Ian Blakenship rushed for a game-high 151 yards on 29 carries and one touchdown while Ceaser Gonzalez added 103 yards on the ground and one score as the United States Merchant Marine Academy topped Coast Guard Academy, 24-14, to claim the Secretaries’ Cup for the second-straight season.
Saturday’s matchup between the Mariners and Bears capped a three-sport, three-game fall series between the two academies, which saw the Coast Guard Academy men’s soccer and women’s volleyball teams secure wins against USMMA last month.
Coast Guard struggled to contain the Merchant Marine rushing attack, which tallied 343 yards on 71 rushing attempts and three touchdowns. Blakenship, Gonzalez, and Matt Restifo each rushed for one score while Jack Ruark tallied six points on three extra points and a 25-yard field goal.
Merchant Marine led Coast Guard, 10-7, at the break and 17-7 after three quarters before Restifo sealed the win with a four-yard touchdown run with 4:48 remaining.
Coast Guard’s Jared Colletti scored twice for the Bears while finishing the contest with 112 yards of total offense, including 88 receiving yards. Eugene Bizer led the Bears defense by recording a game-high 20 total tackles, including 14 solo stops and two tackles for a loss of 10 yards.
John Barbera, who was making his first start at quarterback for the Bears, completed 18 of 34 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown.
With the win, Merchant Marine has now won 34 contests against Coast Guard Academy while the Bears have captured 15 meetings.
Tomorrow’s matchup – the 49th meeting between these two academies – will be streamed on ESPN3 with kickoff scheduled for 12:05 p.m.
Below is our pregame preview, as well as our prediction – let us know if you agree or disagree by sending a tweet to @NoontimeSports. Enjoy the game, everyone!
Noontime’s Coast Guard-USMMA Preview: It’s been nearly a year since the Bears and Mariners tangled on the gridiron, but it seems as if both teams are eager and ready to play some football.
Coast Guard enters the contest with a great deal of experience on both sides of the ball. Quarterback John Barbera, who has appeared in five contests, including three last season, will start his first game for the Bears – expect the Glen Mills, Pennsylvania native to target Justin Moffatt, who led the NEWMAC last season with 66 receptions while posting a career-best in receiving yards (872) to go with five touchdowns.
Linebacker Eugene Bizer will be tasked with leading a Coast Guard defense that will need to slow down a Mariners squad that averaged 41.1 points per game last fall. Merchant Marine’s offense is very run-heavy and it is expected that the Mariners will lean heavily on halfback Matt Restifo, who finished last season with career-bests in rushing yards (389), yards per game (43.2), and touchdowns.
Eric Davidson and Colton Ray will be two players to watch on the Mariners defense tomorrow – this particular unit limited opposing foes to 112.7 rushing yards per game last season.
Noontime’s Prediction: This has the potential for a back-and-forth affair, but I think this contest will come down to whichever defense can slow down the opposing attack. I don’t anticipate a high-scoring affair like we witnessed last season, but instead both teams scoring at least three, maybe four touchdowns. PREDICTION: Coast Guard 30, USMMA 26
Coast Guard Academy senior Packy Witkowski, who is from Melrose, Massachusetts, averaged a career-best 17.7 points this past season with the Bears. (PHOTO COURTESY: Coast Guard Academy Athletics)
Packy Witkowski has always been a player to watch on the Coast Guard Academy men’s basketball team, but perhaps this was a season both he and fans of the program will remember the most.
The Melrose, Massachusetts native, who played high school basketball at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut, averaged a career-best 17.7 points per game. He scored a career-high 477 points in 27 contests to go with 120 rebounds, 34 assists, 20 steals, and five blocks.
Witkowski registered 20 points or more in nine games this past winter while sinking a season-best 33 points on 12 of 21 shooting in his team’s 80-69 win over Merchant Marine Academy. He scored 10 points or more in 21 contests while averaging 17.6 points for the Bears in three New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Tournament games.
The senior guard concludes an impressive four-year run with the Bears, which saw him record 1,518 points in 93 games to go with 502 rebounds, 150 assists, 61 steals, and 15 blocks.
We recently spoke with Witkowski to discuss his final season with the Bears, as well as his future plans with the Coast Guard beyond graduation.
What will you remember most about your senior year with the Bears?
It’s hard to narrow down to a single event from this past season, but I would say our team’s journey is what I will remember the most.
From starting out in Anchorage, Alaska to finishing in Brockport, New York, it was a journey made by a group of brothers. We did not start well but we kept at it. By the end, we were operating on all cylinders when we needed it most and founds a way through. This culminated in winning three road playoff games in five days to become NEWMACTournament Champions to earning an automatic bid into the NCAA D-III Tournament.
The journey was special and an experience I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Looking back on the 2019-20 season, what game (or games) will you remember most? Why these particular games?
Our NEWMAC Championship game against WPI. To be down 24 points at the break and comeback and win was nothing short of incredible. I am very grateful to have been part of a win like that, but more importantly, on a team that was so resilient. It is difficult to put that one game into words but that is a memory that will bond us forever.
What have you enjoyed most about competing for the Coast Guard Academy men’s basketball team (and program) these past four years?
Being able to compete (on a daily basis), but really just being a part of this team for four years. Having that competitive outlet and support network from the team and coaching staff has made my experience here at the Coast Guard Academy that much more rewarding and worthwhile. Having the privilege to go to the Academy and represent it while playing a sport that I love has truly been amazing. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I have been afforded and the experiences I have had during my time both here at the Academy and on this team.
Once you officially graduate later this spring, do you plan (or hope) to stay involved with your sport in some capacity? Any interest in coaching in the future?
I will always love this game and do what I can to keep up with the team going forward. I can see myself getting involved in coaching to some degree down the road because I am passionate about helping and developing others. Coaching would allow me to continue that passion after graduation.
Tell me about your major. How did you choose it? Also, what are your future plans beyond graduation?
I am finishing up my degree in civil engineering. I have always wanted to have a technical background that would allow me to develop real-world problem-solving skills and that is exactly what this major has provided me.
I believe studying civil engineering has set me up for future success, beginning as an officer with the Coast Guard. School has always been something that has meant a lot to me and I have worked really hard to be successful at it while balancing both my military and basketball commitments.
I will be serving aboard USCGC Reliance as a Deck Watch Officer in June and am very excited to begin my career with the Coast Guard. Beyond that, I am working towards making my dream of being a Coast Guard aviator come true, as well.
Jacob Burke (45) and the Norwich University football team look to continue their winning ways on Saturday against Coast Guard Academy. (PHOTO COURTESY: Norwich University Athletics)
By NoontimeSports.com | @NoontimeSports
Saturday will be an exciting day at Norwich University.
The campus will be celebrating the institution’s 200th anniversary and will host Coast Guard Academy in a must-see, must-watch New England Division III football game, which is scheduled to commence at 2:00 p.m. (eastern time).
Both Coast Guard Academy and Norwich enter Saturday’s clash with identical 2-0 records and know a win would keep them atop the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) standings, as well as possibly tied with WPI, which also enters the third week with the same record.
One of the players that certainly hopes to continue the Cadets’ recent momentum is Jacob Burke. The senior linebacker, who has tallied 14 total tackles this fall, is hoping to help the Cadets snap a two-game losing streak to the Bears since the rivalry resumed in 2017.
Noontime Sports caught-up with Burke to discuss Saturday’s game against the Bears, as well as what he enjoys most about being a part of this rivalry.
What makes this game (and rivalry) so special and unique from your perspective?
This game (and) rivalry are extremely special and unique because it is steeped in tradition. This year is especially important for a number of reasons.
This year, both teams are 2-0 and have a chance to start the season 3-0 and move into first place in the conference.
2019 marks Norwich’s Bicentennial and it is a privilege to be able to be a part of this game during homecoming (and) alumni weekend.
The winner of Norwich-Coast Guard also is awarded ‘The Mug,’ too, which is arguably the most important trophy to win throughout the season.
Finally, this is not just any college football game. This rivalry is known as the ‘Little Army-Navy Game’ and the name speaks for itself. The singing of each team’s alma mater after the game concludes is the culmination of a very special college football Saturday.
This game is second to none and it is an honor to be involved with such a storied tradition.
What are a few memories you have from playing in this contest?
My two most influential memories about this game include the excitement and anticipation during the week of this game last year. The week was more intense, and the entire program was more focused. The same can be said for this year, too.
My second memory of this game was losing on the final play to the Bears last year. That is a feeling you never want to repeat and that is exactly what our program promised each other.
What is the build-up to this game like on campus? Do people talk about this game outside the practice field?
The build-up to this game is always exciting. Considering it is (our) alumni/homecoming weekend, the campus is quickly filling up and the buzz around the school is extremely high. Professors and peers are (also) there to support the team, too.
When preparing for this contest, does it have a different feel than other weeks of the season?
We prepare for this week just like any other week. However, everyone in the program understands just how important this game is and how much this rivalry means so this week is more intense.
The team remains really focused despite all the distractions which allow us to prepare well.
What must your team do to be successful/score a win on Saturday?
We must play together and stick together throughout the game. We must limit mistakes and be ready to adjust on the fly while still being able to play fast and tough. We can’t beat ourselves.
What do you imagine this year’s game day atmosphere to be like? Do you anticipate a big crowd?
The game-day atmosphere is going to be awesome. The school expects a huge crowd so extra seating has been placed around Sabine Field. The entire team is looking forward to a crazy and loud atmosphere on Saturday.