UTICA, N.Y. - The nationally-ranked No. 20 Ithaca College football team scored 14 unanswered points in the second half on its way to a 27-24 win over Utica College on the turf at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium Saturday. The Pioneers opened up a 24-14 lead in the first half but five second half turnovers led to 13 points and a victory for the Bombers.
“Ithaca is Ithaca for a reason,” said Utica’s second year Head Coach Blaise Faggiano, who played on Ithaca’s 1991 Division III National Championship team. “I am very proud of the way our guys played even though the score did not reflect a victory for us.”
The Bombers have now won two in a row and improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Empire 8. The Pioneers have been held scoreless in the second half for two consecutive weeks and they have now lost two in a row after opening the season 2-0. UC has brought leads into the second half against two nationally recognized programs, Ithaca and RPI, for two straight weeks but costly turnovers have led to losses for the Pioneers.
“We are for real and if there was any doubt of that I think we proved today that we can play with anyone,” said Faggiano. “Our guys are going to take a lot of confidence out of what we did here today.”
The three point loss marks the best performance for the UC football program against Ithaca in nine meetings between the two squads dating back to 2001. Even in 2005, when UC finished the season with a program-best 6-4 overall record, the Pioneers lost to the Bombers 37-0.
Leading the way for Ithaca was senior running back Tom Bergerstock (Webster, NY), who carried the ball 26 times for 113 yards and three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Brian Grastorf (Rexford, NY) completed 21 passes for 249 yards. Junior Dan Ruffrage (Whitesboro, NY) caught three passes for 49 yards.
The Pioneers offense was led by freshman quarterback Andrew Benkwitt (Mamaroneck, NY), who broke school records for completions and attempts, after compiling 329 yards passing on 32 completions. He threw the ball 51 times in the contest - two of which resulted in touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Cody Elliot (Sloan, NY) caught a game-high nine passes for 105 yards and one touchdown, while Dayne Bennett (East Syracuse, NY) caught six passes for 63 yards. Rome native Jeremy Meier (Rome, NY), a sophomore wide receiver, caught four balls for 44 yards.
Junior Terrell Cunningham (Rochester, NY) made a team-best 12 tackles, forced one fumble, intercepted one pass and also broke up one pass for the Utica defense. Classmate Travis Ladd (Mexico, NY) added nine tackles, tallied 1.5 sacks and recovered one fumble, while Sean Dixon (Sherrill, NY) and Kevin Hennion (Dumont, NJ) also added nine tackles.
Ryan Clarke (W.F., MD) led the way for the Ithaca defense with a game-high 13 tackles. Spence White (Yonkers, NY) made eight tackles and intercepted two passes while Mike Conti (Branford, CT) also picked off two passes and added six tackles for the Bombers.
Ithaca used 4:07 and nine plays on the opening drive of the contest to jump out to a quick 7-0 lead after senior running back Tom Bergerstock punched in a two yard touchdown run.
UC answered right back on the ensuing drive to knot the contest up at 7-7 with 8:08 to go in the first quarter. Junior fullback Tim Millerick (Whitman, NY) capped a six play, 67 yard drive with a two yard touchdown reception from Benkwitt.
The Utica defense forced the Bombers to go three and out on the next possession and the Pioneers took advantage of a bad snap on the Ithaca punt to take a seven point lead. Senior William Pease (Red Hook, NY) came in off the edge untouched and blocked the Bomber punt. Pease then chased down his own block, scooped the ball up, and carried it into the end zone to give UC a 14-7 lead with 6:47 to go in the first quarter.
Ithaca opened the second quarter of play by capping a 12 play, 74 yard drive with a seven yard touchdown run by Bergerstock, his second of the day, to tie the game at 14-14.
Less than ten minutes later the Pioneers struck back and took their second lead of the game when Benkwitt connected with senior Cody Elliot for a 30 yard touchdown strike down the middle. The catch gave UC a 21-14 lead with 5:45 to go in the first half and also moved Elliot into sole possession of second place on the College’s all-time touchdown receptions list.
Utica forced the Bombers to go three and out once again on the next possession and the Pioneers used a ten play, 44 yard drive, capped by a 31 yard field goal from Dennis Avdic (Utica, NY) to take a 24-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Ithaca scored the only three points of the third quarter when kicker Andrew Rogowski (Amherst, NY) knocked down a 21 yard field goal after a 13 play, 88 yard drive to bring the Bombers to within a touchdown, 24-17, with 5:03 left on the third quarter clock.
Ithaca then caused a turnover and answered with another field goal from Rogowski, this time from 29 yards out, to cut the Pioneer lead down to four, 24-20, with 14:25 to go in the contest.
After two consecutive punts, one from each team, the Bombers picked off another Benkwitt pass and answered with the final score of the contest, by Bergerstock from seven yards out, to take a 27-24 lead with 9:02 to go in the game.
The Pioneers made several valiant attempts down the stretch but Benkwitt’s fourth interception of the game and a turnover on downs with 1:14 to go in the contest sealed the victory for the Bombers.
Utica returns to action next Saturday when they host conference rival Springfield College on the turf at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium. The contest is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Live video, audio and stats will be available at www.ucpioneers.com. Ithaca returns to the gridiron next Saturday when they travel to Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY. The contest against the Hawks is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.