Down East 2013 ©
On November 6, 2010, Maine Maritime Academy’s football team, the Mariners, beat Framingham State by a score of 50 to 26 to improve their record to five wins and one loss. This small Castine-based team would go on to the New England Football Conference championship that year, and were just one season removed from earning a coveted spot in the NCAA Division III tournament — the first in the program’s history. In that November game, the offense exploded for over five hundred yards — exactly zero of which came from passing the football. It was the third time in four games the Mariners didn’t complete a pass. Yet, they won each of those games.
For those whom the words “Fox NFL Sunday” has no meaning, passing the ball is arguably the most effective and efficient way to score. The past decade of the NFL has proven as much with a golden age of quarterbacks that includes Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. Take away your option to throw the ball, and it’s like trying to earn runs in baseball by only bunting, or painting seascapes without any shade of blue. The strategy would seemingly put a team at a large, unnecessary disadvantage. Except Maine Maritime Academy and Coach Chris McKenney have thrived for over a decade using this exotic system that focuses nearly exclusively on running the football.
To put the Mariners unorthodox method in perspective, in that aforementioned game, Framingham State threw the football thirty-two times. By comparison, Maine Maritime tried only forty-seven passes over the course of the entire eleven-game season, averaging just over four attempts per game. The Mariners won five games that October and lost none, passing for a total of 63 yards while their opponents threw for 896. Despite such lopsided numbers, the Mariners got a spot in their conference championship game three out of the last four years, McKenney earned several accolades, and his players fill the Division III record books.
For McKenney, the system exists not because he lacks a talented quarterback, but because he strongly believes running the football is the best way to win. “I developed this approach a while ago, and have been adjusting it for years now,” he says. “At Maine Maritime Academy, we’re a little undersized, and we don’t have the biggest kids. So it’s a good system. We’re using finesse and power.”
McKenney and his team had a mediocre 2011 due to a young roster, but he has high expectations for 2012. Football purists may scoff at the system, but the scoreboard in Castine tells a different (winning) story. —Will Bleakley
Photo courtesy of Maine Maritime Academy