The St. Lawrence University football team's defense forced two interceptions and six turnovers on downs against Rensselaer on Saturday, while the offense piled up 147 yards rushing and a pair of touchdown passes by senior JP Kearney. The team's efforts allowed the Saints to improve to 4-0 in Liberty League play behind the 14-3 victory over the Engineers at Leckonby Stadium.
St. Lawrence, now 4-4 overall this season, can clinch the Liberty League's regular season crown and the program's first post-season berth since 1982 with a win in either of its remaining games (at Rochester, vs. WPI) or a Hobart loss in any of its three remaining games. Rensselaer falls to 3-3 (1-2) with the defeat.
"That was another outstanding effort by our guys," said St. Lawrence first year head coach Mark Raymond. "Defensively, we made some key stops in the red zone and on fourth down that were great pressure situations. Offensively, we were able to run the ball when we had to, as Marcus (Washington) was able to get some tough yards."
Washington, a junior tail back, had another big game for the Saints out of the backfield, totaling 136 yards rushing on 29 carries. Meanwhile, the St. Lawrence rush defense, the best in the conference, held Union's top runner to only 39 yards overall. Kearney was 6-for-14 passing with the two scores and three interceptions for the Scarlet and Brown, while Mike Hermann was 25-of-46 for 188 yards and a pair of interceptions.
Defensively, first-year student Andrew Cox made a game-high 10 tackles for St. Lawrence, while Jeff McCormick led the Engineers with nine. Christian Bianchi made his second interception of the season, while senior Ryan Fedo made a clutch interception in the end zone to keep RPI from tying the game in the third quarter. The Saints' secondary was also sharp, as the unit combined for seven pass break-ups on the day.
The two squads battled to a scoreless first quarter, though Rensselaer held the edge in field position throughout the frame. It was until Kearney found senior Alcee Walker in stride for a 41 yard gain to the RPI 32-yard line that the Saints escaped out of their own half of the field. The drive was kept alive six plays later on 4th-and-15 when Kearney delivered a strike to junior Ethan Sutton, who raced out of bounds at the RPI 2-yard line. Three plays later, Kearney found junior Matthew Pickrell in the end zone at 4:37 of the second quarter for his first career touchdown to give the home team a 6-0 advantage. Junior Matt Dodge added the extra point for a 7-0 cushion.
St. Lawrence's defense would bend, but not break throughout the afternoon, as RPI reached the six-yard line before senior captain Nate Howard forced an intentional grounding penalty from Hermann for a 17-yard loss. The play would keep the visitors off the scoreboard despite moving the ball well between the 20's, and kept the Saints' 7-0 lead intact before halftime.
Fedo would end Rensselaer's opening drive of the second half in heartbreaking fashion, as he picked off Hermann in the end zone on 1st-and-goal to end a 10-play drive and keep the Saints on top. On the next Engineer possession, St. Lawrence forced a turnover on downs on a 4th-and-1 play to keep the shut out effort going late in the third quarter.
Rensselaer would finally get on the score board with 3:23 remaining in the third quarter. After an interception by RPI's Ray Pasco which gave the visitors the ball at the St. Lawrence 34-yard line, Hermann got his team's offense down to the Saints' 6 for a 1st-and-goal try. The Scarlet and Brown's defense was dazzling again, however, as junior Brendan McCarthy sacked Hermann for an 8-yard loss before junior Jarell Roberts batted down a 3rd down pass. The Engineers were forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal, which was converted by Peter Nilson to cut into St. Lawrence's lead, 7-3.
However, the Saints would reassert themselves on their opening drive of the fourth quarter. After Washington added runs of both 34 and 22 yards to reach the RPI 9-yard line, Kearney found senior captain Tim Robinson in the end zone for a touchdown, giving St. Lawrence a 13-3 advantage with 11:23 left in regulation. Dodge added the extra point for a 14-3 lead.
The 11-point edge would prove to be plenty for the Saints' defense, who forced turnovers on downs on both of the final Rensselaer possessions of the game. Kearney was able to kneel on the ball twice as the St. Lawrence sideline celebrated the 14-3 lead and a 4-0 record in Liberty League play.
St. Lawrence has a bye next weekend before returning to action on Saturday, November 6 at the University of Rochester. The kick-off is schedule for 12:00pm between the Saints and Yellowjackets.