Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
The Union College football team wanted a chance to determine its own destiny, in terms of a Liberty League championship, and the Dutchmen will have an opportunity to take a major step toward that goal today.
But when Union travels to Boswell Field to take on sixth-ranked Hobart in a battle of the league’s last two unbeatens at noon, the Dutchmen will need a near-perfect game to upset the heavily favored Statesmen.
Union, 4-0 in the Liberty League and 4-3 overall, has won four straight games after a 0-3 start. Hobart (4-0, 7-0) has run the table in impressive fashion, and the Statesmen have had Union’s number lately, winning the last two games in the series, including last year’s 41-24 victory that ended up sending Hobart to the NCAA playoffs. Union and Hobart were co-champions last year, but the tie-breaker went to the Statesmen.
Although Union owns a 50-43-2 record in the all-time series that began in 1896, the numbers favor the Statesmen this season.
Hobart averages 38.6 points a game and allows just 10.9. The Statesmen are ranked second in total defense, and fifth in scoring defense among all NCAA Division III programs.
Hobart also produces 244.9 rushing yards a game, good for 23rd in the nation.
Union, which scores 25.1 ppg and allows 20.4 ppg, is also an effective rushing team with an average of 204.4 yards on the ground, and the Dutchmen are ranked 53rd in rushing defense.
The one area where the Dutchmen have an advantage is in turnovers. Union is plus-9, while the Statesmen are only minus-1.
“We know what we’re up against,” said Union head coach John Audino. “We’ve had a great week of practice, and the kids are looking forward to this game. I’m looking for us to be very aggressive. We like where we are at, and we are going into this game with a lot of confidence, because we have been playing very well in all facets of the game lately.”
But Audino is fully aware that Hobart is, by far, the best team on Union’s regular-season schedule this year.
“They are one of the best teams in the country, and they’ve been one of the best teams in the conference for the last 10 years,” Audino said. “In fact, if you look at the last decade or so, I believe that Union and Hobart have been the top two teams in the conference.”
Usually, coaches don’t like to label one game a “must-win”, especially with two games still remaining after this week, but Audino admitted that if the Dutchmen hope to accomplish their championship goal, they must find a way to beat the Statesmen.
“The kids know what is at stake, and they are very excited,” he said. “Obviously, there is a lot at stake in this game. Last week, we put ourselves in position for this game with a big victory. If we win, we will be in sole possession of first place, and that’s something we’ve wanted ever since the league season began.
“Last year, we didn’t play well against Hobart, and they’ve always been very tough for us over there. But we need to play with intensity for all four quarters. I truly believe that the team who runs the ball the best will come out on top.”
Union’s balanced attack features junior running back T.J. Franzese, who ran for a career-best 174 yards and scored twice in last week’s win over Rochester. He has 644 yards and six touchdowns this season but gets plenty of support from Darnell Thomas, Tim Hersey, Dylan Schuck and even sophomore quarterback Connor Eck, who is second on the team with 290 yards on the ground.
Eck has been solid in his first season as the starter. He has completed 84 of 151 passes for 1,125 yards and 10 touchdowns. Most importantly, he has thrown just two interceptions. Kyle Reynolds, with 22 catches and six scores, is Eck’s top target.
Noah Joseph (69 tackles), Jeff DeVico (936 tackles, one fumble recovery) and Connor Bearworth (35 tackles, one interception) spearhead the Union defense.
Hobart is led by veteran quarterback Nick Strang (91-for-146, 1,218 yards, nine touchdowns) and tailbacks Bobby Dougherty (669 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Steven Webb (565 yards, five touchdowns. Dougherty and Webb have impressive average-yards-per-carry figures of 5.5 and 5.3, respectively.
Linebackers Andrew Kindera (55 tackles) and Nolan Toran (34 tackles) spearhead the powerful Hobart defense.
DANES HIT THE ROAD
University at Albany comes off the bye week and heads for Fairfield, Conn., to take on the Sacred Heart Pioneers today at 1 p.m. on Campus Field.
The Great Danes (4-0 Northeast Conference, 6-1 overall) are ranked 20th in the Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll and 24th in the Sports Network Top-25. They own a 12-2 advantage in the all-time series with the Pioneers.
Senior tailback Drew Smith, from Guilderland, is the Great Danes’ best offensive player with 680 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, good for No. 1 in the nation in scoring at 12.86 ppg. He is also fourth on the team’s all-time rushing list with 2,875 and is 83 yards short of third place. Smith is also climbing the all-time all-purpose yards list with 4,321, second behind David McCarty’s 4,976.
Quarterback Will Fiacchi has completed 129 of 205 passes with seven TD strikes. Senior wideout Ryan Kirchner is the program’s all-time leader with 153 career catches.
Sacred Heart (1-3, 2-5) is paced by junior quarterback Tim Little, who has compledted 88 of 175 passes for five scores. He’s been intercepted eight times, however. Keshaudas Spencer is the tam’s top rusher with 451 yards and four touchdowns.