January 31, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 24°F


Utica Pioneers finish what they started against Bombers football

It was a tale of two halves for the football team, as the Bombers fell to Utica College 30–27 in overtime Oct. 3 at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium.

Both defenses were on the prowl early on in the first quarter. The Pioneers’ offense was able to penetrate the Bombers’ territory on their first two drives, but were unable to capitalize and move the chains when the Bombers’ defense tightened up on two fourth down attempts.

The Bombers’ offense was not anywhere near as sharp as it was in its first three games of the season. On the Blue and Gold’s first drive, junior Wolfgang Shafer dumped the rock off to sophomore Brian Balsamo, who bobbled the ball as Utica’s linebacker junior Juwan Wilson swooped in to corral the football.

The Bombers were able to breach the Pioneers’ territory in the early part of the second quarter, however senior kicker Max Rottenecker’s field goal attempt at the end of the drive broke right as the team failed to put points on the scoreboard.

In the ensuing play, Utica’s junior quarterback Teddy VanGalen aired a deep ball on first and 10 that was initially caught by his receiver, until the ball rolled up onto his back and junior Skyler Kauf raced over to snag the ball for the interception. The officials immediately huddled together to discuss the turn of events and ultimately upheld their call of an interception on the field.

Later in the second quarter, sophomore running back Tristan Brown, who had a career game last weekend with 176 rushing yards, bounced off a defender for a 48-yard run into the Pioneers’ territory to finally get the Bombers’ offense rolling.

However, with the ball on Utica’s 36-yard line, Shafer, with the pocket collapsing, threw up a prayer into the endzone, where it was picked off by a Pioneer defender for the second time that afternoon.

The Pioneers would take over and march 95 yards down field, where freshman running back Malcolm Stowe would punch in his team’s first touchdown of the game from 6 yards out for a 7–0 advantage.

Utica would tack on a field goal with three seconds left in the second quarter to take a 10–0 lead heading into halftime.

Shafer had very little room to breathe in the first half as he was sacked four times in the first half.

The Bombers’ offense missed its starting senior left guard Owen Watrous as the Utica defensive front took advantage of the inexperienced sophomore offensive lineman Geoff Bell, as well as the offensive line as whole. The Pioneers sacked Shafer four times that afternoon.

Shafer completed 9-of-14 passes for only for 63 yards in the first half and no touchdowns. Aside from Brown’s 48-yard dash, there was not much of an encore performance by the running game this time around as they only ran for 21 total yards in the first half and averaged a paltry 1.2 yards per carry.

Shafer said he told himself to not fret and that the ship will right itself eventually.

“It’s football, it’s what I love about the game,” Shafer said. “I love when our defense is beating up on the other team’s quarterback. It’s part of the game. I told myself that we’re going to hang in there, and that we’re going to come out and make some plays … You just have to trust the system.”

The Bombers indeed had a rally in their bones in the second half. With time winding down in the third quarter and trailing 24–0 at the time, the Bombers showed some life when Shafer threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Josh Oliver for their first score.

After a Utica punt, Shafer once again drove his offense down the field for another score, this time connecting with senior tight end Kyle Hastings, who broke two tackles en route to a 33-yard touchdown to tighten the score at 24–14.

The Bombers’ defense continued to clamp down on the Pioneers’ offense as they forced consecutive punts. Starting at the Utica 41-yard line, Shafer orchestrated another scoring drive, which ended with Shafer throwing a 31–yard touchdown strike to a wide open Oliver to pull the college within a field goal of tying the Pioneers.

The Bombers’ defense went right back to work as they forced the Pioneers to punt yet again to give the Bombers’ offense an opportunity to tie or take the lead in the game.

The Blue and Gold offense started their possession on the Utica 31-yard line, but were unable to cross the goal line this time. With the wind at his back, Rottenecker nailed a 35–yard field goal to tie the game at 24–24 all.

Shafer’s second half performance was polar opposite compared to his first half performance. Though he threw two more interceptions — including one for a touchdown — Shafer completed 18-of-28 pass attempts for 218 yards and three touchdown passes.

The game would eventually head into overtime, whereupon the Pioneers won the toss and elected to defend to open up the extra period.

The Bombers were forced to settle for a 30-yard field goal during their first drive of extra time, giving them their first lead of the contest, 27–24.

The Blue and Gold had now scored 27 unanswered points and needed one final defensive stand in order to complete the miraculous comeback.

However, the South Hill squad’s luck ran out when on the first play of Utica’s first drive of overtime, VanGalen tossed a perfect pass into the far right corner of the endzone to junior wide receiver Jerred Beniquez for a game-winning touchdown and victory, ending the Bombers’ rally.

The Bombers will look to avenge their first loss of the season when they face the 2–2 Hartwick College Hawks. The game is 2 p.m. Oct. 10 at Wright Stadium in Oneonta, New York.

Andrew Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @acsullivan22