Football: Merchant Marine rallies late to defeat Norwich, 33-24

Football: Merchant Marine rallies late to defeat Norwich, 33-24

KINGS POINT, N.Y. - The Norwich University football team saw another fourth-quarter lead evaporate late, as the hosting Mariners scored 20 points in the final quarter to take a 33-24 victory on Saturday afternoon. 

Norwich took their first drive down to the Merchant Marine seven-yard line, but the Cadets fumbled at the goal line and saw the Mariners pick it up for a touchback. Merchant Marine's ensuing drive stalled out after seven plays, and the Cadets started their second drive of the afternoon at their own 45-yard line. Six plays later, Aaron Conner (Daytona Beach, Fla.) went 21-yards on the ground to score the game's first points, and the extra point from Clyde Tamburro (Elizabethtown, Pa.) made it 7-0 Cadets. 

The Mariners responded with an 11 play, 70-yard drive capped by a two-yard rushing touchdown to even things up at 7-7. 

Both teams struggled to get drives going on the next few possessions before Matt Dunn (Rockland, Mass.) and Manni Romero (Phillipsburg, N.J.) broke off a 61-yard catch and run for a Norwich touchdown to make it 14-7 in the second quarter. Merchant Marine responded with a 27-yard field goal on their next drive to make it 14-10, and Norwich came down the field on their next drive to set up a 28-yard field goal from Tamburro to make it a seven-point lead once again before heading into halftime. 

The only scoring in the third quarter came for Merchant Marine via a Gavin Gartner 42-yard field goal to make it 17-13, as the game entered the final quarter. 

Norwich started their drive with exactly 15 minutes showing on the clock, as Matt Dunn took the first snap, dropped back, and found Manni Romero once again streaking down the field. This one went for 73-yards and another Norwich touchdown, making it 24-13. 

The Norwich defense forced a three-and-out on the next MMA drive, but the Norwich return unit fumbled the ball on the punt from MMA and the Mariners regained possession on the Norwich 39-yard line. The defensive unit for the Cadets managed to hold Merchant Marine to just a field goal, as the Mariners cut the Norwich lead to 24-16. 

After the Cadets went three-and-out on their next drive, Merchant Marine put together a 10 play, 65-yard drive that ended in a nine-yard touchdown pass from Krystian Abbott on fourth down to make it 24-22. The Mariners went for the two-point conversion and ran it in to tie things up at 24-24 with about six minutes remaining in the half. 

Another offensive three-and-out for Norwich forced the Cadets to punt the ball away, as MMA started their drive with under five minutes to go. The Mariners needed just 23 seconds, however, as Abbott found Luke Jamison for a 61-yard touchdown on the second play of the series to give MMA the 31-24 lead late. 

Norwich was forced to punt again on the next drive, but the defensive unit stepped up and forced a Merchant Marine punt with about a minute remaining. 

Punter Jak Ruark did his job exceptionally, pinning the Cadets on their own four-yard line. After a handful of incomplete pass attempts, Norwich was called for intentional grounding in the end zone on a fourth and ten play, resulting in a safety being called and Merchant Marine getting two points and the possession. Merchant Marine took the kickoff and kneeled once to run out the clock and make the 33-24 score final. 

Manni Romero was the story of the day for Norwich. The sophomore caught ten passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the Norwich single-game receiving yards record set in 1984 by Darian Almondobar. Seeing action in just three contests so far this fall Romero has totaled 21 receptions for 432 yards and seven touchdowns, putting him in striking distance of Pierre Garcon's single-season touchdown record of 13 set in 2004. 

Matt Dunn also played well for the Cadets, tossing the two touchdowns to Romero while going 23-52 for 407 yards, as he eclipsed the 300 and 400-yard threshold for the first time in his young career. Connor Bourque (Goffstown, N.H.) and Aaron Conner combined for 76 yards out of the backfield, while Taj-Calvin Johnson (Avenel, N.J.) had a solid six reception game out wide. 

The defensive unit was led by Tavares Ward (Sunrise, Fla.) and his 12 solo tackles, including two for a loss, along with Isaiah Williams (Apopka, Fla.), Martin Bailey Bedford Corners, N.Y.), and Michael Corinna (Milford, Mass.) who all notched double-digit tackle totals. Brasean Stewart (Bronx, N.Y.) had eight tackles and two pass breakups out wide from his defensive back position, as Norwich yielded just 126 yards through the air. 

Another frustrating loss leaves the Cadets at 1-5 overall this year and a 0-3 mark within the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). The maroon and gold will head into their bye week and prepare for another road game on October 20th, this time at Maine Maritime. Norwich will return to the friendly confines of Sabine Field at Haynes Family Stadium on October 27th, when they host Catholic University.