May 24, 2020

True college ball is being played by MMA Mariners

CASTINE – Everyone enjoyed Saturday’s high school football state championship games, right? And now you’re feeling a little let down because most of the seniors on those six teams, not to mention the seniors on every team this fall, won’t be playing college ball.

Oh, five or six of the physically gifted will go on to play at the University of Maine. Around the same number will wind up in a Colby, Bowdoin or Bates uniform alongside rich yuppie kids from Massachusetts. Maybe another half-dozen in-state kids will play out of state.

As for the rest of these tough Maine boys, well, where do 5-foot-10, 215-pound linemen and 5-foot-5, 175-pound fullbacks go on to play, anyway?

“This is a place where any kid in Maine can come play football,” answered Mike Hodgson, standing near the 50-yard-line on Ritchie Field a few minutes after his Maine Maritime Academy squad lost a 15-6 war to Cortland (N.Y) State Saturday in the ECAC Northeast Championship.

OK, sure, Hodgson’s postgame comment was undoubtedly a coach’s recruiting ploy. Not every high school football player can come play at MMA. Like at every college, only those willing to work hard in the classroom and who love football need apply.

The deeper meaning behind Hodgson’s statement, and what no one in the crowd of 1,500 or the cable TV audience could ignore after seeing this game, is the fact MMA is getting these Maine kids that other schools, whether Division I, II, or III, don’t seem to pursue. And, damn, can these Maine guys play.

Six straight winning seasons… Two New England Football Conference titles… A preseason Division III Top 20 ranking… A second straight ECAC appearance… All with primarily Maine talent.

Of MMA’s 22 regular position starters against Cortland, 17 were Mainers. Not from one or two high schools, mind you. From 14, representing the state from Millinocket, to Old Orchard Beach, to Biddeford, Bangor, and Winslow. Twenty-nine of the 38 Mariners on the roster are from a town near you.

Yeah, MMA lost Saturday. But let’s go to the replay.

Cortland State’s offensive line from tackle to tackle averaged 6-foot-2, 279 pounds per man. Cortland’s right tackle, Rob Hughes, is a 6-3, 320-pound senior who – read this with the respect it deserves – lettered at the University of Nebraska before transferring to Cortland.

Contrast this with MMA’s defensive front, composed of senior end Mark Thomas (6-0, 220), freshman tackle Charles Payne (5-10, 220), freshman tackle Rob Cody (5-10, 250), and senior end Dick LeTourneau (6-0, 223).

It’s no exaggeration to say it looked like dump trucks against pickups whenever Cortland had the ball, and behind the dump trucks was a stable of fine backs and, and split wide was a record-setting wideout in Steve Ellis.

Despite all this, Cortland never got in the end zone. The Dragons pushed the Mariners up and down the artificial turf. Five times they penetrated the MMA-25. Five times the Mariner defense made them settle for a field goal. Cortland scored more points in a win over the No. 1 Division III team in the country in Washington & Jefferson than they did against these local guys from Maine.

“I give those guys credit,” said Cortland’s Ellis, who was held to only one catch for seven yards by MMA’s defense. “They’re scrappy, they hit hard, and I think they wanted to keep us out (of the end zone) more than we wanted to get in.”

Offensively, the Mariners weren’t outsized quite as badly up front. But because of injuries to the tight ends, the MMA gameplan was something Forrest Gump could have designed. Run. Run. Run. If not tailback Rob Marchitello (22 carries, 54 yards), than fullback Dennis Seymour (13-70).

Even with Cortland’s defense knowing what was coming, MMA pushed and fought for yards and even punched in a late TD on a 17-yard burst by Seymour, who is 5-6, 175 pounds.

“We had the size advantage, but they showed a lot of desire,” said Cortland head coach Dave Murray in tribute to MMA.

Desire. Yes, that’s what these MMA players are about. LeTourneau, who is from Fairfield and played at Lawrence High, has played five positions the past four seasons. Saturday, in his final game, he boomed a 54-yard punt, returned a kickoff 12 yards, recovered a fumble, and got his licks in on a goal-line stand.

LeTourneau spent three years in the army and a year taking old tires off rims for $7 an hour before enrolling at MMA. He is on schedule to get his degree in power engineering this spring.

These are the guys MMA wants. This is why MMA football is true Maine college football.

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