For the football team’s seniors, Saturday’s game against Utica College carried a little extra weight. It was the last time they would suit up to play at Butterfield Stadium. “If there is one game you want to win at the beginning of every year it’s this one,” Head Coach Mike Welch said. The Bombers defense continued their dominance, forcing Utica into seven turnovers in a 30–9 win. The Blue and Gold have never lost to Utica in ten meetings and have now outscored the Pioneers 397-65 in those games.
“It’s emotional,” senior defensive tackle Andrew Haim said. “To finish undefeated at home means a lot to us.” Haim created havoc all game breaking up three passes at the line of scrimmage. The defense set the tone for the Bombers, holding Utica’s prolific pass offense to just 200 yards on 43 attempts, well below their season average of 301 yards per game. Welch said the team was ready for Utica’s high-flying offense after shutting down Springfield College’s triple option attack last week. “We’ve played a lot of teams that run the spread offense,” Welch said. “Their offense is similar to ours and our defense faces them in practice everyday. That definitely made the adjustment a little easier.”
The Bombers were able to jump out to an early lead for the second straight game. After a punt to the one-yard line, Haim and senior defensive end Sean Gil stopped Utica running back Jake Scott in the end zone for a safety. It was the first safety for the Blue and Gold’s defense since 2008, when they recorded one against Frostburg State.
The Bombers extended the lead to 23–6 just before halftime when senior quarterback Rob Zappia found senior wide receiver Dan Ruffrage open in the end zone for a 23–yard touchdown. “It’s a play we run a lot,” Welch said. “They left Ruff[rage] all alone and all Rob had to do was make a good throw.” Zappia picked apart the Utica defense in the first half, gouging the pioneers for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior cornerback Mike Conti finished up the scoring for Ithaca returning a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown to put the Bombers up 30–6 late in the third quarter. “I just got lucky,” Conti said. “The ball bounced right to me, there was no one in front of me and you can’t let someone catch you when you’re that close.” The defense held Utica scoreless in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
For Utica head coach Blaise Faggiano, one of eight former Bombers currently coaching in Division III, a victory in Butterfield Stadium would have been a signature win for the program. “I always love coming back home to South Hill,” Faggiano said. “Coach Welch recruited me to play then hired me to coach so these games always carry a little extra weight for me.” For coach Welch, the win kept him undefeated when facing former players or assistants. “Coach Faggiano and I are good friends,” Welch said. “You always want to win but it means something extra when you’re playing someone you know so well.”
With Alfred University falling to Rochester 24–14 Saturday, an Ithaca victory next week against Alfred means the Bombers clinch a share of the Empire 8 conference championship. “We know what’s at stake,” Welch said. “Our goal this season was to win the conference and were one win away from doing that.”