Saints Rally, but Fall to Utica in Season Opener
Sept. 3: The St. Lawrence University football team fell to Utica College on Saturday afternoon by the score of 48-35 in Canton, NY. Senior co-captain Marcus Washington had a solid game out of the backfield, rushing for 133 yards and three touchdowns. However, the Pioneers' offense, guided by quarterback Andrew Benkwitt, scored on six straight drives to earn the non-conference victory.
"We unfortunately made too many mistakes in the first half on both sides of the football which put us in a big hole," said St. Lawrence head coach Mark Raymond. "Our guys showed their character and fought their way back into the game."
St. Lawrence (0-1) struggled to find its rhythm, as the offense went without a first down in the opening quarter. With the defense forced to stay on the field on a very muggy afternoon, Utica's offense piled up big first half numbers and led 34-8 at halftime. Benkwitt tossed all three of his touchdown passes in the first half, while Jake Larson and Jake Scott had touchdown runs.
Washington got the Saints on the scoreboard with 10:47 to play in the second quarter, as he scored from 23 yards out to cut the Utica lead to 20-6. A botched hold by first-year student John Wittig turned into two points following the touchdown as he showed off his speed and beat the defense to the pile on to bring the score to 20-8.
Benkwitt would halt the Saints momentum on back-to-back touchdown drives, as Matt Dunn scored from 38 and 8-yards out, including a touchdown with a mere 38 seconds left in the half to bring the score to 34-8 at intermission.
Sophomore Nik Busharis made his first collegiate start under center for the Scarlet and Brown on Saturday, and though he was unable to get much going in the opening 30:00 minutes, he came on strong in the second half. The Mansfield, MA native completed a key 3rd-and-6 to extend the opening drive of the second half, which was eventually capped off by a touchdown run by Washington from 1-yard out. Junior Chris Dris' extra point made the score 34-15.
"I thought Nik did a nice job as a first time starter," added Coach Raymond. "He certainly performed well under pressure down the stretch and helped us claw our way back into it."
Utica would answer with an 8-play, 62-yard scoring drive of its own, with Scott getting his second touchdown of the day with 5:08 left in the third quarter. Seth Mitchell's extra point gave Utica a 41-15 cushion.
The Saints would score again on a 1-yard run by Washington only 57 seconds into the fourth quarter. The key play of the 8-play, 83-yard drive was a 40-yard completion from Busharis to rookie Colby Johnson to get the ball down to the Utica 12-yard line.
On the ensuing kick-off, however, Utica's Jesse Baldassare would take the football from his own 16-yard line, break three tackles and race to the end zone for an 84-yard touchdown on special teams. The score, followed by Mitchell's extra point, would cap the Pioneers' scoring with a 48-21 lead with 13:46 remaining.
Busharis would orchestrate two more scoring drives for St. Lawrence in the fourth quarter. After the Saints blocked a punt and inherited the ball on the Utica 12-yard line, Busharis would find senior co-captain Ethan Sutton for an 8-yard score.
After the defense forced a three-and-out by the Pioneers, Busharis led his team on a 62-yard drive, capped by senior Mark Rudy's first collegiate touchdown reception from 13-yards out. Dris' extra points brought the Saints to within two scores at 48-35. However, Benkwitt and the Utica offense was able to run off the final 5:01 of the game thanks to two clutch third down conversions.
Busharis finished 13-of-25 passing for 157 yards and two scores. Sutton had 73 yards receiving on seven catches, while Johnson had four catches for 68 yards. Leading the St. Lawrence defense was senior co-captain Trevor Saunders, who had a game-high 11 tackles including four solo stops and 1.5 tackles for a loss.St. Lawrence will be in action again next Saturday, September 10 when the team heads to Norwich, VT to take on the Cadets of Norwich University. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:30pm.