Union vs. RPI: Friends will face off for ‘Shoes’

For Union College senior guard Mark Herrington, the battle for the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy is person

For Union College senior guard Mark Herrington, the battle for the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy is personal.

“The funny thing is that my best friend is a linebacker on the RPI football team,” said the 6-foot-2, 270-pound co-captain from Columbia High School. “His name is Jeff McCormick, and we’ve been friends all the way through high school. We’ve been talking about this game for a long time, and we’re always joking with each other about who is going to win. It’s for local bragging rights, but it’s also about bragging rights between my friend and I. We have a personal stake in this game. Our rivalry is a civil one, though. We don’t yell things at each other.”

Chances are, though, there will be a lot of yelling on both sides of the ball when New York’s oldest collegiate rivalry resumes Saturday night at 6 at East Campus Stadium. This will be the 108th renewal, with Union owning a 79-24-4 record. Since the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy was introduced, Union holds a 45-15 edge, including a 20-15 win at Frank Bailey Field last year. One of the strange parts of this rivalry is that the local schools disagree about the records. RPI claims one more win in the series, which began on Nov. 20, 1886.

“It’s amazing how much talk there is about this game,” said Herrington. “Nothing has changed in all these years. Our No. 1 goal since the beginning of training camp is to keep the Shoes.”

With the NCAA Division III rivals only 30 minutes apart, it’s not uncommon for each program to have local players from the opposing school’s home city or surrounding area on its roster. Union, for example, has senior defensive end and co-captain Chris Gross, along with wide receivers Justin Gallo and Connor Gallo, from Troy. RPI, meanwhile, has junior defensive lineman Joe Cardillo from Schenectady and junior defensive back Kevin Frame from Scotia-Glenville on its roster.

But you don’t have to be a local native to appreciate the significance of this rivalry.

“This is an awesome rivalry,” said Union senior defensive back Anthony Cassese, from Wickliffe, Ohio. “It’s one of the oldest rivalries in the nation. I’m also a baseball player, so I see the guys from RPI several times a year. It’s pretty ser­ious. In baseball, the guys will even throw at each other. Even if you’re not from this area, you get to know about the rivalry pretty quickly. It’s a great atmosphere.”

RPI will be playing its first night home game at its new 5,200-seat stad­ium, which opened last year. The Engineers used to play at ’86 Field, which featured real grass (both teams play on artificial surface now). Fans could get up close and personal watching the game around an old snow fence that surrounded the field.

“I think we did lose a little bit of a home-field advantage when we moved from ’86 Field to East Campus Stadium,” said RPI sen­ior running back and co-captain Nick Costa. “We need to establish a new home-field advantage here at East Campus Stadium. I thought we started doing that with our last two home games. We seemed to get a lot of crowd support, especially against Alfred.”

Both Union (2-2 Liberty League, 2-4 overall) and RPI (1-2, 3-3) have struggled this season and haven’t lived up to expectations, but both coaches believe their records won’t affect the intensity in this game.

“I think the rivalry is bigger than ever,” said RPI head coach Joe King. “Someone can right their season this week, while the other team will continue to struggle. This is still a very big game.”

“I don’t think the interest will be lacking in this game. The rivalry is the rivalry,” said Union head coach John Audino, whose team has lost three straight games and is in jeopardy of suffering a losing season for the first time in his 19 years with the Dutchmen. “Even if both teams were winless, it would still be a good rivalry, and you would still get everyone’s best effort. It’s all about winning the Shoes and keeping the Shoes. That’s our goal every year.

“It always seems that when Union wins the Shoes, good things happen to us. It’s a great game, and it has been for years. If you can’t get excited about this game, then you’re not a college football fan.”

For the sixth straight season, the game will be televised by Time Warner Cable Sports.

Categories: College Sports

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