UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica College football team took a 21-20 lead with 10:32 against visiting Ithaca College in an Empire 8 Conference contest at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium, but the Bombers scored the eventual game-winning touchdown with 3:10 left on the game clock to seal the 26-21 victory on the Pioneers homecoming Saturday afternoon. UC junior quarterback Connor Butkiewicz (Southington, CT/Southington) completed 22-of-40 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw four interceptions and the Pioneers fumbled a punt in the first quarter which led to the Bombers first score of the contest.
UC's record moved to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in Empire 8 Conference play, while the Bombers improved to 5-1 and 3-1 in the E8.
Ithaca's stingy defense held UC running back Jake Larson (Bemus Point, NY/Maple Grove) to just 38 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Neither team amassed over 300 yards of total offense as the Bombers edged the Pioneers 281-277 in total yards. It was Larson's seven yard touchdown plunge with 10:32 to go in the contest that brought the Pioneers from behind to give them a 21-20 lead in the fourth quarter.
21 points by the Pioneers tied the most points scored that the Bomber defense has allowed all season. Ithaca leading running back Rakim Jones led all carriers with 87 yards on 28 carries and one score.
Ithaca's Jared Prugar finished the day with three catches for 68 yards and two huge touchdowns. His first score was a 59 yard touchdown pass with 3:19 to go before the half from Ithaca quarterback Tom Dempsey to give the Bombers a 20-14 lead headed into the locker room at the half. Prugar and Dempsey connected again with 3:10 left in the contest, this time from just three yards out, to seal the victory for the visitors.
Dempsey also opened the scoring in the game when he connected with team-leading receiver Joel Lynch on a 29 yard touchdown pass to put the Bombers on top 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Pioneers responded just over three minutes later to knot the score at 7-7 when sophomore transfer Mike Sullivan (Whitesboro, NY/Whitesboro) picked an Ithaca fumble out of the air and returned it four yards for a score, much to the delight of the Pioneers' homecoming crowd of 2,859 fans.
Rakim Jones put the Bombers back on top 13-7 at the 11:39 mark of the second quarter after a one yard touchdown run. The ensuing extra point was blocked, leaving the door open for a Pioneer comeback.
With 5:41 to go in the first half of play Butkiewicz and tight end Mike Russo (Hicksville, NY/Holy Trinity) connected on a six yard touchdown pass to put UC back up by the score of 14-13. It was Russo's first career touchdown reception and he finished the day with four catches for 25 yards.
Utica's Jeff Mitchell (Onondaga, NY/Onondaga) recorded a career-best 11 tackles (10 solo) and recorded two pass break ups, while team-leading tackler Joe Giametta (Seaford, NY/MacArthur) made nine stops and also recovered a fumble. Junior safety James Lenahan (Mahopac, NY/Mahopac) picked off one pass, broke up two more and added four tackles. Senior linebacker Ryan Hansen (Woodcliff Lake, NJ/Pascack Hills) made eight stops and tallied one sack for the Pioneers. Frank DeNome (New Windsor, NY/Cornwall) also added a sack for UC.
Ithaca senior cornerback Mike Vulcano picked off two passes, while classmate Jake Santora, the team's leading tackler this year, made a team-best 11 stops. Senior cornerback Brian Garvey also picked off a pass and made seven tackles.
Ithaca controlled the time of possession on the afternoon 37:57 to the Pioneers' 22:03. Neither team faired extremely well on third down conversions as the Bombers went 6-of-20 and the Pioneers went 5-of-15. Ithaca did however go 2-for-2 on fourth down conversions.
Ithaca punter Mike Lopez punted eight times for 280 yards and pinned the Pioneers inside their 20 yard line twice, including a key punt which settled on the Utica three yard line to leave the Pioneers with 97 yards to cover as they trailed 26-21 with two minutes to go in the game. Unfortunately for UC, the Pioneers went four and out on their final possession to lose by five points.
The Pioneers return to action back at home on Saturday when they host Buffalo State for an Empire 8 Conference contest at 2 p.m. The game will be televised regionally in New York State on the Time Warner Cable Sports Network.