UTICA -- Utica College senior quarterback Andrew Benkwitt was 20-for-36 passing for 355 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Pioneers to a 40-7 victory over St. Lawrence University on Saturday under the lights in front of 2,560 fans at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium.
The Pioneers (1-0) scored on four consecutive drives to jump out to a big first half lead en route to the win, while the Saints (0-1) struggled to find a rhythm on offense and to stop Benkwitt's crew on defense without senior captain Oraene Morgan.
"They're an extremely talented team with an elite quarterback," said St. Lawrence head coach Mark Raymond. "We didn't perform to our ability and committed too many penalties. We'll take the experience we gained tonight and start preparing for Norwich."
Utica finished with a 508-206 advantage in total offense, while the Saints were haunted by 14 penalties throughout the game.
First-year student Rajiv Heron had an impressive outing in his first collegiate contest, posting a game-high 2.5 sacks and five total tackles. Utica's Mike Cottle was the game's leading rusher with 69 yards on 10 carries, while both Jeremy Meier and pre-season All-American Matt Dunn went over 100 yards receiving for the Pioneers. First-year student Miles Crump, who scored the only St. Lawrence touchdown, finished with 92 yards on four catches.
St. Lawrence's offense came out of the gate well, with junior Zane Fish under center in his first collegiate start. Fish generated a 68-yard drive down to the Utica 6-yard line including a 26-yard completion to junior Mike Tateosian. However, the Saints came up short on 4th-and-inches to give the ball to Benkwitt deep in Utica territory.
The defensive stop gave Benkwitt the ball in a scoreless game, and the quarterback marched his team 94 yards in seven plays to put the home team on top, 6-0, at 10:24 of the first quarter. Dunn hauled in the 6-yard pass to cap the scoring drive.
That turn of events began a tough stretch for the Scarlet and Brown, as Utica rattled off four touchdowns to take a 27-0 lead deep into the first half. St. Lawrence would get on the scoreboard with 4:27 left in the second quarter, when Fish used play-action to hook up with first-year student Miles Crump deep down the right sideline. After the completion, the wide receiver showed his speed, as he raced to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown catch. Senior Chris Dris added the extra point to make it 27-7.
A sack by Heron in the final minute of the first half seemed to give the Saints momentum. However, on 3rd-and-15 at the Saints' 31, Benkwitt connected with Dunn over the middle for a back-breaking touchdown with a mere :26 left in the half. Thomas Woodburn added the extra point to cap the half's scoring at 34-7.
Utica would keep rolling on the opening drive of the second half, as Benkwitt and the Pioneers marched 63 yards in eight plays for a touchdown drive to make it 40-7. A 30-yard completion to Dakota Peel gave Utica's offense 1st-and-goal, and Benkwitt would find Jamie Murphy for a three yard score to open the third quarter.
The Saints had a few chances throughout the second half to cut into the deficit, but turnovers and penalties plagued them throughout. Their best chance came on the opening possession of the fourth quarter, as Fish found sophomore tight end Maxwell Johnson down to the Utica 9-yard line. However, a penalty was followed by an interception at the goal line by Utica's Xavier Richardson, ending St. Lawrence's scoring bid.
Fish finished 11-of-20 passing for 206 yards and a touchdown, but was hampered by three interceptions. He also added 36 yards on the ground to finish as his team's leading rusher. Junior Keith Goode Jr. had the lone St. Lawrence interception of Benkwitt in the second quarter.
St. Lawrence will look to rebound next weekend at the 2012 home opener, when the team hosts the Cadets of Norwich University at 1:00pm. The Saints will celebrate "Tribute to the Troops," as they recognize the servicemen and women in the United States military, including those at Fort Drum in Watertown, NY. The Saints will wear commemorative camouflage uniforms, and fundraisers will be held with all proceeds benefitting injured soldiers at Fort Drum.