Rensselaer defends Transit Trophy at WPI

RPI FOOTBALL HELD off a late game comeback attempt by WPI to seal the victory. (File photo)

RPI built a four-touchdown lead in the first half at rival Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Worcester battled back, scoring three touchdowns in the second half. But it was too little, too late for the other Engineers as Rensselaer ran the clock out on their comeback and emerged victorious, 28-21.

Senior quarterback Jeff Avery completed all four of his passes on the opening drive of the game, finishing it with a three-yard strike to senior wide receiver Logan Gaddar. WPI starter Dan Eckler didn’t fare as well on the home team’s first drive. After two runs by Worcester running back Zach Grasis for five yards, the home team faced a third and five from their own 38. Eckler looked for an open receiver, but threw too late and senior defensive back Teague Florio stepped in front of the pass and ran it back 61 yards for an RPI score.

Senior running back Nick Schlatz carried the ball 21 times for 108 yards while sophomore running back Mike Tivinis accumulated 56 yards on 13 totes. On Rensselaer’s second possession of the second quarter, Tivinis powered the Engineers’ offense down the field for their third score of the afternoon, carrying the football seven times for 31 yards during the drive. This drive was capped off by a second toss from Avery to Gaddar, who snagged five catches for 49 yards to lead the visiting Engineers in receiving.

The next drive featured Schlatz, who ran twice for 18 yards and caught a pass out of the backfield for 13 more. Then, just before halftime, Avery found senior running back Austin Amery in the end zone for a 27-yard score to give the visiting Engineers a 28-0 lead.

The WPI offense came to life on the first drive of the second half. Eckler found fullback Steven Thulin open near the sideline and he sprinted 62 yards to the RPI three. Two plays later, Grasis plowed through a hole in the Rensselaer defense to cut the lead to 28-7.

RPI ran the ball ten times, including six rushes by Schlatz for 25 yards and three more by senior running back Matt Lane for 14 yards, on its first drive of the second half. However, Avery failed to connect on all four of his passing attempts and the drive fizzled out after five and a half minutes at the WPI 27.

With 11:49 remaining, WPI still trailed 28-7. But Eckler wasn’t deterred, completing four passes for 62 yards during a touchdown-scoring drive that lasted nearly six minutes. Once again, Grasis finished it off with a short rushing touchdown.

After Worcester failed to obtain possession from an onside kick, Rensselaer tallied two first downs and used three minutes of clock before turning the ball back over to WPI at the home team’s own nine-yard line with 2:47 remaining.

Once again, Eckler stepped up, tossing a beautiful 70-yard pass to a streaking Brandon Eccher to set the other Engineers up at the RPI 21 with just over two minutes to play. Then, two plays later he found wide receiver Ian McMullen open over the middle for a 21-yard scoring toss to put the home team within seven.

RPI recovered WPI’s last ditch onside kick attempt and Schlatz carried the ball twice for 24 yards to seal the Transit Trophy victory for Rensselaer.

Avery played well, completing 14 of his 22 attempts for 155 yards and three touchdowns. Eckler made several big plays for Worcester in the second half but two interceptions in the first half sealed their fate. Nonetheless, he still threw for 291 yards and a touchdown.

In addition to Florio, senior defensive back Philip Lanieri III and junior defensive back Ryan Buss also had interceptions to help keep the Worcester offense out of the end zone. Sophomore defensive back Bryan Hayes led RPI with nine tackles while senior linebacker Anthony Pilla and junior defensive lineman Malik Joseph each recorded a sack.

Next up for RPI is a showdown against the United States Merchant Marine Academy at East Campus Stadium next Saturday.