Climbing out of big holes is nothing new for the Union College football program, so it’s no surprise that the Dutchmen are getting quite good at bouncing back from adversity.
Using a balanced offense and a bend-but-not-break defense, the Dutchmen crushed longtime rival Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 35-6, before a homecoming day crowd of 2,114 on Frank Bailey Field.
It was the second straight win for Union after three consecutive losses to open the season. Union has opened up 0-3 the last three years.
It was also the second straight dominating performance for the Dutchmen after thumping Springfield, 27-7, on the road last week.
Union has won 17 of the last 18 meetings with WPI in a series that began in 1909. Union leads the all-time series, 33-8.
T.J. Franzese ran for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and junior quarterback Connor Eck completed 12 of 18 passes for 193 yards and two scoring strikes, both to Nick Reali, to pace the Dutchmen offense. Union piled up 383 total yards.
Although Union did make a few mistakes — like a pair of fumbled snaps, eight penalties for 71 yards and a missed field-goal attempt — the Dutchmen were able to bounce back.
“We’ve been 0-3 for the last three years, but I think this year was an even bigger hole for us, because one of those games was a league game,” said Union head coach John Audino.
“Sure, we were down mentally for a while, but in the last two weeks, we started to gain our composure. Our schemes have been good, and our protection has gotten better. We made some switches on our offensive line.
“Our confidence level is big right now. We have a long way to go, but the kids know we’re moving in the right direction.”
Franzese led a rejuvenated ground game that also included 84 yards and a touchdown from Darnel Thomas.
“I’ve been working on trying to get that first step back,” said Franzese, last year’s leading ground gainer with more than 800 yards. “All of us are working really hard to get back to where we were. Today, the holes opened up, and I just ran through them.
“Everything is starting to click for us right now,” he said. “We’re moving forward.”
Union sent a message early that the Dutchmen were ready to play. The Dutchmen won the coin flip, and instead of deferring as usual, they decided to take the ball right away. The result was a seven-play, 65-yard drive that was capped by Eck’s first scoring strike to Reali from 23 yards out. Eck rolled right and found the 6-foot-3, 245-pound tight end from Schalmont along the right sidelines.
Dave Pope tacked on the PAT, and Union held a 7-0 lead.
Union had a chance to extend its lead late in the first period, but Pope’s 35-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by John Kilfoil.
Andrew Luzzi, a junior defensive back, intercepted WPI quarterback Jacob Grills on the Engineers’ next series, and although Union failed to take advantage, the Dutchmen quickly got another turnover, when Nick Littas recovered Brandon Ecchler’s fumbled punt return.
Two plays later, Franzese busted off tackle for a 30-yard scoring run, and Pope added another PAT for a 14-0 Union lead.
Union padded its advantage on its next possession, when Thomas capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a two-yard run. The drive took 7:52 off the clock. Pope booted his third straight PAT, and Union, led, 21-0.
WPI finally got on the board following a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took 5:26 off the clock. Grills hit Larry McGillicuddy with a 13-yard TD pass, but Chris Carbone blocked the PAT try.
Eck and Reali connected for their second scoring pass midway through the third quarter to extend Union’s lead to 28-6.
“It feels great to be part of this offense,” said Reali. “We are trying to make the best of what we are now. We know we didn’t get off to a good start, but we’re playing very well as a team right now.”
Union closed out the scoring with Franzese’s second TD of the game, from 15 yards out.
“I think the biggest thing about this team now is that we are resilient,” said Eck. “We weren’t perfect today. We weren’t always smooth on all of our drives, but we came back from the penalties and the other mistakes we made.
“We know that we have a good offense, and we know what we’re capable of,” Eck added. “We would have had two more touchdowns today, but we know how to come back from adversity. We have a good football team.”
Union will play at Western New England and at Rochester before hosting Hobart Nov. 2.
WPI 0 6 0 0 — 6
Union 7 14 7 7 — 35
U — Reali 23 pass from Eck (Pope kick).
U — Franzese 30 run (Pope kick).
U —Thomas 2 run (Pope kick).
WPI — McGillicuddy 13 pass from Grills (kick blocked).
U — Reali 7 pass from Eck (Pope kick).
U — Franzese 15 run (Pope kick).
WPI Union First downs 18 19
Rushes-yards 35-159 41-190
Passing yards 117 193
Att-Comp-Int 34-14-1 18-12-0
Return yards 38 36
Punts-avg. 6-40.7 5-40.4
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-111 8-71