KINGS POINT, N.Y. – As the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy team prepares for its season finale at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday, head coach Mike Toop said this past season was "as tough as I've had."
The Mariners (2-7, 10-4) take on the Engineers (4-4, 3-2) in a Liberty League encounter in Troy, N.Y. at 1 p.m.
Asked why it has been a difficult season, Toop replied, "Just the level of expectation coming into the season. It's been very disappointing. I thought that we would have been much better than what we've shown."
The Mariners enter the game at East Camps Stadium with a three-game losing streak.
"We haven't played with any consistency at all for the last four games, so hopefully, that can change," Toop said. "It's never too late. Any time you have another opportunity, you want to capitalize on it. RPI has gotten better each game this year. They proved that by beating Hobart last weekend, which was a huge win for them. Plus they're playing for a winning season. They'll really be up for the game. "
Toop hoped that Kings Point would be up for the game as well.
"It's the last time 15 guys will play," he said. "Hopefully, we'll match their intensity."
The team's goal is simple. Asked what the Mariners were playing for in their final game of the season, Toop replied, "A win. That's it. Just a win for 15 seniors. "
RPI enters the game on a high note, rallying from a 28-7 halftime deficit to record a 29-28 road win over Hobart College last week. Hobart defeated the Merchant Mariners in Kings Point, 42-14, on Oct. 22. Junior quarterback Mike Hermann paced the comeback by throwing for 299 yards and three touchdowns, running for a fourth. He completed passes to eight receivers.
"They're relentless," Toop said. ""I know the head guy and the defensive coordinator very well. The defensive coordinator and I coached together at one point. So I know how he's going to have his kids playing. And it shows on tape. They're relentless defensively. Even though they give up some points, they play hard all the way until the end of the game. They made plays in the second half against Hobart."
Hermann is the key to the attack. He has accounted for 80 percent of the team's yardage from scrimmage (2,338 of 2913). Hermann has completed 149-of-253 passes for 1,825 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also has run for an RPI-high of 513 yards in 117 attempts, including 13 TDs.
Translated: Stop Hermann and you stop RPI.
"Offensively, the Hermann kind of makes things go," Toop said. "He's a real big kid who can throw the ball and can run with the football, so he can bide time with his feet sometimes. . . . He's an excellent football player."
Toop felt the Engineers' offense will present challenges to the Mariners.
"They're very, very multiple offensively," he said. "They throw a lot of different shifts and motions and formations. They try to confuse you a little bit. They'll get after it."
Photo: The Mariners wrap up their season at RPI on Saturday. Photo by Shawn Antonelli