Kings Point, NY -- Quarterback Krystian Abbott's (Lansing, KS) rushing touchdown with 38 seconds remaining and Gavin Gartner's (Cedar Park, TX) subsequent PAT helped cap a furious Merchant Marine rally as the host Mariners rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit to defeat WPI 25-24 in a NEWMAC football contest played Saturday afternoon.
Merchant Marine is now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the NEWMAC while WPI dips to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in conference play.
WPI took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field and scored on a Julian Nyland (Melrose, MA) 21-yard strike to Billy Mitchell (Groton, MA) in the corner of the end zone in front of the pylon on the right just 1:53 into the game. The Engineer defense limited Merchant Marine to one first down before forcing a punt. The Crimson and Gray then embarked upon a 13-play, 83-yard drive that saw Mitchell catch a pass from Nyland at the five yard line and spin around a tackle and into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.
For the rest of the half it was the WPI defense which took center stage. First they stiffened at the end of a 18-play Mariner drive to stop the hosts on a fourth-and-goal at the WPI 1. Then the Engineers forced turnovers on three of the next four Merchant Marine drives, the last two resulting in a 26-yard field goal from Spencer Herrington (Clearfield, PA) and a pass from receiver Nic Rossi (Howell, NJ) off a pitch to Erik Fyrer (Ipswich, MA), who streaked down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown. Harrington's third PAT of the game sent the guests into the locker room with a 24-0 halftime lead.
The third quarter was almost all Merchant Marine. After the two teams traded punts to open the half, Wiley Martin (Polo, MO) capped a 16-play, 63-yard scoring drive with a four-yard rushing score. Martin tacked on the two point conversion on a rush and then the Mariners forced a quick three-and-out and cut the WPI lead to 24-11 with a Gavin Gartner (Cedar Park, TX) 33-yard field goal.
The hosts drew closer midway through the fourth quarter following a WPI interception when Tyler Reihs (Moorpark, CA) scampered in from five yards out and Gartner drilled the PAT to make it 24-18 with 7:56 remaining.
The Merchant Marine defense again stopped the Engineers quickly and gave the ball back to its offense with 6:18 to go on its own 41 yard line. The game-winning drive featured 14 rushing plays and just one pass and was kept alive by a Martin 3-yard rush on fourth down at midfield and a Joseph Bellomo (Holliston, MA) 2-yard plunge on fourth and two at the WPI 15. Abbott got into the end zone four plays later when he went around the right side.
WPI had one final chance and drove to just short of midfield but Ing Hao Veasna's (Hampton, NY) interception with 12 seconds remaining secured the victory for the Mariners.
Abbott amassed 127 rushing yards on the day on an eye-popping 33 carries and also completed six passes for 53 yards. Martin and Bellomo both notched 14 carries for 85 and 46 yards respectively while Jamison caught three balls for 28 yards. WPI's Nyland was 17-of-36 on the day for 233 yards and the two touchdowns. Fyrer (91 yards), Rossi (69 yards) and Mitchell (62 yards) all absorbed five catches for the guests while Josh Smith (Horsham, PA) rushed five times for a team-best 22 yards.
Three of Reno Dubreuil's (Moorpark, CA) eight tackles on the day for Merchant Marine were for loss and he added a pair of hurries. Brooks Cannell (Ambler, PA) made seven stops and accounted for USSMA's first interception and Eric Davidson (Savannah, GA) was credited with a sack. WPI's Nick Ostrowski (Charlton, MA) paced all players with a career-best 16 tackles and was joined in double digits by Blayne Merchant (Sanderson, FL) and Sam Malafronte (Abington, MA), who each made 10 tackles. Mike McGoff (Ashland, MA) tallied a pair tackles-for-loss for the guests while Malafronte swiped an interception.
For the game Merchant Marine outgained the Engineers (381-300) and held a sizeable advantage in time of possession (36:23-23:37) and converted 5-of-6 (83.3%) fourth down attempts while the WPI defense forced three of the game's five turnovers.
WPI returns home next Saturday to host undefeated MIT (7-0) on Homecoming. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm. After its bye week, Merchant Marine heads to Catholic for a noon meeting with the Cardinals on Saturday, November 3rd.