In any sport, there’s a fine line between completing one’s job for the good of the team, in the hopes that it’s enough to ensure the group’s success, and rising above that call by baring down and designating every ounce of effort and willpower in one’s body to the task at hand.
On Saturday, Oct. 22, graduate student running back Clarence Onyiriuka accepted that call.
Onyiriuka, who leads the team in rushing touchdowns (six) and average rushing yards per game (80.2), rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns to give the home team the edge in a 28-21 triumph over the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Engineers.
Things didn’t start so swimmingly for the Yellowjackets. After sophomore wide receiver Shaquill McCullers fumbled a handoff in the first quarter, and the Engineers recovered, WPI quarterback Johny Antonopoulos led a march downfield that culminated in a three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nick Bean.
The Yellowjackets, however, were quick to respond. Senior quarterback Braezen Subick directed the offense to an eight-play, 58-yard drive on his team’s next possession. On second and goal from the four-yard line, Subick found sophomore wide receiver Zack Cicero to put the home team on the board. UR kicker Alex Antonucci tacked on the extra-point to make it 7-7.
With 7:47 to play in the first half, WPI running back Ernie Mello re-established the Engineers’ lead with a 20-yard touchdown run up the middle, pushing the score to 14-7. Subick tried to even the score, but was sacked on back-to-back plays to end the half.
Subick broke open the second half with a 27-yard pass to senior wide receiver Thomas Hayes that brought the ball to the one-yard line. Onyiriuka squeezed by the left guard to score the touchdown, but Antonucci’s attempted extra point was blocked, leaving the Yellowjackets down, 14-13.
After WPI managed one more touchdown to bring the score to 21-13, it was all Onyiriuka, as he and the ’Jackets closed the door with 15 unanswered points.
Junior running back Chris Lebano returned the next kickoff 46 yards, bringing the ball to the Engineers’ own 36-yard line. Once again, Onyiriuka reached the end zone, leaping in from four yards out to chalk up another six points for UR.
The running back’s finest moment, however, came with his final touchdown of the game. After Cicero blocked the Engineers’ attempted field goal for a touchback, Onyiriuka took the ball from Subick on WPI’s 46-yard line, sprinted downfield — breaking no less than three WPI tackles along the way — and ran all the way to the end zone. Onyiriuka’s carry capped an 80-yard offensive drive and put the home team up to stay, 25-21.
The visitors attempted to mount a comeback, but after Antonopoulos was intercepted by freshman outside linebacker Tyler Kette at WPI’s 37-yard line with 5:30 to play in the game, it was all but over. Subick and the ’Jackets charged down to the four-yard line, where Antonucci’s field goal sealed the deal on the victory.
With the win, the Yellowjackets improve to 3-3 (2-2 in the Liberty League), while WPI falls to 2-5 (1-3 in the Liberty League).
The ’Jackets won consecutive games for the first time this season and hope to continue the momentum when they host Alfred State University on Saturday, Oct. 29.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2014.