Around the Region
Big week to be a Pioneer
|Utica's season has included a couple of close losses to quality teams, followed by a homecoming win vs. Ithaca.
Utica athletics photo by Jeff Pexton, Perfect Game Imaging
Some wins are bigger than others.
For Utica, last Saturday’s victory over Ithaca falls into that category. Especially for a relatively young program.
Beating the back-to-back defending conference champion, on homecoming, in a game that is broadcast throughout the state of New York on regional cable television, in overtime with a bench-clearing touchdown pass to end the game – It doesn’t get much more memorable than that.
“I’d like to think for the last few years that our program’s improved enough to earn the respect of our opponents,” Pioneer coach Blaise Faggiano said. “We’ve had some solid wins, but we’ve never had that win that gets you over the hump.”
That hump is being in position to make a serious run at the Empire 8 championship this season. The Pioneers improved to 2-1 in the E8, a conference were you can almost be certain that the champion will not finish the season undefeated. It was the fourth overtime game between conference foes in just the past two weeks. Current leader Cortland State, at 5-0, has had to win in OT each of the past two weeks.
“It’s a great conference,” Faggiano said. “Everyone’s going to beat each other up. There’s no week off. That’s why it so exciting for our kids to be where we’re at right now.”
The Pioneers' two losses this season came to 18th-ranked Red Dragons in overtime and Ohio Northern, a team also receiving votes in the D3football.com Top 25. In both of those games, they held fourth-quarter leads.
“This week we were able to be the team that made that made just a couple more plays,” Faggiano said.
The program has improved during Faggiano’s eight-year tenure culminating last year in seven wins and their first postseason appearance, an ECAC bowl loss to Morrisville State. The Pioneers avenged that loss earlier this season with 38-14 victory over the Mustangs, who are now an E8 companion after a few years in the New Jersey Athletic conference.
The trip to the postseason and being close in their two loses against nationally recognized programs has the Pioneers confident they can compete in Division III’s deepest conference.
“That helped us know that we are a good football team here in Utica,” said quarterback Teddy VanGalen. “We can stay with the best teams in our conference and some of the best teams in the nation.”
To challenge for a conference championship, having playmakers is key. Utica appears to have those on both offense and defense.
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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