The football team looked strong in its season opener, downing St. Lawrence University 33–3 at Butterfield Stadium.
After trading possessions and field goals for much of the first half, junior cornerback Mike Conti opened up the scoring for the Bombers by returning an interception 66 yards for a touchdown to put the Blue and Gold up 10–3 going into halftime. It was the first interception return for a touchdown by a Bomber since Matt Samela ’09 returned an interception 30 yards against Hartwick College on September 20th, 2008.
“The quarterback was staring at his targets all day,” Conti said. “I saw him staring at the receiver and undercut the route, caught the ball, got a few good blocks and was gone.”
Conti’s pick provided some relief for the offense which struggled to get anything going in the first half and finished with just 66 total yards through the first two quarters.
Junior linebacker Eric Toporoff, who finished with six tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles, said the defense came into the game with a mindset of controlling the game from the opening whistle.
“As a defense we knew we needed to come out a be aggressive early and force them to make mistakes,” Toporoff said. “The interception was huge for us. It allowed our offense to relax a little, take a deep breath, and just go out and play.”
The offense looked much more comfortable in the second half as the young offensive line got in synch and sophomore wide receiver Joseph Ingaro, making the first start of his career, set the tone for the Bombers. Ingaro totaled 60 yards receiving in the third quarter alone, including an 18-yard reception along the far sideline that got the Bombers in field goal range midway through the third.
“The ball was a little wide and I went out for it and was able to keep my feet in before the defender hit me,” Ingaro said.
The play illustrated the connection that Ingaro, who finished with six catches for 108 yards to lead all receivers, had all game with starting quarterback senior Rob Zappia.
“Things opened up well for us in the passing game and the concepts the coaches preach in practice really work,” Ingaro said. “We knew we had to get into a rhythm coming out of halftime and they just happened to leave me open a few times.”
The Bombers’ drive, despite Ingaro’s 18-yard reception, stalled at the 4-yard line and the South Hill squad was forced to settle for another field goal putting them up 13–3 at the end of the third quarter. The field goal moved junior punter/kicker Andrew Rogowski into 12th place on the all-time Ithaca scoring list.
The offense began to put together drives against the St. Lawrence defense in the fourth quarter. After the third St. Lawrence turnover, late in the third quarter, the South Hill Squad put together its first touchdown scoring drive. The Bombers’ offense, covering 69 yards in 10 plays, was led by freshman running back Jared Prugar who scored the first touchdown of his collegiate career from 1-yard out to extend the Bombers’ lead to 20–3.
Following another St.Lawrence turnover, senior running back Dan Ruggerio went untouched into the endzone from 31-yards out to give the Blue and Gold a 26–3 advantage. Sophmore running back Clay Ardoin finished the scoring for the Bombers, capping off the team’s final drive with a 30-yard touchdown run to put them up 33-3.
The game was a tale of two halves. Ithaca took some time to incorporate eleven new starters, including eight on offense, the most ever under head coach Mike Welch.
After Conti’s interception however, the offense settled down and remained under control and focused the rest of the game.
“We came out of halftime with a plan to make bigger plays and we did [in the first half],” Ingaro Said. Ithaca had plenty of those and extended their winning streak in season openers to thirteen games.
The Blue and Gold return to the gridiron against Union College at 1 p.m. Saturday at Butterfield Stadium.