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RPI football advances to second round of NCAA tournament

LJ LaFiura

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RPI Football is heading to the next round of the NCAA Division III football tournament. Photo: Perry Larkins/RPI Sports Information

TROY — The 8-1 RPI Engineers came into Eastern Campus Athletic Village for their first home playoff game Saturday. They faced the Hudson Eagles (7-2) and handled them easily, a 38-14 win.

Senior wide receiver Keaton Ackerman was a vital momentum builder early in the matchup. Keaton pulled down three catches for 107 yards in the first half alone with a long 56-yard catch. These catches kept the offense moving on drives the Engineers were only able to pick up small ground gains. He finished the day with six catches for 150 yards.

“This game I was excited to get some action and help my team as best as I could,” Ackerman said postgame. “That’s what it’s all about, the team game and moving on.”

The first RPI drive started when senior captain Sean Egan forced Husson’s Ty Bassett to fumble and recovered the ball. After a couple of small gains, George Marinopoulos found Keaton Ackerman downfield 20 yards. Ackerman caught the ball and ran inside the Husson ten yard line, a 56-yard catch. This set up Conor Davies to receive the handoff while in motion and score a one yard touchdown.

The Engineers struggled to move the ball again until the end of the first half. A 32-yard catch by Ackerman once again helped move the ball into a scoring position. With only seconds remaining, Marinopoulos hurled a hail mary to the end zone where it passed over the top of the scrum and found the hands of Nick Smith in the back.

“The nice thing about this receiving core is that you can’t really double one of us up because we all can do crazy things when we get the football,” Smith said.

Husson only was able to score once in the first half. Early in the second quarter, the Eagle’s senior quarterback Cory Brandon found Kyle Gaudet downfield on a post route for a 35 yard touchdown. The Husson ground game particularly struggled in the first half, going only 24 yards 10 attempts.

The Engineers continued from where they left off in their next drive, scoring on their first drive on a field goal taken from the 22 yard line. Then later that quarter, Marinopoulos found Conor Davies wide open in the back of the end zone for six more points. In the fourth quarter Marinopoulos found his man Ackerman again, this time for a 12 yard touchdown.

Husson’s Quan Soyini refused to let the game end without a fight. One of the nation’s best punt returners showed his wheels once again, running a Zac Moncrief kick back 82 yards for a touchdown. This broke his season long kick return of 81 yards.

The game was finished off by Luke Wantanbe. The senior jumped the passing lane and brought it all the way back to the house, a 89 yard run.

RPI will advance to play the undefeated juggernaught Brockport next week. The Golden Eagles will be a tough opponent for the Engineers as they have beat each of their opponents by an average score of 44-9.

RPI coach Ralph Isernia is ready for the next round.

“You know last year we got a taste of playoff football against Wesleyan, but one of our goals going into this year was to be able to have Thanksgiving together as a team.”

LJ LaFiura is a general assignment sports reporter at the upstate Courier. A Fort Edward native, he attends Saratoga Central Catholic High School.