SCHENECTADY — St. Lawrence tested several facets of 25th-ranked Union College’s multi-talented football team Saturday on Homecoming & Family Weekend. After a few adjustments at halftime, the Dutchmen passed the test.
After giving up more than 300 passing yards in the first half alone and settling for a 17-17 tie at the intermission, Union switched gears offensively and defensively to pull away from the upset-minded Saints 38-17 on Frank Bailey Field.
The unbeaten Dutchmen improve to 3-0 in the Liberty League and 6-0 overall, while the Saints drop to 0-2 and 2-4.
St. Lawrence was able to take away a few key Union offensive weapons for a good portion of the first half, and the Saints’ spread offense, featuring no tight end or fullback, put plenty of pressure on the Union defense. SLU quarterback Tyler Grochot completed 19 of 33 passes for 308 yards in the first 30 minutes.
But Union regrouped at the intermission, slowing the tempo down and running successfully against the Saints. The Dutchmen also put a lot more pressure on Grochot, and he managed less than 40 yards passing in the second half.
“I’ll say this, the St. Lawrence passing attack is very well structured, and it showed in the first half,” Union head coach Jeff Behrman said. “We tackled better in the second half, and we pressured their QB differently. We gave them different pressures from different spots, and that put him [Grochot] in uncomfortable situations. We also got him behind the chains a little bit.
“I felt like we stayed on our feet defensively better in the second half. In the first half, when we got to the quarterback, we were leaning and not keeping on our feet. If you’re going to make football plays, you’ve got to stay on your feet.”
Offensively, the high-flying Union attack slowed the game down and ran from tackle to tackle. Ike Irabor ran for 178 yards and a touchdown, while Joe Ferreira added 78 yards and two scores.
Union quarterback Will Bellamy, who completed 12 of 16 passes for 197 yards, said the Dutchmen weren’t afraid to keep the ball on the ground when necessary.
“Going into the game plan this week, I watched a lot of film,” Bellamy said. “Their front seven is very talented and very physical. They were going to play man and put pressure on me. When you have a running game as capable as ours, it opens up the passing game. They can’t key on one player or key on the running game or the passing game. Because of our hard work, we can do pretty much what we want on offense and still be efficient.”
Irabor carried the ball 25 times, and was as elusive as ever, but after he broke loose for a 67-yard TD run on the Dutchmen’s first offensive series, he was held in check until the second half.
“To be honest, I see what I see every other week from defenses,” Irabor said. “If they come at me, I run the other way, and then I come right back. I’m not going to lie. I love carrying the ball a lot. If I’ve got to run on that defense I’m going to keep going.”
Bellamy found Ross for a 41-yard TD pass, and Marcos Rodriguez added a 24-yard field goal in the first half for the Dutchmen. Grochot hooked up with Glens Falls High School graduate Andrew Murphy for two long TD passes (71 and 42 yards), while William Manory added a 20-yard field goal for the Saints.
In the second half, Irabor and Ferreira spearheaded a Union running attack that piled up 249 yards. Ross, who caught four passes for 98 yards, added another TD reception on a leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
“It was part of our game plan to do what we did today,” Ross said. “It comes with being good at what you do. St. Lawrence fought for the win, and they tried their best to stop me. That’s all I’ll say. We knew we had to attack.”
Behrman praised his players for being able to adjust so easily to the Dutchmen’s slow-down attack.
“It’s a credit to our players,” Behrman said. “They’ve been able to absorb a lot of our offense. We don’t start our tempo plays until Thursday or Friday. They absorbed it and executed it. Our offensive line and tight ends did a terrific job of scheming our run game. It’s nice to be able to run the ball when you need to. In a game like that, we had to keep running the ball to keep their offense off the field.”
Evan Gilland and George Reed led Union’s defense with eight tackles each. Daniel Gioioso made two quarterback sacks, and Joe Vanderhoof intercepted a pass with three minutes remaining to clinch the win. It was the only forced turnover of the game.
Union plays the next two games on the road against Buffalo State and Ithaca, respectively, before returning home to play Utica Nov. 9.
St. Lawrence 7 10 0 0 — 17
Union 10 7 7 14 — 38
U — Irabor 67 run (Rodriguez kick)
SLU — Murphy 71 pass from Grochot (Manory kick)
U — Rodriguez 24 FG
SLU — Murphy 42 pass from Grochot (Manory kick)
U — Ross 41 pas from Bellamy (Rodriguez kick)
SLU — Manory 20 FG
U — Ross 15 pass from Bellamy (Rodriguez kick)
U — Ferreira 1 run (Rodriguez kick)
U — Ferreira 8 run (Rodriguez kick)