Engineers off-kilter against Tartans, record home win streak snapped at 14 games

The No. 22 Rensselaer Engineers hosted the Carnegie Mellon Tartans in their first meeting since 1911. Hot off a 14‒7 victory the previous week, RPI looked to continue their momentum.

The Engineers received the opening kickoff, returning it to the RPI 21-yard line. They advanced upfield, in part due to a 15-yard scramble from quarterback Matt Petercuskie. The Tartans’ defense halted the RPI drive, forcing them to punt.

Carnegie Mellon responded by gaining yardage on deep throws, the last of which was a spectacular catch from Ethan Reifer that brought them down to the RPI seven-yard line. The Engineers barely kept the Tartans out of the end zone on second down, stopping them at the one-yard line. A bad snap on third down resulted in a loss of yardage, and the Tartans settled for a 24-yard field goal to put them ahead 3‒0.

ETHAN REIFER KEEPS his foot in bounds, bringing the Tartans to the Engineer seven-yard line. Katherine Barney/The Polytechnic

The Engineers steadily marched upfield as they continued to rush the ball despite the Tartan resistance, gaining a few yards on each play. RPI maintained their drive into the second quarter but punted two minutes in.

The Tartans took over five yards from their end zone. The Engineers kept Carnegie Mellon from breaking the 30-yard line, forcing them to punt. The ensuing punt spiraled out of bounds at the Tartan 27. Despite the favorable field position, the Tartans contained RPI on their first three downs. The Engineers went for it on fourth and 6 at the 23, a risky decision due to their new kicker’s unproven range. Petercuskie was forced to throw the ball away after breaking a tackle, turning the ball over on downs.

Carnegie Mellon nearly had another deep completion on third down, but an unnecessary roughness call sent them all the way back to their own 14. The Engineers wrapped up the ball-carrier on the replayed third down. A fair catch on the following punt gave RPI possession in Tartan territory. The Engineers went three-and-out. A defensive stalemate, the first half ended with the score remaining 3‒0.

Carnegie Mellon received the kickoff to begin the new half, starting their drive at their own 20. The Engineer pass rush forced two incompletions after the Tartans had crossed into the RPI half. On third down, Carnegie Mellon quarterback Ben Mills launched a deep throw towards the end zone. Engineer defensive back Carlos Davis beat his receiver, made an over-the-shoulder catch, and took a knee in the end zone for a touchback.

The Tartans regained possession after a failed Engineer drive. On third and 10 at the Carnegie Mellon 23, Engineer defensive back Jimmy Leblo intercepted a pass and was downed at the 36, giving RPI an advantage on their next drive. The Engineers were stopped at the 16-yard line, and kicker Aleksandar Maric lined up to take his first career field goal to tie up the game. The ball was snapped, and Maric’s low kick was blocked by a jumping Tartan. RPI remained behind heading into the fourth quarter.

ALEKSANDAR MARIC WATCHES his offense advance upfield. Katherine Barney/The Polytechnic

The Engineer defense continued their dominance, keeping the Tartans at bay. Their offense, however, struggled. On their next drive, RPI faced third and 6 at their own 12. Petercuskie received the snap, dropped back, and picked out a completely covered Lombardi; with three Tartans in front of the RPI receiver, the throw was returned to the RPI one-yard line. The Engineers were able to stop Carnegie Mellon on first and second down. The Tartan quarterback squeaked into the end zone on third down, extending their lead to 10 points with 7:37 left to play.

RPI was shut down on the next drive. On third and 5 at the Rensselaer 43, a Tartan bull rushed an offensive lineman and tackled Petercuskie for a sack. In desperation, the Engineers went for it on fourth down. Another Tartan sped around the offensive line and sacked Petercuskie for the second play in a row, turning the ball over on downs. The best that the Engineers could do on the following Carnegie Mellon drive was keep them to a 36-yard field goal attempt. The kick sailed wide right, giving RPI a lifeline.

Backup quarterback Jake Kazanowsky, who had come in for a short spell earlier in the game, replaced Petercuskie for the last three minutes. Thanks to illegal substitution and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the Tartans, the Engineers quickly advanced upfield while preserving as much of the clock as possible. On first and 10 at the Carnegie Mellon 23, receiver Deen Ninche drew out a defensive back by faking a curl route. After Ninche had cleared space behind the Tartan secondary, Kazanowsky lobbed a throw to the open receiver as he was getting ripped to the turf. Ninche made the nonchalant catch for a touchdown, cutting the lead down to just one score with less than two minutes remaining.

RPI attempted an onside kick to recover possession, but the final bounce fell perfectly into the arms of a Tartan. The Engineer defense stood up to the challenge, forcing Carnegie Mellon to go three-and-out. However, with only two timeouts heading into the drive, RPI could not prevent the Tartans from running down the clock on fourth down. The Engineer offense came back out with 41 seconds left in a desperate attempt to get into field goal range. The Carnegie Mellon defense proved too much for the Engineers, keeping ball-carriers in bounds and sacking Kazanowsky. RPI was unable to advance past their 33-yard line.

The 10‒7 loss is the Engineers’ first of the season, as well as their first home defeat since the 2018 Dutchman Shoes Trophy game—the 14-game home winning streak was the longest in school history. RPI’s next game is the Transit Trophy game against WPI at home on September 17 at 5 pm. Click here for the box score and here for the RPI TV broadcast.