UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica College junior wide receiver Anthony Acevedo (New Hartford, NY/New Hartford) and quarterback Connor Butkiewicz (Southington, CT/Southington) connected on two consecutive touchdown passes in a span of 2:01 -- the second of which came with 26 seconds left in the first half -- to help spark a 25-16 victory for the Pioneers over visiting Union College at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium Saturday night. Utica improved to 2-0 for the fifth consecutive season as the Pioneer defense racked up nine sacks on the evening to help keep the Union offense at bay.
"Our guys showed a lot of poise in the face of adversity tonight and I am certainly proud of the effort," said Head Coach Blaise Faggiano. "Union has a great tradition and a very good team this year. To be able to pull out the victory and defend our home turf gives us great momentum headed into another tough game on the road against a nationally-ranked program in Hobart next Saturday night."
The Pioneers held a 22-9 advantage late into the fourth quarter until Union's Connor Eck capped a nine-play, 49 yard drive, with a six yard touchdown run to put the Dutchmen within striking distance, 22-16, with 5:19 remaining in the contest. Utica freshman Jerred Beniquez (Port Ewen, NY/Kingston) returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards before being forced out of bounds at Union's 33 yard line. The Pioneers were unable to take complete advantage of Beniquez's big return, but UC sophomore kicker Thomas Woodburn (West Islip, NY/West Islip) converted on a crucial 34 yard field goal with 2:43 to go in the contest to essentially seal the victory for the Pioneers.
"At the end of the game when we needed it we had a great kick return by Jerred Beniquez (Port Ewen, NY/Kingston) which got us in field goal range. The field goal by Woodburn got us ahead late by two scores and those were big plays," said Faggiano. "We definitely have to give a lot of credit to our punter Dakota Peel (Alden, NY/Alden) as well. We talk about field zones and field position and he flipped the field atleast three times for us tonight."
Peel finished the night with seven punts for 286 yards (40.9 yard average) and he also pinned the Dutchmen inside the 20 yard line twice.
Acevedo capped the day with a team-best eight catches and two touchdowns, while Butkiewicz completed 22-of-41 passes for 237 yards. Senior captain Joseph Gerbino (Mahwah, NJ/Mahwah) caught a career-high six balls for 108 yards for the Pioneers.
"I can't say enough about the job our defense and Coach Will Pluff did in key situations tonight," said Faggiano. "We made the plays when we needed to and came away with the victory. We put pressure on a good quarterback tonight and that's great."
The Pioneers defensive unit recovered two fumbles and also picked off two passes, to go along with nine key sacks. Junior cornerback Rob Alexander (Dobbs Ferry, NY/Dobbs Ferry) recorded a career-high 12 tackles, picked off one pass and broke up another, while senior linebacker Joe Giametta (Seaford, NY/MacArthur) added ten tackles and two sacks for the Pioneer defense. Utica junior linebacker Sean Hulser (Vernon, NY/Notre Dame), who was filling in for injured teammate Dana Christofferson (Richford, NY/Dryden), got the Pioneers on the board with 3:04 to go in the first quarter of play when he returned his first career interception 30 yards for a touchdown to give UC an early 7-0 lead.
Union quarterback Connor Eck completed 24-of-42 passes for 261 yards on the evening, but he also threw two interceptions for the visitors. Eck also carried the load in the ground game as he rushed the ball 24 times and punched in the late fourth quarter touchdown. Joseph Vito led the Union receiving corps with eight catches for 62 yards, while T.J. Franzese made three catches for 72 yards, including a huge 61 touchdown grab to put the Dutchmen on top 9-7 with 5:34 to go in the second quarter.
Union's Joshua Rose totaled a team-high eight tackles for the Dutchmen, while Vito Capuano added seven tackles of his own.
Union totaled 314 yards of total offense on 82 plays compared to the Pioneers 299 yards of offense on 69 plays. Union also won the time of possession battle as the Dutchmen held the ball on offense for 31:49.
Utica senior running back Jake Larson (Bemus Point, NY/Maple Grove) rushed the ball 20 times for 64 yards and became the fourth back in school-history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a career.
Utica junior safety James Lenahan (Mahopac, NY/Mahopac) made seven stops and registered two sacks, including a key sack of Eck for a nine yard loss on fourth down with just 37 seconds left on the game clock. The Pioneer defense came away with three sacks to force a turnover on Union's final possession of the game.
Senior linebacker Ryan Hansen (Woodcliff Lake, NJ/Pascack Hills) made eight tackles and added a sack, while Hulser finished the day with seven tackles, one sack and the interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter. Ian Lotz (Scranton, PA/West Scranton), Anthony Cipoletti (Dix Hills, NY/Half Hollow Hills West) and Nick Woodman (Utica, NY/Proctor) also recorded a sack for the Pioneer defense. Utica sophomore safety Mike Sullivan (Whitesboro, NY/Whitesboro) registered two pass break-ups in the secondary, while senior defensive linemen Josh Visalli (Deerfield, NY/Whitesboro) and Anthony Cipoletti (Dix Hills, NY/Half Hollow Hills West) each recovered a fumble for UC as well.
Utica is now 3-0 all-time against the Dutchmen.
The Pioneers return to the gridiron next Saturday night when they travel to nationally-ranked No. 7 Hobart College to take on the Statesmen at 7 p.m. Tonight's contest marked the first of the year for Union and the Dutchmen will return to action at home next Saturday when they square off against Ithaca College at 1 p.m.