Sixty minutes of football came down to one two-point conversion play in today’s Liberty League showdown between Hobart College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The Statesmen (4-3, 2-2) scored a dramatic touchdown with no time remaining. Sophomore tight end Zach Withers pulled in a 21-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Shane Sweeney to cut the Engineers’ lead to 21-20. Head Coach Mike Cragg opted to go for two and the win, rather than play for overtime. Sweeney dropped back to pass and tried to make a quick throw to his tight end, but senior defensive back Phil Lanieri, III intercepted the pass to clinch the victory for the visitors.
Hobart’s late surge was set up by the defense. RPI (6-2, 4-1) appeared to have the win wrapped up just a minute earlier when the Engineer defense forced a turnover on downs with less than 60 seconds left in the game. Nick Schlatz ran for 15 yards on first down, but the big gain was wiped out by a holding penalty. On second and 17, Schlatz again made a big gain, but this time lost the handle when he was hit by senior Trayvon Toney. Sophomore Daryl Scales recovered for the Statesmen at their own 40, but was hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty to move back to the 25.
A roughing the passer penalty got the Statesmen their first first down of the game’s final drive then Sweeney connected with sophomore wide receiver Brandon Shed, who made a tremendous catch in traffic for 39 yards. With two seconds to go, Sweeney lofted a pass into the back corner for Withers, who outjumped his defender for the day’s final points.
Sweeney was 16-of-34 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Shed pulled in a game-high eight passes for a game-high 128 yards. Senior running back Conner Hartigan led the ground game with 66 yards on 21 carries.
The Engineers did not trail in the contest, taking their first lead with a 10-play, 75-yard march on the game’s opening drive. Senior wide receiver Pat Hogan pulled in a 6-yard pass from senior quarterback Jeff Avery to cap the march.
Hobart answered with a seven-play, 63-yard drive. Sweeney completed an 18-yard pass to first-year Joseph Barrocas, for the latter’s first career catch and TD.
The game remained tied until late in the second quarter when RPI went 70 yards in 11 plays. The scoring play involved a bit of luck as Avery’s pass was intended for senior Austin Amery, but he couldn’t hold on. However, senior Matt Lane was there to catch the ball before it hit the ground for a 6-yard touchdown with 1:07 left in the half.
Hobart tried to answer in the waning seconds but working against a stiff wind, Sweeney’s pass on first down from the Statesmen 37 got caught up in the breeze and was intercepted by Lanieri.
Hobart got the ball to start the second half and moved 55 yards in 16 plays, tying the game on first-year running back Tynard Barfield‘s 1-yard plunge on fourth and goal. It was the second fourth down conversion of the drive, which ran 9:24 off the game clock.
Rensselaer took the lead for good on its first possession of the fourth quarter. The 10-play, 38-yard drive ended with a 6-yard throw from Avery to Hogan.
Avery was 16-of-25 passing for 160 yards with three touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Logan Gaddar had team-highs of six catches and 91 yards. Hogan caught four passes for 38 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, Hobart senior linebacker Trayvon Toney made a game-high 11 tackles. D’Antonio finished with five stops. Junior linebacker Michael Harper had four tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble.
For the Engineers, junior defensive back Ryan Buss had a team-high seven tackles. Lanieri recorded six tackles, two pass break ups and the first half interception. RPI had three sacks on the day, one each from senior Mark Grimes, senior Anthony Pilla, and sophomore Diego Cuitino.
With the win, RPI remains one game behind league front-runner St. Lawrence. The loss makes Hobart a long-shot to win a fifth straight conference title.
Hobart will return to action on Oct. 31 with a trip to Union, while RPI is off until Nov. 7 when it hosts Springfield.