Mariners Win One for Toop in Coach's Final Secretaries' Cup
by Graham Knight
The Coast Guard Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy have met on the gridiron fifty times, but Saturday, November 13 was the 41st clash to see who would claim the Secretaries' Cup, and the Mariners wasted no time as the vaunted quarterback Ian Blankenship led the Mariners to a 21-0 first quarter and a 49-14 victory.
The visiting Mariners brought an 8-1 record to New London, while the Bears, in contrast, were riding a six-game losing streak. Blankenship directed the Mariners' triple option offense on their first drive, going 71 yards, taking five minutes and forty-fine seconds. Alec Kiernan capped off the drive with a 3-yard yard run to make it 7-0, Merchant Marine.
The Mariners never looked back, scoring on their next two drives. Matthew Savard scored on a 9-yard touchdown dash, the first of two on the day for Savard, and then a Blankenship-to-Talsen Smith 45-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-0 in the first quarter.
For their part, the Bears couldn’t muster any offense, punting three times and being intercepted in their first four possessions. Coast Guard had only 29 yards of offense in the first period compared to the Mariners' 168. The Mariners added another score before the half and led 28-0 at the break.
The Bears got on the board in the 3rd as Freshman quarterback Joe Armentrout connected with former quarterback-turned-wide receiver Tafari Wall for a 15-yard touchdown, the second time the two have connected this season. Armentrout would add another passing touchdown in the game's closing seconds as he found Coast Guard's rushing leader Jared Colletti for a three-yard score.
But Merchant Marine put up three more touchdowns in the 2nd half with drives of 64, 71 and 58 yards, two of the scores on the ground and one through the air to run away with the game.
For the day, the Mariners put up 435 yards rushing. They’re tops in Division 3 running the ball this season.
The 49-14 final score added one more win to Merchant Marine head coach Mike Toop’s record as he prepares to retire after this week. But most importantly, as a Merchant Marine alum, it was chance to sing second in his final Secretaries Cup game.
"That's what's just awesome about this game," Toop said to Behind The Lines after the game, "as I've said to everyone, it's the Army-Navy Game. It's smaller guys in a smaller venue, but from an intensity standpoint and the will to win on both sides, it's unparalleled."
The Mariners concluded the regular season with an impressive 8-1 record, second place in the NEWMAC. They averaged almost 46 points per game and took their only loss of the year to NEWMAC champions Springfield.
On the flip side, it was a much different story for the Bears. They ended the season 2-8, and lost seven straight. But Head Coach C.C. Grant, finishing his first full year as Head Coach, is looking to the future potential of his Bears squad.
"We got some kids coming back," Grant said in an exclusive conversation with Behind The Lines, "and I think they start to get to, and start to understand what it's going to take to get to a level that they want to get to that we didn’t get to, the work that they're going to put in to do that. So the future is bright, you know? You take your lumps, sometimes you look at the scoreboard and it doesn't work out in your favor. But, these guys are determined."
Coach Toop and the Mariners will have one last shot on the gridiron this season. Merchant Marine will take on Western New England University in the New England Bowl to cap off a long, distinguished coaching career.
Here are some "Sights and Sounds" from around Cadet Memorial Stadium from Behind The Lines (and you can see our names on the screen!).
edited for web by Joe Harman