Soccer | 03/09/2022 22:44:00
UTICA, NY- In a game that sometimes felt like an old-school fight, the University of Utica football team rose up and took control. Down 21-7 on three long rushing scores in the first half, the Pioneers responded with an unanswered 22-point streak between the second and third quarters to take the lead, and pulled away with two more touchdowns in the final 16:53 of play. as they outscored visiting University of Rochester by a score of 43-28 in the 5th Annual New York State Tool Believe Bowl at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium.
Utica takes the non-conference win 1-0, while Rochester falls to 0-1. The game was the first meeting between the two teams in 22 years of college football at Utica.
The win was Utica’s fourteenth straight season opener, and the program improved to 4-1 in Believe Bowl existence, with four straight wins on their ledger. The Believe Bowl is a benefit game played on behalf of the Believe 271 Foundation, Thea Bowman House and the American Cancer Society.
Graduate wide receiver Nate Palmer had the most explosive game of his college career to lead the way for Utica. He had eight catches for 222 yards and four touchdowns. His 222 yards were a career high and ranks second in receiving yards by a player in a single game in program history. It was only the fourth 200-yard receiving game in program history, and his four trips to the end zone tied the program record for touchdowns taken in a game. Palmer also threw a two-point conversion pass. Joey Nare played a great possession receiving game with six catches for 42 yards, and local product Travis Decker contributed 34 yards.
Two different quarterbacks threw touchdowns to Palmer. Braeden Zenelovic completed 18 of 27 passes on the night for 239 yards and three touchdowns, all to Palmer. It was his first college win as a starter. Brendan Belott completed his two passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore James Salles was Utica’s top rusher, racking up 65 net yards on fourteen carries. Matt Brantley had two quick scores out of the Utica backfield.
On defense, Anthony McDonald had a team-best ten tackles, while James Prastio had nine with a forced fumble. Dan Amady, Anthony Novello and Jimmie Warren each broke a pass. John Stroughn and Warren each had a sack from the quarterback during the contest.
Rochester held the lead on total offense, 533-496. That was fueled by a 422-165 rushing yard advantage, with running back Daniel Papantonis going for a school-record 309 yards on 18 carries, while scoring four touchdowns. Utica had a 331-111 seismic advantage in yards through the air.
The Pioneers played no-turnover football on the night, while fabricating a fumble recovery and three turnovers on downs by the Yellowjackets.
On special teams, Matt Brantley and James Salles combined for 130 return yards.
Rochester had plans for a strong start, and it showed from the start. On the opening play from the scrimmage, Jackets running back Daniel Papantonis took over on a perimeter run play and bolted the near side of the gridline for 92 yards. The kick was good and the Jackets were leading 7-0 after just 29 seconds.
The Pioneers took advantage of a second chance generated by their defense to offer a response in attack. After the Pioneers were forced into their first offensive series, the ball got back into their hands on a timely turnover in the first game of practice. After Rochester running back Will Varney sprinted second level along the left sharp, linebacker James Prastio knocked him down and stripped the ball. The fumble was picked up at the Rochester 49-yard line by Jamel Smith, and Utica resumed action.
Two plays later, Nate Palmer took a pass from Braeden Zenelovic and showed some serious power as he sprinted down the left side for 41 yards. Corey Lichtman delivered on the PAT to tie the score at 7 with 9:24 left in the quarter. The touchdown throw was Zenelovic’s first as a trailblazer.
The big games continued to put Rochester back on top. On the opener of their next series, Papantonis broke out for another huge run, this time for 88 yards, to get the Yellowjackets a second touchdown on just their fifth offensive play. The kick was on target for a 14-7 lead with 9:05 to go in the first frame.
With 6:15 to go in the first quarter, Papantonis struck again for the visiting team. This time, the visiting function fullback scored from 44 yards to cap a three-game drive and give Rochester a 21-7 lead that remained until the end of the quarter.
The scoring pace slowed to open the second quarter, but when the goal line reopened, the Pioneers were waiting at the gate with 6:45 left before the break. Led by Zenelovic under center, Utica sliced through the visiting defense on a five-play, 52-yard run in just 1:35. The practice was punctuated by Zenelovic finding Palmer in the middle at 19 yards for their second touchdown connection of the contest. The point after took a wayward turn on a ball snap, but Nate Palmer was able to collect the ball and throw it to Logan Kraft for the improvised two-point conversion that cut the deficit to 21-15.
With the defense set up in the flow of play and the Jackets’ big-play offense contained, the Pioneers continued their rally in the final minute of the first half to jump into the driver’s seat. The offense engineered a 10-play, 67-yard drive that lasted 2:05, capped by an electrifying 14-yard touchdown run by Matt Brantley. Brantley had a one-on-one clash as he swung to the right edge, bounced off the would-be tackler and went the distance on his first career touchdown. The kick was good and Utica took a 22-21 halftime lead.
Fueled by their big plays, Rochester held on to the halftime lead in total yards, 327-236 and 311-76 in rushing offense. The Pioneers, however, were significantly more balanced. While holding a 160-16 advantage in passing yards, the Pioneers also had a solid 76 rushing yards at halftime as they rallied to their one-point advantage.
Utica’s offense kept up the good times to start the third quarter, with a methodical and professional scoring campaign to set the tone. A 70-yard drive ended with a highlight reel play of a familiar scoring connection that put the Gaetano Stadium crowd on their feet.
In the seventh game of practice, Zenelovic showed incredible composure to pick up his third assist score of the game. With the ball spotted at the Jackets 39-yard line, Zenelovic backed up to pass and had a rapidly collapsing pocket. He was hammered by the defender, but hung on to deliver an extremely accurate ball to Palmer on the goal line for a field goal and a Pioneer touchdown. The kick was good and the Pioneers took a 29-21 lead. The offense erased 3:04 from the board on the drive.
Papantonis returned to the scoreboard for his fourth score on the ground before the end of the quarter to reduce Rochester’s deficit to just one point. He wrapped up a time-consuming 7:33 drive with 17 yards out, and the kick was on target to make it 29-28 with 4:18 left in the third.
A quarterback trade in midfield on Utica’s next practice brought another touchdown, with Palmer for the ride. The Pioneers entered just inside Rochester territory on a personal foul flag, and quarterback Brendan Belott found Palmer for his second career touchdown pass on the Utica varsity team from a distance of 48 meters. The Pioneers needed only three plays to find the series end zone. Utica led 36-28 until the end of the third quarter. Belott has had touchdown passes in back-to-back games after throwing one while attending Utica’s ECAC Bowl last season.
Rochester tried to recover early in the fourth, but had to settle for a 44-yard field goal attempt that landed short.
The Pioneers made the visiting team pay for the failure, as they went 9 plays, 77 yards, ending in Brantley’s second rushing score with 5:48 left. That touchdown put Utica up 43-28 and the home side held that lead until the final whistle.
An early season homestand continues next week as Utica hosts Kean University on Saturday, September 10. This match is scheduled for a kick off at noon.