Troy, NY --- Ernie Mello rushed for a career-best 129 yards, including a touchdown, to pace visiting WPI to a 24-10 triumph over rival Rensselaer in the Liberty League opener for both teams on Saturday afternoon. With the victory, the Engineers (3-1) win their third straight contest this season and claim the coveted Transit Trophy for the first time since 1996.
Tied 7-7 at the half, WPI held the hosts to a three-and-out to start the third quarter and promptly marched down the field and took the lead for good on a Cody Beckel (Jupiter, FL) 25-yard field goal.
On the ensuing possession, RPI moved into WPI territory, and after the Crimson and Gray defense stiffened, attempted a fake punt that was sniffed out by WPI's William Alves (West Warwick, RI). Worcester's Engineers followed with a 7-play, 63-yard drive capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass from Pat McAuley (Hingham, MA) to Nick Bean (Middleboro, MA) to make it 17-7.
RPI's Peter Nilson (Appleton, WI) made a 33-yard field goal to pull the home team to within seven points, 17-10, at 10:41 of the fourth quarter but WPI sealed the win with an 8-yard run by Aaron Champagne (Fairfield, ME) with just over five minutes remaining.
Mello carried 19 times to lead WPI, while Champagne added 64 rushing yards on 15 carries. McAuley completed 9 of 17 passes for 92 yards with no interceptions. He also ran for 21 yards. Defensively for the Engineers, senior Graham Leto (Grafton, MA) had a team-best nine tackles, including eight unassisted, with a fumble recovery, while Christopher O'Connor (Bellerose, NY) chipped in with eight stops and Michael Oliveri (Milford, MA) and Manny Cambra (Bethel, CT) each added a tackle-for-loss.
RPI senior Colin King (Ravena, NY) led all tacklers with 13 stops, including 13 solos. Fellow linebacker Jeff McCormick (Schodack, NY/Columbia) had 11 tackles (6 solos). Hermann completed 17 of 32 attempts for 142 yards with no interceptions. He also gained a team-best 29 yards. McCarthy had six catches for 61 yards.
The visitors opened the scoring on the first drive of the game when Mello plunged in from a yard out to cap an 8-play, 68-yard series that took four minutes. The highlight was a 32-yard run by Mello that brought WPI to the RPI 12-yard line.
Rensselaer had an excellent opportunity to tie the game on WPI's next drive when a sack by Justin Hasselkus (Rochester, NY) led to a fumble, which was picked up by an RPI teammate. However, WPI forced a fumble on the same play and recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Rensselaer tied the game in the second quarter when sophomore quarterback Mike Hermann (Hardeesville, SC) connected with senior Pat McCarthy (Strafford, NH) in the back corner of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown on a third down play. A 22-yard pass from Hermann to Steven Burpoe (Saranac Lake, NY) set up RPI inside the 5-yard line.
Both teams are back in action next Saturday. WPI hosts Union in its annual homecoming contest at 1pm while Rensselaer is on the road, traveling to league foe Rochester for a noon start.
Large portion of release courtesy Rensselaer sports information