Asst. Sports Editor
Prior to last weekend’s season finale, Utica College head coach Blaise Faggiano said he liked his team’s chances against Hartwick.
“I mean, they score a lot of points, you know,” Faggiano said. “Which always makes you nervous.”
Coach couldn’t have been more precise with that statement as Hartwick defeated the Pioneers 45-39 in the last game of both teams’ seasons. It was the most points allowed by the Pioneers in regulation the entire season.
Seven points or fewer decided the outcome in 70 percent of UC’s games this season. Only two worked out in the Pioneers favor. It was that kind of year for the Pioneers as Faggiano calls this the closest they truly have ever been to winning an Empire 8 championship.
“One play here, one play there, you can’t overthink it, you know,” Faggiano said. “Decision here, decision there, in any aspect of our game, we win the game.”
The players understand this as well. Coming down the stretch of the season, defensive anchors Juwan Wilson and Nick Woodman noted the importance of execution when trying to pull out a victory. Even quarterback Teddy VanGalen emphasized execution despite his spectacular play throughout the year. VanGalen finished the season with 2,662 passing yards, which ranks second on UC’s all-time list. He also accumulated 208 completions, which put him in a category with only two other Pioneers in the history of the program to complete over 200 passes. On the day, VanGalen finished with 25 completions for 286 yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough.
The Pioneer run game had better success in the finale against Hartwick than any of the previous six games. The last time the Pioneers accumulated over 200 rushing yards in a game this season was week three versus Morrisville State. Starting running back Ryan Burnett was out with a hand injury, leaving the rushing duties to his roommate Nicodemus Gambill and senior Mike Cottle. Gambill garnered 135 yards on the ground, including a 72-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, contributing to UC’s accumulation of 200 rushing yards. Gambill says his big game was bittersweet.
“It’s hard because we lost, so I can’t really celebrate it. But it felt good to show what I’m capable of doing,” he said.
Jerred Beniquez, UC’s receiver and return specialist, missed the last two games of the season due to an injury. Ultimately, his injury hurt the Pioneers chances of winning the final two games. Beniquez said it was tough watching two losses from the sideline.
“I never missed any games before now,” he said. “So it was something I had to humble myself to get through.”
Senior Greg Palmer and Alex DeRusso capped off their careers with great outings. Palmer finished with ten receptions for 129 yards and three touchdowns. DeRusso finished with five receptions for 89 yards. Both players reached the college’s top ten all-time list in receiving yards after their stellar season.
Linebacker Juwan Wilson had a great season as well, as he capped off the year with 14 tackles. Wilson finished his junior campaign with 117 tackles, just six tackles behind Anthony Venturino’s school-record of 123. Wilson is now fourth on UC’s all-time career tackles list with 237.
Senior Nick Woodman finished his career as the all-time record holder for sacks with 29.5, a mark that is likely to stand for a while unless the Pioneers come across a ruthless pass rusher of his nature in the near future.