By Kevin Beattie
Perhaps students in the course Probability Theory and Applications can embark upon a project to reveal a response to the question, “What was the likelihood the RPI football team would tie the school record for wins in a season and advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA playoffs?”
They could consider the challenges the 2021 Engineers faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the cancelation of the 2020 slate, plus having to play in one of the top conferences in all of Division III, and having the pressure of nine of their games being decided by a touchdown or less.
Undoubtedly the conclusion of the class would be in the range of minuscule, microscopic, and infinitesimal.
When ninth-year head coach Ralph Isernia’s charges gathered in mid-August for the first day of practice, it had been over 600 days since he was together with the student-athletes. While there were the familiar faces of the upperclassmen, there were also two cohorts who had never even trained to play college football.
The drama started in week one when receiver Riley Conboy ’21 snared a game-tying 20-yard touchdown off a deflection with 18.4 seconds remaining to help the Engineers to a 21-20 victory over Montclair State. A week later, running back Delano Munoz Whatts ’21 collected a screen pass from George Marinopoulos ’21 at the four-yard line and scampered to the front left corner of the end zone with 33.6 seconds left in the final quarter for a 14-10 victory over Stevenson.
After four decisive wins, highlighted by a 24-10 win at WPI in the Transit Trophy Game, the tension-filled challenges returned. A 10-9 loss at Hobart on a late missed extra point was followed by a 14-11 win over Ithaca in which the Bombers’ game-tying field goal attempt with 34 seconds left sailed left. Seven days later, St. Lawrence had a chance to end RPI’s bid for a Liberty League Championship, but a missed field goal attempt with nine ticks on the clock sent the game to overtime. The Engineers prevailed 22-20.
The win in Canton led into the Dutchman Shoes Trophy Game at arch-rival Union College. A victory in the matchup of two nationally ranked teams in the regular season finale meant a conference championship and a berth into the NCAA playoffs for RPI.
The Engineers trailed throughout the matchup, but a last-second field goal in a downpour by Trevor Bisson ’22 — in what was the first collegiate football game of his career — gave the visitors a 19-17 win.
The first round of the NCAA tournament, which marked RPI’s third appearance in the past four seasons, resulted in a 20-14 win at Endicott in which the Engineers recovered a late on-side kick and ran out the clock. A 21-14 win at Cortland in the second round was sealed on an interception by safety Francis Perry ’22 with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter after the Red Dragons scored and covered the ensuing on-side kick.
The magical season concluded in the NCAA Quarterfinals, but not before the Engineers remarkably notched 11 wins in 13 games. After being unranked at the beginning of the year, Isernia, who was rewarded with a contract extension in mid-December, saw his team listed at No. 13 in the final D3football.com Poll and No. 14 by the American Football Coaches Association.
What are the odds?
Trevor Bisson ’22 Scores Game-Winning Field Goal
Just like that, his All-American soccer career was over when Trevor Bisson ’22 and his Rensselaer teammates lost in the league tournament. Two days later, however, he was back on the same field using his feet, but this time it was with football.
Despite not having played since high school, Bisson only needed a couple of boots to impress head coach Ralph Isernia, whose team’s kicker was injured. Bisson would don the pads for the rest of the year, beginning with the regular season finale, which would be at arch-rival Union with the Dutchman Shoes Trophy, a league championship, and a berth into the NCAA Playoffs on the line.
As if out of a movie script, Bisson was called on to attempt a 36-yard, game-winning field goal in the final seconds with a cold, driving rainstorm. The Hollywood ending came to real life as he calmly drilled the ball through the goal posts and ignited a frenzied, jubilant scene that closed with Rensselaer raising the hardware and heading to the playoffs.
Let’s Go Red! You can enhance the overall experience — on and off the field — for student-athletes with a gift to the Let’s Go Red! athletics fund. To give, visit: giving.rpi.edu/lets-go-red