Worcester, MA --- John Antonopoulos (Cambridge, MA) tossed two touchdowns, Zach Grasis (East Brookfield, MA) ran for two more scores and the WPI defense forced five Rochester turnovers as the Engineers defeated the visiting Yellowjackets on Senior Day 31-21 in a Liberty League football contest played Saturday afternoon.
The win pushes WPI's record to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in conference play. Rochester, who had entered the contest with a three-game winning streak and a chance to claim the Liberty League's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, dips to 5-3 on the year and 3-2 in league play. The result, coupled with Hobart's 37-7 triumph over St. Lawrence, gives the nationally-ranked Statesmen the outright conference championship with a week to go in the regular season.
Ten WPI seniors and graduate student Gallagher Hogan (Portsmouth, NH) took the field for the first offensive play of the game. Two plays later, Rochester senior Zach Cicero (Fairport, NY) picked off Antonopoulos on a third-and-six, with the Crimson and Gray regulars on the gridiron, to take over on the WPI 47. The two teams then traded three-and-outs before the Yellowjackets took a 7-0 lead with 4:34 left in the opening quarter. Senior Dean Kennedy (Scituate, MA) led the Rochester offense down the field on a 16-play, 67-yard drive that chewed up 6:26. Senior Mark Torosian (Boston, MA) converted the extra point.
On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore Sean Murphy (Mattapoisett, MA) put the hosts in great field position following a 74-yard return to the Yellowjackets 31 yard line. Gallagher completed the drive with a 13-yard reception from Antonopoulos and, coupled with freshman Blaine Bursey's (Middleburg, FL) PAT, brought the game even at 7-7 with 2:08 remaining in the frame.
Rochester was forced to punt after a six-play drive as the first quarter expired. Grasis then accounted for 77 rushing yards on a 98-yard, five play drive that saw the running back go 70 yards to give WPI its first lead of the day. Bursey converted his second extra point as the Engineers held a 14-7 advantage with 12:39 left in the half. In the middle of the stanza, junior Ryan Mathie (Smithtown, NY) picked off Kennedy only to have the Engineers turn the ball back over on downs. Rochester looked to have tied the game on the final play of the half but a potential 25-yard touchdown heave was broken up at the last second by Crimson and Gray freshman Kevin Lynch (East Bridgewater, MA).
The U of R did even the score on the opening drive of the second half when Myles Allen (Bethesda, MD) dashed in from 18 yards out to cap a nine-play, 82 yard drive. WPI answered right back with a 10-play, 58-yard jaunt of its own, finished off by a 3-yard touchdown pass from Antonopoulos to Ehab Hamdan (Revere, MA) to give the Boynton Hillers a 21-14 advantage.
The Yellowjackets were poised to tie the game on the ensuing drive, marching down to the WPI 10, but Eric Lacroix (Methuen, MA) forced a fumble after a 10-yard pass that was recovered by Murphy. WPI's next drive stalled after a first down but Vinny Tavernelli's (Plymouth, MA) 56-yard punt pinned Rochester back to their own 11. Three plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Nate Martel (Steep Falls, ME) forced a fumble that was recovered by Jerrod Heiser (Wynantskill, NY) at the U of R 19. It took the Engineers just two Grasis' rushes, the last of which a five yard scamper, to put the hosts up 28-14.
Rochester cut into the WPI advantage on its next possession, with Kennedy connecting with Derek Wager (Palmyra, NY) on a five-yard scoring strike with 11:47 remaining. WPI went back up by two scores when Bursey drilled a 20-yard field goal with 6:13 remaining to finish off an 11-play, 62-yard drive. The Yellowjackets mustered one final drive but Murphy picked off Kennedy at the WPI five yard line to dash the U of R's title hopes.
Grasis and Antonopoulos each carried 22 times for WPI for 155 and 80 yards respectively. Grasis reached the 100-yard milestone for the sixth time this season and eighth of his career. His 70-yard touchdown made him just the sixth player in the 124 year history of WPI football to reach 1,000 yards in a season. The junior enters next week with 1,080 yards in 2013, fifth all-time in school history.
Antonopoulos was 14-for-24 for 99 yards, including the two touchdowns. Anthony Andre (Chelmsford, MA) hauled in six catches for 33 yards while Hamdan notched five catches for 30 yards and the touchdown.
Kennedy completed 22-of-41 passes for 276 yards and added 40 yards on the ground. Thomas Hayes (Syracuse, NY) was his favorite target, nabbing nine balls for 122 yards while Allen led the ground attack with 15 carries for 64 and the touchdown.
Mathie and Murphy stuffed the defensive stat sheets for WPI. Mathie had five solo stops, two tackles-for-loss, including a sack, a forced fumble, an interception, a pass break up and a QB hurry. Murphy had five solo stops as well to go along with his recovered fumble, interception, two pass breakups and key first quarter kickoff return. Freshman Brian Murtagh (Wayland, MA) totaled nine tackles and a pair of pass breakups while Heiser and Lacroix both recorded seven stops.
James Barrett (Chicago, IL) was force defensively for the visitors. The junior registered sacks on back-to-back plays in the second quarter along with an additional tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Shawn Burke (Webster, NY) tallied a team-best 10 tackles, including one for loss.
Tavernelli had a strong day punting, placing three of his five boots inside the 15 yard line.
WPI was plus four in the turnover margin and held a slight advantage in time of possession (31:46 to 28:14) while Rochester held the edge in total yards (437 to 347) and first downs (25 to 17).
WPI closes out its season next Saturday with a noon game at Springfield while Rochester hosts Hobart in its regular season finale at the same time.
Click HERE if the video does not appear below.