Rensselaer 42, WPI 33
Worcester, MA --- On a day when the Rensselaer offense produced 288 rushing yards and six total touchdowns, it was the RPI defense that sealed the win, forcing two interceptions, a punt and a turnover on downs on WPI's four fourth-quarter drives as visiting RPI held on for a 42-33 victory in the Liberty League opener for both teams on Saturday afternoon. The win gives RPI (4-0, 1-0 Liberty League) a 55-43-5 edge in the overall series between the two longtime rivals, and makes sure that the coveted Transit Trophy, awarded annually to the WPI-RPI winner, will remain in Troy for the 13th consecutive year.
Previous editions of the WPI-RPI rivalry have produced high-scoring shootouts, and Saturday's affair was no exception. The two teams combined for over 800 yards of total offense, six rushing TDs and four TDs through the air on the afternoon. RPI's offense was especially prolific, as the visitors produced 491 yards of offense and put together five touchdown drives lasting 91 seconds or less.
WPI (3-1, 0-1 Liberty League) was battling to get back into the game from the very first RPI possession. On Rensselaer's second snap from scrimmage, running back Nick Costa (Yonkers, NY) scampered down the right sideline for a 61-yard TD run, giving RPI a 7-0 lead. The Troy Engineers added to their lead later in the first quarter, as freshman QB Mike Hermann (Hardeeville, SC) threw a 49-yard dart to Mike Fil (Wynantskill, NY) for a touchdown and a 14-0 edge after one quarter of action.
Undaunted by the early deficit, WPI rallied to get back into the game before halftime. On its first possession of the second quarter, the Worcester Engineers found paydirt as QB Mike Swanton (Foxboro, MA) connected with all-Liberty League WR R.C. Grady (Shirley, MA) for a nine-yard TD strike to pull to within seven at 14-7. The momentum was short-lived however, as RPI embarked on a three-play, 67-yard scoring drive, capped by a 16-yard TD run by Zach Scruggs (Auburn, GA). The Crimson and Gray rallied before the intermission, putting together back-to-back six-play drives for scores. Swanton completed a 56-yard march with a 14-yard TD run to cut the lead to 21-14. On its next drive, the Worcester Engineers moved 57 yards in six plays as Swanton connected once again with Grady for an 11-yard score to knot the score at 21-21.
WPI was armed with all the momentum coming out of the locker room in the second half, but it was RPI who got on the board first to re-establish its lead. Costa, who rushed for 140 yards on the afternoon, capped a 67-yard trek to the end zone with a 2-yard TD plunge as RPI retook the lead, 28-21. WPI kept the pressure on, scoring on the ensuing possession. Swanton engineered a long 12-play, 74-yard march and delivered a 12-yard score to Aaron Champagne (Fairfield, ME) to seemingly tie the game once again. The subsequent extra point was blocked however by Darryl Brown (Hollis, NY), as RPI clung to a 28-27 edge.
The visitors would take advantage of the missed PAT, as Hermann scrambled through the WPI defense for a 55-yard TD run 54 seconds after the WPI score, giving RPI a 35-27 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The final stanza seemed promising for the hosts, as RPI misfired on a pass to the left sideline that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by WPI cornerback Graham Leto (Grafton, MA). As a result of the failed PAT in the third quarter, WPI elected to go for the two-point conversion to tie the score, but Champagne was stopped just short of the goal line on an option pitch to the left side. Fortunate to still lead 35-33, RPI embarked on its longest scoring drive of the day, going 69 yards in 15 plays, capped by Hermann's second rushing TD of the day that gave RPI a 42-33 lead on the road. Hermann was the second RPI rusher to eclipse 100 yards rushing on the day (105 yards) and the second with two TDs on the ground. The drive, lasting 6:12, was the longest scoring drive for RPI by over four and a half minutes.
Fortified by a two-possession lead, RPI's defense buckled down to preserve the win. WPI seemed to be heading toward another score on its next possession, moving to the RPI 40-yard line before WPI's pass was picked off by RPI co-captain Tim Acker (Arlington, WA). RPI looked to run out the clock and seal the win, but a fumble gave the hosts the ball back at midfield and a second chance to get back into the game, but an interception on the first play of the drive by defensive back Stefan Schulz (Haverhill, MA) sealed WPI's fate. WPI got the ball back two other times late in the contest, but was forced into obvious passing situations and was held down by the RPI defense.
Costa and Hermann paced RPI on the ground with 140 and 105 yards, respectively. Hermann finished 13-for-21 through the air with 1 TD and 2 INTs. Pat McCarthy (Stafford, NH) paced RPI with 97 receiving yards on eight catches, while Fil had 87 yards receiving and Worcester native Ray Davis (Worcester, MA) added two catches for 18 yards. Acker led the victors in tackles with nine, while Brown added eight and co-captain Joe Albano (Dalton, MA) seven. Brown and Colton Hill (Troy, NY) each collected a pair of sacks on the day.
Sophomore running back Ernie Mello (Wilmington, MA) led the WPI ground attack with 80 rushing yards. Swanton had 60 yards on the ground with a score, while Champagne added 28 yards rushing, 21 yards receiving and a TD catch. Grady was the leading receiver for the Engineers with seven catches for 78 yards and two TDs, while sophomore receiver Nick Bean (Middleboro, MA) had six catches for 53 yards. Josh Less (Fitchburg, MA) added 29 yards on two key catches that produced first-downs.
Michael Oliveri (Milford, MA) registered a game-high 12 tackles for WPI in defeat, while Jack Mulhern (Worcester, MA) added 10 tackles in addition to 1.5 sacks and an interception. Adam Power (Tewksbury, MA) and Chris Boudreau (Rensselaer, NY) each had six tackles, while Brendan Gove (Rutland, MA) added five tackles and the fourth-quarter fumble recovery.
Both teams are in action next Saturday. WPI ventures to Union for another Liberty League contest at 6pm, while RPI entertains Rochester at 1pm.
Story written by Ray Cotrufo - WPI Athletics Department