UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica College football team compiled 508 yards of total offense, and the Pioneer defense held visiting St. Lawrence to just seven points, as UC downed the Saints 40-7 in the season-opener at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium Saturday night. 2,653 fans turned out to watch the Pioneers win their fourth consecutive season opener, including their third straight win on the Time Warner Cable Sports Television Network.
“This is a great way for us to start the season against a quality opponent. We were able to put it together on both sides of the ball tonight and that's a testament to the hard work our student-athletes and staff put into training camp,” said fifth year Head Coach Blaise Faggiano. “I thought we played well on offense and I was particularly happy to see our defense step up to the plate and perform like we know we are capable of.”
Senior quarterback Andrew Benkwitt put on a good show in his 31st consecutive start as he completed 20-of-36 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Benkwitt now has a school-record 60 career touchdown passes. Senior tight end Matt Dunn caught five balls for 105 yards and two touchdowns, while classmate Jeremy Meier added six catches for a game-high 136 yards. Sophomore Dakota Peel rushed the ball 11 times for 42 yards and two touchdowns in his first collegiate start.
The Utica defense held the Saints to 286 yards of total offense and it allowed just one second quarter touchdown. Junior transfer Joe Giametta led UC with 14 tackles, while seven other Pioneers recorded at least four tackles.
The Utica offense scored on its first four possessions and took a convincing 27-0 lead with 9:27 to go in the second quarter of play. On the Pioneers' first drive of the game Dunn capped a seven play 94 yard drive with a six yard touchdown catch. Dunn's two touchdown catches helped him move into sole possession of fourth place on the College's all-time receiving touchdowns list. He now has 10 touchdown catches over the course of the last four years.
Peel scored on runs of two and three yards on two straight UC drives to help the Pioneers take a 20-0 lead. Benkwitt capped the Pioneers' initial run with a one yard plunge to put UC on top 27-0.
The Saints got on the board after a 70 yard touchdown pass from Zane Fish to Miles Crump with 4:22 left in the first half to cut the UC lead to 27-7. Fish completed 11-of-20 passes for 206 yards but he also threw three interceptions for SLU. Crump caught four balls for 92 yards on the evening.
Benkwitt and Dunn hooked up one more time just before the half on a 31 yard touchdown pass to give the Pioneers a convincing 34-7 lead headed into the second half of play.
The second half featured just six Pioneer points to cap the scoring for the day. Jamie Murphy brought in a three yard touchdown pass from Benkwitt with just over 12 minutes left in the third quarter to seal the victory.
Senior captain Luke Manolescu tallied four tackles and added one interception, while sophomore James Lenahan added five tackles and one pick of his own. Junior cornerback Xavier Richardson also picked off a pass for the Pioneers.
The Pioneers return to gridiron next Saturday when they travel to Union College to take on the Dutchmen at 7 p.m. The last time these two teams squared off Utica came from behind to earn a 28-27 victory at Gaetano Stadium. Check www.ucpioneers.com for links to live audio and stats.
Quick Hitters: The last time the Pioneers scored 40 or more points was on Oct. 1, 2011 against Salisbury … The last time Benkwitt threw for 300 or more yards was on Sept. 10, 2011 against Union College … Meier needs three catches to tie James Proniewych for second on the College's all-time receptions list … Meier now has 120 career catches … Utica is now 7-5 all-time in season opening games … The Pioneers are now 3-0 all-time in televised games … Dunn now has 85 career receptions, the most for a tight end in school-history.