SCHENECTADY — The Union football team is fortunate to have depth at running back.
Unfortunately for the Dutchmen, they’ve needed it.
Union leaned on its running game last week in a 30-17 victory at Buffalo State last week that was a six-point game midway through the fourth quarter before the Dutchmen drove 81 yards in 12 plays, just two of which were passes.
Senior star Ike Irabor accounted for 52 yards on seven carries on that possession and finished it with a five-yard touchdown run with 1:23 to play, after having missed the previous week’s 30-9 victory at Utica with an injury.
First-year player Jonathan Anderson, who hasn’t missed a game yet this season, was the workhorse, though, and ran it 30 times for 139 yards, for which he earned the Liberty League Rookie of the Week award.
His performance helped the Dutchmen (No. 12/14 nationally) improve to 5-0 overall heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against St. Lawrence (3-1) at Frank Bailey Field.
“We’ve had some injuries, so that’s the reason a lot of guys have had to step up,” Union head coach Jeff Behrman said. “So we feel good about our running back depth. To be quite honest with you, Jonathan Anderson was our fifth-string tailback. If you think about it, Ike is one, Joe Ferreira was two, but he had an injury back in the spring. Michael Fiore emerged as three, and Griffin Wallner emerged as four.
“So, yeah, we’re very happy with how Jonathan’s played over the last couple weeks. He had some really tough yards against Utica a couple weeks ago, as well.”
Fiore, who was Union’s leading rusher against Worcester State and Springfield, has been out the last two games, and Wallner, a senior from Shenendehowa High, chipped in on the ground for the first four games but was out last week.
Behrman said Irabor is still not 100% recovered from the injury that kept him out at Utica, but Irabor still managed 121 yards on 22 carries against Buffalo State and ran it four straight times once the Dutchmen got to first-and-10 at the Bengals’ 20 on the clinching touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the game.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Anderson brings a different angle to the Union attack than Irabor does.
“When you look at at Ike, Ike is a ridiculous athlete,” Behrman said. “There’s not a lot of things he can’t do. I think Jonathan’s style is more of a one-cut guy and run, whereas Ike sometimes will look to make the big, big play and dance a little bit more. But the speed of Ike is different than Jonathan’s speed.”
The injury bug has also hit the receiving corps, as Robbie Tolbert, who earned Liberty League Rookie of the Month for September, missed the Buffalo State game, but Behrman said the team hopes he’ll be available for St. Lawrence.
Tolbert’s season stats are almost identical to those of quarterback Will Bellamy’s primary target in recent years, two-time All-Liberty League first teamer Andre Ross Jr.
Union needed all it could get from the running game against Buffalo State, as Bellamy had a subpar game and threw two interceptions.
And the Dutchmen’s defense, which stopped all five fourth down attempts by Utica two weeks ago, came up with a big one against Buffalo State while nursing a 23-17 lead midway through the fourth.
Diavon Clements broke up a pass on fourth down from the Union 4, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Dutchmen some breathing room out to the 19, and the Dutchmen proceeded to march down the field for the game-clinching drive while burning over seven minutes of clock.
“We turned the page on Sunday,” Behrman said. “We watched the film, we made the corrections we needed to make, we discussed what we needed to discuss and we moved on to St. Lawrence.
“As I said to the team on Sunday, that was a good collective team win. That’s we talked about on Saturday morning in the hotel before we ate our pre-game meal, is it’s going to take a team effort. It’s not going to be just one side of the ball, and I think the guys responded to that.”
The Dutchmen face an interesting quarterback in the Saints’ Tyler Grochot, who has shown an ability to sling it for big numbers.
He threw for 341 yards the last time the teams met, a 38-17 Union win in 2019, and had 71 attempts, completing 36 for 412 yards, against RPI in a 2018 game that the Engineers won 27-20.
Grochot had 279 yards on just 11 completions in the Saints’ last game, a 55-3 win over Castleton two weeks ago.
“He’s extremely talented,” Behrman said. “He processes and makes decisions and gets the ball out quick. He’s got a lot of arm talent. Strong arm, and he’s accurate.
“They’re much more balanced this year in the run-pass than they have been in the past. But they certainly can revert to that and throw it more. It just depends on how the game’s going.”