Union and Springfield have squared off against each other 13 times since 1998, creating a solid rivalry against two of the better Division III programs in the Northeast.
But tonight’s series renewal at 6 on Frank Bailey Field is more meaningful, now that the Pride have joined the Liberty League.
What used to be a dangerous non-conference tuneup is now another formidable league foe that stands in the way of what the 1-0, 1-3 Dutchmen hope will be a long winning streak.
“Obviously, they [the Pride] add real class to the league, and they are truly a great opponent. We’ve played them so many times in the past, and they have always been challenging games,” said Union head coach John Audino.
“It’s definitely the renewal of a tremendous rivalry. It’s yet another great program that we’re playing early in the season. We’ve already played Salve Regina, Utica and Ithaca, all of them very good programs. Springfield can be every bit as dangerous as those teams were, and that creates pressure for us.”
Springfield owns a 9-6 lead in the series.
The option attack is Springfield’s bread and butter, and few teams operate that rushing-dominant offense better than the Pride. Springfield (1-0, 3-1) averages 36.5 points per game and produces 374.8 rushing yards per contest. Toss in the fact that Springfield owns a plus-10 turnover ratio, and it’s easy to see why the Pride are so successful.
Quarterback Rob Merckling has thrown just 13 times, with six completions for 161 yards and two scores. But running backs Joel Altavesta (402 yards, six touchdowns) and Mike Davis (359 yards, six touchdowns) are both huge rushing threats.
“They do a great job with the option attack, distributing the ball among the quarterback, tailbacks and fullback,” Audino said. “Every year, they also come up with a few wrinkles. They always have something new for us, it seems. They are always on the cutting edge of doing something new.”
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize Union must slow down Springfield’s rushing attack to be successful, but it’s the few big passes that are completed that can be even more threatening.
“We must be in the right spot at the right time to stop their passing game,” said Audino. “One mistake and it’s a 60-, 70- or even 80-yard touchdown. Last year, their quarterback ran for 270 yards against us. We know we have to be 100 percent ready for their pass at any time. We can’t fall asleep, or they can beat you with the pass. Whenever they throw, it’s always for a big gain. It’s something you are never ready for, and it can happen when you are not paying attention.”
Union has been solid defensively in the last few games, but even more positive for the Dutchmen has been their vastly improved offense.
“We have definitely improved every week. It’s taken a while for the light bulb to go, but we’re getting to the point where we are a much better offensive team,” Audino said. “Connor Eck has done a good job for us. We’ve been careful with him so far, but I think he’s ready to carry the team now.”
Last week, the sophomore QB completed three touchdown passes to Kyle Reynolds, while fullback Tim Hersey had a big day with 80 yards rushing.
On the year, Eck has completed 51 of 91 passes for 741 yards and six scores against only one interception. He is 48th in the NCAA passing efficiency rating.
Reynolds has nine catches for 109 yards and four scores, while T.J. Franzese tops the team in rushing with 311 yards and three scores.
Defensively, co-captain Noah Joseph, a senior linebacker, paces the Dutchmen with 41 tackles and is among the NCAA leaders.
DANES BACK HOME
After a three-game road swing that included two games against nationally ranked opponents, the University at Albany returns to University Field for a 1 p.m. start against Northeast Conference foe Monmouth
The 1-0, 3-1 Great Danes lead the all-time series, 10-4.
Senior tailback Drew Smith (Guilderland) is sixth on the Great Danes’ all-time rushing list with 2,587, and needs just 25 more to move into fifth place. He has rushed for more than 100 yards twice this season.
Sophomore quarterback Will Fiacchi is third in the NEC’s passing efficiency ratio (128.39) after completing 69 of 110 passes for 711 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior kicker Sean Kenny was named Northeast Conference special teams player of the week following UAlbany’s win over No. 23 Maine last weekend. Kenny, converted on all three of his field- goal attempts and went 3-for-3 on extra-point tries for the Great Danes
Kenny was responsible for the game’s first nine points, staking the Great Danes to a 9-0 halftime lead that they would not relinquish. The three field goals tied UAlbany’s single-game record.
Monmouth (2-0, 3-1) is led by fifth-year senior quarterback Kyle Frazier, who completed 32 of 43 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 27-14 win over Sacred Heart.
RPI ON THE ROAD
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1-0, 3-0) hopes to keep rolling against the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Captain Tomb Field in Kings Point at 2 p.m.
Merchant Marine Academy owns an 11-9 lead in the series.
Senior quarterback Mike Hermann has been sensational so far with 58 completions in 86 attempts for 783 yards and nine TD strikes. He is also the Engineers’ leading rusher with 188 yards and five touchdowns.
The 0-1, 2-2 Mariners average 288.8 rushing yards per game in a triple-option offense. John-Leon Gosselin is the leading ball carrier with 343 yards and five touchdowns.