|SUJNY-Maritime athletics photo
By Joe Sager
Mired in a four-game losing streak, SUNY-Maritime’s football team faced a crucial point – turn things around or sit out the playoffs again.
The Privateers righted their ship – and in a big way. They won their next three games to clinch second place in the ECFC. While that normally may not be cause for celebration, it locked up the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. Dean, the conference leader, is not yet eligible for the Division III playoffs, so playoffs are in order for SUNY-Maritime (4-4, 3-1 ECFC), thanks to its 24-13 win over Gallaudet.
“I am very pleased with how far we’ve come,” Maritime coach Mickey Rehring said. “We just wanted to get better each week. At the beginning of the year, we knew we had some struggles ahead. We had some tough games where we were trying to find out who we are and we’re still trying to figure that out a little.
“But, what I’ve seen from the first day on the job and what I see today, these guys are buying in and wanting the chance to play extra football,” he continued. “Regardless of how we get there, they get a great opportunity. To know we have that ahead of us is great. For right now, though, we want to continue to get better and focus on playing a good Alfred State team on Saturday.”
The first playoff berth since 2010 is a nice reward for the Privateers in a transition year. Rehring took over the program after spending the past seven years as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Johns Hopkins.
“I am excited for myself, the guys, the coaches and the fans to be able to experience playoffs,” Maritime senior linebacker Liam Bailey said. “It definitely wasn’t easy. Coach coming in and getting the program going in the right direction is what we needed. He laid down a path and it’s up to us to follow it. We’re on the right track right now.”
Things started off well with a 24-21 win over Maine Maritime. However, the squad dropped its next four, including the ECFC opener to Dean, 28-10.
“We started off with a win and went on a little bit of a skid. That’s a combination of having so many young guys on the team and not knowing what kind of team we were,” Bailey said. “Through the losses and adversity, we found who we needed to be and we’ve been fighting through it.”
The team snapped its losing streak with a 21-3 win over Castleton and followed it with a thrilling 13-10 overtime triumph at Anna Maria. The Privateers stopped Gallaudet, 24-13, last week.
“Throughout the season, we’ve said that, as long as we still have air in our lungs, we’ll keep fighting and every game we’ve been in has been close. No matter what’s going on on the field, we’ve told each other that we just have to keep fighting,” Bailey said. “Now, we have the momentum on our side. We want to keep it rolling.”
It’s been quite the learning process for Rehring and his players.
“Any transition brings its challenges. These guys didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who they were. Being a first-time head coach, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, either. I just have to figure it out as I go,” Rehring said. “One of the positives was how well these players took to me. They really believed in me and I tried to make it evident that I believe in them. At the beginning of the season, I told them that, if we took care of what needed to do, we’d have a chance to play for a playoff spot at Alfred State. Well, that happened a week early for us. There’s an excitement here. It’s fun to see the look in the guys’ eyes, knowing what’s truly ahead of us in a few weeks here.”
Rehring is thankful for his seniors, including captains Justin Snuffer, Andrew Geni and Bailey.
“They are unbelievable captains, great players, great teammates and great people,” he said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores who play and our senior class is small, but is filled with great leaders and people. They understand the wins will come if we keep doing what we’re doing and moving this program in a positive direction.
“We’ve had a good tradition of winning here. In the middle of that four-game skid we had, I said that we’d find out a lot about ourselves. I’ve learned a lot about myself. That was the longest drought I’ve had as a player or a coach,” he continued. “(Former Johns Hopkins coach) Jim Margraff would always say that you have to learn how to stop losing before you learn how to begin to win. We were hurting ourselves in those early games and jeopardizing what we were trying to do. The guys are coming to practice every day and learning from their mistakes, getting better and putting together some complete games.”
Rehring, who oversaw some of the country’s top defenses at Johns Hopkins, seeks balance with this Privateers.
“It’s not a one-sided team. It’s three phases and everybody working in conjunction with each other to play to the best of their ability on each snap,” he said. “Whether it’s fans or family members, they’ll tell us the team they see now is completely different that the one they saw against Maine Maritime (in Week 1).
“The unique thing is we found out pretty early who we are since we have two regular season games ahead of us,” he continued. “We celebrated the playoff berth and forgot about it that night. We have to ignore the noise. That’s something we know is on the horizon, but our No. 1 task is to prepare for a talented Alfred State team and try to stay in the win column.”