NEW LONDON, Conn. (Nov. 16, 2019) – The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy football team finished the 2019 season off on a high note with a big 56-41 road victory over arch-rival Coast Guard to reclaim the Secretaries' Cup on Saturday afternoon at the Bears' Cadet Memorial Field. With the victory, the Mariners finish the year 6-3 (5-2 NEWMAC), while the Bears end the season 5-5 (2-5 NEWMAC).
USMMA scored the most points ever in the history of its series with Coast Guard, the previous high was two years ago when the Mariners won, 48-24. The two teams also scored the most combined points in a meeting between the two academies, 97, with the previous high being 80 back in 2012 – a 43-37 road win by Merchant Marine.
The two teams also combined for 850 yards of total offense in the day. The Mariner offense picked up 474 total yards (293 rushing and 181 passing) and the Bears finished with 376 (311 passing and 65 rushing). USMMA nearly doubled Coast Guard up in time of possession 39:31 to 20:29.
Senior quarterback Krystian Abbott (Lansing, Kan.) threw for 181 yards and one touchdown and led the Mariners with 117 rushing yards, while also finding the end zone once on the ground. Sophomore Alec Kiernan (Centereach, N.Y.) amassed 55 yards and one TD and also ran in a two-point conversion in the third quarter. Senior James Early (Middletown, Md.) added 47 yards had the Mariners' first two touchdowns of the day in the first quarter, while sophomore Matt Restifo (Hudson, Ohio) had the Mariners' other rushing TD and ended the day with 27 yards on the ground.
Senior Joe Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) recorded his first career kickoff return for a touchdown that was a stinger to the Bears in the third quarter that gave the Mariner a 42-28 lead. He also caught four passes for a team-best 68 yards. Classmate Luke Jamison (Tequesta, Fla.) hauled in three catches for 58 yards and sophomore Brian McGovern (Cranford, N.J.) had a great juggling TD grab in the second quarter for 18 yards – watch that TD here.
Defensively, junior Garrett Johnson (Middletown, Md.) had a team-high six tackles and returned an interception in the second quarter back 31 yards for a defensive touchdown. Sophomore Eric Davidson (Savannah, Ga.) had five tackles and a pass break-up, while senior Reno Dubreuil (Moorpark, Calif.) made four stops, including one for a loss. Junior Dan Walsh (Margate, N.J.) had a team-best two sacks, dropping the Coast Guard QB back 18 yards, while sophomore Joshua King (Haymarket, Va.) registered one sack. Junior Noah Newburgh (Gilbert, Ariz.) tied for the game-high with two pass break-ups.
Coast Guard opened the scoring on the first drive of the game with a 65-yard pass connection and a PAT gave the hosts a 7-0 lead at 13:40. The Mariners responded on the very next possession when Early ran in a 10-yard TD to cap off a 12-play, 64-yard drive and Gartner's PAT made it 7-7 at 9:12.
After the USMMA defense forced the first punt of the game with just under six minutes to go in the opening quarter, Merchant Marine drove the ball 98 yards and Early found the end zone once again, this time from five yards out. However, a failed PAT put the Mariners ahead only 13-7. That drive started with a fumble on the Bears' two-yardline that was recovered by senior offensive lineman Anthony Pravata (Bayside, N.Y.) for a gain of five yards.
In the second quarter, the Bears took a 14-13 lead on a three-yard TD run, and the Coast Guard defense forced the Mariners' first punt of the game. However, on USCGA's next possession, Johnson picked off a pass at the Bears' 31-yardline and ran it in for Merchant Marine's second defensive score of the year. The Mariners added to their advantage pretty quickly, as they recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and then four plays later Abbott found McGovern in the end zone to increase the lead to 27-14 at 8:22 of the second.
The final points of the first half came after the Bears got great field position from a 66-yard punt return and drove the ball eight yards on two plays to make it 27-21, which it remained into the halftime break.
Merchant Marine would add to its lead on the opening possession of the second half, as Abbott scored on a three-yard run and Kiernan ran in a two-point conversion to make the score 35-21 with 10:47 left in the third.
Coast Guard then took advantage of a turnover that set up a nine-yard touchdown pass to make the score 35-28 with 5:24 left in the third.
Vitelli returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown to quiet the capacity crowd and give the Mariners momentum and a 42-28 lead with 5:11 left in the third. Restifo's four-yard run with 2:49 left pushed the advantage to 49-28 before a touchdown pass by the Bears with 1:35 left in the quarter made the score 49-34 following a missed PAT.
Kiernan had a one-yard touchdown run with 13:31 left, pushing the USMMA lead to 56-34 and Coast Guard closed the scoring with a rushing TD with 5:23 left.
For the Bears, senior quarterback Ryan Jones accounted for five touchdowns, as he was 12-of-27 for 311 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 36 yards and two TDs to finish with 347 yards of total offense for Coast Guard.
Junior Justin Moffatt had game-highs with five receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown while sophomore Damaso Jaime had three receptions for 88 yards and two scores. Junior Eugene Bitzer had a game-high 16 tackles, 10 solo for Coast Guard to finish the season with 110 tackles while classmate Colby Coco had 11 tackles.