ALFRED, NY – The Alfred University football team rode a record-setting performance by junior wide receiver Jayden Gavidia and a solid defensive effort to earn a 24-17 victory over visiting Utica College Saturday afternoon at Yunevich Stadium.
In the Empire 8 Conference opener for both teams, 19th-ranked Alfred (2-0, 1-0 Empire 8) piled up more than 400 yards of offense, while the AU defense held the visiting Pioneers (1-2, 0-1 E8) to 267 yards, including a mere 93 in the first half.
"With the exception of the final drive where they scored, I thought our defense was outstanding today," said Bob Rankl, AU head coach, referring to Utica's 69-yard scoring drive, which pulled the Pioneers to within a touchdown with two minutes remaining in regulation.
For the game, the Saxon defense held Utica to just 25 percent (four of 16) on third down conversions and forced two turnovers. Utica came into the game averaging 197 yards rushing but against AU could manage just 74 yards on 30 attempts.
Gavidia caught a school-record 13 passes for 207 yards, with 10 receptions (for 145 yards) coming in the first half alone. His nine-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Bryce Morrison with 20 seconds left in the opening quarter gave the Saxons a 7-0 lead. The three-play scoring drive came after AU took over at the Pioneer 16-yard line following a botched punt.
A 43-yard field goal by senior Trevor Monk put the Saxons up 10-0 with 1:55 left in the half. Utica's Maki Medici booted a 22-yard field goal as the first half clock expired, making it 10-3, Alfred, at intermission.
The Saxons took a two-touchdown lead on their first drive of the second half. Backed up near their own endzone, Morrison connected with senior wideout Rodney Etienne for a 31-yard completion on third-and-five from the AU 12-yard line. On the next play, sophomore backup quarterback Casey Boston found an opening up the middle and sprinted 57 yard for a touchdown to give AU a 17-3 lead.
Utica wouldn't go away, pulling to within a touchdown (17-10) on tailback Lindell Reed's 16-yard touchdown reception from Peyton Miller with 16 seconds left in the third quarter. Alfred responded on its ensuing possession, going 80 yards in 2:40 to take a two-touchdown lead. Senior tailback Maleke Fuentes capped the seven-play drive with a 27-yard touchdown run to put the Saxons up 24-10.
Utica scored late in the fourth to pull within a score but Gavidia recovered the Pioneer's onside kick attempt. Morrison's one-yard run on fourth-and-one from the Utica 40 with less than a minute remining sealed the game for the Saxons.
AU had 424 yards of offense, led by Gavidia's monster game. The junior's 13 catches eclipsed the previous school record of 11, which was shared by three players (most recently by Trevor Bork against Ithaca in 2008), and his 207 receiving yards were just one off the school record of 208, set by Bork against Ithaca in 2008.
"Jayden was fantastic today," Rankl commented. "He's an outstanding football player."
Rankl said he wished the offense could have done more, considering the yardage it produced. The Saxons turned the ball over twice, with one coming on an interception at the Utica goal line.
"Offensively, we looked good at times, but we didn't capitalize on our opportunities," he said. "We need to be more consistent on offense."
Morrison finished 19-of-34 for 269 yards and a touchdown and two INTs. Fuentes had 83 yards rushing and a score on 19 carries, while Boston ran for 71 yards and a TD on four carries. Etienne caught three passes for 43 yards and Fuentes had two receptions for 15 yards.
Utica's Miller passed for 192 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Josh Hood caught five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown and Darrell Jones had four receptions for 42 yards. The Pioneers' Reed had 52 yards rushing on 12 carries to go with a TD reception.
Senior linebacker A.J. LiCata had a game-high 13 tackles (one sack) and junior linebacker Cole Reed had nine stops to lead the Saxon defense. Sophomore linebacker Nick Milgate had six tackles (one for loss) and junior free safety Eric Graham and sophomore cornerback Kyle Moore each had an interception.
Linebacker Kwasi Addo had 11 tackles (1 ½ for loss) and linebacker Derrick Sekuterski had 10 (one sack) for Utica. Cornerbacks Chance Harris (five tackles, three pass breakups) and Mark Taylor each picked off a pass.
Alfred is in action next on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 1 p.m., when the Saxons host the University of Rochester on Homecoming.