UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica College football team notched arguably one of its biggest wins in program-history on Saturday as the Pioneers, winners of four in a row, topped visiting Alfred University 31-7 in Empire 8 Conference play on the turf at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium. The Pioneers (6-2, 4-1 Empire 8), who tied the school-record for wins in a single season, will now head to nationally-ranked No. 8 Salisbury University, also 4-1 in the E8, next Saturday for a shot at sole possession of first place in the conference.
“This is the type of win that our program has been working towards since its inception,” said Head Coach Blaise Faggiano. “We came out in the first quarter and really set the tone for the contest. We played with discipline and we put together four full quarters for the third straight week. I've said it before, but I could not be more proud of our student-athletes, coaching staff and everyone who allows this program to operate at such a high level. We still have a long road to go against two very tough teams. We have to get right back to it and start preparing for a very good Salisbury team - but we are certainly going to enjoy this one.”
The Pioneers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first 19 minutes of the contest and never looked back, compiling 471
yards of total offense, while holding Alfred to just seven points and 237 yards. The UC defense came to play once again, holding its opponents to seven points or less in each of the last three games. UC, which had never beaten Alfred in 11 previous meetings prior to the win, has outscored its opponents 114-14 over the course of their last three conference victories.
Senior wide receiver Jeremy Meier opened the scoring on the afternoon with a 36 yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback Andrew Benkwitt to give the Pioneers' an early 7-0 lead. Meier finished the day with seven catches for 135 yards and two scores. He headed into the contest needing just three yards receiving to break the College's career receiving yards record set by Cody Elliot back in 2009. Meier now has 2,252 career receiving yards. Meier needs two more catches in the next two games to break the school-record for receptions in a career, which is also currently held by Elliot. He has 171 catches in four seasons.
Benkwitt again found pay dirt, this time hitting Jamie Murphy from 24 yards out, to give UC a 14-0 lead with 9:08 left in the first half. Benkwitt completed 26-of-37 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns en route to becoming the first 10,000 yard passer in program-history. He has thrown for over 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in each of the last four games. Murphy finished the day with two catches for 41 yards.
The Saxons (4-3, 3-2 Empire 8) were hampered by injuries early on, as they lost their top three offensive threats in the first half of play. Their top two running backs Chuck Beckwith and Austin Dwyer both left the game with injuries after combining for just seven carries, while starting quarterback Zach Sopak also had to leave the game with an injury after attempting just eight passes.
Alfred was able to muster one first half score, an eight yard pass from backup QB Joe Enslin to Jonathan Ruffing, to cut UC's lead to 14-7 with 5:27 to go in the half. But the Pioneers were able to capitalize on a Shawn Mitchell interception late in the half, which led to freshman kicker Thomas Woodburn's 36 yard field goal as the first half clock expired with the Pioneers' on top by ten, 17-7.
The second half proved to be all Utica as they controlled the time of possession, holding the ball for over 20 of the final 30 minutes in the game. UC's defense also forced six second half punts, as they held the Saxons scoreless.
Junior running back Jesse Baldasssare posted a second half touchdown to put UC on top 24-7 in the third quarter, while Meier sealed the victory with a 15 yard touchdown reception with 9:03 left to go in the game to close out the scoring. Baldassare rushed the ball 25 times for 107 yards on the afternoon. His third consecutive 100 yard rushing game propelled him into third place on the College's all-time rushing list (905 career rushing yards), surpassing 2005 graduate Paul Hart.
Sophomore cornerback Shawn Mitchell intercepted two key passes for the Pioneers and he also added four tackles.
Sophomore Jon Treen led the UC defense with 11 tackles and a half of a sack, while junior linebacker Dana Christofferson chipped in with eight tackles. Anthony Cipoletti stepped it up and posted 1.5 sacks for UC, while senior captain Genaro Scampone and freshman defensive end Nick Woodman each chipped in with one sack.
Alfred's Andy Ruddock posted a game-high 12 tackles for forced one fumble. Alfred backup quarterback Joe Enslin completed 11 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown, while Maleke Fuentes caught a team-best six balls for 80 yards. Malcolm Downey carried the ball nine times for 34 yards for the Saxons.
UC's Matt Dunn, a preseason All-American, caught a game-high eight balls for 105 yards. Baldassare also chipped in with six catches for 54 yards out of the backfield. As a team the Pioneers set a new single-season record for receiving yards, as they now have 2,800 for the year.
Utica, which set a new school-record for conference victories with four, will head to No. 8 Salisbury in Maryland on Saturday to take on the Sea Gulls at 12 p.m. Salisbury is coming off of their first-ever Empire 8 Conference loss at Ithaca, 21-14, on Saturday.