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Saxons thump Utica, earn NCAA bid
11/14/09

ALFRED, NY — The Alfred University football team beat visiting Utica, 56-30, Saturday afternoon at Merrill Field, earning the Saxons a share of the Empire 8 Conference title and a bid to the NCAA Division III championship tournament.

Senior wide receiver/free safety Jared Manzer (Johnson City, NY/Johnson City) caught three touchdown passes and scored a fourth on an interception return, and sophomore quarterback Tom Secky (Bemus Point, NY/Maple Grove) threw for 369 yards and a school record-tying six touchdowns as AU finished the regular season with an 8-1 record (4-1 Empire 8).

The Saxons, whose only other NCAA appearance came in 1981, will find out Sunday afternoon who and where they’ll play in the tournament’s first round game, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 21. The NCAA will announce playoff pairings between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday; the selection show is will be broadcast live on ESPN News.

Alfred jumped on the visiting Pioneers early, scoring on its first three possessions. On the second play from scrimmage after receiving the opening kickoff, Secky connected with Manzer on a 74-yard scoring play to put Alfred up 7-0. The pair connected again on Alfred’s next possession, this time from seven yards, to cap 13-play 80-yard drive with 5:30 left in the first. The Saxons, who finished the day with 527 yards in offense, made it 21-0 with 2:09 left in the opening frame when sophomore linebacker Nick Clark (Canisteo, NY/Canisteo-Greenwood) bulled in from two yards out to end a five-play, 35-yard drive.

Utica got on the board with 50 seconds left in the first when Pioneer quarterback Andrew Benkwitt tossed a 31-yard scoring pass to wideout Joshua Mason. The Saxons took a 42-7 lead at the half by scoring three times in a six-minute span. Secky capped a six-play, 56-yard drive with a five-yard TD pass to junior tight end D.J. Loughlin-Pope (Corning, NY/Corning East) with 7:14 left in the half. On Utica’s next possession, Manzer intercepted Benkwitt at the AU 48-yard line and ran untouched into the endzone to put Alfred up by four touchdowns with 6:46 left. AU took a 42-7 halftime lead, courtesy of an 84-yard bomb from Secky to Manzer with 1:22 left before intermission.

Secky completed 16 of 26 passes for 369 yards and six touchdowns, tying the single-game record set by Paul Keeley in 2007. Manzer had a monster day, hauling in seven passes for 186 yards and three scores. He finished the day with 326 all-purpose yards and on defense had a tackle, two interceptions and a pass breakup.

Utica scored the first 10 points of the second half to make it 42-17. On the Pioneers’ opening possession of the third, Utica drove 25 yards before Casey McNulty booted a 33-yard field goal. On Utica’s next possession, Benkwitt capped a six-play 28-yard drive with a one-yard TD run. AU answered with a pair of touchdowns, the first coming with 6:09 left in the third on a 56-yard TD pass from Secky to senior tailback Vinson Hendrix (Rochester, NY/East). The Saxons made it 56-17 early in the fourth when Secky hit junior wideout Ryan Thon (Victor, NY/Victor) with an eight-yard TD pass to cap a 10-play, 81-yard drive. Utica (4-6, 0-5 Empire 8) scored a pair of touchdowns in the final minutes. Tailback Zach Jones scored on a one-yard run with 4:48 left and backup quarterback Jared Keyte tossed a two-yard scoring pass to wideout Keith Barone with 37 seconds left.

Hendrix ran for 99 yards on 26 carries, just missing out on his eighth 100-yard rushing game of the year. Senior wide receiver Milton Harding (Binghamton, NY/Johnson City) caught five passes for 104 yards and Thon finished with three catches for 45 yards.

AU held the Utica offense in check throughout most of the game, with the Pioneers producing nearly half of their 339 yards of offense in the fourth quarter. Benkwitt completed 21 of 40 passes for 214 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Mason caught seven passes for 100 yards and wide receiver Cody Elliot caught five for 52 yards. Jones rushed for 50 yards as the Pioneers were held to 72 yards on the ground.

Junior linebacker Chad Pieri (LeRoy, NY/Caledonia-Mumford) led the Saxon defense with five solo tackles, including a half-sack, while senior linebacker Marc Mangovski (Kirkville, NY/East Syracuse-Minoa) had five tackles, including two for loss and a sack. Sophomore cornerback Roland O’Brien (Hoosick Falls, NY/Hoosick Falls) and senior strong safety Nick Barton (South Glens Falls, NY/South Glens Falls) each had six tackles, with O’Brien adding a pair of pass breakups.

Linebacker Eric Kahl had a game-high 15 tackles (nine solo) to pace the Utica defense. Strong safety Terrell Cunningham had eight tackles and an interception and cornerback John White had an interception and broke up two passes.

Alfred will be appearing in the NCAA playoffs for the first time in nearly three decades. The Saxons’ only other appearance came in 1981, when Alfred went 10-0 in the regular season before losing at home in the tournament’s first round to Montclair State.