Sophomore, freshman key Utica

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Andrew Benkwitt is 61-for-89 passing, including 17-for-23 against the only established program Utica has played so far this season.
Utica athletics photo

After beating RPI 42-21 on Saturday, Utica is 3-0 and still at the top of Division III in scoring offense, at almost 60 points a game. The Pioneers have started fast before, but have struggled when reaching league play.

But this year, with conference play still one more week away, could be different. There’s a buzz on campus and the community, and coach Blaise Faggiano couldn’t be more happy about it.

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls and texts and e-mails from alums talking about how great it is to see how well we’re doing,” Faggiano said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “It’s exciting. There’s a real energy, both at the community and at the school.”

What Utica has this year is a more complete offense. Sophomore quarterback Andrew Benkwitt has a full complement of receivers, including upperclassmen Jeremy Meier and Josh Mason.

But the real surprise has been a receiver who has only played three games for the Pioneers -- freshman Anthony Acevedo. Acevedo has 19 catches for 415 yards and four touchdowns in the wins against Becker, Castleton State and RPI.

“As good as Anthony’s been, with the rest of our receivers, you can’t overplay one guy,” said Faggiano, the former St. John Fisher coordinator.

Defenses can’t lay back against the Pioneers and Acevedo either. Against RPI, Acevedo took a short pass from Benkwitt and turned it into a 74-yard touchdown, outrunning four Engineers into the end zone.

“It’s been a big weapon for us. The blocking’s been good, and they have the opportunity to turn a smaller pass into a much bigger one,” Faggiano said.

Focusing on the receivers might help a defense, but there’s another weapon in the backfield -- sophomore Jake Scott.

Scott has seven touchdown runs and 286 yards, second in the Empire 8.

“We’re getting nearly 5 yards a carry out of Jake,” said Faggiano, quick to give credit to the offensive line blocking for him. “We were really able to run the ball, especially in the second half, against RPI.”

Being able to run the ball with a lead late in ballgames is a big key to the Pioneers’ turnaround.

How Utica got to 3-0
The Pioneers are off to the best start in the program's history, but some of the offensive numbers need context.
Opponent Rank Score
Becker 236 W, 78-19
Castleton State 230 W, 59-22
RPI 85 W, 42-21
* preseason Kickoff 2010 ranking

Last year, UC lost to RPI and Ithaca by a field goal, and by six against Hartwick. Breaks in those games give 2009 a different feel, and it seems like they might have figured out for 2010.

“The second half was ours against RPI,” Faggiano said. “We were able to score a couple of times and we shut them out defensively. It shows that we are well-conditioned and that we’re starting to earn those close victories.”

This weekend is UC’s homecoming and they play another non-conference opponent, Wilkes, before jumping into Empire 8 play.

“They’re a good team, usually very tough. We’ll have our hands full,” Faggiano said.

But for a moment at least, Faggiano reflected on the win over RPI, only the second time in the program’s history (a 9-7 win was the first).

“It really was a historic day for the school and our program,” Faggiano said.

Top 10 matchup
No. 8 Delaware Valley gave non-conference foe and No. 3 Wesley all it could handle on Saturday. DVC spotted the Wolverines 14 points, then scored 17 unanswered to take the lead. But with 3:29 left, Wesley quarterback Jason Sottilare hit Leonard Stevenson for what turned out to be the game-winning score as the Wolverines won 21-17.

After the loss, DVC fell to 13th in the D3football.com Top 25 poll.

Top 25 roundup
No. 23 Montclair State was in a tough matchup with perennial power Rowan, but it was no contest as MSU dominated on both sides of the ball in a 26-7 win.

Chris D’Andrea scampered for a 89-yard touchdown run as the Red Hawks open 2-0. Montclair moved from 23 to 19 in the D3football.com poll

No. 25 Alfred took a big lead in the first half against St. Lawrence in an Empire 8-Liberty League matchup, but St. Lawrence fought back, getting within one score of the Saxons. Unfortunately for the Saints, it’s as close as they would get, falling 24-16. Alfred moved up to 23rd in the newest D3football.com poll.

Five other East Region teams are receiving votes in the poll as well: St. John Fisher, Ithaca, Springfield, Cortland and Rowan.

Courage Bowl VI was close for most of the first half between St. John Fisher and Rochester, but Fisher scored three touchdowns near the end of the first half en route to a 49-21 win.

Tim Bailey only threw for 315 yards and four touchdowns (that’s sarcasm, folks, especially after the senior threw for five in each of his first two games of the year). His favorite target on the night was Ryan Schmidt, who caught 11 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Schmidt has six touchdowns so far in 2010.

Springfield was running on all cylinders again in Week 3, this time blasting through Wilkes 44-7. Five running backs ran for more than 65 yards in the victory, led by senior Joe Myhren rushing for 120 yards on 12 carries, a nice 10 yard per carry average.

Junior quarterback Josh Carter nearly hit the century mark, rushing 20 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Antoine King had 92 yards, Mark Safer had 90 carries and two touchdowns on only 4 carries and junior Alex Mendez had 68 yards and a touchdown on 25 tough carries.

All told, the triple-option offense is high-octane, totaling 566 yards on the ground against Wilkes.

Ithaca did it the opposite way against Widener in a 31-7 win on Saturday.

Senior quarterback Rob Zappia, in his second start for Coach Mike Welch’s Bombers, threw for 252 yards and four touchdowns against the Pride, two to senior receiver Dan Ruffrage. The Bombers start 3-0, inching closer to continuing their streak of winning seasons, which now sits at 39.

Cortland remained undefeated at 2-0 after a 35-7 beat down of Buffalo State. Sophomore Justin Autera was the man on the ground, rushing 18 times for 134 yards and three touchdowns as they keep pace with Montclair State at the top of the New Jersey Athletic Conference.

Cortland’s defense was also stout, holding Buffalo State to 15 yards of rushing in the win.

Team on the move
Hobart’s freshmen did it again, leading the Statesmen to a 35-21 win against Carnegie Mellon. Freshman Steven Webb ran for 120 yards and scored three touchdowns for the second week in a row. Webb leads the LL in scoring average. On the defensive side of the ball, Devin Worthington recorded 10 tackles and three sacks. After three weeks, Worthington leads the nation in tackles for loss average, at 3.50.

Defense does it
William Paterson’s Damian Dilorio’s fumble return for a 35 yard touchdown gave the Pioneers a 14-7 win over King’s College. The Pioneers start a season 2-0 for only the second time since 1997.

Career days
Brockport’s Riedrick Alceus rushed for 127 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-23 win over Western Connecticut. The yardage and touchdowns were both career highs for the senior. Senior linebacker Nate Bull recorded 16 tackles as well.

DO NOT kick it to him…
Sophomore wide receiver and special teamer Alex Coviello had a day most can only dream of for the Merchant Marine Academy. Coviello caught a 43 yard touchdown pass from Derrick Ventre, but it was the shortest scoring play of his day. Coviello also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns -- one for 85 yards and one for 91 yards. The only bad part of the day was that MMA loss to SUNY-Maritime 41-34.

Good offense vs. bad defense
Hartwick had two receivers go for more than 100 yards receiving on Saturday against Norwich -- Anthony Casimano (15-112) and Jordan Wilkins (6-141-2 touchdowns). But the Hawks defense gave up 352 yards on the ground to the Cadets, leading to a 42-27 loss. Hartwick is the only team in the Empire 8 to have a loss through the first three weeks of the season.

WPI routed Becker in an eastern Massachusetts showdown 55-0. WPI’s Pat McAuley had 203 total yards and three touchdowns in the win. WPI’s defense held Becker to 100 yards of offense to get coach Chris Robertson’s first win at the helm of the Engineers.

Jason Bowen

Jason Bowen has 10 years of Division III coaching experience at Wesley, where he was also the Sports Information Director. He currently provides color analysis on broadcasts of Wesley games on WDEL Radio 1150AM and has served as a staff and freelance writer for the Delaware State News in Dover. He has been a contributor for D3football.com since 2006. By day he teaches high school biology. He is a 1992 graduate of and three-year letter winner at linebacker for Mansfield (Pa.) University.

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov
2011-14 columnist: Andrew Lovell

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