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Utica University football team finishes season 10-2

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
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Posted 11/28/22

The Utica University football team’s run is over.

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Utica University football team finishes season 10-2


The Utica University football team’s run is over.

Following an impressive win in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs, the Pioneers good fortune didn’t carry over into the second round against the talented No. 2-ranked Mount Union squad.

Undefeated Mount Union, a perennial power at the Division III level, limited Utica’s offense for most of Saturday’s affair while scoring on five of its first six possessions en route to a lopsided 45-7 victory in Alliance, Ohio.

With the result, Utica closes its most successful season record-wise with a 10-2 mark. The 10 wins are a program-record. It was the first time Utica was part of the 32-team Division III playoffs after earning an at-large bid under longtime coach Blaise Faggiano.

On Saturday, Deandre Parker ran for two touchdowns and Wayne Ruby Jr. caught two touchdown passes from Braxton Plunk (three touchdown passes, 275 yards) to lead Mount Union (12-0). The team outgained Utica 566-317.

Utica’s first drive ended in an interception and Mount Union scored on its ensuing drive before building a 24-0 lead at halftime. Utica was limited to 79 total yards in the first half while Mount Union had 211.

Mount Union extended it to a 45-0 lead until Utica broke up the shutout with a touchdown in the fourth quarter on senior transfer Braeden Zenelovic’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Kolenda.

It was a tough afternoon for the Utica offense, for the most part. Zenelovic was picked off a total of three times — he had six interceptions in the previous 11 games — and Utica was forced to punt six times. All three of Mount Union’s interceptions led to touchdowns.

Mount Union’s defense capped its efforts by stuffing the Pioneers on four consecutive plays with the ball on the Purple Raiders’ one-yard line late in the fourth quarter.

The Purple Raiders racked up nine tackles for loss and four sacks, limiting Utica to 16 rushing yards. 

For the second time in as many weeks, Zenelovic threw a season-most 47 passes. He completed 25 for 301 yards. The output gave him 3,207 yards, which is a single-season record. That surpasses Andrew Benkwitt’s mark of 3,143, which was set in 2012.

Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist and Vernon-Verona-Sherrill grad Nate Palmer finished Saturday’s game with 43 yards on nine catches and 17 targets. He finished the season with 1,291, which is also a single-season record. He surpassed former Rome Free Academy standout Jeremy Meier’s mark of 1,212 set in 2012. Palmer finished with 18 receiving touchdowns, which previously surpasses Meier’s mark of 15.

Fellow VVS grad Travis Decker led the Pioneers with 92 yards on six receptions. He finished the season with 651 yards receiving.


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