Courtesy of Utica College Sports Information Dept.
Utica, NY – The Utica College football team rallied from a 17 point deficit and scored 21 points in the final 6:35 of the contest to earn a thrilling 34-30 victory over nationally-ranked No. 18 Ohio Northern University in the home opener for the Pioneers at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium Saturday.
Utica improved to 2-0 on the year and will now open up a string of eight straight Empire 8 Conference games, beginning next Saturday at Morrisville State (7 p.m.). Ohio Northern, who made an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Division III Championships last season, dropped to 0-1 on the season.
With the Pioneers trailing 30-13, sophomore defensive back Matt Stone (Rochester, NY/Brighton) got the rally started when he picked off a deflected pass, from Ohio Northern’s Will Freed, and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown to bring the Pioneers to within ten points, 30-20, with 6:35 remaining in regulation. Stone’s 83 yard interception return is the third longest in program-history.
The Utica defense then forced a punt on the Polar Bear’s ensuing possession to give UC senior quarterback Teddy VanGalen (Clifton Park, NY/Shenendehowa) and the Pioneers the ball with 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. VanGalen engineered a 10-play 80 yard scoring drive in the next 2:50 of play to bring the Pioneers to within three points, 30-27, with 1:40 remaining on the game clock. VanGalen connected with junior wide receiver Shawn Marchant (Kingston, NY/Kingston) on a 25 yard touchdown throw to cap the drive.
The UC defense once again came up big and forced a punt to give the Pioneers one last chance with 1:16 left on the game clock. VanGalen connected with Marchant on a big 29 yard completion to give Utica a first down on Ohio Northern’s 20 yard line. Then the Pioneers benefited from a pass interference call in the end zone to earn a first and 10 opportunity at the ten yard line with less than a minute to go in regulation. UC capped the game-winning drive when VanGalen connect with Marchant once again for a six yard touchdown pass to seal the come from behind victory with 14 seconds left on the game clock.
Ohio Northern had once last chance and threw a hail mary into the end zone as time expired, but the pass was called incomplete by the officials and the final horn sounded with the Pioneers ahead, 34-30.
Utica’s Teddy VanGalen (Clifton Park, NY/Shenendehowa) finished the day with 22 completions for 298 yards and three touchdowns, while Shawn Marchant (Kingston, NY/Kingston) caught five balls for 84 yards, including two touchdown catches in the final 1:43 of the contest. UC’s Jerred Beniquez (Port Ewen, NY/Kingston) caught a team-best six balls for 79 yards, while Imani Vincent (Brooklyn, NY/Sheepshead Bay) posted four grabs for 60 yards and a second quarter touchdown.
The first quarter was relatively quiet and Ohio Northern earned a 3-0 lead after Joe French drilled a 42 yard field goal with 3:20 to go in the first.
ONU outscored Utica 10-3 in the first 10:15 of the second quarter to earn a 13-3 advantage with 4:45 to go before the half. Christiaan Williams started things early in the second quarter with a four yard touchdown run. Utica answered as freshman kicker Desmond Akpanoko (Roosevelt, NY/Roosevelt) hit a 30 yard field goal to make it a seven point ball game, 10-3. Ohio Northern’s Joe French then drilled his second of three field goals on the day with 4:45 to go in the second quarter to make the score 13-3.
Before the close of the first half, UC quarterback Teddy VanGalen (Clifton Park, NY/Shenendehowa)connected with receiver Imani Vincent (Brooklyn, NY/Sheepshead Bay) on a 30 yard touchdown pass to send the contest into the half with the score set at 13-10 in favor of the Polar Bears.
ONU came out hot in the second half and pushed its lead to 23-10 after another field goal by French and a three yard touchdown run by Chad Rex.
The Pioneers opened the fourth quarter with a field goal from the foot of Akpanoko, from 35 yards out, to make the score 23-13 with 14:55 left in regulation. Akpanoko is now 3-for-3 in field goal attempts this season and he has also connected on nine extra points in two games.
ONU sophomore quarterback Will Freed completed a five yard touchdown pass to Logan Ray with 13:14 remaining in regulation to give the Polar Bears a 30-13 lead before the Pioneers made their final rally.
Utica’s Juwan Wilson (South Ozone Park, NY/Holy Cross) led the Pioneer defense with nine tackles and he now needs 13 more to move into third place on the College’s all-time list. Anthony Bierria-Anderson(Freeport, NY/Freeport) made eight tackles for the Pioneers, while junior Derrick Sekuterski (Depew, NY/Depew) added seven tackles and a half sack. Dehstin Smart (Paterson, NJ/Hackensack) picked up six tackles and sophomore defensive lineman Xyier Woodard (Albany, NY/LaSalle) posted a career-high 1.5 sacks on the afternoon.
Ohio Northern controlled the ground game and finished with 36 carries for 204 yards rushing. Freshman running back Christiaan Williams opened his career with a bang as he posted 175 yards rushing and a touchdown on 24 carries for ONU. Will Freed completed 21 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown on the afternoon.
ONU’s Zach Schmerge led the Polar Bears with ten tackles and he also forced a fumble. Scott Rapps added eight tackles and broke up three passes on the afternoon.
With the victory, the Pioneers avenged last season’s 29-22 loss at Ohio Northern … The last time Utica defeated a nationally-ranked team was on homecoming at Gaetano Stadium last season when the Pioneers knocked off #17 Ithaca College 30-27 in overtime on October 3, 2015 … Senior running backRyan Burnett (Mount Vernon, NY/Arch Bishop Stepinac) carried the ball eight times for 40 yards and moved into fifth on the College’s all-time list with 931 career rushing yards … Beniquez totaled 114 all-purpose yards and now needs 49 all-purpose yards to move into second on the College’s career all-purpose yards list.