NCAA Football

Utica will play Susquehanna in the first round of the NCAA Football Championship on Saturday

Utica will play Susquehanna in the first round of the NCAA Football Championship on Saturday

Football | 11/18/2022 2:00:00 PM

UTICA, NY – The Utica University football team prepares for its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament when the team travels to Selinsgrove, Pa., at noon Saturday for a first-round game against the No. 11 Susquehanna University River Hawks.

Follow: Susquehanna will provide live video coverage as well as live statistics on

Last timeout: The team completed the best regular season in program history with a 35-21 win over the St. John’s University Cardinals on Saturday for their ninth win of 2022. In the afternoon, the Cardinals started the offense, but the Utica defense forced a three-and-out after three incomplete passes. The Pioneers started their first drive of the game at the Fisher 15-yard line after a Cardinals fumble. It took Utica just under four minutes before Braden Zenelovich connected with Joey Narre through the air for a free-play 25-yard touchdown after an offsides call on Fisher. The Pioneers went up 7-0 after Corey Lichtman made the PAT. On the sixth play of Fisher’s ensuing drive, Dan Amadi intercepted a pass and returned it to the Pioneers’ 48, giving Utica another field goal eight plays later for a 14-0 lead. The Pioneers jumped out to a 21-0 lead on Zenelovich’s second touchdown pass of the game at the 12:33 mark of the second quarter. Still, Fisher cut the deficit to 15 points after 10 plays, capped by a 78-yard drive for a four-yard touchdown. A point after would fall short to make it a 21-6 game in favor of the Pioneers. With 2:38 left in the first, the Cardinals took over at midfield after Utica turned the ball over on downs. Fisher came down the field in three plays and under one minute to score and cut the gap to 21-12. However, the Pioneers denied the Cardinals a two-point conversion attempt to stay ahead for two possessions. With less than one minute remaining in the first half, Zenelavich’s pass attempt was attempted at the Cardinals’ eight-yard line, sending the game into halftime with Utica up 21-12. Utica held the ball for 16:32 of the first half and also gained 182 yards of offense to Fisher’s 158. Zenelovich was 11-for-15 passing for 138 yards, two scores and an interception in the first half, while Travis Decker was the top receiver with four catches for 70 yards. The Pioneers’ offense regrouped coming out of the locker room as the team opened the third quarter with a five-play, 57-yard touchdown drive after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Fisher that started the Utica drive at the Pioneers’ 43. , Zenelovich and Nate Palmer connected for 43 yards through the air, while Decker scored his first touchdown of the game two plays from three yards out. Lichtman’s PAT extended Utica’s lead to 28-12. The rest of the third quarter was spent on defense. Fisher’s first drive of the second half ended with 6:39 left as the team marched 64 yards in 13 plays but eventually turned the ball over on downs. Utica’s second drive of the half was also a long one, nine plays and 44 yards before the team punted the ball behind the Cardinals’ 10-yard line. The Pioneers forced Fisher into another three-and-out to close out the third and enter the final 15 minutes with the ball at the Cardinals’ 40. However, Utica was forced to punt after three plays and -3 yards, while Fisher turned around and punted themselves on their next drive with 9:30 to play. The decision to punt on the team’s own 44 punts paid off as the punt went 55 yards and was downed to the Utica 1, leading to a safety on the Pioneers’ first play to make it 28-14. Playing safety, Fisher started with the ball on his own 24, looking to make it a one-pass game. The home team drove 71 yards in 11 plays and scored on 3rd-and-10 from the Utica 15 to close the gap to 28-21. However, the drive ate up more than 5:30 of the clock, giving the Pioneers the ball back at their own 25 with 3:57 to play. Utica ended the game with a historic throw from Zenelavich to Palmer. With 1:39 left in the game, Zenelovich dropped back and lofted one ball to Palmer, who was 27 yards into the end zone. Palmer came down with the ball and set a new program single-season record with his 16th touchdown reception of the year. The score also put the final nail in the contest as the Pioneers pulled away from Fisher with a 35-21 win in Week 11. On offense, Zenelavich completed 22-for-28 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns. Decker led the receivers with 88 yards on six catches and one score, while Palmer finished with four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. John Strawn dominated the defense with a career-high four sacks while leading the team with 12 tackles. Anthony Novello, Anthony McDonald, James Prestio and Amadi also each had seven or more tackles.

field: On Sunday, the NCAA Division III Football Committee announced the 32 teams for the 2022 NCAA Division III Football Championship. The committee selected the teams based on the results of the conference and competition in the respective region of the institution’s assessment. Twenty-seven conferences received automatic qualifying spots. The remaining five spots were awarded to teams from automatic qualifying conferences that did not win an automatic spot. The first round of the championship will be held on November 19 on the host institution’s campus or at an alternate site approved by the football committee. The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, the national championship game, will be played on Friday, December 16 at Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. The game airs live on ESPNU at 7 p.m

Conferences and teams that receive automatic qualification (27):

American Southwest Conference – Mary Hardin-Baylor
American Rivers Conference – Wartburg
Centennial Conference – Susquehanna
Illinois-Wisconsin College Conference – North Center (IL)
Endicott Commonwealth Coastal Conference
Eastern College Football Conference – Gallaudet
Empire 8 – SUNY Cortland
Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference – Mt. Saint Joseph
Liberty League – Ithaca
Massachusetts Collegiate Athletic Conference – Massachusetts Dartmouth
Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association – Alma
Mid-Atlantic Conference – Delaware Valley
Midwest Conference – Lake Forest
Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference – St. John’s (MN)
New England Conference Women’s and Men’s Athletics – Springfield
New Jersey Athletic Conference – Salisbury
North Coast Athletic Conference – DePauw
Northern Collegiate Athletic Conference – Aurora
Northwest Conference – Lynnfield
Ohio Athletic Conference – Mount Union
Old Dominion Athletic Conference – Randolph-Macon
Athletic Conference of Presidents – Carnegie Mellon
Southern Athletic Association – Trinity (TX)
Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference – Pomona-Pitzer
Upper Midwest Athletic Conference – Northwest St. Petersburg Paul
USA Southern Athletic Conference – Huntingdon
Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference – Wisconsin-Whitewater

Berths in Pool C (5):

(in alphabetical order)
Bethel (Minnesota)

Wheaton, Illinois
Wisconsin Lacrosse

How we got here: The Pioneers earned their first ever playoff bid after finishing the regular season 9-1 overall, the most wins in a single season in program history and a 5-1 record in Empire 8 play. 50 in Division III, averaging 35.1 points per game thanks to a top-30 passing attack. The team started the season 6-0, marking the best start in program history, and since falling to SUNY Cortland on Oct. 22, the team has gone 3-0 while the defense has held opponents to 18 points per game. The Pioneers finished fifth in the final Region 2 rankings, which were released Tuesday, and became the last team from the region to clinch a playoff spot.

Award Season: The Empire 8 announced its all-conference football selections for the 2022 season, with 14 Pioneers receiving more than 18 honors. Nate Palmer was the most honored of the group as he was named the E8 Offensive Player of the Year, was selected to the first team as a wide receiver and all-around player, and earned second team honors as a returner. Jimmy Warren also took home top honors as he was named the league’s co-defensive player of the year and was named to the team’s first line of defense. Braden Zenelavich (QB), John Strawn (DL) and Terrance Toussaint (DB) were second-team selections, while Matt Brantley (RB), John Aliberti (OL), Mike Kreuter (OL), Ryan Walker (OL), Anthony Novello ( OL). LB), Corey Lichtman (K), Jamel Smith (Returner) and Sam Florio (All-Purpose) were named to the Third Team. Darryl Savage was also the Utica Athlete of the Year. The Empire 8 Conference emphasizes that “Competing with Honor and Integrity” is an important component of the student-athlete experience in conjunction with the institution’s educational mission. Recipients of this award have distinguished themselves and consistently demonstrate the critical traits of outstanding athletes.

A duet for the ages: Even though they’ve only played 10 games against each other, Braden Zenelavich and Nate Palmer might be the best quarterback duo in program history. On one side of the equation, Palmer set single-season program records with 17 touchdowns and 1,222 yards; both marks also rank second in all of DIII. Zenelovich, on the other hand, leads the Empire 8 among quarterbacks with 2,643 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns and a 68.9 completion percentage, ranking in the top 15 nationally in each of those categories. Zenyalovic is also tied for second all-time in program history in a single season with 28 touchdowns, three shy of the record of 31, and fifth in receiving yards, just 500 yards shy of the program’s single-season record. He currently holds the program’s single-season mark for completion percentage as well as passing efficiency.

Strong finish: John Strawn finished his regular season by being named the Empire 8 Defensive Player of the Week Strawn was a force all day in Utica’s 35-21 win over St. John Fisher University on Saturday. The senior had team-highs of five solo tackles, seven assisted tackles, 12 total tackles, four sacks and four tackles for loss. After the game, Strawn moved up to third in the Empire 8 with 6.5 sacks on the season while also cracking the top 10 in the league in tackles for loss.

About Susquehanna: The Centennial Conference champion River Hawks enter the tournament 10-0 overall, while they are 9-0 in CC play. Susquehanna also enters postseason play as the top-ranked team in Region 2. The team finished the regular season ranked in the top 25 in scoring offense and defense nationally, averaging 40.2 points per game while the team’s defense allowed only 13.7. Michael Ruisch led the offense all season as the quarterback threw for 2,353 yards on 60.69 percent passing, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Four running backs have completed at least 40 attempts this season, but none more than Frankie Negrini, who leads the team with 569 yards on the ground on 133 attempts through eight games. Kyle Hawes leads the receiving corps after posting a team-high 47 receptions, 771 yards and nine scores this season. Defensively, the River Hawks’ core of John Nicosia, Drew Robinson and Garrett Carter are among the top three on the team in tackles and have combined for 8.5 of the team’s 29 sacks on the year. Susquehanna performed well in the ranks, ranking 34th in DIII in allowing 85.9 rushing yards per game as part of a unit that ranked 37th nationally in allowing 269 opposing rushing yards per game.

Next: The winner will advance to the second round of the NCAA Division III football tournament to face the winner of No. 2 Mount Union University and Salisbury University on Nov. 26.


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