Despite last week’s loss, Union College found a new passing weapon that will add a different dynamic for the Dutchmen when they host the Utica College Pioneers tonight at 7 on Frank Bailey Field.
Senior wideout Jimmer Bennett, a backup a year ago, caught a career-high seven passes for 172 yards in the Dutchmen’s 17-14 opening-day setback to Salve Regina. The Albany Academy product’s yardage total was fourth-best among NCAA Division III receivers on opening weekend. That’s good news for Union, which lost one of its top all-time receivers (Justin Gallo) and quarterbacks (Drew Connolly) to graduation.
The Dutchmen were expecting to feature a run-dominant offense until its passing game caught up, but now they can be more versatile right from the start.
“Jimmer had a heckuva game,” said Union head coach John Audino. “He really went after the football and was always in the right spot to make the catch. He’s faster than a lot of players think he is, and he’s in excellent shape. That’s unbelievable what he did in the opening game with 170 yards. I think he will be an excellent receiver for us this year.”
“I was definitely up to the task to do whatever the coaches asked me to do,” said Bennett. “The coaches believed in me, and the quarterbacks believed in me. I’ve been in our system for three years, and I feel very confident in it. I’ve also worked against our own excellent defensive backs all this time, and that has made me a much better receiver.”
Bennett said it’s important that he and the rest of the Union receivers try to take as much pressure as possible off of Union’s youthful quarterbacks.
“We’ve all got to stay positive. If they throw the ball well, we should compliment them, and if they happen to throw a bad pass or two, we shouldn’t get mad,” he said. “I think we really got our passing game going, and it should only get better this week. I think we really have our timing down.
“We all had a great week of practice, and we don’t want to get into another 0-2 hole like we did last year. We’re definitely ready to go.”
Audino used both of his sophomore quarterbacks, Nick Becker and Connor Eck, last week, but he has settled on Eck to be the starter. Eck completed 10 of 22 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. He was also Union’s top runner with 41 yards on 13 carries.
“It was obvious that both quarterbacks were nervous last week, but we’ve settled on Connor to be the starter right now. I saw some good things from him, and I also learned a lot about him. He showed a lot of poise in his first game.”
Although Union got some good news in its passing game, injuries have started to pile up already. Safety Sam Goldman, a senior captain, is probably out for the season with a knee injury, while offensive linemen Elias Damouni, another captain, and Pete Meile are questionable with knee injuries. Both will be game-time decisions.
Utica, which won last year’s game, 28-27, is coming off a 40-7 rout of St. Lawrence. Mike Cottle led the Pioneers in rushing with 69 yards, and quarterback Andrew Benkwitt completed 20 of 36 passes for 355 yards and three scores.
Union will take part in the Wounded Warrior Project tonight. The Dutchmen will wear special black jerseys for the event, and proceeds from the sales of the jerseys will be donated to the project, which helps raise awareness of the needs of injured service members.
DANES HIT THE ROAD
UAlbany opens its final season of Northeast Conference competition at Robert Morris today at noon at Joe Walton Stadium.
The Great Danes own a 7-6 lead in the all-time series with the Colonials.
Last week, UAlbany crushed Colgate, 40-23. Guilderland High School graduate Drew Smith ran for 174 yards and is sixth on the team’s all-time rushing list with 2,369 yards. Senior wideout Ryan Kirchner caught five passes for 41 yards and is third on the team’s all-time receiving list with 125.
Robert Morris is coming off a 52-0 loss to defending national champion North Dakota State. Starting quarterback Jeff Sinclair will miss the game because of a team rules violation and will be replaced by sophomore Matt Layman.
OPENER FOR RPI
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute opens its season by hosting the Alfred Saxons in a non-conference game at East Campus Stadium at 12:30 p.m.
It will be the debut for acting head coach Bob Bodor, who also remains the defensive coordinator.
Senior quarterback Mike Hermann leads the Engineers. Last year’s Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year topped RPI in both passing and rushing. He accounted for 81.9 percent of the Engineers’ offense.