Utica hopeful to close out season strong after a 5OT loss

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source: wibx950.com

Zach Thomann, Sports Editor

Utica College football has a competitive history with St. John Fisher College, and this year’s matchup was one that Pioneer head coach Blaise Faggiano and fans in attendance will never forget.

Utica forced the game into overtime, and with quality field goal units from both teams the game stretched to a fifth overtime before St. John Fisher came out on top 39-36.

The Pioneers faced an 18-9 fourth quarter deficit and rallied back with six minutes left in regulation. The comeback began with a safety, and the ensuing possession led to an 11 yard touchdown pass from sophomore Vinny Aloi to classmate Donovan Brunson.

Faggiano loved the team’s resilience but thinks that it was a game the Pioneers should have won.

“We’re a good football team,” Faggiano said. “But we have to stop the penalties and mental mistakes.”

Utica dominated St. John Fisher in total yards 411-267 with the Cardinals only getting 26 passing yards and 15 first downs. St. John Fisher made up for their lack in offense by beating the Pioneers in penalty yards. The Cardinals’s 86 penalty yards were substantially lower than Utica’s 133, which is something Faggiano emphasizes that the team needs to work on.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Faggiano said. “Especially when you dominate a team like we did.”

The Pioneers played from behind the entire second half, partly due to a punt return touchdown from Cardinal freshman Johnathan Letta with 12 seconds left in the second quarter.

Utica was happy to force overtime, according to Faggiano, but the mental mistakes like the punt return from Letta is what Utica defensive coordinator William Pluff will look back on to rectify the loss.

“I try to see what mistakes could have been corrected in regulation to prevent an overtime,” Pluff said. “I like to prepare for overtime, but the game is played in four quarters.”

The Pioneers traded field goals in overtime with freshman kicker Maki Medici tying the Utica school record of five. He was able to keep Utica’s hopes alive with a career-long 39 yard field goal in the fifth overtime, but the Cardinals responded with a touchdown by senior James Chambers on a 10 yard run to end the game.

Pluff realizes that it was a tough loss for the players but knows they will come back motivated.

“Regardless of what happens on Saturdays, our guys show up to Sunday’s practices ready to work,” Pluff said.

This is not the first time Utica played in a multiple overtime game. Pluff recalls his first season as a coach in 2007 where the Pioneers and Hartwick College went into four overtimes. Utica ended up losing the game 72-70, which still holds the record for most combined points scored in a Division III game.

The experience in 2007, and this year’s overtime game is something that Pluff believes will help him in the future.

“Games like this challenge you to be at your best, especially on defense because the field is shortened,” Pluff said.

Utica bounced back with a 34-12 victory against SUNY Buffalo State this past weekend and looks to keep up its winning ways against Ithaca College on Saturday when they play in the New York State Tool Believe Bowl at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium at 1 p.m.

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