CANTON Two interceptions by Unions Jafar Johnson helped thwart any chance the St. Lawrence University football team had to win its first game of the season Saturday.
Union College defeated the Saints 31-20 in the Liberty League opener for both squads, handing SLU its third straight home loss.
SLU (0-4 overall) was up 6-3 midway through the second quarter and driving toward Unions end zone in an attempt to go up by two scores.
But a pass by Saints quarterback Zane Fish found its way to Johnson on Unions 27-yard line and he returned the ball 40 yards to SLUs 33.
The Dutchmen (1-3) scored a touchdown five plays later on a 7-yard run by T.J. Franzese to take a 10-6 lead with 3 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first half.
Im guessing that gave us a little momentum swing, Johnson said. It gave us adrenaline. Any time you get a big turnover it always helps. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.
SLU appeared to move past the turnover and was mounting another drive on its next possession, but once again a pass from Fish was picked off by Johnson, this time on the Union 20 with 1:49 left in the half.
The Dutchmen again took advantage, moving 62 yards on nine plays and extending their lead to 17-9 on a 4-yard pass from Connor Eck to Kyle Reynolds as time expired in the first half.
We talked pregame that if you cant hold onto the football you eliminate your chances to win, and thats what we did today, Saints coach Mark Raymond said. You could feel some momentum going, some confidence going, and we throw an untimely turnover and things start to roll on you.
Union extended its advantage to 24-6 by scoring another touchdown on its first possession of the second half when Eck completed an 8-yard pass to Reynolds.
I thought (forcing turnovers) was key, Union coach John Audino said. We were able to put the ball away today. We did a good job on offense. Both teams are 0-3 so somebody had to win. The turnovers were big for us and we progressed a little bit on offense. Its a good league win for us. We are in first place and thats where we want to be and hopefully well stay there the next six weeks.
Even though the Saints lost their fourth straight game, they took some positives into a two-game road string before their next home appearance against Springfield on Oct. 20.
Once the Saints fell behind by 18 the team continued to fight and outscored Union 14-7 the rest of the second half.
SLU has struggled rushing the ball so far this season, but scored its first two touchdowns on rushing plays. Freshman wide receiver Miles Crump scored on a 16-yard reverse in the first quarter and freshman tailback Maurice Irby scored on a 26-yard run in the third quarter to cut Unions lead to 24-13.
Late in the game, Union drove to the Saints 20 before SLU forced a fumble that was recovered by Paxton Cane at his own 19.
With backup quarterback Danny Metzgar in the game, the Saints proceeded to go on a 10-play, 81-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mike Tateosian with two seconds remaining in the game. Metzgar completed 8 of 10 passes on the drive for 81 yards.
The kids fought and battled, Raymond said. That last series shows what this group is made of. Im proud of them for battling, causing a turnover and scoring a TD. We just need to take care of the ball early and well be fine.