Big plays are nothing new for the Union College sophomore tandem of quarterback Connor Eck and wide receiver Kyle Reynolds.
They have hooked up many times this season for long scoring passes, but none of them was bigger than Saturday’s thrilling game-winning connection at East Campus Village Stadium.
In the first overtime game in Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy history, Eck tossed a 31-yard scoring strike to Reynolds to give Union a 34-28 victory in the oldest collegiate football rivalry in New York.
The Dutchmen (6-4) retained possession of the “Shoes” and now own an 81-25-4 lead in the all-time series. Union is 47-16 since the local archrivals began playing for the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy in 1950. RPI finished the year at 5-4.
Andrew Franks missed a 48-yard field goal on RPI’s overtime possession, giving the Dutchmen an edge.
However, Union also had trouble moving the ball and was faced with a fourth-and-16 from the RPI 31-yard line.
The Dutchmen were in a five-receiver package, and Eck rolled to his left looking for Reynolds, his favorite receiver. Eck barely avoided a blitz by junior linebacker Zac Borrelli and fired the ball to Reynolds, who out-leaped a smaller RPI defender on the seven-yard line and danced into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
“That’s one of the wildest wins I’ve experienced in my 35 years of coaching,” said Union head coach John Audino.
“This was a huge win for us, especially to end the year like this. For us to turn things around like this is awesome. Our guys showed a lot of poise, and Connor Eck played pretty darn good in the fourth quarter and the overtime.”
Audino said the Dutchmen had no thoughts about trying to win the game with a field goal, especially since it was basically out of range for freshman kicker David Pope.
“We figured, why not take a shot? We took a gamble on it,” Audino said of the final play. “I thought we had a good play. Their defensive back had his back turned, and Kyle made a magnificent catch.”
Reynolds has been Eck’s go-to receiver all year, so it was no surprise that the Union QB would search out his main target on the most important play of the game.
“Wow. There is no other way to describe this game other than wow,” said Eck, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 279 yards and two scores to go along with 52 yards rushing and another touchdown.
“What a way to end the season. We had five receivers running vertical routes, and I liked the one-on-one matchup for Kyle. I wanted to put the ball in our best receiver’s hands and let him make a play. I have faith in all of my receivers, but I liked the matchup with Kyle. We’ve been clicking for two years now, ever since we were both on the JV team together. We’re best friends, and he’s made me look good plenty of times.”
“This is the greatest game I’ve ever played in,” said Reynolds, who caught eight passes for 142 yards. “We were a little deflated when they came back at the end of regulation and sent the game into overtime, but we knew we could come back. On that last play, I had a few inches on my defender, so I just out-jumped him, and Connor’s pass was right there.”
Union should have won the game in regulation. The Dutchmen held a 28-20 lead when T.J. Franzese scored on a two-yard run with 4:05 left. That score was set up by a 51-yard screen pass reception by senior fullback Tim Hersey.
But RPI drove 69 yards in 15 plays to force the overtime. Senior quarterback Mike Hermann was brilliant on that final drive, converting three third-down passes. He finally hooked up with LaSalle Institute graduate Mike Blais on a three-yard TD pass with 14.3 seconds left, and then found senior wideout Austin Caswell on the two-point conversion to send the game into the extra period. On both passes, the Union defense simply fell asleep, leaving the receivers wide open.
Although Union outgained RPI in the first half, the Engineers took a 10-7 halftime lead with help of several Dutchmen mistakes.
A muffed punt return by Brian Reigle set up Hermann’s one-yard keeper to give RPI a 7-0 lead with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
Union tied the game on Eck’s one-yard keeper with 3:24 remaining in the half, but RPI regained the lead when Franks booted a school-record 50-yard field goal with 21.8 seconds left until intermission. Union had a chance to back Franks up, but refused a holding penalty on a third-and-11 play from the Union 31-yard line.
Eck’s TD pass to Franzese with 3:46 left in the third period gave the Dutchmen a 14-10 lead, but Hermann found Caswell for an 11-yard TD pass to put RPI back in front, 17-14.
Union then bounced back in the roller-coaster second half when Dylan Schuck busted loose and carried several defenders with him for a 23-yard TD run that gave Union a 21-17 lead with 9:01 left in the game.
RPI quickly cut the deficit to 21-20 on another Franks field goal, this one from 36 yards out.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Hermann, who led RPI in both passing and receiving this year and was the Liberty League leader in total offense, finished the game 25-for-45 with 286 yards and two TD passes. He also rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown.
“I wasn’t very consistent today, but I maintained my composure at the end,” said a teary-eyed Hermann, who has been drawing interest from pro scouts. “This is the best way to go out in this situation, even though I wish we went out on top,” he said. “I have a lot of emotions right now, but I’m not ashamed of how we played. This is an intense rivalry, and it was a great game.”
RPI acting head coach Bob Bodor agreed.
“It was a heck of a football game, and I’m not surprised that we went into overtime. An overtime result is how this kind of rivalry should end,” he said. “They made a big play at the end, and sometimes, that’s the way a game is decided. I told our guys in the locker room that nobody can question their guts.”
Union senior linebacker Noah Joseph made 11 tackles to become the 16th player in Union history to record 200 career tackles.
Union 0 7 7 16 6 — 34
RPI 7 3 0 18 0 — 28
RPI — Hermann 1 run (Franks kick).
U — Eck 1 run (Pope kick).
RPI — Franks 50 FG.
U — Franzese 31 pass from Eck (Pope kick).
RPI — Caswell 11 pass from Hermann (Franks kick).
U — Schuck 223 run (Pope kick).
RPI — Franks 36 FG.
U — Franzese 2 run (Pope kick).
RPI — Blais 3 pass from Hermann (Caswell pass from Hermann).
U — Reynolds 31 pass from Eck.
First downs 22 19
Rushes-yards 37-163 34-110
Passing yards 279 286
Comp-Att-Int 17-24-0 25-45-0
Return yards 5 7
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Punts-avg 3-42.0 6-38.0
Penalties-yards 8-55 6-73