By Tom Haley
Maine Maritime's football history is long. There are many names and now nine New England Football Conference championships.
But somewhere in this thick history book, there has to be room for the Immaculate Deflection. The Mariners defeated Curry in the NEFC championship game Saturday when a Curry defender tipped quarterback Tyler Angell's pass in the end zone only to have it caught by Maine Maritime's Alex Coulombe for a 48-42 victory.
Sunday, the Mariners and their coaches gathered on campus to watch the NCAA selection show to find out who their opponent would be for the program's first NCAA playoff game. That will mean a trip to Montclair State. Both teams are 9-1.
The Mariners were the 2008 Bogan Division champions, but some might have wondered about them when they dropped a 40-14 decision to Bridgewater State early in the season.
Coach Chris McKenney said the players never doubted themselves.
"We had a setback against Bridgewater State, but the players came back really focused from that game," McKenney said just before sitting down to watch the unveiling of the brackets Sunday.
"It is a team that has played hard all year and it is a group that believed in itself and played together as a team. They have done that all year. They are a great group of kids."
McKenney said it is a special group of seniors who learned a lot from the loss to Curry in last year's NEFC title game.
All triple-option success stories are predicated on a quarterback who makes good decisions and makes them quickly. Angell has filled the bill.
"Last year as a junior you could see him coming along"' McKenney said. "It is a tough system to get used to. He has learned the system and he loves to play football."
Fullback Jim Bower was a workhorse with 37 carries and had plenty to show for it: 166 yards and three touchdowns. It was aday that earned him the Bill Mattola Award as the game's MVP.
Angell showed his versatility and athleticism, rushing for 66 yards and completing four of seven passes for 110 yards.
Last year Curry represented the NEFC by winning a first-round game. MMA will try to do the same, but regardless of what happens, it's has been a special fall in Castine. One that deserves its own chapter in that thick, rich history text.
Norwich's Orwin Etkins appeared headed for a place in the program's record book at halftime. He had already amassed 212 yards rushing in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference championship game on Saturday at Sabine Field.
He fell short of the 300 yards in a game accrued by Dennis Gareau in 1988 against Middlebury, but that was far from the freshman's mind.
After rushing for five touchdowns to claim the game's MVP trophy, Etkins and his teammates got the trophy they really wanted: the title game hardware from thrashing the Mount Ida Mustangs 49-14.
The game was played in a torrential downpour and the natural grass quickly became natural mud.
"I had to change my whole running style and keep my feet under me,' Etkins said. "The offensive line did a great job."
The Cadets started 0-3 and finished 8-3, going unbeaten through the inaugural season of the ECFC.
The move to the new league has breathed new life into the Norwich program, which had struggled in the Empire 8, winning just four conference games in five seasons. Coach Shawn McIntyre can't wait to take the eight-game winning streak into the 2010 season.
Mount Ida's Johrone Bunch, named the ECFC Offensive Player of the Year earlier in the week, rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.
"JB is a special player," Mount Ida coach Mike Landers said after the game. "He works harder than anybody.
"We have been watching films of Jim Brown. I think that's the kind of running back he is."
Best of all, from Landers' standpoint, Bunch is only a sophomore.
In fact, most of the Ida roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Landers calls them the "Baby Mustangs."
The Norwich defense again stood tall. They went to halftime with a 28-14 lead and then shut out the Mustangs in the second half. There is a reason why four Cadets were named first team All-ECFC on the defensive side of the ball: Reza Afsarmanesh, Zach Sucharski, Rocco DiMeco and Donovan Brown. Afsarmanesh was named the league Defensive Player of the Year.
"It was a team effort. Everyone did it today, the line, the defense, special teams, everybody,' Etkins said.
Landers said his Mustangs formed a special bond with the Gallaudet players during the final week of the regular season. Ida needed Gallaudet to defeat New York Maritime that Friday night and were constantly communicating with the Bison during the week through Facebook, encouraging them to beat the Privateers.
Gallaudet scored the winning touchdown with less than a minute left to win the game 16-13, a game the Mount Ida players were following closely on the Internet.
"When Gallaudet won the game, our campus just erupted," Landers said.
It is the most far-flung conference in the East, stretching from Husson in Bangor, Maine, to Gallaudet in Washington, D.C.
But in this first year, friendships and rivalries formed quickly.
The Biggest Little Game in America, as the Amherst-Williams contest is called, was bigger than ever for the Amherst Lord Jeffs. They had a chance for an undefeated season and they accomplished it with a 26-21 victory. It was the third 8-0 season in program history.
Williams forged a 14-3 lead, but that obstacle was nothing new to the Jeffs. They trailed after the first quarter in five games this season.
Amherst quarterback Alex Vetras went 20-of-35 for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
Middlebury's Donald McKillop was at it again. He put on his normal weekly air show, throwing for 336 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-7 victory over Tufts, enabling the Panthers to finish 5-3 for the second year in a row.
McKillop owns a bunch of single-season NESCAC records: 262 completions, 405 attempts, 2,783 yards, 22 touchdown passes and 2,967 yards of total offense.
The only thing longer than McKillop's list of records might be Middlebury head coach Bob Ritter's smile. McKillop returns as a senior in 2010.
Eric Rogstad was a big part of McKillop's regular season finale. He caught six balls worth 123 yards and a touchdown.
Home is where the wins are
The Trinity Bantams won for the 35th straight time at home. This time it took two overtimes as they took down Wesleyan 26-23. Craig Drusbosky completed 14 of 26 for 201 yards. He and Michael Galligan were an overwhelming combination for the Cardinals to deal with. Galligan had six catches for 111 yards.
Tim Costello kicked two field goals in overtime, including the game-winner from 42 yards.
Sharing the CBB Trophy
NESCAC Maine schools Bates, Bowdoin and Colby all were 1-1 in their games against one another so the CBB Trophy was split three ways.
Bowdoin defeated Colby 32-27, giving the seniors a 4-0 record for their career against the rival Mules.
Bowdoin senior Nick Tom closed out his career by rushing for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 53 yards.
A special season three ways
It was a very special season in all three leagues: the New England Football Conference, the New England Small College Athletic Conference and the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference.
The top storyline in the NEFC had to be Maine Maritime's season that included the Division III record 730 yards on the ground against Coast Guard, culminating with the win over perennial power Curry to give the Mariners their first taste of the NCAA playoffs.
The NESCAC's top story was Amherst. The Jeffs went 8-0 and did it with grit, rallying from behind all year in a league known for its parity.
The big story in the ECFC was simply that it was there. Another conference is good for the Northeast and this one proved to be competitive with a number of teams still having a shot at the title game during the final weeks.
"It was great. In the conference I came from, most all the teams would be out of it halfway through the season,' said Castleton State head coach Rich Alercio. "You couldn't ask for anything more this first year."
Gallaudet coach Ed Hottle, the ECFC Coach of the Year, said the new league energized his program in a way that nothing else could have.
It was so much fun, we can't wait for the 2010 season to begin.
And the Maine Maritime Mariners don't want the 2009 one to end.