Everyone associated with the 113th football meeting between Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a different take on one of the Capital Region’s most intense rivalries.
For a pair of RPI players, rooting interests in the annual battle for the Dutchman Shoes Trophy, set for today at noon on Frank Bailey Field, began long before they suited up for the Engineers.
“My brother, Kevin, played for RPI from 2006 through 2009,” RPI senior quarterback Jeff Avery said. “For those four years, I traveled here [from White Plains] to watch him play. It was always a big deal then, and it’s still a big deal now. I’m not sure how many of today’s student-athletes are up on the history of this rivalry, but it’s a little different for me. I remember watching the Dutchman Shoes Trophy games when they were played back on ’86 Field.”
Ryan Buss, a junior defensive back who graduated from Shenendehowa, also knew about the Union-RPI football rivalry long before he played a single snap for the Engineers.
“As a kid, I came here to watch these teams play,” Buss said. “I think both teams respect each other. There isn’t any trash talk these days, and our coaches have told us not to get involved with social media. We’ll leave that up to the alumni.”
Buss pointed out that even though this game is special because of the local rivalry, it’s also important for RPI’s playoff hopes.
“We have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament if we win, and that’s a big deal for us,” Buss said. “But still, we appreciate the rivalry.”
RPI head coach Ralph Isernia is only participating in his third Dutchman Shoes Trophy game, but he is well aware of its significance.
“We try not to focus on the what ifs. We’d rather focus on the what is,” Isernia said. “Talk is cheap. Our players know how to compartmentalize what this game means. They’ve heard a lot from the alumni about this game. We know there’s been a lot of emails, texts and messages about the rivalry, but we’re not a part of that. Our motto has been all year to focus on the next 200 feet. That’s about how much you can see in front of your headlights.”
The Route 7 rivals, located about 30 minutes apart, have gone in different directions this season. Union, which holds an 81-27-4 advantage in the series, including a 47-18 mark since the Dutchman Shoes Trophy was introduced in 1950, is 0-9. RPI is 5-1 in the Liberty League and 7-2 overall. The Engineers still have a chance to win the Liberty League and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs if they beat the Dutchmen and co-leader St. Lawrence loses to Merchant Marine Academy. Even if St. Lawrence wins, RPI might earn an at-large bid to the playoffs.
Union head coach John Audino, on the proverbial hotseat because of his team’s 5-24 record over the last three seasons, still believes this is one of the area’s best rivalries.
“There is a buzz around campus,” he said. “The kids are super excited. The games have been really competitive over the years. It’s definitely special. It’s one of the best rivalries in the country.”
Audino, in his 24th season as head coach, has a 152-88 record with the Garnet. He was also a Union assistant coach for three years.
Union players believe a win over their archrivals could salvage a miserable season.
“This game means a lot to me,” senior defensive end Jake LaRovera said. “The fact is that I think both teams’ talent level is very close. I’m not afraid of RPI. We have enough talent to win. This is very special because it’s also my last game.”
Senior wideout A.J. Baker, the youngest son of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, wants to go out a winner.
“If we win this game, it would make up for our entire season,” Baker said. “We’ve been in so many of our games, only to lose at the end. This means a lot to our seniors. We would all love to win this game.”
The series, which began on Nov. 19, 1886, is the oldest collegiate football rivalry in the state and the fifth-oldest in NCAA Division III. RPI is looking to win its third straight. Last year, RPI held off the Dutchmen 31-28 on an Andrew Franks 25-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter at East Campus Stadium in Troy. Franks is now kicking for the Miami Dolphins.
UALBANY HOME FINALE
University at Albany hosts New Hampshire in the Great Danes’ final home game of the season on Military Appreciation Day. Game time at Bob Ford Field at Casey Stadium is 7 p.m.
The Great Danes (2-4 Colonial Athletic Association, 3-6 overall) are coming off a 17-6 victory over Delaware. The team will honor its 10 senior members in a pregame ceremony, and the first 1,000 students to enter Great Dane Game Day will receive a free stadium blanket.