They bent, but didn’t break. Just a week after posting a league record shutout in a 59-0 win over the Fayetteville Guard, the Baltimore Mariners’ defense had their reputation and the game on the line versus the Richmond Raiders. With less than a minute to go and nursing a 49-45 lead the Mariners defense faced a Richmond fourth and goal just inches from the end zone. As Raiders quarterback Robbie Jenkins drove forward off his center’s right shoulder, he was promptly met by Mariners’ defenders Adam Goloboski and Fearon Wright who drove the Raider signal caller away from the goal line, securing the win and running the Mariners season record to 4-0.
“This is the kind of win that builds character for our team. We struggled on offense and defense tonight; we just could not get in sync, but in the end the team came through and earned a victory that will bring them back to earth a little bit, but also provided them with some adversity they can build on,” said Mariners Head Coach Chris Simpson.
On a night when the Mariners offense and defense struggled, their special teams moved to the forefront as Baltimore kicker J.R. Cipra posted 19 points including three field goals and five unos; earned by splitting the uprights with a 57-yard boot on kickoffs. Defensive back and returner Richard Johnson also added to the special team scoring with a 53-yard return for a touchdown on a missed field goal attempt.
The game against the Raiders started much like the Mariners win over Fayetteville last week as Johnson picked off a Jenkins’ pass and returned it 39 yards for a score, just 1:15 into the game. Following the Cipra extra point and uno on the ensuing kickoff Baltimore held the early 8-0 lead. On the Raiders’ next drive, Mariners’ defensive back Armar Watson picked off another Jenkins pass providing the Mariners’ offense the ball on the Richmond six. Just two plays later, Isaiah Grier boosted his league leading rushing touchdown total to seven with a three-yard burst. Once again Cipra connected on the extra point and uno and Baltimore led 16-0.
All resemblance to last week’s victory ended when Jenkins hit wide receiver Chris Schubert with a 12-yard scoring strike, to cut the lead to 16-6 with 4:37 to go in the opening quarter, spawning a nip and tuck battle, which would not be decided until the game’s final seconds.
Cipra started off the second quarter with a 26-yard field goal to extend Baltimore’s lead to 19-6, but Richmond struck quickly with a two-play, 36-yard drive capped by a 31-yard Jenkins to Jay Jackson scoring strike. The Mariners added a one-yard score on a Jamaal Stokes fumble recovery off a fumble by Baltimore quarterback E.J. Nemeth, but two more touchdown passes from Jenkins to Jackson made the halftime score Baltimore 27 Richmond 24.
After taking the opening second half kickoff, the Mariners completed a six-play, 22-yard drive, but Richmond’s defense held again, resulting in a Cipra 24-yard field goal and a 30-24 Mariners’ edge. Jenkins then led the Raiders on another quick drive (3 plays, 34 yards) and hit Schubert for a 21-yard score and following the extra point, Richmond earned its first lead of the game 31-30.
The teams then exchanged missed field goal attempts, but a 44-yard attempt by Richmond’s Jerrett Brown fell short and Richard Johnson returned the miss 53 yards for a touchdown. With Cipra’s point after touchdown and uno Baltimore held a 38-31 lead. On the first play of the fourth quarter Jenkins hit Brown for a 35-yard touchdown reception knotting the score at 38.
Following a 24-yard kickoff return by Johnson, Nemeth led the Mariners on a four-play, 24 yard drive resulting in Grier’s second rushing score of the game and a 45-38 Mariners advantage. The Raiders continued their fast scoring approach as Jenkins connected with Jackson on 29-yard pass to take Richmond to the Baltimore one. One play later Brown bolted in from the one tying the score once again at 45.
With just nine minutes left in the contest, Nemeth led Baltimore on an 18-yard, four minute, 51 second drive. With the Raiders holding once again on third down, Cipra kicked his third field goal of the day, a 40-yarder, and then booted his fifth uno of the day, giving Baltimore an all-important four point lead at 49-45.
Following the uno, Richmond took possession at their five yard line. Following several gains, including a 25-yard run by Brown and a 12-yard completion to Steven Miller, which brought the ball just inches from the goal line, Richmond faced a fourth and goal. With less than a minute to go Jenkins looked ready to take part in his seventh touchdown of the game, but Goloboski and Wright halted him without any progress and the Mariners took possession with just 54 seconds remaining. After three Nemeth one yard dives, the Mariners secured the win and team record fourth straight win to start the season.
On an uncharacteristic night, when the Mariners’ offense compiled only 113 yards, Grier led the Mariners with 21 yards rushing and two scores. Nemeth was 9 for 23 passing with 84 yards and one interception. Jamaal Stokes led all Baltimore receivers with five receptions for 41 yards. On the defensive side of the ball Goloboski and Watson led with 4.5 tackles each; Watson also added an interception. Fearon Wright totaled 1.5 sacks and Brian Bradford contributed .5 sacks.
Dating back to May 23, 2009 the Mariners have a 9-1 regular season record and also have won eight straight games at home. Baltimore now has a bye before playing three straight games on the road, including games against the New Jersey Revolution and Fayetteville, who they have defeated this season, and the Reading Express, the defending American Indoor Football Association (AIFA) champions. The Mariners next home game is May 2nd against the Harrisburg Stampede at 4:00 PM at 1st Mariner Arena.