Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute football lost its home opener on a rainy Saturday afternoon, in an out-of-league matchup against the Alfred University Saxons. RPI played in front of an enthusiastic home crowd for their home debut. The Engineers, having won the week before, were hoping to bring momentum into Saturday’s contest. Sadly, Alfred thwarted this notion beating RPI 34-31 at the East Campus Stadium.
The Engineers won the week before with an impressive 29 to 9 victory against Norwich University. Norwich, the year before, had won their their league and advanced to the ECAC North Atlantic Bowl. The Institute came out of the game showing potential and the high-powered offense that the team possesses.
In their game against Alfred, the Engineers produced an impressive 375 total offensive yards. Of that total, 190 were on the ground while 185 were through the air. Sadly, RPI’s defense failed to hold off the strong offensive attack from Alfred University, which produced 493 offensive yards, 219 of those yards were on the ground, while 274 yards were through the air.
Engineer junior running back Nick Schlatz had an impressive day on the ground, rushing 15 times for 69 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Junior quarterback Jeff Avery went 11 for 24 in the air, throwing one interception. Avery also contributed to the ground game, compiling 61 yards on 20 carries. Avery’s primary target was graduate student running back Reggie Colas, who brought in five receptions and scored two touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Logan Gaddar had the most receiving yards, being targeted three times for 85 yards and also scoring two touchdowns.
Defensively, senior defensive back Nick Borkowski led the Engineers defense with nine tackles, while senior linebacker Colby Tragni produced six. Junior linebacker Anthony Pilla had the Institute’s only sack for a 6-yard loss.
The Saxons, which produced 493 yards of offense, were lead by sophomore quarterback Tyler Johnson, who connected on 13 of 25 attempts, producing 203 yards of offense. Johnson also produced 166 yards on the ground, averaging six yards per carry. Freshman standout Willie McFadden produced 48 yards on the ground on only five carries, averaging 9.6 yards per carry. Senior tight end Young Isiah was Johnson’s favorite target, receiving four receptions, averaging 10 yards per reception. Sophmore wide receiver Brandon Buisch caught three passes for 113 yards with two touchdowns.
Defensively, Alfred was led by sophomore defensive lineman Andy Miller, who had 12 stops, six of which were solo. Junior defensive back Michael Berardi also had an impressive defensive day, tallying nine tackles, six of which were single. Senior defensive back Michael Perkins had the only interception of the game.
RPI won the coin toss, but in a strategic move to gain possession in the second half, decided to defer their decision to the second half. Alfred came out firing, putting together an impressive eight-play drive. The drive cumulated with the Saxons finding themselves first on the scoreboard when Johnson scurried out of the pocket and connected with sophomore wide receiver Brendan Buisch for a 17-yard touchdown. The Engineers came right back, putting together a scoring drive capped off by a 39-yard field goal from the foot of senior kicker Andrew Franks. Alfred started their next drive with some trickery, Rodney Etiennerm, who usually plays quarterback but was lined up at running back. Etiennerm then made a downfield throw to senior wide receiver Bobby Broddus for a 71-yard touchdown. Alfred pulled out another trick, converting an onside kick; however, RPI’s relentless defense was able to hold Alfred and forced them to punt. Thanks to a negative 1-yard punt, the Engineers found themselves in a good field position. Two plays later, Avery found Colas on a deep out for a 36-yard touchdown. RPI regained possession and drove down the field for another touchdown when Avery was able to find Gadder in the end zone with 3:42 left in the quarter. The Engineers ended the quarter with a 17-14 lead.
After an impressive drive, RPI found themselves with their back against their own end zone to start the second quarter. After a strong goal line stand, the Saxons found the end zone as McFadden rushed it in from three yards out. After a few exchanges of possessions, the Engineers were finally able to reach the end zone again as Avery found Gaddar streaking across the middle of the field for a 26-yard touchdown. The half ended with Rensselaer leading 24-21.
The Engineers started the second half with possession of the ball. RPI’s offense put together a very impressive 14-play drive, which concluded with an impressive touchdown as Colas caught Avery’s pass one-handed behind the Alfred defender. Alfred responded quickly, scoring in only three plays as McFadden ran the ball in from 17 yards out, producing another Saxon touchdown. The quarter ended with the Engineers holding on to the lead 31 to 27.
RPI found themselves behind when the Saxons showed off their high-powered offense, scoring just 1:50 into the fourth quarter as Johnson connected with Buisch for a 82-yard touchdown to regain the lead. After multiple failed drives, the Engineers finally put something together with 8:08 left in the game. The Engineers produced a powerful drive, consistently converting third downs. RPI brought the ball to the one yard line and it seemed as if a score was immanent, but a personal foul moved the Engineers back to the 16-yard line. The Institute failed to convert the field goal, giving the ball back to Alfred. The Engineers got the ball back one last time with 10 seconds left in the game. In a last-second effort to score, Avery connected with Gaddar for a 51 yard reception to the Alfred 20 yard line. Sadly, RPI was unable to get another play off as the clock ran out. The Saxons pulled out the victory, finding themselves on top 34-31.
The Engineers travel to Castleton College next week for their last non-Liberty League game before they start Liberty League play. Castleton enters Sunday’s contest, having won their previous game against Plymouth State University 20 to 3. Last year, RPI topped the Castleton Spartans 23 to 8. Although the Institute found themselves on the wrong side of the score board this week, with their senior leadership and high-powered offense, a win seems almost immanent in next week’s match.
The following week, the Engineers return home for their first Liberty League game against rival Worcester Polytechnic Institute for their annual Transit trophy game. This game will be held under the lights at East Campus Stadium. This will be the first home night game since 2011 when the Rensselaer Polytechnic football team hosted Castelton college. This will be the third night game in the history of East Campus Stadium, the first night game having taken place in 2010 when RPI hosted Union College for their annual Dutchmnan Shoes game.