SCHENECTADY — Union College’s defense knew it was in for a major test against Springfield College’s triple-option offensive attack, and fortunately for the Dutchmen, the ‘D’ earned an ‘A’ in several clutch situations Saturday at Frank Bailey Field.
With star running back Ike Irabor sitting out the entire second half with an undisclosed injury, Union’s high-powered offense slowed down a little compared to its scoring spree over its first two games. But the Dutchmen defense forced five turnovers and stopped the Pride on downs twice more during a 30-23 win.
Union (3-0) couldn’t celebrate another victory until senior linebacker Collin Lama intercepted Springfield QB David Wells’ desperation pass with less than a minute remaining after the Pride had marched down to the Dutchmen 45-yard line. The Dutchmen defense set up several scores for its offense and also reached the end zone when junior linebacker Thomas Cavallo returned an interception 31 yards for a TD in the third quarter.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Cavallo said. “Their fullback came out and chipped me on that play. I felt him release, and my instincts made me stay with him. I was lucky that [Jimaar] Edwards put a lot of pressure on their quarterback, and the ball came right to me. We had to learn a whole new defense this week against their triple option. It was a lot different, but I think we played pretty sound. There’s a lot going on with their offense and their formations all look the same. It’s hard to know what’s coming, but the coaches give us a job, and we tried to do what they told us to do as much as possible.”
Springfield actually outgained the Dutchmen 435-271, thanks to a 290-109 edge on the ground. Irabor ran for 33 yards on 11 carries in the first half before being shut down for the rest of the game. Sophomore Michael Fiore picked up the slack for the Dutchmen with 110 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
“Ike is a special player, but when guys go down, other guys have to step up,” Fiore said. “It’s a team mentality. I couldn’t have done what I did without my offensive line. We pulled out the win, and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. Springfield is a physical team that loves coming downhill and hitting hard, but we were ready for them and came out with the win.”
Union also didn’t turn the ball over, which turned out to be one of the keys to the game.
“Coach definitely preaches ball security and no turnovers,” Fiore said. “And our defense played great. We knew what they were capable of.”
Union head coach Jeff Behrman was not surprised that the 1-2 Pride gave the Dutchmen an intense effort all the way down to the final minute of the game.
“We didn’t think it was going to be easy,” Behrman said. “We knew going in that it was going to be a major challenge. Springfield is so well coached, and they do a terrific job. They know who they are, and they execute at a very high level. I’m proud of our guys. They were persistent and resilient.”
Behrman especially was proud of his defense and the rushing of Fiore.
“Our defense played huge,” he said. “We had five turnovers, plus a couple of turnovers on downs. Michael is a hard runner. He did a great job for us. That’s why we put him in there. We know we are going to get positive yardage out of him.”
Union scored on its opening possession, capping a seven-play, 65-yard drive with a Will Bellamy 24-yard TD pass to Finn Duran.
The Dutchmen tacked on another three points on Andrew Lau’s 27-yard field goal after Lama recovered a fumble on the Springfield 25-yard line.
Austin St. Pierre recovered another fumble for the Dutchmen on the Pride’s next possession, but the Dutchmen failed to capitalize.
Springfield got on the scoreboard with a Wells 2-yard keeper to cap a 37-yard drive after a short Union punt.
Bellamy extended Union’s lead to 16-7 on a 1-yard keeper, but the Pride pulled to within 16-14 when Wells hooked up with Isaiah Cashwell-Doe on a 74-yard TD strike when the halfback beat his defender on a post pattern after the rest of the Union defenders were loaded up in the box to stop the run.
Union scored the next two touchdowns to open the second half. Fiore busted up the middle for a 28-yard run before Cavallo returned his interception for another score to stretch Union’s advantage to 30-14 with 11:19 remaining in the third quarter.
But although it appeared Union was in complete control, Springfield’s defense tightened, and their rushing game started to click.
Wells capped an 81-yard drive with a 4-yard keeper to cut the Pride’s deficit to 30-20 with 9:26 left in the game, and then Christian Hutra booted a 30-yard field goal to pull Springfield within a touchdown with 2:54 remaining.
Springfield’s onside kick attempt was recovered by the Pride, but the recovery was nullified because of an offside penalty. But Springfield stopped the Union defense on just three plays and got the ball back with 1:15 left in regulation.
Springfield put a scare into the Dutchmen when Wells hooked up with Ian Porter for a 26-yard gain, but Lama’s interception sealed the win two plays later.
“Absolutely this was a different game than our first two games,” said Bellamy, who was 7-for-17 for 122 yards. “[Springfield] has got some big, strong, tough football players on that team. Going into the week, we thought their safeties would have trouble with our offense. We tried to take more shots down the field on the outside, but their safeties didn’t come down hard after our play-action. They did a good job.”
“Each week, we’re looking to play the best football we can in all three phases,” Behrman said. “We knew that our first two games were not that competitive, and it was obvious that this game would be a lot more competitive. Our guys did a great job of preparing and practicing. They put in the work and came out victorious.”
Springfield 0 14 0 9 — 23
Union 10 6 14 0 — 30
U — Duran 24 pass from Bellamy (Lau kick)
U — Lau 27 field goal
S — Wells 4 run (Hutra kick)
U — Bellamy 1 run (kick failed)
S — Cashwell-Doe 74 pass from Wells (Hutra kick)
U — Fiore 27 run (Lau kick)
U — Cavallo 33 interception return (Lau kick)
S — Wells 4 run (pass failed)
S — Hutra 30 field goal
RPI 24, WPI 10
WORCESTER, Mass. — Quarterback George Marinopolous threw three touchdown passes, and the RPI defense allowed only 162 yards of total offense as the Engineers defeated WPI in the Annual Transit Trophy Game.
Rensselaer, which now leads the trophy series 27-13-1, moves to 3-0 on the season. WPI falls to 1-2.
RPI 14 0 7 3 — 24
WPI 0 7 0 3 — 10
RPI — Schrader 4 from Marinopoulos (MacDougall kick)
RPI — Palmer 41 pass from. Marinopoulos (MacDougall kick)
WPI — Farrah 16 pass from Olexa (Wade kick).
RPI — Walker-Sutton 9 pass from Marinopoulos (MacDougall kick)
WPI — Wade 21 field goal
RPI — MacDougall 25 field goal
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected]