Canton, N.Y. (9/3/2011) - The Utica College football team racked up 469 yards of total offense and totaled 34 first half points on its way to a 48-35 season-opening victory at St. Lawrence University Saturday afternoon. Junior quarterback Andrew Benkwitt completed 25-of-32 passes for 233 yards to go along with three touchdowns, while the Pioneers' ground game amassed an impressive 207 rushing yards as UC won its third straight season-opener.
"I thought we played excellent defense in the first half, our offense was ready to go and our special
teams was solid," said fourth year Head Coach Blaise Faggiano. "It was hot and humid on the field today and our guys were prepared. I thought our conditioning made a big difference in the first half and we really came to play as soon as we stepped off the bus."
The Pioneers will host non conference foe Union College (0-1) next Saturday night at 7 p.m. for their first game on the brand new turf at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium. Fans can listen to the game on the radio locally at WTLB 1310 AM or out-of-towners can follow the game through live video, audio and stats online at www.ucpioneers.com.
Utica dominated the first half of play to silence the home crowd of 1,421 fans after holding the Saints to just 87 yards of total offense. Five UC touchdowns, two on the ground and three in the air, led to 335 total yards of offense in the first half as the Pioneers mustered a commanding 26 point lead before the intermission. Four of the Saints five first half drives resulted in punts, while the Pioneers scored touchdowns on five straight drives to close out the first half of play.
Running backs Jake Larson and Jake Scott each posted a touchdown run of eight and two yards, respectively, and Benkwitt connected with sophomore fullback Alexander Ruta on a two yard touchdown pass to give UC a 20-0 lead just a few minutes into the second quarter.
"Our running game was phenomenal today," said Faggiano of the Pioneers first 200+ rushing performance since week two of 2010. "I'm really proud of the big guys up front and how hard our backs ran."
St. Lawrence was able to mix in a 23 yard touchdown, but the Pioneers immediately responded to subdue the Saints first half hopes. That response came on the shoulder pads of Benkwitt and junior classmate Matt Dunn as the two connected for touchdowns on two consecutive drives to end the first half of play. Just 1:43 after St. Lawrence's first score of the day, Benkwitt found Dunn for a 38 yard touchdown pass, but the true back breaker was the final drive of the first half. In a span of 5:21 the Pioneers marched 91 yards on 16 plays, capped by Dunn's eight yard touchdown catch, to give UC a 34-8 lead with 38 seconds to go before the half.
The home team was able to get its offense going in the second half, scoring four touchdowns to keep the Pioneers honest, but UC managed to have an answer for running back Marcus Washington's two second half touchdowns. After Washington's first touchdown of the second half, UC's Jake Scott punched in his second TD run of the day to put the Pioneers ahead 41-15 with 5:08 to go in the third. Washington finished the day with 133 yards and three touchdowns, while Scott led the Pioneers' running back corps with 80 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns.
Washington also opened the fourth quarter with a one yard scamper, but again, the Pioneers had an answer and on the ensuing kickoff as sophomore Jess Baldasarre took the kick 84 yards for a touchdown, marking the third longest kick return in school-history.
St. Lawrence tacked on two more touchdowns in the final 8:20 but it proved to be too late as the Pioneers improved to 7-4 all-time on opening day. The last time the Pioneers took on the Saints on opening day was back in 2004, with St. Lawrence winning 35-10.
Utica's Jake Scott and Eric Rindo paced the Pioneer defense with seven tackles a piece as seven different defenders tallied at least three tackles for UC.
Junior wide receiver Jamie Murphy caught a career and team-high six passes for 41 yards, while Dunn finished the day with five catches for 73 yards. The Saints did a solid job of holding sophomore receiver Anthony Acevedo to four catches for 34 yards. Junior transfer Jake Larson carried the ball 16 times for 60 yards and Baldassare finished the day with 40 rushing yards on 11 carries. Kicker Seth Mitchell converted on 6-of-7 extra points for the Pioneers' special team unit.
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