by freshman Andrew Kidd (Milford, Pa.), for a loss in three yards, while sophomore Tyler Sloman (Poulsbo, Wash.) had a sack for a 13-yard loss.
Offensively the Mariners were led by a 12-man rushing front, which totaled 389 yards on the ground. Sophomore Ian Blankenship (McRae, Ga.) led the team with 84 rushing yards with one score, while sophomore Matt Strong (Pacific, Mo.) was second on the team with six rushes for 60 yards for a team-best 10 yards per carry. Senior James Early (Middletown, Md.) picked up 57 yards on the ground, while sophomore Alec Kiernan (Centereach, N.Y.) added 36 yards on the ground and led the offense with two rushing scores.
Senior Krystian Abbott (Lansing, Kan.) was also tied with Blankenship for the team lead in rushing attempts with 11, as he picked up 33 yards on the ground. Abbott also had a successful day through the air as he completed over 83% of his passes at a 10-for-12 clip for 148 yards and two passing touchdowns. Senior Joe Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) was his favorite target, as Vitelli picked up eight receptions on the game for 127 yards and two scores.
On special teams the Mariners converted on one field goal attempt as senior Gavin Gartner (Cedar Park, Texas) pushed a 24-yard attempt through the uprights late in the second quarter. Gartner also had a busy afternoon on kickoffs as he registered 357 yards on seven kicks for a 51-yard average. Sophomore Jack Ruark (Urbanna, Va.) had a pair of punts on the day for a 39-yard average including one deep inside Privateer territory.
Vitelli had seven punt returns for 111 yards, while adding one kickoff return for a 17-yard return to round out the special team efforts on the afternoon.
The Mariners won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, putting the defense on the field first. Merchant Marine held Maritime to just three plays and five yards spanning 86 seconds to set the tone early for what was to come on the afternoon.
After getting the ball on offense the Mariners were able to move the ball on the meager Privateer defense, picking up four first downs along the way, however the Mariners were unable to put points on the board. After the Privateers took over again, the Mariner defense went back to work and forced SUNY Maritime to punt.
Merchant Marine took over with 4:40 to go in the opening quarter, and began to chip away at the 83-yard field ahead of them after taking over from their own 17-yard line. After the drive continued into the second quarter the Mariners took the lead as Kiernan punched the ball into the end zone for the opening score of the game.
After another quick punt by the Privateers, the Mariner offense continued to drive down the field after taking over near midfield. The final play of the 12-play drive was a three-yard rush from Early, followed by another made extra point by Gartner to put the Mariners ahead by two touchdowns.
Both teams punted on their next possessions before SUNY Maritime took over again. On a 3rd down and 10, the Privateers looked to rush the ball but Davidson jarred the ball free that was recovered by Ray to put the USMMA offense in prime field position at the Privateer 13-yard line.
After a pair of three-yard rushes, an incomplete pass set up fourth down for the Mariners. Gartner came on to kick a 24-yard attempt and converted to extend the Mariner lead to 17.
SUNY Maritime's next offensive possession resulted in another turnover by the Mariners as Coleman picked off an errant pass. The Mariners did not need long as the team went 37 yards on three plays and Abbott found Vitelli for the third touchdown of the half to make the score 24-0 heading into halftime.
The second half saw much of the same that the first 30 minutes had to offer. Merchant Marine had to punt on its first offensive possession, but the defense got the ball right back pushing the Privateers backwards on the next drive.
Abbott found Vitelli on the next drive for a 26-yard score to extend the lead to 31. The defense followed with another negative series for the Privateers, this time pushing SUNY's offense backwards by 12 yards.
A few possessions later the Mariners started with the ball on the Privateer 15-yardline after a 37-yard return by Vitelli on a 35-yard punt by the Privateer punter. Three plays later, the Mariners scored once again to take a 38-point lead as the rout was on.
As play progressed into the fourth quarter, SUNY Maritime's offense stalled out once again as the Mariner defense held the bewildered offense to just seven yards once again.
The ensuing Mariner possession resulted in another one-yard touchdown score with just over five minutes to go as the scoring was capped off at 45-0 in favor of USMMA.
For good measure the Mariner defense flexed its muscle once more, as they pushed the Privateers backwards once again for a loss in five yards over three plays. The Mariners ran out the clock on its final offense drive to seal the one-sided victory in favor of the home team.
Next week, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (1-1) will head on the road to Castine, Maine, to open up NEWMAC football play as the Mariners will clash with Maine Maritime for a 12 p.m. kickoff on Ritchie Field.