Things went from bad to worse for the Union College football team Saturday night.
Not only were the Dutchmen dominated by Utica College, but they also lost their two starting wide receivers to injuries during a 45-17 setback on Frank Bailey Field.
Senior quarterback Andrew Benkwitt led a high-octane offense by completing 20 of 29 passes for 260 yards and five touchdown strikes, and tailback Jesse Baldassare added 134 yards rushing and another score to spark the 2-0 Pioneers.
Union struggled on both sides of the ball, as the Dutchmen turned the ball over three times and were whistled for 121 yards in penalties.
About the only bright spot for Union was the play of tailback T.J. Franzese, who rushed for 129 yards and scored a touchdown.
Union lost the services of starting receivers Jimmer Bennett and Chris Paolini early in the first quarter. Bennett, who caught seven passes for 172 yards in the season opener against Salve Regina, is likely out for the season with an ACL tear, while Paolini has a high ankle sprain that will limit his play for the next couple of weeks.
“We lost two starters early, and things kind of got out of hand,” said Union head coach John Audino. “We had a few bright spots, but we let the game get away from us. We made some bad turnovers, and we had a lot of penalties. Our young quarterback didn’t make great decisions tonight, and he should have stayed in the pocket a little more, but these are things you are going to face with inexperience.
“The thing is that you’ve got to keep the game competitive. We had our chances to do that, but we didn’t take advantage. We’ve got to keep our heads up, look at the game film and make some adjustments. We’re not as far along as I thought we were.”
Utica rolled up 486 yards in total offense and was equally effective through the air and on the ground.
“It’s all about our preparation,” said Benkwitt. “We stressed perfection in practice, and we strive to make as few mistakes as possible to give ourselves more of a chance to score. We have so many weapons on this team that if you try to take away one, we’ve got many more to take his place.”
Utica, which opened the season with a 40-6 rout of St. Lawrence, started slowly on its first possession, and Union surprised the Pioneers by throwing the ball early and often.
When Franzese busted up the middle for a 46-yard TD run late in the first quarter, the Dutchmen had a 7-0 lead.
But Utica bounced right back on its next possession when Benkwitt hit Jeremy Meier on a 28-yard post play to knot the score at 7-7. The score made Meier Utica’s all-time leading scorer with 110 career points.
When Ryan Hansen intercepted a Connor Eck pass on the next Union possession, Utica quickly took advantage with Benkwitt’s second TD strike of the night, this time to Matt Dunn for a 14-7 lead.
Union stayed in striking distance after Tosin Kazeem’s 27-yard field goal made it 14-10, but Utica outscored the Dutchmen, 31-7, the rest of the way.
Utica 7 21 14 3 — 45
Union 7 3 7 0 — 17
Union — Franzese 46 run (Kazeem kick).
Utica — Meier 28 pass from Benkwitt (Sommers kick).
Utica — Dunn 3 pass from Benkwitt (Sommers kick).
Union — Kazeem 27 FG.
Utica — Meier 6 pass from Benkwitt (Sommers kick).
Utica — Jandrew 1 pass from Benkwitt (Sommers kick).
Utica — Smith 36 pass from Benkwitt (Sommers kick).
Utica — Baldassare 1 run (Sommers kick).
Union — Reynolds 36 pass from Eck
Utica — Sommers 38 FG.
First downs 26 15
Rushes-yards 43-226 41-159
Passing yards 260 226
Comp-Att-Int. 20-29-0 14-26-1
Return yards 53 0
Fumbles-lost 2-2 2-2
Punts-avg. 2-38.5 3-39.0
Penalties-yards 5-31 7-121