The St. Lawrence University football team saw its two-game win streak come to an end on Saturday afternoon, as Utica College used an outstanding performance by quarterback Andrew Benkwitt en route to a 31-13 victory over the Saints at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium in Utica, NY.
The victory moves Utica to 5-1 (0-1) on the season. Meanwhile St. Lawrence falls to 2-4 overall, but with a Union loss at Hobart earlier on Saturday, the Saints now sit alone atop the Liberty League standings at 2-0.
Benkwitt was key in the Pioneers' win, as he threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns while completing 24-of-38 passes. He found Jeremy Meier nine times for 117 yards and a score, while completing six passes to Josh Mason for 124 yards as well. Senior quarterback JP Kearney was solid for St. Lawrence, completing 19-of-32 passes for 260 yards a touchdown to classmate Alcee Walker, but an interception on 2nd-and-goal in the red zone proved costly for the Saints' offense.
Neither team was able to score on its opening drive, though Utica threatened in the red zone but was eventually shut down on 4th-and-1 by the St. Lawrence defense. The Pioneers would rebound, however, on their second drive of the game, traveling 81 yards on 15 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Benkwitt kept the drive alive with an 11-yard rush on 3rd-and-8, while tailback Jake Scott did the rest. He chipped away at the Saints' defense, carrying the ball seven times on the driving including a 3-yard touchdown rush at 13:56 of the opening quarter. TJ Losowski added the extra point for a 7-0 cushion.
With St. Lawrence's offense unable to put points on the board, Benkwitt went back to work, and on 1st-and-10 from his own 33-yard line, he connected with Mason for a 66-yard gain to the Saints' 1-yard marker. Though Utica took a penalty, Benkwitt found Matt Dunn for a 4-yard score a few plays later, and Losowski's extra point try made it 14-0 Utica.
The Saints would respond the same way they did against Hobart last weekend, as they used a big play downfield to get back into the game. Kearney again targeted Walker, who hauled in his third touchdown in two games, this time from 49 yards to pull the visitors back to within a score at 14-6. Junior Matt Dodge's kick was blocked, keeping it an eight-point game.
Utica answered the call, as they went 8-plays and 55-yards in less than three minutes to build a 21-6 cushion before halftime. Benkwitt kept the drive sustained with a 15-yard completion to Mason to the St. Lawrence 17-yard line, and eventually found Jess St. Aubin on a 1-yard pass for the touchdown four plays later with only 54 seconds left in the half. Losowski again added the extra point.
St. Lawrence had quality scoring chances on each of its first two drives of the second half, but turnovers would haunt them and lead to a bigger Utica lead. After moving his team 69 yards down to the Utica 7-yard line, Kearney was picked off at the 1-yard line by Kody Parkhurst to end the drive. Then after the Saints defense forced a punt from the Pioneers, junior Marcus Washington had the ball knocked from his hands and the fumble was hauled in by the home team.
The back-to-back turnovers was simply too much for the Saints to undue, as Utica's offense used two long receptions to take a 28-6 lead. Benkwitt completed a pass to Andy Moth for 18-yards to the Saints' 43-yard line, and three plays later, connected with Meier for a 45 yard score at 9:37 of the third. Losowski added the extra point, which capped the third quarter scoring.
St. Lawrence would pull back to within two scores early in the fourth quarter behind a 6-play, 53-yard drive. An 18-yard completion from Kearney to junior Ethan Sutton kept the Saints in business, with Washington scoring the touchdown from 2-yards out with 11:31 remaining in regulation. Dodge's extra point was good this time, cutting Utica's lead to 28-13.
However, the Pioneers defense would force a turnover on downs on St. Lawrence's final possession, while Utica ran nearly 8:00 minutes off the clock with sustained drives to put the game away. Losowski connected on a 34-yard field goal at 7:33 of the fourth to cap the scoring at 31-13.
Scott finished with a game-high 67 yards on 17 carries, while Washington had 30 yards on 14 touches. Seven players had 20+ yards receiving for St. Lawrence, with Sutton leading the way with 59. Defensively, junior Trevor Saunders had a game-high 12 tackles while classmate Christian Bianchi and senior Ryan Fedo each added 10. Travis Ladd led Utica with 10 tackles, while both James Brain and Tracy Branch had 2.0 sacks each.
With the final non-conference game of the season in the books, St. Lawrence will turn its attention back to Liberty League play next weekend. The Saints will square off with Union in Schenectady, NY next Saturday, October 16 with first place in the conference in the balance. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00pm.