On Saturday, the Yellowjacket football team proved the saying “defense wins games” as it won its sixth-straight game, defeating Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who was at the time ranked 13th in the country, 25-21. In the final minutes of the game, the Engineers had possession on UR’s three with a first-and-goal situation, but seven plays later the ‘Jackets were back in control, solidifying their first win against RPI since 1991.
“The defensive stand at the end of the game was just remarkable and is a testament to the players’ resolve to never quit and believe in something greater than individual performance,” head coach Scott Greene said.
It was the entire team that contributed to the win, as the offense took the field in Troy, N.Y., ready to compete.
At the end of the first quarter, after four rushing plays by freshman running back Clarence Onyiriuka amounted to 28 yards, sophomore quarterback Adam Barrett relied on senior wide receiver Jay Jay Vanderstyne for another first down. Following one more rushing play to Onyiriuka, Barrett trusted Vanderstyne’s strong hands in the end zone, hitting him to put the ‘Jackets on the board first with a little more than a minute to play.
In the second quarter, Onyiriuka’s powerful rushing put sophomore kicker Griffin Moar in the position to tack on two successful field goals.
Though the Engineers, led by quarterback Jimmy Robertson and fullback Justin Heafy, were able to run one play into the end zone, successful tackling by junior defensive back Sean Simpson and senior defensive back Andy Rape brought the ‘Jackets into the locker room with a 13-7 lead at halftime.
“In the locker room, we game-planned against some of the things we had not seen on film, and we made changes so in the second half we were better prepared for what they were going to try to do,” senior defensive back John Jackson said.
Fired up, Moar kicked off and the defense went back to work, stopping RPI on the UR 2-yard line. On their next possession, however, RPI was able to take the ball down 44 yards to wide receiver Eren Savasli in the end zone to put them ahead, 14-13.
When the ‘Jackets re-gained possession, they were unable to achieve a first down, and RPI quickly took over again. On second down, RPI’s Nick Costa plowed through the defense and ran 38 yards down his home field to give RPI a 21-13 lead.
When the fourth quarter started, the Yellowjackets refused to get disheartened or let up. Without delay, Barrett commanded the field, rushing for four yards and then completing a pass to senior tight end Joe Price, putting pressure on at the 4-yard line. Onyiriuka finished off those four yards, rushing for a touchdown and, although the two-point conversion was unsuccessful, the ‘Jackets were back within two.
With six minutes left on the clock, UR took over. On second down on their own 25, Barrett took matters into his own hands, taking the ball in for his first rushing touchdown.
“My first rushing touchdown felt great,” Barrett said. “The offensive line, Joe Price and Jay Jay all had great blocks that made it an easy score for me. They deserve the credit.”
This team effort made the score 25-21, where it stayed as a result of the strong defense played in the final minutes of the game.
“The offensive success is a direct result of execution among all 11 personnel on the field doing their job to the best of their ability,” Greene said. “Adam Barrett has grown as a leader and has become the ultimate team player and has the confidence to be the best. The offensive coaches have been tremendous this season in developing our young players to be able to compete at such a high level from the first game to this last game. You also have to give credit to our captains and especially [senior running back] Matt Bielecki and his leadership among the young players on our offense, he has developed a high standard that others have to live up to if they are going to be successful.”
This strong point can be seen from the players’ side, as well.
“I think the team’s strongest point is our camaraderie,” Barrett said. “After an 0-3 start, it would have been easy for people to start pointing fingers, but nobody did that. We all stuck by each other and now we are ready to compete for the Liberty League title.”
The ‘Jackets now are 6-3 overall and 5-1 in the Liberty League. For their performances this week, Onyiriuka was named Liberty League Co-Rookie of the Week, and Simpson was named Liberty League Co-Defensive Performer of the Week.
“This week we will focus on all the little things that have made us better – footwork, film study, tackling and blocking,” Greene said. “This will be a very exciting week of practice and our seniors will be playing their last regular season game against Hobart [College] for the Liberty League title.”
The game against Hobart is at noon at UR this Saturday. UR is currently in a four-way tie for first place in the Liberty League. Hobart is one of the other three teams tied for the lead. Union College and RPI, the other two leaders, face off at Union on Saturday. UR and RPI must take the wins in order for the ‘Jackets to be champions of the Liberty League.
Paret is a member of the class of 2008.