A new era begins behind center when Union College hosts Salve Regina in the football season opener for both teams today at 1 p.m. on Frank Bailey Field.
Although Drew Connolly and Anthony Marotti — two of the top five quarterbacks in program history — ran the Garnet offense for seven out of the last eight seasons, sophomores Connor Eck or Nick Becker, or both, will direct the Dutchmen offense this season.
A friendly but extremely competitive battle has been waged throughout training camp, and Union head coach John Audino, the program’s all-time leader with a 141-60 coaching record, isn’t sure which QB will be No. 1. He may use both of them equally.
“It’s a toss-up,” said Audino, whose Dutchmen were 4-1 in Liberty League play and 6-4 overall last year. “It should be very interesting to see how things play out.”
Before Thursday’s practice, Audino said that the quarterbacks may not know who will start until game time.
“It could be a game-time decision, or we may decide before that, but we’ve been evaluating each guy all week. On the two-deep, we have Eck and Nick listed first and second, but that’s only for the program. Both guys played well in our scrimmage. We passed for 180 yards and had two touchdowns with no interceptions. The guys played evenly.
“We don’t know at this moment. We could play both guys. We still want to evaluate them. We don’t know if we are going to play just one guy or use two guys equally. If one guy gets the hot hand, we’ll probably go with him. We’d like to evaluate each guy in game situations. Other teams have done it. Until someone steps up and distances himself from the other one, we’ve got two equal quarterbacks.”
Audino likes the fact that both QBs understand the situation.
“They’ve both been terrific. It’s been an easy situation, with each guy going about his business and also helping the other guy out. There has been no tension. The nice thing is that both guys complement each other. One guy might have better feet, while the other has better pocket presence. One guy is a little better passing inside, while the other guy is better outside.”
Eck, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Rye, was technically the backup quarterback a year ago, but Connolly took almost all of the snaps, and Eck never threw a pass.
“I did get into two JV games, and I learned a lot,” said Eck. “I was fortunate to play in those games. I learned that the game speed from high school to college is much quicker. Obviously, I have no real varsity experience, but I think I bring enthusiasm and leadership. I will do whatever the coaches ask of me. I’m very confident in my abilities. If they want me to run, I’ll run, and if they want me to stay in the pocket, I’ll stay in the pocket.”
Becker, a 6-2, 205-pounder from Pine Crest High School in Coral Springs, Fla., is a transfer from the University of Rhode Island. He also hopes to be the No. 1 QB, but he’ll accept what the coaching staff decides.
“Connor and myself have been great friends off thee field and on it,” he said. “Throughout camp, I’ve been trying to learn the offense as best as I can. My main concern is to get the ball to the right people and play as well as I can. Hopefully, that will be enough.”
Although much of its passing attack has graduated, Union returns its top four runners from a year ago, including junior T.J. Franzese (586 yards, two TDs), sophomore Darnel Thomas (342 yards) and fullback Tim Hersey.
Union’s defense, which has seven seniors, is paced by last year’s leading tackler, linebacker Noah Joseph.
Salve Regina, 6-2 in the New England Football Conference and 8-3 overall, beat Union last year, 25-22, on a 49-yard field goal as time expired.
The Seahawks are one of the favorites to win the NEFC this year.
DANES HOST COLGATE
Like Union, University at Albany is the host for its season opener
tonight at 6 on University Field, and like the Garnet, the Great Danes have a new quarterback in sophomore Will Fiacchi.
But the defending Northeast Conference champions, who are headed to the Colonial Athletic Association next year, are loaded in the skill positions with players like senior tailback Drew Smith, a Guilderland grdauate who ran for 1,092 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns to go along with 30 receptions and another score, and top receivers Ryan Kirchner (56 catches, 615 yards, 10 TDs) and Cole King (31 catches, 582 yards, six TDs).
The Danes have eight starters back on offense, including 6-7, 300-pound junior tackle Kadeem Williams, and five back on defense. They also have Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate Paul Layton returning as one of the top punters in the league.
“We’re totally healthy going in, and that’s delightful,” said UAlbany head coach Bob Ford, who sports a 246-156 record with the Great Danes. “We’ve played Colgate twice, and we lost two heartbreaking games, including one in overtime last year. They are well-coached, they are tough, and they play hard, but we match up with them very well. It should be a good game. If I were making a bet, I would bet on us. They have a mammoth offensive line that averages 6-4 and 308 pounds, and they’ve got the top QB in the Patriot League, but I still think we match up very well with them.”