Soccer | 09/17/2022 16:49:00
SPRINGFIELD, MASS. – In a hotly contested game, special teams can make a big difference. This statement is especially true in a difficult road game. Kicker Corey Lichtman scored three field goals through the uprights, and the Pioneers made two key saves inside their own ten-yard line defensively to provide enough leverage to prevail in a tight game. The Pioneers resisted a return bid from host Western New England to win by a score of 23-21 in a non-conference football game at Golden Bear Stadium in Western New England.
The Pioneers win their first road game of the year to advance to 3-0. West New England falls to 1-2.
It was a largely even-handed affair with two balanced offenses. Western New England held a 425-397 advantage in total offensive yards, including a 264-238 advantage in passing yards and a 161-159 rushing advantage. The Pioneers held the ball for 33:21 and forced the home team to return the ball three times.
Quarterback Braeden Zenelovic completed 16 of 27 passes for the Pioneers for 238 yards and a touchdown to Nate Palmer. Palmer finished his day with 124 yards on six catches, including five in the first half. Senior wideout Travis Decker had three catches for 44 yards, while second-year tight end Tyler Kolenda had three catches for 33 yards. Utica’s rushing offense was led by Matt Brantley’s 87 yards on just ten carries.
Senior defensive end Jimmie Warren led the Utica defense with thirteen total tackles, senior linebacker Anthony Fasano added ten to his name to go with a sack, and Terrance Toussaint added nine to go with an impressive breaking three passes and a forced fumble. The defense limited Western New England to just eighteen successful passes from thirty-eight attempts.
Lichtman’s 50-yard kick tied the school mark set by Denis Avdic in a 2009 win at Anna Maria College. The five longest field goals in program history have all been scored in road games. At the start of Saturday’s action, Lichtman’s kick would be the third longest in the nation so far this season.
Western New England was led by a 92-yard receiving game from De’Andre Harris and a pair of touchdowns from Dillon Kohl.
Neither team collected a first down until the fourth set of the game, when the home team struck first on the scoreboard. The Golden Bears headed to Utica 6, but it was certainly a bumpy ride for the home side. As the Pioneers blocked the West New England receiving body, the home offense faced a fourth situation at the Utica 37-yard line. Millerick managed to bail out his team with a 27-yard rush to the Pioneer 10. However, Utica had the last laugh defensively by holding off Western New England to an uninspired 23-yard field goal. Anthony Novello had a key save with an open field tackle on third down, while Terrance Toussaint and James Prastio interrupted passes before Millerick’s improvised trot.
With the defense generating a last-ditch save, the Pioneers turned that energy to their offense. Zenelovic set the score on a four-play, 59-yard drive with a 53-yard heave down the right side of Palmer, who was wrapped just short of the goal line. Two plays later, it was Zenelovic with his first touchdown in Utica colors. Corey Lichtman’s kick was on target for a 7-3 lead over Pioneer with 3:32 left in the first quarter.
Utica’s defense hit a three-and-out and put the ball back in the hands of the visitors with about two minutes left in the first quarter. The Pioneers fought their way through midfield and overcame an untimely penalty to set up their field goal unit at Western New England 33 for a historic field goal attempt. Lichtman drilled a 50-yard field goal to tie a thirteen-year school record and put the Pioneers ahead 10-3.
Special teams came through in the next series to ensure Utica stayed ahead. In game eight of the next series, Millerick hit Dillon Kohl through the air on a 55-yard connection for the Golden Bears to pull the score to a 10-9 Utica advantage. Jamel Smith blocked the extra point try for the Pioneers to hold onto that one-point lead with 9:48 left in the half.
The Zenelovic-Palmer connection delivered again with 6:58 to go before halftime. Utica set up their next score with a 41-yard pass to Palmer to land on the edge of the red zone. Brantley had 11 total yards on the next two rushing plays, and Sam Florio added a rushing yard to score Utica just outside the home 10-yard line. Zenelovic took advantage of the forward position with an 11-yard ball to Palmer on an inside tilt for the score, and the kick was good for a 17-9 lead.
The defense dug in to stay firm on a three-and-out, with the Golden Bear punt lined up in midfield. The Pioneers converted field position into more points. After a near miss on a pass from Zenelovic to a wide open Brantley at the front of the end zone, the Pioneers called on Lichtman for a successful 32-yard field goal try that extended the Pioneers lead to 20-9 with 4:01 on the second quarter clock.
The Golden Bears embarked on an enterprising campaign without a huddle to close out the half. From their own 25-yard line, the home team marched to the Utica 28 before biting off more than they could chew on offense. Veteran defensive back Dan Amady landed a massive interception on Utica’s two-yard line and brought it down to his own 32 to give some breathing room and help the Pioneers hold on to their 20-9 lead at halftime. -time. Utica ended its last series of the half with an interception as time expired.
Utica led Western New England by a 215-178 margin in total yards at the break. Nate Palmer had five catches for 111 yards and a touchdown in two quarters to secure a third straight 100-yard receiving game to open the season. John Stroughn had a team-best five tackles.
Another huge goal line position by the Utica defense set the tone to start the second half. Karstetter led the way for West New England on a pass-heavy drive that hit the Utica 6-yard line. On a fourth down and situation from that spot on the court, Daryl Savage and Jimmie Warren finished Millerick with no gain to get a massive turnover on downs in a tight spot.
The Western New England defense made a big play in ensuing practice to keep the Pioneers from drifting away. Fueled by a 46-yard run from Matt Brantley, the Pioneers used a well-calculated and diverse mix of running plays to get home 30. With the yardage coming in big chunks, the visiting team tried to make a statement reaching into their bag of tricks, but Palmer’s pass attempt was intercepted inside the WNEU’s 5-yard line to get the home team out of a traffic jam.
The teams traded punts in their next two series to end the third quarter scoreless. As the fourth quarter opened, the home team took advantage of the lull to shoot within a touchdown. The Golden Bears finished a seven-play, 71-yard drive with a 26-yard rushing touchdown from Dillon Kohl. The two-point conversion try was intercepted and Western New England cut their deficit to 20-15 with just under a quarter remaining.
Utica inherited the ball and started a time-consuming streak for their first possession of the fourth. The Blue and Orange chewed up nearly seven minutes on a fourteen, 62-yard play, and took a 23-15 lead on a 26-yard field goal from Lichtman with 7:50 left.
The Western New England offense used a long stretch of sideline time to their advantage, as they responded with a frantic touchdown to shoot within two runs. On the sixth play of a 72-yard drive, Karstetter connected with De’Andre Harris on a 43-yard pass. Terrance Toussaint forced Harris to fumble, leaving the ball for West New England’s AJ Hall to recover and score the touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion try would have tied the game, but the pass fell through and Utica held on to a 23-21 lead with 6:18 to go.
The Pioneers forced a turnover on the downs on West New England’s final possession and ran out of time to secure the non-conference road victory. Utica’s next game is at Union on Saturday, September 24.
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