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College football: SLU beats RPI, improves to 5-1 overall

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CANTON — Once again big plays from St. Lawrence University’s defense led to another victory.

The Saints won their third straight Liberty League game Saturday, knocking off Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 20-13, before 2,027 fans at Leckonby Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Winless a year ago, SLU improved to 5-1 overall and is beginning to resemble the 2010 squad that won its first four league game en route to claiming the conference championship.

“Once again at critical times (defense) came up big,” Saints coach Mark Raymond said. “We put a lot of trust in these guys. Our senior leadership has been outstanding. They are the reason why we’ve won these games.”

The Saints were even with RPI in turnovers Saturday, but two of the Saints touchdowns were set up by RPI’s only turnovers of the game.

The biggest one came late in the third quarter when SLU fumbled on a fourth-down play on RPI’s 29-yard line, only to see the Saints defense force an Engineer fumble on the very next play that was recovered by Grant Brightman.

Saints quarterback Mike Lefflbine took immediate advantage, throwing a 29-yard scoring pass to Mike Tateosian to break a 13-13 tie, giving the Saints the lead for good with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third quarter.

“We didn’t play our best in the first half, but like every other game we pulled it out in the second half,” Tateosian said. “That was a huge play by the defense and that throw (from Lefflbine) was perfect.”

RPI tried to respond to SLU’s go-ahead touchdown, moving to the Saints’ 28 on the next drive. But a 45-yard field-goal attempt from Andrew Franks missed wide left.

SLU had its own chance to put the game away on offense, driving to RPI’s 4 with less than three minutes to play. But after the Saints drive stalled a field-goal attempt by Collin Shapiro went wide right, giving RPI one more chance to tie it.

Every home game at Leckonby Stadium this season has come down to the final plays, and this time, the big play was an incomplete pass thrown by RPI’s Jeff Avery on a fourth-and-4 from the Saints’ 34 with 92 seconds left in the game.

“Based off of last year, we learned our lessons and we are trying to build on what we’ve done the past five or six games,” Saints linebacker Obi Nwaigwe said. “Coach told us not to become complacent, so that’s what we’re doing.”

As it has every game this season, SLU took an early lead when Lefflbine completed a 1-yard pass to Malone native Mitch Gallagher with 8:36 left in the first quarter. The extra-point kick failed.

RPI responded with a 10-play, 51-yard drive but had to settle for a 42-yard field goal from Franks, cutting SLU’s lead to 6-3 with 2:48 left in the first quarter.

SLU’s defense set up the Saints’ next touchdown as RPI’s Avery fumbled on his own 18 after he was hit by Saints safety James Holley-Grisham. SLU linebacker Shane Hart scooped up the loose ball and ran all the way to the 4 before he was tackled.

“I sure was hoping (to reach the end zone),” Hart said. “It was good to make a big play, especially in their end, and set up our offense for a score.”

Three plays later, Lefflbine connected with Gallagher for another touchdown pass. It was a five-yarder, giving the Saints a 13-3 edge.

A miscue from SLU helped RPI get back into the game before halftime. Joe Battaglia fumbled a punt on his own 18 and the Engineers recovered and then scored four plays later on a 2-yard run from Nick Schlatz to make it 13-10 with 3:32 left in the first half.

RPI regained possession with 2:07 left in the half and moved 35 yards on eight plays, tying the game on a 28-yard field goal from Franks.

SLU is off next weekend and its next conference game is at Springfield (Mass.) College on Oct. 26. The Saints’ next home game is on Nov. 2 against the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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