Despite playing perhaps its best first half of the season, the struggling Union College football team self-destructed in the second half Saturday.
And it wasn’t pretty. But it was familiar.
In an almost excruciating series of lost opportunities, the winless Dutchmen dropped their sixth straight game 29-21 to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, spoiling Union’s homecoming before a crowd of 2,103 at Frank Bailey Field Saturday.
The amped-up Dutchmen grabbed a 21-9 lead with 3:25 remaining in the first half, but gave up a late touchdown before the intermission. It was a sign of more bad things to come.
WPI, led by the bruising running of tailback Zach Grasis, quickly snatched all of the momentum early in the second half. But even though Union trailed for the final 22 minutes of the game, the Dutchmen had numerous opportunities to right the ship.
Union failed to cash in every time.
Union head coach John Audino had his own play on words to describe his team’s misfortunes.
“We executed ourselves instead of executing the plays. Until we clean up our act, we’re going to continue to struggle,” he said. “But we’ve got a bye week coming up, and we’ve got plenty of time to clean things up and stop making so many mistakes. This is extremely disappointing, obviously. We didn’t draw it up this way, to be 0-6. We have to get better, and I think we will.”
Hidden deep behind the frustrating second half, which included three turnovers and a missed field goal, were some positives for the Dutchmen. They took their first possession of the game 75 yards and scored in 12 plays, when Connor Kinzelmann busted up the middle for a 1-yard TD.
After WPI came back to knot the score on an 11-yard scoring pass from Dan Eckler to Brandon Eccher, Union bounced right back to score on an 8-yard TD pass from freshman QB Nick Cascione to senior wideout Kyle Reynolds. It was Reynolds’ 22nd career TD reception, which tied him for second with Steve Angiletta on the Dutchmen’s all-time list. Justin Gallo caught 34 TD passes from 2008 to 2011.
WPI cut its deficit to 14-9 when Jason Lamb tackled Kinzelmann in the end zone for a safety, but on the next WPI possession, Jack Reilly made the play of the game for Union. The freshman outside linebacker intercepted an Eckler pass in the middle of the field, broke numerous tackles while zig-zagging near the sidelines and ended up with a 73-yard return for a touchdown to pad the Union advantage to 21-9.
When Grasis capped off a 52-yard, 12-play drive with a 1-yard TD run early in the third quarter, WPI held a 22-21 advantage, but Union kept knocking on the door to retake the lead.
WPI failed to extend its advantage when senior running back Brian Marsh, trying to sweep in from the Union 3, fumbled the ball through the end zone, giving the Dutchmen the ball at their own 25. But Union’s offense sputtered.
With 6:36 left in the game, David Pope missed a 40-yard field goal that would have given the Dutchmen the lead.
After pinning WPI deep in its own territory a few minutes later, Union got the ball back with a little more than three minutes left, but the Dutchmen were flagged for an illegal block on the punt return, pushing them farther back. Two plays later, Cascione was intercepted.
Union’s defense couldn’t hold, and the Dutchmen decided to let Eckler score on a keeper with just under a minute left so they could get one more possession. But Criscione was intercepted once more, and the Engineers ran out the clock.
“We had a missed field goal, we had a safety and we had a fumble right before the half,” Audino said. “Then we had a bunch of turnovers in the second half, including those two late interceptions. We had our chances, but we self-destructed.”
“This is definitely extremely frustrating, to be so close again,” said Reilly, who also had a fumble recovery and a pass deflection. “We’ve got to keep our heads up. We’re not done yet. Sometimes, things just don’t go your way. I thought we had a really good chance to win this one.”
Grasis, a 6-foot, 215-pounder, finished with 168 yards rushing on 33 carries.
“We’re at our best when we keep pounding the ball,” he said. “When we do that, our passing game opens up, too. But we failed to score three times inside the 20, and we gave Union plenty of chances to come back at us. We have some improvements to make, but we’ll take the win.”
WPI 7 9 6 7 — 29
Union 14 7 0 0 — 21
U — Kinzelmann 1 run (Pope kick).
WPI — Eccher 11 pass from Eckler (Bursey kick).
U — Reynolds 8 pass form Cascione (Pope kick).
WPI — Lamb safety.
U — Reilly 73 interception return (Pope kick).
WPI — Eccher 39 pass from Eckler (Bursey kick).
WPI — Grasis 1 run (Bursey kick).
WPI — Eckler 15 run (Bursey kick).