Union College’s offense struggled on the ground and through the air in the Dutchmen’s disappointing home opener Saturday on Frank Bailey Field.
Ithaca’s stout defense, led by senior linebacker Jake Santora, had a lot to do with Union’s problems.
Santora made 14 tackles, and the Bombers sacked Union quarterback Connor Eck four times en route to a 17-3 non-league win.
Although Union’s defense continued to show some resilience, the Dutchmen’s offense only managed 222 yards of total offense.
“We were really prepared for them,” said Santora. “We think we have one of the best pass defenses in the nation. We’ve got four seniors in the defensive backfield, and they can all play. I think we made a statement by shutting down their receivers.”
Union’s receiving corps, which will have to play without injured star Kyle Reynolds for the rest of the season because of a rotator cuff injury, made some strides, as Joseph Vito and Kenny Schunck combined for nine receptions, including some acrobatic catches to keep drives
going. But the Dutchmen’s passing game accounted for just 140 yards. Eck completed 15 of 29 passes and was intercepted once.
Meanwhile, Union’s running game never got off the mark. Union ran for just 82 yards on 38 carries.
“It’s a tough day when you score only three points,” said Eck. “We moved the ball, but once we got over the 50-yard line, we couldn’t make the plays we needed to get into the end zone. We only got into the red zone once, and that’s hard.
“I’m trying to do my best to spread the ball around. But the most important thing for us is to score some points. Ithaca is a great team, and they played very well on defense today. They’ve got some tremendous athletes. But I’ve been telling our team that the only thing that can stop us is ourselves. It’s still early. Next week, we start the league, and we plan on getting a lot better offensively.”
The 2-0 Bombers were certainly not intimidating offensively, generating just 297 total yards, but they got the job done behind
senior quarterback Phil Neumann, a graduate of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. Neumann completed 11 of 20 passes for 219 yards and one interception. Rakim Jones and Tommy Padula ran for 44 and 43 yards, respectively.
“It’s exciting to come home. I was very pleased when I saw our schedule this year and we were going to Schenectady,” said Neumann. “But the most important thing is that we’re 2-0. That was our goal.
“Our defense is awesome, and they did the job for us today. Offensively, we would like to score more, but like our coach said, it was a team win.”
A 39-yard punt return by Sam Carney set up the Bombers’ first score. Jones capped a 16-yard, four-play drive with a two-yard off-tackle plunge, and Garrett Nicholson added the PAT for a 7-0 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Neumann hit tight end Jared Prugar — who finished with 165 receiving yards on six catches — in stride for a 56-yard pass over the middle that helped set up the Bombers’ next score, as Jones took a sweep to the far side and scored a four-yard TD. Another Nicholson PAT made it 14-0 with 10:41 left in the half.
“That’s my job, to hit my receivers in stride,” said Neumann.
Union’s only possession in the red zone stalled on the Ithaca 10-yard line, and David Pope kicked a 28-yard field goal with 6:45 left in the half to cut the Union deficit to 14-3.
Ithaca padded its lead with a
20-yard field goal by Nicholson with 5:22 left in the third quartet.
Union (0-2) was marching late in the period, but a holding penalty nullified a 21-yard run by Eck, and the drive stalled.
Union got a break when one of its special teams players touched the ball by accident on a punt return. The officials didn’t see the play, and the Dutchmen still got the ball. But Eck was intercepted five plays later by Brian Garvey.
Union drove to the Ithaca 26-yard line on its last possession, but a sack by Brian Hardenberg halted the drive.
“Defensively, we have a good club,” said Union head coach John Audino. “In the first half, we only gave up a couple of big plays, with that punt return and that one long pass. But offensively, we didn’t have much room to run or time to throw. That’s a quality program and a quality team in Ithaca. We had excellent effort today, but we have a lot of room for improvement. We need to make some improvements quickly, or we will dig ourselves a hole.”
Ithaca 7 7 3 0 — 17
Union 0 3 0 0 — 0
I — Jones 2 run (Nicholson kick).
I — Jones 4 run (Nicholson kick).
U — Pope 28 FG.
I — Nicholson 20 FG.