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USMMA Triumphant Return to Action

The US Merchant Marine Academy football team faced something no other team in the history of NCAA Division III had: a three-week gap between regular season games. The Mariners showed little signs of rust, scoring the game’s first 20 points en route to a 26-14 victory over WPI on the road Saturday afternoon. Zachary Boucher rushed for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Mariners also earned their first Liberty League win of 2013.  

Merchant Marine (4-1, 1-1 Liberty) got on the board first with a Boucher two-yard touchdown rumble at the 5:53 mark of the first quarter. The Mariners had faced a second and long at midfield early in the drive but an Engineers’ roughing the passer penalty extended the possession. The USMMA defense looked especially fresh, limiting the home team to just one first down in the opening quarter.  Michael Biehn paced the defense with nine tackles and one sack on the afternoon.

The Mariners extended its advantage just over one minute into the second quarter as Matthew McDaniels found Matthew Berglund for a 15-yard touchdown pass. McDaniels, a sophomore quaterback, is one of the leading rushers in the NCAA. He ran for 137 total yards, including a 78-yard touchdown sprint that made it 20-0 with 11:41 to play in the first half.

WPI (2-5, 1-3 Liberty) immediately answered McDaniels’ score as Zach Grasis returned the ensuing kick-off 49 yards to put the Engineers deep in USMMA territory.  It took seven more plays, but Grasis eventually found his way into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run that cut the Mariners edge to 20-7. That would be the score as the two sides headed into the intermission at Alumni Field.

The Engineers forced a Mariners three-and-out on the first possession of the second half and got the ball with good field position on their own 44 yard line.  WPI then marched the 56 yards on nine plays in 3:21 to make it a one-score game at 20-14. The touchdown came on another one-yard rush, this time with Jacob Grills burrowing his way over the goal line.  

WPI gained momentum after another quick stop of the Mariners offense and quickly headed up the field for a potential go-ahead score.  However, the USMMA defense came up with the play of the game on fourth-and-one at its own 24 yard line.  Patrick Keyes came up with a big hit to stop Grasis for no gain and turn the ball over on downs.  

Merchant Marine widened the margin with a drive that started with 14:56 remaining in regulation. The Mariners would go on to use 5:54 on 11 plays as Boucher’s second touchdown, this time from one-yard out, moved the score to 26-14 after a failed two-point conversion. WPI had one last drive down the stretch but with just under two minutes left was forced to go for a fourth-and-three at the USMMA 15-yard line. This time it was Scott Cokeley who dropped the ball carrier short of the first-down marker, sealing the Mariners 26-14 triumph.

The Mariners held the Engineers to 0-for-5 on fourth down and just 5-for-18 (28 percent) on third down. Merchant Marine racked up 298 rushing yards and has won the time of possession battle in every game this season.