Another week, another challenge for the nationally ranked Union College defense.
When the 2-3 Dutchmen visit Western New England College today for a non-conference football game at Springfield, Mass., the Union “D” will once again be tested against a Golden Bears’ offense that averages 34 points and 486.6 total yards per game.
Although Western New England is 1-4, the Golden Bears of the New England Football Conference have one of the best offenses in the Northeast. Tailback Kevin Cook, who has more than 2,000 career rushing yards, has produced 538 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season, and quarterback John Krafick has connected on 76 of 125 passes for 900 yards and six scores.
But Union’s defense has been stellar all year. The Dutchmen are ranked eighth in the country in first-down defense, 14th in fewest penalty yards per game, 15th in total defense, 31st in rushing defense and 27th in passing yards allowed.
The closer opposing teams get to the end zone, the tougher the Dutchmen defenders become. Over the last three games, Union foes have reached the red zone just three times. In the last two games, Union’s defense has allowed just one score (the other was on a punt return).
“Our defense has been steady all year,” said Union head coach John Audino, whose team is trying to win its third straight game after an 0-3 start. “In fact, the defense has been outstanding over the last three weeks. Even though we lost the St. Lawrence game, our defense played very well. Now that our special-teams unit has also settled in, we’re starting to play very balanced football.”
Despite several injuries to key offensive players, the Dutchmen have regrouped. Union has made several changes on the offensive line, and the coaches have altered their offensive and defensive schemes to complement their new personnel.
But Audino said his defense must continue to excel in order for the Dutchmen to keep their winning streak alive.
“Western New England has been to the playoffs several times, and their coaching staff has really turned their program around over the last four seasons,” Audino said. “They are averaging almost 35 points a game, and they have tremendous offensive talent. We’re looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity to get back to the .500 mark. We’ve had a very good week of practice, and although we’re pretty banged up, our offensive line is pretty healthy right now.”
Audino said practice time and experience have helped former backups get accustomed to their new roles as starters.
“From week to week, we are getting more reps in practice, and it’s helped our growth as a football team,” he said. “We’ve made several adjustments after all the injuries we’ve had, and we are a much more balanced team.”
Sophomore middle linebacker Thomas Hayes leads the Union defense in tackles with 40. He also has an interception, a forced fumble and a pass deflection. Sophomore linebacker Jake LaRovera (32 tackles) and senior nose tackle Jake Lebowitz (23 tackles, one fumble recovery) are other defensive leaders, along with junior free safety Andrew Luzzi, who is questionable because of an ankle injury.
Offensively, Union is paced by junior quarterback Connor Eck, who has completed 84 of 154 passes for 1,062 yards and four scores. Eck is also a running threat, along with tailbacks T.J. Franzese (311 yards, five touchdowns) and Darnel Thomas (279 yards). Joseph Vito is the team’s leading receiver with 16 catches for 141 yards.
Danes back home
The University at Albany faces another nationally ranked opponent when the Great Danes host No. 7 Towson today at 3:30 p.m. on homecoming day at Bob Ford Field.
UAlbany (0-3 Colonial Athletic Association, 1-6 overall) is coming off a heartbreaking 33-30 loss at Delaware last week. The Blue Hens not only rallied to tie the game with a touchdown with 1:42 left, but they also nailed a 42-yard field goal with two seconds on the clock for the game-winner.
Junior running back Omar Osbourne ran for 142 yards and a career-best three touchdowns last week. Junior quarterback Will Fiacchi is now third on the Great Danes’ all-time passing chart with 3,650 yards.
Towson (2-1, 6-1) is coming off back-to-back CAA championships. Junior running back Terrance West leads the CAA in scoring, rushing and all-purpose yards. He has 17 touchdowns and averages 135.3 yards rushing per game. Senior quarterback Peter Athens has connected on 122 of 197 passes for 10 scoring strikes and an average of 241 yards per game.
RPI looks to rebound
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (0-2 Liberty League, 3-2 overall) looks to bounce back after two straight losses when the Engineers host the University of Rochester at noon at East Campus Stadium. The game will be part of RPI’s family weekend.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Avery has completed 38 of 84 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns in the last four games, three of which he has started. Senior Andrew Armato paces the ground game with 344 yards and two scores.
Rochester is 1-1 in the Liberty League and 3-2 overall.