Even with an explosive quarterback/receiver tandem that would make even the most ardent fantasy football fan take notice, the Union College football team needs a little help from its defense once in a while.
Saturday, the Dutchmen got just that.
Sophomore defensive end Bill Meile recovered his second fumble of the game on the Worcester Polytchnic Institute 44-yard line with 1:30 remaining to set up Adam Henry’s 23-yard field goal as time expired to give the Dutchmen a 34-31 victory over the Engineers on Frank Bailey Field.
Union improves to 2-0 in the Liberty League and 2-3 overall. WPI drops to 1-2 and 2-3.
WPI appeared to be headed in for the game-winning score when the Engineers took over on their own 22 with 2:42 to go. They quickly moved the ball to their 44 in four plays, but quarterback Johny Antonopoulos fumbled, and Meile pounced on it.
“I came in on the blitz, and the ball just came out of his hands, so I dove on it,” said Meile. “We needed that turnover at the end.”
After Drew Connolly found Connor Gallo for a key 29-yard catch near the far sidelines, the Dutchmen ran three more plays before putting the ball in Henry’s hands — or more precisely, foot.
WPI called a timeout to try to ice him, but the former Union soccer player in his first season on the football varsity kicked the game-winner to get Union’s inconsistent defense off the hook.
“I’m so happy to have the opportunity to help this team win,” said Henry. “I wanted to pick up my teammates. It was essentially a field goal of extra-point distance, but I won’t lie to you, it was still nerve-wracking. This is my first game-winning field goal. It feels great.”
Henry was only one of several heroes for the Dutchmen, who once again showed off an explosive offense.
Connolly completed 11 of 19 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns, all to his favorite receiver, Justin Gallo, who hauled in seven passes for 234 yards. Justin Gallo, the older brother of Connor, entered the game as the eighth-best receiver in NCAA Division III in terms of receiving yards. He’s No. 2 on the all-time Union receiving yards list.
Tailback T.J. Franzese added 106 yards rushing on 20 carries.
“We know we’re capable of big plays,” said Justin Gallo. “We have a solid running game this year, but we know we can throw the ball when we have a chance. Drew and I have played together for more than three years, and we’re on the same page. Even though opposing teams know what we’re going to do sometimes, they can’t stop us.”
“I thought Connor’s catch was great, and it set us up for the winning field goal,” said Connolly. “I didn’t throw the ball that well to him, because it slipped out of my hands, but he made a great catch when we needed it. We ran the ball a lot in the first half. I tried to feel it out, but I knew I could throw a few passes to Justin when the time came.”
Just as they had the week before at Rochester, the Dutchmen grabbed what appeared to be a comfortable lead when they pulled out to a 31-17 advantage early in the fourth quarter on Connolly’s one-yard keeper.
But WPI scored in just 2:37, with Antonopoulos reaching the end zone on a keeper of his own to help the Engineers pull within 31-24 with 11:27 remaining.
Union couldn’t move the ball on its next series, and the Engineers quickly took advantage, driving the ball 85 yards in nine plays. Ernie Mello, who ran for 91 yards on 32 carries and scored three times, broke over from the two-yard line, and Cody Beckel tacked on the PAT to knot the score at 31-31 with 5:19 remaining.
Union failed to move the ball once again, thanks to a pair of quarterback sacks by WPI, and the Engineers took over for what looked like the game-winning drive until Meile’s clutch fumble recovery.
“We had a couple of bad breaks earlier this season, but we finally got some good breaks today,” said Union head coach John Audino. “Drew and Justin are really in sync, and they can read each other’s eyes on those big passing plays.
“This was a big game for us. We’re 2-0 in the league. I thought our kids played well on defense until the fourth quarter again. We couldn’t shut the door, but it was a great program win for us. We were on edge there for a while, and it got a little hairy at the end, but we still won.”
WPI 7 10 0 14 —31
Union 3 10 14 10 — 34
WPI — Mello blocked punt return in end zone (Beckel kick).
U — Henry 38 FG.
WPI — Mello 1 run (Beckel kick).
U — J. Gallo 33 pass from Connolly (Henry kick).
WPI — Beckel 33 FG.
U — J. Gallo 86 pass from Connolly (Henry kick).
U — Connolly 1 run (Henry kick).
WPI — Antonopoulos 1 run (Beckel kick).
WPI — Mello 2 run (Beckel kick).
U — Henry 22 FG.
First downs 20 14
Rushes-attempts 55-137 34-101
Passing yards 154 301
Comp-Att-Int 11-20-1 11-19-1
Return yards 37 9
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-1
Punts-avg 5-37.8 4-30.0
Penalties-yards 3-26 9-73
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Categories: College Sports