As Patrick McCarthy slipped away from several Union defenders and raced toward the end zone on a key kickoff return late in the third period, many of his teammates ran along the sidelines, giving him encouragement. McCarthy later kidded that most of his buddies were probably a lot faster than him.
Although McCarthy was eventually hauled down on the three-yard line, his 81-yard kickoff return set up the game-winning touchdown as the Engineers rallied past the Dutchmen, 25-12, in the 106th renewal of New York’s oldest collegiate football rivalry Saturday at ’86 Field.
Although Union still leads the all-time series, 78-24-4, undefeated RPI (5-0 Liberty League, 7-0 overall) picked up its third consecutive victory over the Dutchmen. It’s the first time since 1957-59 that the Engineers had won three straight over their archrivals. Union fell to 2-3 and 3-4.
McCarthy’s game-breaking kickoff return turned the momentum in RPI’s favor after Union sophomore running back Chris Coney broke loose up the middle for a
65-yard touchdown run that gave the Dutchmen a 12-7 lead with 1:53 left in the third period.
“They [his teammates] probably would have caught me just like the Union kid did,” said McCarthy. “I felt him behind me, and I kind of just ran out of gas. But that play wasn’t just me. It was all 11 players. I got a lot of big blocks on that play, and I kind of got lost in the wedge.
“Special teams are definitely a big part of the game. Coach [Joe] King is always saying that special teams are one-third of the game.”
Special teams ended up being Union’s downfall. The Dutchmen had three kicks blocked — two extra points and a punt — along with RPI’s game-clinching kickoff return.
Following McCarthy’s return, running back Nick Costa was tackled for a one-yard loss, but fourth-year starting quarterback Jimmy Robertson then hit James McLaughlin on a four-yard TD pass on the far corner of the end zone to put the Engineers on top for good,
15-12. McLaughlin, a senior captain, is normally a defensive lineman, but he lined up as an eligible receiver.
The Engineers later tacked on 10 more points, but the momentum had already swung in their favor.
“Those blocked kicks, especially the extra points, were big,” said King. “We’ve played well on special teams all year. The kids bought into it. But there is no question that McCarthy’s kickoff return was the play of the game. We needed something to jump-start us at that point.”
Union held RPI’s top receiver, Eren Savasli, who entered the game sixth in the nation in receiving yards per game, without a catch until he snared a 55-yard bomb from Robertson with 12:51 in the game, giving the Engineers a 22-12 advantage.
Union then had an excellent chance to get back in the game when the Dutchmen quickly drove to the RPI six-yard line in just four plays. Freshman quarterback
Andrew Connolly connected with tight end Josh McKelligan twice for 44 yards and also found Justin Gallo for a 27-yard gain during the drive.
But the usually reliable Coney took a handoff and slipped as he was hit by junior defensive back Tim Acker. Senior linebacker Pete Rankis fell on the loose ball, and the Engineers ended up driving 86 yards on 14 plays before Peter Nilson kicked a 23-yard field goal with 4:45 for the final points of the game.
“I never fumble,” said a dejected Coney. “I slipped when I was hit, and as I went down, my hand opened up a little and the ball slipped out. I feel terrible. That was a crucial moment in the game for us.”
Coney also scored the Dutchmen’s other touchdown on a one-yard run in the second quarter. He finished with 123 yards on 26 carries.
SOLID PASSING GAME
Robertson, among the national leaders in total offense, led the Engineers by completing 21 of 29 passes for 196 yards and two scores. He also ran 14 times for 37 yards. McCarthy added 10 receptions.
“We stuck to our game plan,” said Robertson. “We tried to be patient and took what they gave us. It feels so good to win the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy three straight times. It’s one of the most coveted things we work for every season.”
“Defensively, we had a good game plan going in,” said Union head coach John Audino. “We took Savasli out of the game for the most part. But the special teams killed us. We had two extra points and a punt blocked. They were definitely the turning points of the game.”
“Union is still a great program,” said King. “Beating them once is great, but to beat them twice or even three times is unbelievable.”
The Engineers must guard against a letdown when they host once-beaten Hobart Saturday. Union hosts the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Union 0 6 6 0 — 12
RPI 7 0 8 10 — 25
RPI — Munier 2 run (Nilson kick).
U — Coney 1 run (kick blocked).
U — Coney 65 run (kick blocked).
RPI — McLaughlin 4 pass from Robertson (McCarthy pass from Robertson).
RPI — Savasli 55 pass from Robertson (Nilson kick).
RPI — Nilson 25 FG.
First downs 17 16
Rushes-yards 36-138 37-96
Passing 16-24-2 21-29-1
Passing yards 233 196
Return yards 22 49
Punts-avg. 5-29.2 6-30.0
Fumbles lost 1 0
Penalties-yards 5-56 6-50