CARLISLE, Penn. – The backdrop contained the most unusual of tactical circumstances on a gorgeous summer Saturday in central Pennsylvania as the Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets opened their 134th season of football.
Would you rather be the team who got to play a five-game schedule, concluded just five months ago, offering game film to your opponent, or be like Dickinson College, a member of the Centennial Conference, who did not play in 2020-21, but offers little clue of the identity they’re about to reveal?
In the end, the answer to that question was the ability to experience, as Randolph-Macon survived a very sluggish start to register a quality final two-plus quarters for a 31-21 victory over the Red Devils at Biddle Field.
After stopping Randolph-Macon on an opening drive that began at the Dickinson 42, forcing a 41-yard field goal from Chris Vidal, the Red Devils unleashed an aerial attack led by senior signal caller Tim Graham, completing passes of 34, 16 and 8 yards and setting up a 6-yard scoring strike to Johnny Knight for a 7-3 lead.
On the second play of the ensuing Randolph-Macon drive, Joey Hunt caught a pass near midfield, then fumbled the football. The Red Devils recovered, and drove 47 yards in three plays, capped by a 14-yard touchdown run by freshman Princeton Douglass. At the end of a first quarter dominated by the Red Devils, especially at the line of scrimmage, the home team led 14-3.
It stayed that way until the Yellow Jackets found their footing, first defensively, then, with 4:16 left in the half, the offense got in gear. A 10-play, 63-yard drive kick started by a 30-yard pitch-and-catch from Presley Egbers to Holden Hodge ended when, with time running out, Egbers calmly waited out the Dickinson rush, giving Hunt time to position himself at the front pylon of the end zone and catch a 5-yard pass to cut the deficit to 14-10 with nine seconds remaining.
“What it came down to was better execution,” said Yellow Jacket head coach Pedro Arruza when asked about the gradual improvement of the offensive line. “The kids played hard. They were dialed in and wanted to do well.”
Having won the coin toss and deferring to the second half, a perfect storm arose against Dickinson, as the Yellow Jackets began to wear down the less-experienced Red Devils, opening the third quarter with a 12-play drive covering 84 yards and taking 6:38 off the clock, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from Hodge to retake the lead at 17-14.
The defense forced a three-and-out to a suddenly stalled Red Devil offense, putting Egbers and company back to work. On nine consecutive running plays, the Yellow Jackets drove 74 yards as another five and a half minutes elapsed. Nick Hale had the last four carries of the drive, including an 18-yard touchdown run for a 24-14 advantage. The Yellow Jackets possessed the football for 12:14 in the third quarter.
The Red Devils turned to Robert Geiss, a tight end who set up in wildcat formation on multiple drives, to finally find the end zone again, his 5-yard scoring rush making it 24-21 with 11:56 remaining. But Dickinson’s defense was out of fuel, and Randolph-Macon ran seven more times, setting up a Egbers to Hunt 20-yard pass down to the Red Devil 1. Hale scored on the next play to seal the victory.
The Yellow Jackets had just 66 rushing yards in the first half, but 186 after intermission, led by Justin DeLeon’s 123 yards. Hale added 73. Egbers was 14-of-21 for 163 yards, the key second period touchdown and an interception.
While the lineup is filled with returning players, Arruza is quick to note that being an upperclassman doesn’t necessarily means tons of experience.
“We do have a couple of guys on the offensive line who’ve played a lot of football for us,” Arruza explained. “Look at Egbers. He’s a junior, but he’s not a junior experience-wise. I think, yes, we’re a veteran team, and no, we’re not, at the same time.”
The experience in Carlisle will benefit the Yellow Jackets, who did see safety Cade Jones leave the game with an injury in the first half. Saturday’s home opener against Catholic University brings in a Cardinal squad whose quarterback, Madden Lowe, passed for 455 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-7 win over McDaniel Saturday.
“I’m going to enjoy this win, then look at the film,” Arruza said. “We’ve got to get better.”
It was the 105th career victory for Arruza, tying him with the late Ted Keller for most victories by a coach in the storied history of Randolph-Macon football.
Rob Witham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.