In what is sure to be deemed the most exciting Courage Bowl yet, UR’s football team shocked the St. John Fisher College Cardinals with a near-victory on Saturday night. Though the 11th-ranked Cardinals prevailed in the end, 24-17, the ‘Jackets led the 4,124 fans in the stands to believe that there was a come-back kid story in the works, as they refused to fall behind until almost five minutes into the third quarter.
A combination of offensive aggressiveness, some heads-up defensive plays and a couple of lengthy kickoff returns kept the Yellowjackets competitive.
In particular, a touchdown on the first drive of the game gave UR the confidence to take control, and two interceptions in the red zone one of which was in the end zone kept the Cardinals from taking a substantial lead.
The game started in the ‘Jackets’ favor when they won the coin toss. Choosing to receive, senior wide receiver Mike Sondericker and freshman running back Nick Fedorka set up to return the kick.
Fedorka’s 30-yard run following the starting kickoff set the tone for a nearly flawless 58-yard drive, capped off by a 2-yard rush into the end zone by sophomore running back Clarence Onyiriuka. It was obvious that UR’s offensive prowess took Fisher by surprise, as the team sloppily racked up two penalties in the five-play drive, predicting the 77 total yards of penalties they were to incur throughout the game.
The Cardinals took the ensuing drive as an opportunity to seek revenge, however. In a grueling 13-play, 61-yard drive, Fisher quarterback Tim Bailey completed a pass to wide receiver Tim Marion for the touchdown, notching the score at 7-7.
Fedorka proved that UR wouldn’t be run down yet, though, when he returned the kickoff 37 yards to start the drive at the Yellowjackets’ 46. In yet another five-play series, the ‘Jackets regained the lead with another 2-yard touchdown rush, this time by senior running back Pat Till.
UR showed its ability to maintain the lead when, in Fisher’s next drive, the Cardinals were unable to attain even one first down. They were not able to extend this lead, however, and play continued back and forth, with a Cardinal touchdown to tie the score at 14 and a 35-yard field goal from UR sophomore kicker Zachary White-Stellato, bringing UR ahead 17-14.
This offensive battle seemed as though it would continue indefinitely until sophomore defensive back Matt Francis changed the pace of the game in the blink of an eye by scooping up Bailey’s 28-yard pass attempt at the UR 6-yard line. Though the Yellowjackets were unable to capitalize on Francis’s interception, he gave the defense a boost of confidence that was helpful in Fisher’s next drive.
In the final series before the half, the Cardinals were on pace to take the lead. However, senior defensive back Matt Stack followed Francis’s example and made another key interception this time in the end zone to keep the score as it was, and when the teams entered the locker room at halftime, it was UR who had the lead, 17-14.
‘Our greatest strength was that we had significant intensity and unity,” senior outside linebacker Jake VanWhy said. ‘We played as a team and everyone gave 100 percent effort.”
Fisher head coach Paul Vosburgh must have had some inspiring words for his players because when they came out to begin the third quarter, they took the point advantage for the first time all game. Also helping was a personal foul committed by UR at the end of the first half, which pushed the beginning kickoff back 15 yards.
From then on, UR was unable to re-gain the lead. The miscommunication among the offense, characterized by two delay-of-game penalties and two false-start penalties, finally caught up with the ‘Jackets, keeping them scoreless throughout the second half.
This especially held true in the drive immediately after Fisher’s lead-taking touchdown. UR was able to bring the score to 20-21 after a 37-yard field goal from White-Stellato.
However, a personal foul penalty against the Cardinals gave the Yellowjackets an automatic first down, and they accepted the penalty. Unfortunately for the ‘Jackets, a false-start penalty and a penalty for having an ineligible man downfield pushed them back behind the original line of scrimmage, and White-Stellato’s second attempt at the field goal, this time 42 yards long, went short.
To add to the confusion, the Yellowjacket offense was unable to decide on a set quarterback for the game. The responsibility shifted back and forth between junior starter Adam Barrett and freshman backup Braezen Subick, many times switching within the same series. Both were given valuable experience, but it also added to the disjointed feeling of the attack.
Though the defense held back Fisher’s offense, UR’s offense had lost its momentum and kept the team from an ultimate victory.
‘After the first quarter, when they scored a lot, we buckled down and did pretty good job of holding [Fisher] back,” VanWhy said.
After the loss, UR moved to 0-2 overall. On Saturday, the ‘Jackets will take on Union College in Schenectady for the first Liberty League game of the season.
VanWhy commented that students should continue to come to football games and cheer for the Yellowjackets just as they did for the Courage Bowl.
‘Though we started 0-2, we played two very good teams who were in the NCAAs last year,” he said. ‘We’re going to go out and win some ball games.”
‘Football’s pretty much the greatest sport going,” he added.
Philbrick is a member of the class of 2009.