Football's Late Rally Falls Short in Loss to Merchant Marine, 21-19

Nick Bean

Merchant Marine 21, WPI 19

Box Score

Worcester, MA --- WPI got two fourth quarter touchdowns in an attempt to erase a 21-7 deficit, but it wasn't enough as the Engineers fell 21-19 to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Liberty League action at WPI's Alumni Field on Saturday evening. The loss drops WPI to 3-3 on the season and keeps the Engineers still searching for their first conference win (0-3 Liberty League). Merchant Marine improves to 4-2 and 2-1 in the conference with the victory.

The game was a hard-fought defensive battle throughout before the Mariners pulled away in the fourth quarter. The Mariners were paced by Karl Heimbrock (Greenwood Village, CO) who rushed 23 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns, leading Merchant Marine to its second consecutive win.

WPI took an early lead in the contest, scoring on its very first drive of the game. The Engineers drove 70 yards in 10 plays, culminating with a 21-yard TD pass from senior QB Mike Swanton (Foxboro, MA) to senior wideout Cody McGregor (Westfield, MA) that staked the Crimson and Gray to the early 7-0 advantage. McGregor made a juggling catch to hold on for his second TD catch of the year.

The Mariners evened the score later in the first quarter with a long march of their own. Heimbrock plunged into the end zone from three yards out, wrapping up a nine-play 82-yard drive that featured Heimbrook throwing a 49-yard pass to Chris Adema (Covington, LA) on a trick play.  Heimbrock would put Merchant Marine in front shortly thereafter, scoring on a 19-yard run late in the second quarter for a 14-7 Mariners lead at the half.

The teams traded possessions throughout most of the third quarter before Merchant Marine went on a time-consuming drive to extend its lead. With 6:03 remaining in the third, the Mariners started their drive on the WPI 38-yard line and used the clock to its advantage, eating up 7:37 before scoring their third TD. The 14-play march was successful when QB Derrick Ventre (Cincinnati, OH) dove in from two yards out, giving Merchant Marine a 21-7 lead with 13:26 to play.

The Engineers were down but not out, answering right back to cut the lead back to seven. After returning the kickoff to their own 39, Swanton hit sophomore WR Nick Bean (Middleboro, MA) for a 61-yard strike on the very first play, pulling the Crimson and Gray back to within 21-13 following a failed PAT. The defense also did its part, forcing a three-and-out to get the ball back with 10:40 to go. WPI pieced together another successful drive to continue its comeback bid, moving the ball 62 yards over eight plays before Swanton punched in a one-yard TD run. WPI failed to tie the score on the two-point conversion however, as the Mariners clung to a 21-19 edge.

Merchant Marine put its ball-control offense back to work on the ensuing drive, keeping it the final 6:01 to seal the game away.

Ventre was 12-for-22 passing for the victors, for 105 yards. Chris Adema (Covington, LA) paced the Mariners with 66 yards receiving on four catches. Swanton had a 13-for-20 afternoon, throwing for 202 yards and 2 TDs. Aaron Champagne (Fairfield, ME) was the leading rusher for the Engineers, amassing 85 yards on 12 carries. Bean's long TD catch powered him to a game-high 88 yards receiving, while McGregor added 60 yards and a touchdown.

Both teams had stars on the defensive side of the ball. WPI linebacker Jack Mulhern (Worcester, MA) had a game-high 14 tackles, including four for losses. Merchant Marine's Calder Kaatz (Sheidan, MT) also registered double-digit tackles with 13 of his own. The Mariners' Scott Purcell (Thousand Oaks, CA) had nine tackles, while WPI's Chris Boudreau (Rensselaer, NY) and Tom Thackeray (Braintree, MA) picked up nine and seven tackles, respectively. 

At halftime, there was a ceremony honoring the memory of Pete Horstmann '55.  Horstmann, a captain of the famed 1954 undefeated team, passed away just prior to the start of the football season.  A former trustee and Hall of Fame inductee, Horstmann was instrumental in fundraising for the renovations of where we are today, Alumni Field, included the turf field, press box, lights, and track.  

In a scheduling oddity, both teams' next games are against Rochester.  After a bye week, WPI is back in action on Saturday, October 24th with a noon road game at Rochester while the Mariners entertain the Yellowjackets on Saturday, October 17th.

Story by Ray Cotrufo - WPI Athletics Correspondent