KINGS POINT, N.Y. (Oct. 5, 2019) – Sophomore running back Matt Strong's (Pacific, Mo.) one-yard TD run in the second overtime proved to be the game-winner before the Merchant Marine defense stopped MIT on its possession to win it, 35-29, on Saturday at Brooks Stadium. The Mariners (3-1, 2-0 NEWMAC) are now tied for first place in the NEWMAC standings with WPI. The Engineers fall to 2-2 (1-1 NEWMAC) in defeat.
MIT opened the scoring with an 11-yard TD pass to end its opening drive, but later in the first, the Mariner defense helped set up the hosts' first score of the day. Junior Sam Kovaleski (Findlay, Ohio) scooped up an Engineer fumble and ran it down to the visitors' nine yard-line. Senior quarterback Krystian Abbott (Lansing, Kan.) ran in USMMA's first touchdown on a four-yard run and classmate Gavin Gartner (Cedar Park, Texas) nailed the PAT to tie the game up at 7-7.
After MIT scored another touchdown to take the lead again early in the second quarter, the Mariners answered with back-to-back scores – Gartner nailed a 39-yard field goal to make it 14-10 and then sophomore Ian Blankenship (McRae, Ga.), who took over behind center in the second quarter, threw a TD to senior Joe Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) in the final minute which put the Mariners up 17-14 going into the halftime break.
The two teams traded leads in a back-and-forth second half. MIT jumped back ahead 21-17 early in the third and the Mariners responded again with back-to-back scores. The first on a 22-yard field goal by Gartner to bring USMMA within one, 21-20, and then on a four-yard TD run by senior Tyler Reihs (Moorpark, Calif.) early in the fourth, which put Merchant Marine ahead, 26-21 (a two-point conversion run was stopped).
MIT answered right back on the next drive to reclaim a lead on a 16-yard TD catch in the back corner of the end zone by sophomore Dennis Gastel from senior quarterback Chris Mauck followed by a two-point conversion that made it 29-26.
After a blocked punt late in the fourth by Strong gave the Mariners great field position, the hosts seemed to be going for the win on 4th-and-goal in the closing minute of regulation, but they eventually settled for a game-tying 25-yard field goal by Gartner and the game went to overtime.
The Mariner defense took the field first and forced a missed field goal attempt by MIT that sailed wide left. Merchant Marine took over on possession and got down to the four yard-line, but couldn't get in and Gartner's potential game-winning FG attempt was blocked.
USMMA started the second overtime on offense and benefitted from a personal foul penalty that set up 1st-and-Goal from the one yard-line. Strong punched it in two plays later, but the PAT was wide right and the Mariners had a six-point lead, 35-29.
On MIT's final possession, the Engineers got a first down after three plays brought them down to the 13 yard-line. After an incomplete pass and a rush that got the visitors nowhere, the Mariner defense forced two more incomplete passes to win the game.
Senior James Early (Middletown, Md.) finished the day as the Mariners' leading rusher with 61 yards, while sophomore Alec Kiernan (Centereach, N.Y.) was second on the squad with 49 yards. USMMA used eight different rushers throughout the game. Vitelli made three catches for 41 yards and the second-quarter TD, and Blankenship finished 4-for-11 for 49 yards and one TD.
Defensively, freshman Colton Ray (Bellevue, Ohio) had a team-best 10 tackles, including three sacks for combined losses of 22 yards. Senior Reno Dubreuil (Moorpark, Calif.) and sophomore Eric Davidson (Savannah, Ga.) both finished with nine tackles apiece – Dubreuil had one for a loss, while Davidson also picked off two passes and tied for the game-high with two quarterback hurries. Two other Mariners had one sack each on the day – senior Robert Grzymkowski (Stafford, Va.) and freshman Connor Caffrey (Veradale, Wash.).
For MIT, Mauck finished 15-for-33 for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Keithen Shepard led the Engineers with 115 receiving yards and two TDs. Senior John Robertson rushed for a game-high 94 yards. Junior Sam Gantman led all players in the game with 13 tackles, including two for losses.
The Mariners will travel up to Northfield, Vt., next Saturday, Oct. 12, for a big matchup against Norwich (4-1, 1-1 NEWMAC). Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Cadets' Sabine Field.
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