Believe Bowl: Pioneers trample Mustangs in defensive battle


Jeff Pexton

Tight End Tobey Callender’s career game helped propel the Pioneers over the Mustangs 20-3.

Robert Stevens, Sports Contributor

James Salles ran for 121 yards while scoring the final touchdown for the Pioneers. Sonny Badyna threw for 211 yards and two more scores en route to their 20-3 victory over the Mustangs on Oct. 30 during the fourth annual New York State Tool Believe Bowl.

Utica (5-3, 2-2 E8) entered the game coming off a two-game losing streak in desperate need to find their way back into the win column. Looking to avenge their last three matchups against Morrisville, the Pioneers used a plethora of tricks in this defensive matchup.

“I think our run defense is very good,” head coach Blaise Faggiano said. “We kind of figured they had to throw the ball. Once we get ahead a few scores, we’re in a good place. We had guys that hadn’t played before that stepped up and played a lot today.”

Morrisville (1-7, 0-4 E8) find themselves in a difficult situation after their seventh loss of the season. Coming into this game losers in their previous three games against Empire 8 opponents and being eliminated from postseason contention, the Mustangs couldn’t swing together a scoring drive after their first one ended in a field goal.

Out of the gates swinging

The game opened with Morrisville picking the Pioneers slowly apart. On an eight minute ground pound 16 play, 81-yard drive, the Mustangs kept the Pioneers on their heels early. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, things stalled out once they entered the redzone. After only gaining four more yards once they entered the 10-yard line, the Mustangs had to settle for three off the foot of Owen Cole.

“I’ll give some credit to their offensive coordinator and former coach here at Utica, Matt Rogers, who put in a lot of time and effort,” Faggiano said. “He had some nice play calls in there and did some different things we weren’t expecting.”

Running through the trenches

Entering the game, the Pioneers had been struggling to become multi-dimensional on offense, having the sixth ranked rushing offense in the Empire 8. Plagued by injuries at the running back position, Salles, a freshman, showed just how bright of a future he has as a Pioneer. Averaging 3.9 yards per carry in 31 attempts, Salles demonstrated premiere ball vision and patience from the backfield despite changes to the offensive line just before kickoff.

“We made some moves on the offensive line with starting Jihad Burroughs at right tackle for his first collegiate start and overall just moved guys around,” Faggiano said. “Those guys did a great job with that and it was the first time that group played together in those positions. James Salles continues to do a really good job running the ball for us. He’s got good vision and makes great cuts.”

Mustang MVPs

Despite the tough loss for the Mustangs, the running game was still successful overall despite not living up to their standards. Alex McBurnie led the way for the Mustangs with his 11 attempts for 44 yards. Steven Frerichs got his first start this week against the Pioneers where he showed nothing but grit and determination. As a dual threat, McBurnie had 59 yards running the ball outside of sacks and won over the fans with his toughness. 

Getting more involved

With the Pioneers down 3-0 in the first quarter after back-to-back 3 and outs, they looked in the direction of the tight ends, a position that hasn’t been utilized much this season. After a combination of run and pass to get the Pioneers on the 11-yard line, Badyna rolled out, planted his feet, and delivered a strike in the middle of the endzone to Tobey Callendar for his first touchdown of the season. He finished with a career high five receptions for 56 yards.

“What was great today was seeing our tight ends more involved both in the run and pass game,” Faggiano said. “They had big days for us and Tobey had a ton of catches so I was really happy with those guys.”

The takeaway

Utica: The Pioneers get a must win at home in order to give them a shot at home postseason play. With just one win from being bowl eligible, Utica definitely found its stride again offensively in the run game. Salles continues to show he deserves to be the starting running back. It is a good sign having the tight ends more involved which gives Badyna more options. Overall, this team is sound defensively each week. Now, they just have to be consistent offensively with two tough matchups ahead.

Morrisville: The Mustangs have something at quarterback with Frerichs. He is tough and makes plays when you need it. They need to fix their wide receivers. Frerichs finished 7 of 29 but at least a dozen were open drops by his receivers. Potentially a factor of the wind, but he delivered good balls. Defensively, the Mustangs are solid holding the Pioneers to 320 yards and just 3 for 5 in the red zone. 

Up next

Utica travels to Alfred University on Saturday, Nov. 6. The game starts at 1 p.m.