By Dan Greene
After a deflating loss at Ithaca two weekends ago in its first game of the season, the Union football team had two weeks to reflect on its defeat and what it needed to do to improve. The players needed a quick turnaround since their next game opened up Liberty League play and was their home opener. Their opponent this past Saturday evening was the University of Rochester, who the Dutchmen beat 28-21 last season.
Last season’s meeting was a nail-biter as Union scored the game-winning touchdown with just ten seconds left in regulation. With this meeting still fresh in their minds, both teams knew that this game would be a dog fight. And it was, as the Dutchmen prevailed once again with a 16-14 victory to even their overall record at 1-1 and start off their league games on the right foot.
Speaking of feet, the right foot of Union kicker and punter Blaise Ancona ‘11 made the difference in the game as he drilled three field goals, including the eventual game-winner in the third quarter. Ancona’s punting was also very effective as he placed seven of his nine punts within the Yellowjackets’ 20-yard line.
This performance was both surprising and unsurprising to Union football fans because Ancona had a great 2009 campaign as a punter. He was named to the First Team All-Liberty League, the Third Team Special Team for the D3Football.com 2009 All-East Region Team, the 2009 ECAC Division III Northwest Football All-Star team, and is a 2010 pre-season All-American. But at the same time, Ancona is not experienced as a field goal kicker; coming into the game, he had not yet hit a three-point field goal for the Dutchmen.
The Yellowjackets opened up the scoring with 9:10 left in the first quarter when running back Chris Bickford scored from two yards out. But Union tied the game less than three minutes later when Connolly, who threw for 189 yards on the night, found wide receiver Connor Gallo ‘12 for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Ancona’s extra point tied the game at seven.
Ancona gave his team a three-point lead 45 seconds into the second quarter with a 24-yard field goal after Connolly drove his team downfield for a 12-play, 90-yard drive that took 5:32.
With just under two minutes remaining in the first half, Anconca booted his second field goal, this time from 33 yards out, to extend Union’s lead to six. But Rochester turned right around and marched down the field for a seven play, 69-yard drive that led to another two-yard touchdown run by Bickford, giving his team a one point lead with 30 seconds left before halftime.
The second half was a defensive battle, as neither team allowed the opposing offense to gain any momentum. Union’s biggest defensive play of the half occurred early in the third quarter when J.P. Sticco ‘11 intercepted a Rochester pass at their 45-yard line. The Dutchmen were unable to convert off of the turnover.
Union was able to break through in their next possession as they took over at the Rochester 45-yard line with 9:07 left in the third quarter. After gaining 23 yards on four carries by Chris Coney ‘11, Ancona nailed a 41-yard field goal to give his team a 16-14 lead.
The score stayed this way for the rest of the game thanks to the Union offense who possessed the ball for 10:14 in the final quarter.
Besides Ancona, Coney was the star for the Dutchmen as he ran for 157 yards while running the ball 33 times. During the game Coney eclipsed the 3,000-yard career rushing mark, making him the fourth student-athlete in Union’s history to reach this mark. He joins the ranks of Tom Arcidiacono ‘06 (4,915 yards), George Beebe ‘02 (3,615 yards), and Chris Irving ‘94 (3,408 yards).
On Saturday, the Dutchmen will travel to Massachusetts to take on Worcester Polytechnic Institute for their second Liberty League game. Last season, Union defeated WPI 21-17 at Frank Bailey Field thanks to a two-touchdown performance from Coney.