There were claps of thunder and bolts of lightning all over Frank Bailey Field Saturday.
And that was well after the storm that delayed the game by an hour and two minutes early in the first period.
Pounding the ball on the ground and dominating the game on defense, Union stormed past Rochester, 20-7, in a key Liberty League game before a homecoming crowd of 1,764.
Union’s fourth straight win kept the Dutchmen (4-0, 4-3) tied for first place in the league with Hobart. The Dutchmen face the Statesmen next Saturday in Geneva.
The game was much more lopsided than the score indicated. Union rushed for 200 yards in the first half alone and held a 17-4 edge in first downs in the first 30 minutes.
For the game, the Dutchmen piled up 313 yards on the ground and held Rochester (3-2, 3-3) to 217 total yards, including only 36 on the ground.
Junior tailback T.J. Franzese rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Connor Eck added 85 yards rushing for the Dutchmen. About the only blemish for Eck was that he was
finally intercepted after throwing 140 straight passes without a pick over 22 quarters. He completed 10 of 21 passes for 124 yards.
Union’s defense was outstanding. The Dutchmen completely shut down the Yellowjackets’ ground attack and harassed Rochester junior QB Dean Kennedy into throwing four interceptions. Kennedy was also sacked three times, with Casey Muse pulling him down twice.
“It all started with our D-line today,” said Muse, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound junior defensive tackle. “It was a great defensive effort all the way through. We knew that their quarterback didn’t like to get hit, and we kept on hitting him and making things tough for him.”
Senior linebacker Noah Joseph, who led the Dutchmen with 14 tackles to go along with an interception, said Union was hoping for a shutout.
“We didn’t want to give up a touchdown at all to them,” Joseph said. “We stressed all three facets of the game today, and we knew if we all did our jobs, we would have a great day. We gave up a few big plays because of a few mistakes, but overall I thought our defense played great today.”
For all intents and purposes, Union won the game in the first half, when the Dutchmen pounded the ball on the ground with a group of fresh runners.
After the game resumed following the lightning delay with 8:18 left in the first quarter, Franzese capped off an 11-play, 63-yard drive with a six-yard off-tackle touchdown run for his fifth rushing score of the year. Tosin Kazeem tacked on the PAT.
Rochester barely had time to recover when senior cornerback Kevin Calello made the first of his two interceptions for the Dutchmen, but they failed to capitalize.
Franzese’s second touchdown of the game on Union’s next possession pushed Union’s advantage to 13-0, and the Dutchmen appeared on the verge of blowing the Yellowjackets out.
Darnell Thomas swept in from 14 yards out to expand Union’s advantage to 20-0 with 7:58 remaining until intermission, but the Garnet failed to tack on more points just before the half when Kazeem’s 39-yard field goal attempt missed wide left with 31 seconds remaining.
Union came out flat in the third quarter, and the Dutchmen’s special teams let them down.
Following Brian Reigle’s second fumbled punt return of the day, Rochester took over on the Union 25-yard line and scored in five plays. Kennedy hit Ken Apostolakos with a four-yard TD pass to slice the deficit to 20-7 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Joseph stalled one Rochester drive later in the period with an interception, but the Yellowjackets got a few more opportunities to make the game interesting following Eck’s interception and a blocked punt that gave Rochester excellent field position.
Union’s defense recovered each time. Alex Macchio broke up Kennedy’s touchdown pass attempt in the end zone with 2:05 left, and Calello intercepted Kennedy once more as time expired.
It was one of the best all-around games of the year for the Dutchmen, despite their mistakes.
Franzese should have scored a third touchdown following a brilliant 83-yard run late in the game, but he fumbled the ball at the two-yard line, and it rolled into the end zone, where it was recovered by Rochester.
“Basically, our running attack is the backbone of the team,” said Franzese. “By using so many different runners, we constantly keep everybody fresh..”
“We turned the ball over more than we should have, and our special teams gave them some momentum,” said Union head coach John Audino.
“But I thought our defense played extremely well today. Guys like Casey Muse, Noah Joseph and Jake Leobowitz played great, and our secondary didn’t give up any big plays.”
Audino was also proud of his balanced rushing attack.
“T.J. played well, and our offensive line blocked very well for all of our runners,” Audino said. “We slowed down a little bit in the third quarter, but overall, it was an excellent game.”
Rochester 0 0 7 0 — 7
Union 7 13 0 0 — 20
U — Franzese 6 run (Kazeem kick).
U — Franzese 7 run (kick blocked).
U — Thomas 14 run (Kazeem kick).
R — Apostolakos 4 pass from Kennedy (Antonucci kick).
First downs 14 22
Rushes-yards 30-36 50-313
Passing yards 181 124
Att-Comp-Int 45-25-4 21-10-1
Return yards 38 17
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-3
Punts-avg 8-36.8 6-30.5
Penalties-yards 7-57 8-65