SCHENECTADY — Just when it looked like Saturday’s Liberty League football game against Rochester might start to spiral out of Union’s control, Rochester’s offensive line parted like the Red Sea and Jack Flanagan came storming in like a maroon typhoon.
With Rochester trailing by six facing a fourth-and-5 from Union’s 28-yard line late in the third quarter, the Dutchmen defense dialed up a blitz and Flanagan came free. The Dutchmen senior defensive end crushed Rochester quarterback Ryan Rose for sack, ending a possession that started with the Yellowjackets in prime field position after a botched Union punt snap.
“We drew up the right play,” Flanagan said. “Every else on the defense did their job, and I just had to do my 1/11th. When that happens, good things happen for us.”
From there, Union let its ground game — bottled up for much of the first three quarters — do the rest, with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs putting the stamp on a 27-7 win that got the Dutchmen to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in Liberty League play.
Until Flanagan’s momentum-shifting sack, the start of the second half looked eerily similar to Union’s 31-24 loss to Utica four weeks earlier, when the Dutchmen let a two-possession halftime lead slip away as their offense went stagnant and the defense struggled to get stops.
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This time, Rochester got one touchdown back to cut into a 13-0 halftime deficit, but Flanagan’s big sack reinvigorated the entire Union sideline.
“The sack, that was huge,” Union head coach Jeff Behrman said. “For me, that’s what team wins are all about. It’s the offense, defense, special teams making plays. So, special teams made a bad play, and the defense stepped up and had their back.”
Union’s offensive production was a distinct tale of two halves.
In the first half, the Dutchmen were unable to get much going in the run game, but quarterback Donovan Pacatte kept Union humming, completing 15 of 21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown in the game’s first 30 minutes.
The touchdown was a thing of beauty, a 36-yard post route to Andre Ross Jr. that saw Pacatte face heavy pressure from a Rochester blitz before dropping the ball perfectly over the top to Ross, who beat a pair of Yellowjackets (1-3 Liberty League, 2-5 overall) defenders.
“With a guy like Andre, if he’s got a chance to do it, you trust him,” Pacatte said. “I saw him over 1-on-1 coverage, and no one in the country can probably guard ‘Dre 1-on-1.”
In real time, Pacatte didn’t get a chance to see just how perfect his throw was.
“I got hit, so I was looking at the turf for a little bit,” he added, “but when I got to the sideline, everyone was excited.”
The second half saw Union go big, bringing freshman Kyle Webster in as an extra tight end and finally establishing the run. After Flanagan’s game-changing sack, all 62 yards on Union’s ensuing touchdown drive came on the ground, capped off by Michael Fiore’s 1-yard plunge. The Dutchmen then kept the ball on the ground for eight of their 11 plays in an 82-yard drive that Ike Irabor — who finished with 87 yards on 20 carries — culminated with an 8-yard touchdown.
“That’s who we are,” Behrman said. “That’s our formula. That’s what we’re going to do. The O-line, the tight ends and the backs, they came through.”
Union’s offense put up 393 yards despite losing starting center Nick Olivola to an injury late in the first quarter. Freshman Jacob Rubin stepped in and, while his first practice shotgun snap on the sideline rolled back to Pacatte, there were no other troubles.
“I talked to him, I’m like, ‘You’re prepared. You’re ready for this position,’” Pacatte said. “And he did an amazing job. No bad snaps — that first [practice] snap did scare me, I’m not going to lie — and he came in and played well.”
Nicholas Dunneman was a frequent target for Pacatte, catching 10 passes for 119 yards. Ross hauled in five passes for 71 yards.
Rochester, which was playing without running back Daniel Papantonis — who entered the game as the nation’s leading rusher — due to injury, was led by Will Varney’s 107 rushing yards on 16 carries. Rose was held to 9 of 21 for 89 yards through the air.
Union is back on the road next Saturday to face Hobart, the start of a tough three-game stretch to close the regular season that also includes a home game vs. Ithaca and the season finale at RPI.
Rochester 0 0 7 0 — 7
Union 3 10 0 14 — 27
U — Lau 28 field goal
U — Lau 35 field goal
U — Ross 36 pass from Pacatte (Lau kick)
R — Johnson 25 pass from Rose (Laudani kick)
U — Fiore 1 run (Lau kick)
U — Irabor 8 run (Lau kick)
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