Neutralizing a pair of quarterbacks who can pass and run with equal effectiveness will be the primary goal of each defensive unit when Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute square off in the annual battle for the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy today at noon at East Campus Stadium.
This will be the 110th meeting between the archrivals that are located only a half-hour apart. It is the oldest collegiate football rivalry in New York and one of the oldest in the nation among Division III programs.
Union, current holder of the “Shoes” trophy after last season’s 38-28 triumph at Frank Bailey Field, leads the all-time series, 80-25-4, and also enjoys a commanding 46-16 record since the teams began playing for the trophy in 1950.
But RPI has won eight of the last 15 meetings, including the last seven in Troy.
RPI is 3-3 in the Liberty League and 5-3 overall. The Engineers rely heavily on 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback Mike Hermann, last season’s Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year. He accounts for 78.1 percent of his team’s offense this season with 2,549 total yards. Hermann has completed 153 of 251 passes for 2,080 yards and 21 touchdown passes, but he is also the team’s leading rusher with 469 yards and six scores. He is third in school history in both passing yards (6,891) and TD strikes (55).
Sophomore signal caller Connor Eck, a first-year starter, has completed 117 of 200 passes for 1,635 yards and 15 touchdowns for Union. He’s been intercepted just three times. Like Hermann, Eck is a running threat with 327 yards and three touchdowns.
Union head coach John Audino pointed out that although both quarterbacks are dual threats, Hermann is much more experienced, as well as being the more difficult player to defend.
“Both guys are similar,” he said. “Hermann is much bigger, physically, and is an imposing player with his size. We’ve had all we can handle with him in the past, and we haven’t done that good of a job with him. Both guys run well, and in terms of schemes, both play about the same. There are definitely a lot of similarities with what both coaches are asking these guys to do. I think the biggest difference, though, is that our guy is just an infant in his career compared to their guy, who is a four-year starter.”
Senior linebacker Noah Joseph spearheads a Dutchmen defense that enjoys a plus-13 turnover ratio. He is 46th in the nation with 94 total tackles and also has made one interception and three pass deflections.
RPI’s defensive leader is Matthew Day with 69 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery.
Both Union and RPI will have 22 seniors compete in their final regular-season game. There is a slim possibility that the winner of today’s game can earn an ECAC playoff bid, but the emotional factor in this heated rivalry is more significant.
“We, as coaches, treat it like any other game, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t know that the players think about this as very special,” said acting RPI head coach Bob Bodor. “As coaches, we need to keep our emotions in check. But it’s a football game. There are not a lot of secrets for either team at this stage of the season. We know them, and they know us.”
“This game is very personal to me,” said RPI senior tight end Mike Blais, a Troy native and LaSalle Institute graduate. “This game is definitely different than all the other ones on our schedule.”
Union senior fullback Tim Hersey agrees.
“We definitely get charged up for the RPI game. It’s our biggest game of the season, without a doubt. It’s also the last game for the seniors,” Hersey said. “The RPI game is the game that we get our best memories from.”
All players, coaches and fans are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item(s) to the game. Those fans who do will get free admission to the game. All donations will benefit the Salvation Army of Troy, and the food will be donated to needy local victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Must win for Danes
University at Albany fell out of first place in the Northeast Conference standings and out of the Top-25 national rankings after last week’s surprising 30-0 loss to Wagner, but the Great Danes still have a chance for a share of the league title if they win their remaining two games and get some help with a Wagner loss.
The Danes travel to Rooney Field in Pittsburgh to take on Duquesne today at noon.
UAlbany is 5-1 in the NEC and 7-2 overall. In order to repeat as league champion and earn another berth to the NCAA FCS playoffs, UAlbany must defeat Duquesne, beat Central Connecticut State next week at University Field and then hope that Wagner loses to Duquesne in the Seahawks’ season finale.
This is UAlbany’s final season in the NEC. The Great Danes are switching to the Colonial Athletic Association next year .
UAlbany is led by sophomore quarterback Will Fiacchi, senior wide receiver Ryan Kirchner, who is the program’s all-time leader with 165 career catches, and by senior tailback Drew Smith (Guilderland), who missed last week’s game because of a team rules violation.
Duquesne (3-3, 5-4) is paced by senior running back Larry McCoy, who is the team’s all-time leading rusher with 4,405 yards. He has 926 yards and nine touchdowns this season.