UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - It's been long time coming, but the Utica College football team is finally a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron. With their win over Alfred on Saturday, Utica not only tied a school record for wins, with six this season, but also set a new team record for conference wins, with four.
"Schematically we always looked like a perfect football team, fundamentally we were always missing a part of it," says senior QB Andrew Benkwitt, who has set numerous individual team records. "But I think this year it's come down to the point where everybody is playing to their potential, the whole team is moving as one machine forward and look at the progress we've had now."
"Our coaches, our players, our whole college has worked hard to improve our program and to finally get that win number six and become bowl eligible," adds head coach Blaise Faggiano. "It doesn't get much better than that."
Although they are eligible, UC isn't guaranteed a Division III bowl berth, but instead would have to be selected at the end of the season. To be eligible, a team must win more than half of their games, which the Pioneers have done, with their 6-2 record thus far.
A few weeks ago, the team's season went into overdrive thanks to a fourth quarter comeback win at Empire 8 rival Buffalo State. Since then, UC has dominated Frostburg State, Hartwick and Alfred, outscoring them by a combined 115-14.
"I definitely think that Buff State game was an opportunity that our team saw and said this is how the rest of our season's going to go," says Benkwitt. "The whole atmosphere of the team is incredible right now."
The offensive output has been impressive, with RFA grad Jeremy Meier setting several individual receiving records, including single season and career yards, as well as the team surpassing 2,800 for the first time ever. But it's the defensive improvement that's been at the heart of the team's success.
"It's great, because now we can say that we can gain some respect as a defensive team as well," says sophomore LB and Ilion grad Jon Treen. "Being a part of that, especially last year, a lot of young guys comng through, returning kids it's been fun to watch over the years." The team set a new single game record for tackles for a loss, with twelve against Alfred.
The 31-7 win for Utica this past Saturday was their first ever over the Saxons. It also improved the Pioneers to 4-1 in the Empire 8, which thanks to Ithaca's 21-14 win over Salisbury, the Sea Gulls first ever loss in the Conference, means that UC is tied for first with their opponents this Saturday and a win would put the Pioneers in first all by themselves.
Kickoff this Saturday from Maryland is set for noon.