Football suffers loss by hands of Utica Pioneers

Rensselaer drops to 2-3 on season following 38-28 defeat at East Campus Stadium, looks to rebound

SENIOR RUNNING BACK TJ STRUNK MANEUVERS around a Utica College defensive lineman during Saturday’s match against the Pioneers. Strunk had 15 receptions this game for a career-high of 111 yards.

RPI football cannot seem to catch a break this season. Just as the Engineers seem to gel together for a victory, another setback is waiting the following weekend. Rensselaer fell in a non-conference matchup with Utica College this past Saturday at the East Campus Stadium. The loss places RPI at 2-3 overall on the season, while the Utica Pioneers improved to 3-2.

Despite an impressive 429 total yards of offense for RPI, it wasn’t enough to overcome Utica’s 552—including 263 yards on the ground. Leading the way for the Pioneers were junior Jake Larson, who had 19 rushes for 173 yards and a touchdown, and sophomore Jesse Baldassare, who added 92 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-28 win.

The Engineers hit the scoreboard first off a play that saw junior wideout Austin Caswell run the ball 61 yards down to the Utica 19-yard line. Junior quarterback Mike Hermann capped off the rush by carrying the ball down to the eight-yard line and faking a hand-off to give RPI a 7-0 advantage at 6:13. That lead didn’t last for long, however, as the Pioneers responded with a touchdown at 10:42 of the second quarter, knotting the game at seven-all. Senior Utica cornerback Jon White then intercepted a Rensselaer pass to regain control of the ball and ran it 61 yards down the field. Coupled with a pair of penalties on the Engineers, Utica suddenly found itself on the RPI eight-yard line and wasted little time in making it a 14-7 match.

With 52 seconds remaining until halftime, the Engineers fought back to knot the game at 14. Hermann and sophomore Joe Cozzolino connected twice during the drive, including a five-yard touchdown pass. However, the Pioneers answered with a field goal with one second left on the clock to head into the locker room with a 17-14 lead.

Utica’s momentum carried into the second half, scoring another touchdown off the first drive of the third quarter. Junior Utica quarterback Andrew Benkwitt hit junior Matt Dunn for a four-yard touchdown pass to give the Pioneers a 10-point advantage.

Rensselaer pulled within three after a two-yard run from Hermann, but once again the score was quickly countered by another from the Pioneers. This time, Baldassare ran for 48 yards straight into the end zone to make it a 31-21 advantage with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Hermann was able to notch another seven points for the Engineers off a three-yard run for a touchdown, but Larson countered with a 62-yard touchdown run for the Pioneers, closing the game 38-28.

Benkwitt completed 22 of 34 passes for the Pioneers with no interceptions and two touchdowns. For Rensselaer, Hermann completed 15 of 25 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown. In addition, he carried the ball 23 times for a total of 99 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensively, senior Zach Scruggs and junior Matthew Day led RPI with 11 tackles each, while sophomore Zac Borelli posted 10 stops. Sophomore linebacker Dana Christofferson had 12 tackles for the Pioneers, including five solo.

The Engineers will have a week off before hitting the grid iron again on October 22 to close out their three-game home stand. Rensselaer faces St. Lawrence University in a Liberty League matchup beginning at 1 pm at ECAV. The game also marks Homecoming and Reunion Weekend at RPI.