By NoontimeSports.com | @NoontimeSports
For Coast Guard Academy, Saturday’s meeting with Norwich University is not just a typical football game. It is a rivalry game that has been played 73 times with the Bears winning 40 meetings.
Coast Guard won last year’s meeting with the Cadets, thanks to a late three-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ryan Jones that provided the hosts with their second-straight win, as well as a third consecutive victory against Norwich dating back to 2005.
Both Coast Guard and Norwich enter Saturday’s must-see (and must-watch) clash with identical 2-0 records. Coast Guard has scored wins thus far over Nichols College (24-23 OT) and University of New England (27-17), while Norwich has beaten Salve Regina (22-19) and St. Lawrence University (30-24).
Norwich’s most recent win against the Saints last Saturday provided the Cadets with their first ‘Hoffman Cup,’ a trophy that St. Lawrence and Merchant Marine previously competed for when the two teams met regularly on the gridiron.
The winner of Saturday’s contest will remain in first place in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) – it’s possible Coast Guard Academy or Norwich could be tied for first with WPI, which looks to extend its current unbeaten streak against Husson University.
In anticipation of Saturday’s must-see (and must-watch) contest between two local rivalries, we caught up with the Coast Guard Academy captains, Scott Pierce, R.J. Robiskie, and Mark Wicke to learn more about this match-up, but also how they and the team are preparing to contend for ‘The Mug.’
What makes this game/rivalry so special and unique from your perspective?
Scott Pierce: “It’s the intensity of this game in particular that makes it unique. It’s always a packed stadium, everyone tends to play a little harder, and raising that mug up at the end makes it feel more special.”
R.J. Robiskie: “I think what makes this rivalry so great is that you are playing for something more than just football. You are playing for that mug and the alumni that came before you whom you would like to make proud and remember their good days when they battled Norwich.
“And of course, the fact that it was titled the ‘Little Army-Navy Game’ adds a little bit more hype to it, as well.”
Mark Wicke: “The longstanding traditions of each program paired with the excitement surrounding a game involving two service academies make this game special.”
What are a few memories you have from playing in this contest?
Robiskie: “This will be my third time playing the Cadets. We are currently 2-0 against them (since I joined the Bears’ program), but my favorite memory was my sophomore year when we went up to Norwich and played on a day that was 95 degrees. It was an absolute dogfight. My favorite play was when my roommate, Kane Alletzhauser, ran about 80 yards down the field and made a touchdown-saving tackle and then we went on to hold them to a field goal and beat Norwich 13-9.
Wicke: “My favorite memory from this game came two years ago when Kane Alletzhauser saved the game for us by stopping (one of their) wide receivers at the two-yard line. He chased the Norwich wide-out down the field.”
What is the build-up to this game like on campus? Do people talk about this game outside the practice field?
Pierce: “I think this game is talked about more by (our) alumni rather than the current cadets only because the rivalry returned in 2017. This game brings out great stories from the past and it makes the game mean more.”
Robiskie: “The build-up at the academy is real. Our Admiral is excited for us to go up and compete and a lot of cadets understand the magnitude of this game while playing for that mug to come back to New London for the third year in a row.
Wicke: “There is a different energy that surrounds these rivalry games. We are excited to play in front of their crowd.”
When preparing for this contest, does it have a different feel than other weeks of the season?
Pierce: “Definitely. Norwich is a great team and we know it’s going to (most likely) come down to the fourth quarter. To get your mind and body ready for that makes it more challenging than other weeks.”
Robiskie: “I think to prepare for this (opponent) is almost like preparing for Merchant Marine. You must completely buy into this week because this is no easy task in which we are about to face. We must bring our A-game if we want to win.
Wicke: “No, it is just another week of preparation. We do our best to approach this week as we would any other (week of the season).”
What must your team do to be successful to score a win on Saturday?
Pierce: “I would say this game is going to come down to turnovers. It’s always a tight game and every possession matters. We also have stay composed and not let the crowd get to us.”
Robiskie: “We need to mentally and physically prepare (ourselves) and have one of the best weeks of practice we are going to have all year. Then the rest will fall into place.”
Wicke: “We have to correct the mistakes we made against UNE and Nichols. If we remain focused on playing our best football then winning will take care of itself.”
What do you imagine this year’s game day atmosphere to be like? Do you anticipate a big crowd?
Robiskie: “I imagine this year’s crowd and atmosphere will be like (my) sophomore year when we played them. I imagine it to be hostile and absolute chaos. It is their 200th anniversary so they will have alumni and a bunch of people (in attendance) but what can be better than playing football on a Saturday against your rival in a hostile environment and coming away with a win?”
Wicke: “I imagine the game day environment to be loud and packed- the type of atmosphere you’d expect for a game between two long-standing rivals.”