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November 5, 2011

Mariners hope to rediscover their attack and take the offensive vs. Union

KINGS POINT, N.Y. – Lost: The U.S. Merchant Marine offense.

If found, please forward it to Mariners football coach Mike Toop.

Toop hopes the attack finds itself in time for the Mariners' final home game of the season -- Senior Day -- against Union College at Tomb Field at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The Mariners' offense has not been offensive at all the past two games, scoring but 30 points, total, in a pair of losses. The Merchant Marines ((2-6, 1-3) have to be at full throttle if they want to overcome the Dutchmen (4-4-, 4-1) in the Liberty League game.

"We've got to hold the ball offensively," Toop said. "We haven't moved the ball at all offensively the last two games. When you're going three and out and three and out and turning over you're putting that much more pressure on the defense.

"And against that offense we saw last week and this one, we're going to have to hold the football. Last week we gave up a touchdown on special teams and we can't do that as well. We've got to play mistake-free football and move the football, shorten the game, so to speak, here we can run the clock, move the ball and score and give us a chance on defense."

After amassing an impressive 514 yards from scrimmage in the 34-27 triumph at Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Oct. 8, the Mariners have struggled. They have 501 yards, total, the past two games, a 45-16 home loss to the University of Rochester on Oct. 15 and a 42-14 road defeat at Hobart a week later.

In last year's game in Union, the Mariners recorded a 28-21 victory as junior running back John-Leon Gosselin ran for 201 yards. Gosselin has rushed for but 72 yards in 23 carries the past two weeks. Junior quarterback Alex Coviello, who finished with a career-high 243 yards in the 34-27 win over WPI, has 170 yards in 40 attempts the past two games.

Coming off a bye week due to final exams, those two players and the offensive line must be at the top of their game if they want to overcome such a lethal side as Union.

Union senior quarterback Drew Connolly is coming off an outstanding performance in a 38-28 Liberty League victory over RPI last week, throwing for a school-record tying five touchdowns. That equaled a five TD performance he set as a freshman in a 42-14 triumph over USMMA in 2008.

Connolly has been lethal against other opponents as well this season. He has completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 2,015 yards and 20 TDs. His favorite receiver is Justin Gallo, who has caught 53 balls for 990 yards and a team-best 14 TDs.

"They can hang some points on the board," Toop said. "They could very well have the best offensive player in the league and their wide-out Gallo No. 1. Their quarterback's as good as any we've seen, including the kid from Johns Hopkins. They can hang points on the board for sure."

The key to stopping Connolly is not letting him start throwing. In other words, a strong pass rush can force him to rush his throws.

"You've got to get to him. You've got to get to him," Toop said. "The thing we haven't done this year is put any pressure on the quarterback when we're at four, five, six or seven [yards to go]. Even the last game we went to a three-man rush because we haven't been able to get pressure. We weren't able to cover. So, it comes down to who's better and we haven't been better lately."

On the flip side, the Dutchmen are vulnerable to the pass. Opponents have completed 61.2 percent of their passes against them, for 11 TDs. The Mariners like to run the ball, but they have enjoyed success when they have taken to the air. Sophomore wide receiver Chase Dunn has made 21 receptions for 536 yards – a 25.5 average her catch – and seven TDs.

"Defensively, they are much improved from a year ago," Toop said. "They've lost some really, really tough games. I think they're a lot better than their record. It's going to be a tall test for us. We beat them last year and that's definitely in their minds. So they're going to come here. They need to win out to have a winning season. We'll get their best for sure."

Photo: Merchant Marine needs a lot of yards from John-Leon Gosselin if it wants to defeat Union College. Photo by Shawn Antonelli