KINGS POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 2, 2017) – The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy football team began the 2017 season off on the right foot with a 56-35 victory over visiting Misericordia University in front of a great crowd at Brooks Stadium during Parents Weekend. The 56 points were the highest point-total for the Mariners in the tenure of Head Coach Mike Toop '77 – besting last year's mark of 55 on Homecoming against Rochester – and was also tied for the program's fifth-most points in a game in Academy history.
The two teams traded the first four touchdowns of the game and the score was tied 14-14 late in the second quarter. Junior receiver Josh Dieter caught both of the Cougars' TDs, the first on a nine-yard pass and the second, early in the second quarter, on a 23-yard pass – both by senior quarterback Brandon Leap.
The Mariners answered both scores – the first on a 16-yard pass from senior Brice Moore (Pace, Fla.) to sophomore Joe Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) and the second on a two-yard run by junior Dominic Spadafore (Lodi, Calif.). USMMA took its first lead of the game in the final minute of the opening half when junior Wiley Martin (Polo, Mo.) found the end zone on a one-yard run and the Mariners went into the locker room at halftime leading 21-14.
Merchant Marine came out strong to start the second half, as the Mariners scored on their first two drives – a one-yard rush by Moore followed by a two-yard rushing score by junior Joseph Bellomo (Holliston, Mass.) which made the score 35-14.
From that point, each time Misericordia scored to come within two TDs, the Mariners answered right back almost immediately all three times. After Dieter's third TD reception of the day (a 29-yard from Leap) with 4:11 to go in the half, Merchant Marine earned great field position after the ensuing kickoff was returned 74 yards by freshman Matt Restifo (Hudson, Ohio). That led to Moore's second rushing TD of the game, another one-yarder, which put the Mariners ahead, 42-21.
The Cougars responded on their next drive when Leap ran in a one-yard TD and the PAT made it 42-28. However, another big play for USMMA came on their second play from scrimmage, when Moore hooked up with Vitelli for a 57-yard pass that brought the Mariners down to the six yard-line. Sophomore James Early (Middletown, Md.) scored the first of his two second-half rushing TDs on the very next play.
The visitors would not go quietly, as they scored again on another rush by Leap with 3:58 to play, but Early's second TD (on a 13-yard rush) sealed the victory with just 1:25 left.
Bellomo was the Mariners' leading rusher with 115 yards, while Martin picked up 70 and Early ended the day with 57. In the air, Moore was 6-for-10 for 162 yards, with Vitelli making three catches for 114 yards and the score.
Senior kicker Jake McDonough (Wilmington, N.C.) was a perfect 8-for-8 on PATs, while classmate Erik Swayne (Great Falls, Va.) had three punts for a total of 102 yards, including one within the Cougar 20 yard-line. Restifo finished with 133 return yards on five kickoffs.
Defensively, junior Brooks Cannell (Ambler, Pa.) led Merchant Marine with eight tackles, while sophomore Reno Dubreuil (Moorpark, Calif.) and senior Justin Sydlowski (Plymouth, Mich.) both had seven. Both Dubreuil and Sydlowski, along with junior Charles Deegan (Huntington, N.Y.) and junior Brian Harris (Yonkers, N.Y.) all had one sack apiece in the game. Deegan ended the day with five tackles, while Harris had three.
For Misericordia, Leap was 27-for-40 in the air for 426 yards with three touchdowns, all caught by Dieter, who finished with 142 receiving yards. Sophomore Isaiah Williams led all receivers in the game with 174 yards. Leap also led the Cougars on the ground with 45 yards and two scores.
Senior Tyler Collins recorded a game-high 13 tackles to lead three Cougars in double-digit tackles – sophomore Nick Yeager had 11 and senior Jerry Struble made 10 stops.
The Mariners are back in action two weeks from today on Saturday, Sept. 16, when they host non-conference rival SUNY Maritime for Homecoming and Hall of Fame Weekend. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. a Brooks Stadium. Live stats and a live video feed of the game will be available with links on the USMMA Football Schedule Page.
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