ONEONTA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica College football team put together its second straight dominant Empire 8 Conference performance, this time topping host Hartwick College 43-7 at Wright Stadium on Saturday. The Pioneers once against controlled play on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes and they have now outscored their opponents 83-7 over the course of their last two conference victories. UC advanced its record to 5-2 overall for the second straight year and the Pioneers moved into a second place tie with a 3-1 overall record in the E8. UC has incredible momentum headed into their toughest stretch of the season, with their final three games coming against conference and national powers Alfred, Salisbury and St. John Fisher.
“For two straight weeks we have put together a complete game. This is the type of football we would like to bring to the table every Saturday,” said Faggiano of his teams convincing win over the Hawks. “We have worked hard to get to this point and now we have to finish strong. We're going to take it one day at a time. We still have facets of the game that we think we can get a little better at and we have to game plan for a very tough Alfred team. Every game from here on out is going to be our biggest challenge of the year - it's an exciting position to be in.”
One of the most impressive aspects of the Pioneers' game was their rushing attack, which totaled 219 yards on the ground. Junior back Jesse Baldassare led the way with a career-best 153 yards, marking his third 100 yard performance of the year. Mike Cottle chipped in with 66 yards of his own on the ground, on just eight carries. The big running game led to the Pioneers' second straight 500 yard performance as a team, while the defense shut the door on the home team, holding the Hawks to just 24 yards rushing and 224 total yards. UC finished with 582 yards of total offense.
The Pioneers are beginning to finish games strong, outscoring the host Hawks 30-0 in the final 31:26 of play. It all started with two scores late in the second quarter when UC held a three point advantage. Senior tight end Matt Dunn and Benkwitt hooked up for a 14 yard score with 1:26 left in the first half of play, pushing the Pioneers to a ten point advantage 17-7. Dunn finished the afternoon with a team-best six catches for 127 yards. On the Hawks ensuing drive sophomore safety James Lenahan came up with his team-best fifth interception of the season, setting up a 22 yard field goal with three ticks left on the first half clock to put UC up by 13 at half time. Lenahan needs just two more INT's to tie the school-record set by Jon Klosner back in 2002. The field goal marked Woodburn's second of the afternoon and he totaled 10 points overall on the day.
The second half proved to be all UC, as it outscored the home team 23-0, despite scoring just three of those points in the third quarter, once again from the foot of Woodburn - this time from 30 yards out.
Jeremy Meier, who has caught at least one touchdown in five of the last six games, continued to impress by catching a seven yard TD from Andrew Benkwitt to open the fourth quarter scoring. Meier had a relatively quiet afternoon, catching three balls for 39 yards, but he did inch one step closer to the school's single season touchdown record of 12. Meier has 11 this year and he also needs just 152 yards receiving to become the first single season 1,000 yard receiver in school-history. Benkwitt posted his fifth 300 yard game this season, completing 24-of-32 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns. His impressive day did not come without his fair share of pressure, as the Hawks tallied four sacks on the afternoon. Benkwitt has thrown for an incredible 16 touchdowns in the last four games.
Senior receiver Paul Smith caught his third touchdown of the year in the fourth quarter to help UC seal the victory. He finished the day with a career-best six catches for 73 yards. Sean Jones added four catches for 43, including the game's first score.
The Pioneers, who scored on eight of their first 11 possessions, were determined to break the trend of close games between the two rivals. Headed into the contest, seven of their last ten meetings were decided by ten points or less, including four which were decided by three points or less. Tight end Chris Williams closed out the scoring with 2:54 left in the contest, off a 17 yard pass from backup quarterback Connor Butkiewicz. Butkiewicz was seeing late game action for the second consecutive week, and he has not disappointed, completing 9-of-14 attempts for 91 yards and a TD. Ten different Pioneers caught at least one ball from Benkwitt and Butkiewicz.
The UC defense could not be overlooked, as it recorded seven sacks and two interceptions. Dana Christofferson led the Pioneers with seven solo tackles and one sack, while Genaro Scampon made five stuffs and added a sack of his own. Michael Herbeger continued his surge towards the top of the Pioneers' all-time sack list, tallying his third sack in the last two weeks. Anthony Cipoletti, Jerrod Clowes and freshman Nick Woodman (first of his career) were all credited with sacks as well. Xavier Richardson picked off a pass for the Pioneers.
The Pioneers return home on Saturday when they take on Alfred University at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium at 2 p.m. A fourth-quarter comeback came up just short as Alfred lost to host Salisbury, 24-21, Saturday afternoon in a battle of nationally-ranked Empire 8 Conference leaders.