RPI defense, special teams lead as Engineers retain Dutchman Shoes

Union College quarterback Donovan Pacatte tries to escape the grasp of RPI defensive lineman Brian McNeil Saturday during the annual Dutchman Shoes Game between Union College and RPI at East Campus Stadium in Troy.

Union College quarterback Donovan Pacatte tries to escape the grasp of RPI defensive lineman Brian McNeil Saturday during the annual Dutchman Shoes Game between Union College and RPI at East Campus Stadium in Troy.

TROY – Leading up to the annual Dutchman Shoes Trophy game, Union College head football coach Jeff Behrman was concerned about RPI’s aggressive defense and specials teams units.

He had a good reason.

On Saturday, the Engineers (7-3) blocked four Union kicks – two punts, a field goal and an extra point – en route to a convincing 23-13 victory in the 119th meeting of archrivals in the state’s oldest college football series at East Campus Stadium in Troy. RPI still trails in the series 83-32-4 overall and 49-23 since the Dutchman Shoes Trophy began in 1950.

Union (6-4) clawed back from a 17-0 deficit to within 17-13 when senior tailback Ike Irabor broke loose for a dynamic 63-yard TD run down the sideline with 13:47 left in the third quarter. But, the Dutchmen later came up empty three times after driving deep into RPI territory. Union quarterback Donovan Pacatte was intercepted twice and Max Gluck’s 26-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

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“You’ve got to give credit to [RPI head coach] Ralph’s [Isernia] and his team’s coaching staff from start to finish. He had them ready to play,” said Behrman. “Special teams definitely were the difference in the game, and I kind of felt that was going to be the case.

“We made some poor decisions today,” Berhman added. “We just didn’t execute.”

Behrman said he felt bad that many of his best players ended up losing their last career game in a fierce rivalry.

“I blame myself. I didn’t have them prepared enough to win that game today,” he said.

One of those stars, Irabor, at least showed flashes of his brilliance.

“I felt especially bad after we made our comeback but then started off so poorly in the third quarter,” the running back said. “But regardless of wins and losses, this is my family. Union is my family and I will always love all of them.”

RPI jumped out in front quickly and emphatically on the first drive of the game as fifth-year player Dylan Burnett broke off a 56-yard run to set up his own 1-yard TD plunge up the middle barely three minutes into the game. Alekandar Maric tacked on the PAT for a 7-0 advantage.

The Engineers scored again the next time they gained possession when sophomore quarterback Jake Kazanowsky hooked up with senior wideout Deen Ninche for a 22-yard TD pass and a 14-0 edge.

A 27-yard field goal by Maric expanded RPI’s lead to 17-0 with 6:54 left in the first half.

Union looked like it was going to shoot itself in the foot and fall completely out of contention with the Engineers when, after driving to the RPI 6-yard line, the Dutchmen were called for two major penalties, including an unsportsmanlike penalty on senior Kevin Dewing for punching. Those two penalties pushed Union back to the RPI 31-yard line. However, on the next play, Pacatte tossed a 31-yard scoring strike to Avery Turton to slice the Dutchmen’s deficit to 17-7 right before the half.

Irabor’s breakaway run down the sideline on Union’s first drive of the second half kept the momentum in Union’s favor, as the Dutchmen then trailed just 17-13.

But RPI’s defense and special teams controlled the second half. After the host’s defense blocked Gluck’s 26-yard field goal attempt, the Engineers scored on a 32-yard pass from Kazanowsky to Burnett to stretch the RPI lead to 23-13.

Pacatte was intercepted in the end zone on Union’s next possession, but Union’s defense stopped RPI on downs as Kazanowsky was halted on a keeper at the 18-yard line.

Three penalties – a block in the back, offside and intentional grounding – stalled Union’s next drive. RPI then was able to run most of the remaining time off the clock.

“We hadn’t played a Shoes game at home since 2018, and our guys were really fired up,” Isernia said. “That was in the forefront for our seniors, to win the Shoes at home. It was a huge motivating factor. Our senior class has been through a lot, and to finish this way, I’m so proud of them. I’m happy for them to go out with the trophy.”

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Isernia was asked about Burnett, his workhorse running back who scored two touchdowns and ran for 135 yards on 21 carries. He also caught three passes for 54 yards and another score.

“Dylan Burnett is one of those seniors who just had a special day today,” Isernia said. “Dylan Burnett has been a workhorse the entire year for us. He’s the best running back in the Liberty League with his ability to run and catch the ball. It was important for our offensive line to get him over 1,000 yards rushing.”

“This game means a lot to me,” Burnett said, “especially with it being my last year. I wanted to finish strong.”

Isernia once again relied on his solid defense to carry the day.

“We were trying to keep them [the Dutchmen] in front of us,” he said. “We wanted to limit their big plays. On that big run [Irabor’s TD], we missed a tackle, and we can’t do that. He’s a home run hitter and an extremely talented player. You miss a tackle like that, and he’s going to be gone.”

Kazanowsky completed 14 of 22 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns for RPI.

Pacatte completed 20 of 35 passes for 295 yards and one TD for the visitors. Irabor finished with 94 yards rushing on 15 carries, while Turton caught five passes for 101 yards and Nicholas Dunneman added seven catches for 85 yards to lead Union, which outgained RPI 422-357 but was penalized 11 times for 100 yards and turned the ball over three times.

  • Union    0 7 6 0 – 13
  • RPI         14 3 0 6 – 23
  • RPI – Burnett 1 run (Maric kick)
  • RPI – Ninche 22 pass from Kazanowsky (Maric kick)
  • RPI – Maric 27 FG
  • U – Turton 31 pass from Pacatte (Gluck kick)
  • U – Irabor 63 run (kick blocked)
  • RPI – Burnett 32 pass from Kazanowsky (kick blocked)

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

Categories: -Sports-, College Sports, Sports, Union College

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