New London - Among the things the 4,750 fans at the Coast Guard Academy didn't see from either team Saturday afternoon: Staunch defense.
"Not a defensive day, that's for sure," Merchant Marine coach Mike Toop said. "But as long as you get one more than the other guy, we'll take it."
The Merchant Marine Academy football team outdueled Coast Guard 43-37 to earn the Secretaries' Cup, finally clinching the victory with 1 minute, 57 seconds to go when it gained possession on an unsuccessful Coast Guard onside kick.
The Merchant Marine win came despite a cheering section for Coast Guard which included Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Coast Guard superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz, former Coast Guard all-star quarterback Christian George and UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma (friends of the family with Coast Guard receiver Pat Meggers).
It also spoiled a four-touchdown performance by Coast Guard senior quarterback Jon Resch, who was 26-for-49 with no interceptions and 53 yards rushing as the Bears racked up 410 yards offense.
"For his first game (of the season), it was as top a game as he could play," Coast Guard coach Bill George said of Resch. "He made plays throwing the ball; he made plays with his feet. It was as good a quarterback performance you can see in Division III. He knows the game as well as any quarterback could."
George said the defense was worn down by the Merchant Marine triple-option offense in the second half. The Mariners finished with 521 yards offense, including a nine-play, 38-yard drive that took 4:34 off the clock and gave Merchant Marine a 43-30 lead with four minutes to play.
In addition, Coast Guard defensive back Evan Rothfield and linebacker Nick Phillips came off the field with injuries in the second half.
"It's disappointing. You lost to Merchant Marine by a touchdown," said George, whose team also lost the Secretaries' Cup a year ago on a Mariners' touchdown with eight seconds remaining. "But you can't feel sorry for yourself. That's why they call it feeling sorry for yourself ... because no one else is doing it. You gotta battle."
Tyler Hames had 11 carries for 98 yards for Coast Guard and added seven catches for 59 yards. Collis Brown had nine catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns and Meggers and Blake Thompson added touchdown catches from Resch.
Jake Wawrzyniak had the Bears' only rushing touchdown, scoring from the 2-yard line with 2:28 left in the third quarter to tie the game at 30.
Merchant Marine got a rare pass completion on its next series, however, for 56 yards from backup quarterback Luke Stidham to Connor Kennedy and John-Leon Gosselin (22 carries, 146 yards) scored one of his three touchdowns to give the Mariners the lead for good.
Later, down 13 with the ball at Coast Guard's own 29-yard-line, Resch gave the Bears one more shot as he led them down the field in less than two minutes. Resch was 6-for-9 for all 71 yards on the drive, capping it with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Brown that pulled the team within 43-37.
Resch saw more of the bitter in his performance than the sweet.
"I'm past that point in my career. If we lose, I can't see the sweet in it," Resch said. "We got stuffed three or four times on offense where if we score, we win. We gave up a lot of points, but the bottom line is on offense we didn't do enough to win the game.
"We lost to Merchant Marine. That stinks."
Dante Adams led Coast Guard with 15 tackles.