UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica College football team jumped out to a 42-6 lead in the first three quarters of play and never looked back as it went on to defeat visiting Lewis & Clark College (Portland, Oregon) 42-22 in the season-opener for both squads at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium Saturday. UC amassed 470 yards of total offense and junior quarter back Connor Butkiewicz (Southington, CT/Southington) completed 26-of-35 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns to lift the Pioneers to a season-opening victory for the fifth consecutive season. The Pioneers have scored at least 40 points in each of their last five season opening contests.
"In the first half we ran the ball well and threw the ball effectively. The offensive line blocked extremely well – we had great balance today," said Head Coach Blaise Faggiano, who is the College's all-time leader with 24 career victories. "Connor (Butkiewicz) has a great presence out there. He's a leader on our football team and this was his first start. He has our former four-year starter Andrew Benkwitt (Mamaroneck, NY/Mamaroneck) on the sidelines now helping him out and those two have a close relationship which really helps. I thought Connor had an outstanding first start today."
Senior all-conference running back Jake Larson (Bemus Point, NY/Maple Grove) had a big day for UC in his first start since a knee injury kept him out of the lineup for the entire 2012 season. Larson finished the day with 124 yards rushing on 24 carries and two touchdowns. He now needs 25 yards rushing to become just the fourth running back in school-history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a career.
"Larson is special young man. Last year when he was hurt he did a nice job on our coaching staff helping with the running backs. He's a real team player and we're certainly glad to have him back out on the field helping us out in pads this year," said Faggiano.
Utica's deep receiving corps was led by senior Jamie Murphy (Canadaigua, NY/Marcus Whitman) and junior Anthony Acevedo (New Hartford, NY/New Hartford). Murphy caught a team-best ten balls for 96 yards, while Acevedo added seven catches for 85 yards. Senior captain Joe Gerbino caught a touchdown pass, as did sophomore wide out Gregory Palmer (Richland, NY/APW).
Lewis & Clark was led by senior quarterback Keith Welch who completed 22-of-37 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with a team-high 64 yards rushing and one touchdown on the ground. Welch also threw two interceptions to Utica junior safety James Lenahan (Mahopac, NY/Mahopac). Lenahan's two picks moved him past current Pioneer assistant coach Lazarus Morgan for third place on the College's all-time interceptions list.
The Utica defense was led by it's deep line backing crew as it benefitted from ten tackles a piece from senior's Joe Giametta (Seaford, NY/MacArthur) and Ryan Hansen (Woodcliff Lake, NJ/Pascack Hills).
Freshman running back Ryan Burnett (Mount Vernon, NY/Arch Bishop Stepinac) had an excellent first game as well for UC as he compiled 82 yards on 12 carries and crossed the goal line for his first career touchdown.
Lewis & Clark struck first in the contest as it capped a 14-play, 80 yard drive with a 21 yard touchdown pass from Welch to Andrew Frisina to put the visitors on top 6-0. The ensuing extra point was blocked by freshman Greg Elliott (Hubbardsville, NY/Waterville) and junior corner back Rob Alexander (Dobbs Ferry, NY/Dobbs Ferry) picked up the blocked kick and returned it 88 yards for a defensive point after touchdown to make the score 6-2 with 8:51 to go in the first quarter.
"What a great play by Rob Alexander (Dobbs Ferry, NY/Dobbs Ferry) and freshman Greg Elliott (Hubbardsville, NY/Waterville) after we allowed the first touchdown of the game," said Faggiano. "That was a big momentum swing for us."
UC took the next drive 75 yards on 11 plays, capped by Jake Larson (Bemus Point, NY/Maple Grove)'s five yard touchdown plunge to put the Pioneers on top 9-6 with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Larson's touchdown was part of a barrage that ended in 42 consecutive points for the Pioneers.
Another big turning point in the contest was late in the second quarter when the Pioneer defense forced a turnover on downs in Lewis & Clark territory with 1:24 remaining in the half. Ryan Hansen (Woodcliff Lake, NJ/Pascack Hills) stopped L & C running back Curtis Shirey for a four yard loss on 4th-and-1 to give UC possession on the Lewis & Clark 34 yard line. Butkiewicz found Gerbino inside the ten yard line and Gerbino took it to the house to give Utica a 22-6 lead with just ten ticks left on the first half clock.
Sophomore kicker Thomas Woodburn (West Islip, NY/West Islip) converted on two field goals of 31 and 21 yards, and he was nearly perfect on extra points going 5-for-6 on the day (one blocked).
The Utica starting defense caused seven turnovers (four on downs, two interceptions, one fumble recovery) in the first three quarters of play. "I thought the defense played well today. When you are playing this type of offense you are going to see a lot of different guys in the box score with tackles and that's what happened today," said Faggiano of the UC defensive unit.
Lewis & Clark's defense was led by 13 tackles from Andrew Traver, and 11 tackles each from Joaqui Murillo and Stein Retzlaff. Utica sophomore Frank DeNome (New Windsor, NY/Cornwall) recorded his first collegiate sack for the Pioneers.
The Pioneers will return to the gridiron next Saturday night when they host Union College under the lights at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium at 7 p.m.