Numbers can be deceiving, but they can also be revealing.
Ithaca College outgained Union College by just two yards in total offense, which would normally point to a close game.
But two other numbers were much more important. The Bombers had possession of the ball twice as long as the Dutchmen, mostly because Union turned the ball over five times during an ugly 37-18 loss to Ithaca Saturday on Frank Bailey Field.
It was the third straight loss for the Dutchmen, and the ninth consecutive setback over the last two seasons. The last time Union started 0-3 was in 1975.
Ithaca, an old rival of the Dutchmen when both programs were perennial NCAA playoff contenders, improved to 2-1.
Ithaca quarterback Jason Hendel completed 18 of 26 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, and he also was a force on the ground with 42 yards rushing on 17 carries and two touchdowns.
Despite the fact that the Bombers were whistled for 91 yards in penalties, they dominated the time of possession so thoroughly (39:03 to 20:57) that they were never really threatened. Union’s turnovers set the table time and time again.
“There is no doubt that the turnovers helped us quite a bit,” said Hendel. “Union was maybe the best 0-2 team in the country coming into this game, and they are probably still one of the best 0-3 teams around. They battled us in the second half and didn’t give up, but we definitely took advantage of their turnovers. We had our own issues with turning the ball over in our first two games, but fortunately, we didn’t turn the ball over today, and that was one of the keys to the game.”
Union quarterback Drew Connolly, who is among the program’s all-time leaders in numerous passing categories, was solid, completing 17 of 28 passes for 198 yards, but he threw two interceptions which led to 10 Bombers’ points.
“Turnovers will kill you, and we made five of them today,” said Connolly. “Personally, I made a couple of really bad passes that hurt us today. I made a few poor decisions with the ball, and we can’t do that and expect to win. I still think we would have had a chance to win today if we hadn’t turned the ball over so many times, and that’s what hurts. I don’t know what happened to us today.”
Union’s first two losses of the season were one-point decisions, but Saturday’s game wasn’t close. The Bombers scored seven times with four touchdowns and three field goals.
The Bombers coasted to a 27-7 halftime lead, thanks to four Union turnovers and a time of possession edge of 21:47 to just 8:13.
“We felt we could move the football, and we did,” said Union head coach John Audino, whose Dutchmen have had just one losing season in the previous 19. “To be honest, I thought we would have a little bit more trouble moving the ball against Ithaca, but we moved it fairly well except for our turnovers. You can’t give a team like that so many opportunities.”
Audino felt that his team still had a chance, even when the Dutchmen got down by a couple of scores early.
“We felt we could come back when it was 20-7, but then we had that fumble. But we also had four other turnovers, and they all hurt us,” he said.
Ithaca struck quickly, with Hendel capping a 64-yard, 13-play drive by scoring on a seven-yard keeper, leaping over the near-side pylon. The opening drive took 6:29 off the clock.
Union sophomore tailback Dylan Schuck then fumbled the ball the first time the Dutchmen touched the ball, and the Bombers recovered on the 31-yard line. Two plays later, Andrew Rogowsky kicked a 41-yard field goal.
The Dutchmen proved resilient on their next possession, scoring in nine plays. Connolly hit Justin Gallo with an over-the-shoulder pass for a 22-yard TD pass that cut the deficit to 10-7.
But Ithaca marched right back with a six-yard TD run by Jarrett Naiden for a 17-7 advantage.
Union tried a flea-flicker pass on the first play of its next drive, and Connolly was intercepted by senior linebacker Eric Toporoff. The Bombers capitalized with Rogowski’s second field goal of the game, this time a 21-yarder that expanded the lead to 17-7.
Union sophomore running back T.J. Franzese fumbled on the Dutchmen’s next series, but the Bombers failed to move the ball and had to punt.
However, Jimmer Bennett decided not to call a fair catch on the punt return, even though he was sandwiched by a pair of Ithaca defenders. Bennett fumbled the return, and the Bombers were in business again.
Hendel hit junior wideout Joseph Ingrao in stride for a 36-yard TD, and the Bombers took a 27-7 lead into the intermission.
Rogowski booted a 31-yard field goal late in the third quarter to expand the Ithaca cushion to 30-7 before Union rallied.
Connolly hooked up with Gallo again for a 33-yard touchdown to cut the Union deficit to 30-15, and Adam Henry connected for a
20-yard field goal to pull the Dutchmen within 30-18 with 14:47 left in the game.
But Connolly was intercepted for the second time on Union’s next possession, and the Bombers clinched the win with a one-yard keeper by Hendel with 4:53 left on the clock.
Ithaca 10 17 3 8 — 37
Union 7 0 8 3 — 18
I — Hendel 7 run (Rogowski kick).
I — Rogowski 41 FG.
U — J. Gallo 22 pass from Connolly (Henry kick).
I — Naiden 6 run (Rogowski kick).
I — Rogowski 21 FG.
I — Ingrao 36 pass from Hendel (Rogowski kick).
I — Rogowski 31 FG.
U — J. Gallo 33 pass from Connolly (Hersey pass from Connolly).
U — Henry 20 FG.
I — Hendel 1 run (Rogowski kick).
First downs 19 19
Rushes-yards 50-136 25-90
Passing yards 154 198
Att.-Comp.-In.t 26-18-0 28-17-2
Return yards 25 0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-3
Punts-avg. 4-33.0 1-25.0
Penalties-yards 7-91 3-28