ONEONTA _ If the best defense is a good offense, the Hartwick College football team will be just fine this season.
Reigning Melberger Award winner Jason Boltus started his senior season with a program record-tying seven touchdown passes _ six to classmate Jack Phelan _ as the Hawks rolled to a 63-37 homecoming rout of non-conference foe Western New England on a rainy Saturday at Wright Stadium.
"They put a lot of man-to-man defense on us, so we took advantage of that," said Phelan, who finished with game-highs of 13 catches and 289 receiving yards in helping the Hawks avenge a 48-21 season-opening loss at WNE last fall. "By halftime, I thought maybe I'd see some doubles or at least some zone or something, but they did it all game long. I was really surprised. At the end they started doubling a little bit, but by then, we were up 30 points."
Unatego graduate Tosh DeMulder, the 2003 Daily Star Player of the Year, got Hartwick off to a solid start by returning the opening kickoff to the Golden Bears' 34-yard line. Boltus, who passed for a game-high 392 yards, hit Phelan for a 24-yard gain down the left sideline on first down, then overthrew his favorite target on a timing pattern to the right corner of the end zone. Hartwick came back with the same play on second down, only this time, Phelan made a sliding catch deep in the right corner for a 7-yard touchdown.
Ryan Boyea kicked the extra point, his first in a 9-for-9 effort, to give Hartwick a 7-0 lead after 47 seconds.
The Hawks' defense passed an early test, stuffing a fourth-and-1 keeper by quarterback Justin Walz that ended WNE's ensuing 12-play drive at Hartwick's 5. It soon became apparent, however, that the homecoming crowd of 750 would get to see Hartwick's defense often.
Hartwick followed with a three-and-out series _ Boltus threw two incomplete passes after DeMulder gained 7 yards on first down _ that lasted 1 minute, 20 seconds. WNE came back with an eight-play drive over the next 3:16 that stalled at Hartwick's 11 after another late defensive stand. Junior defensive lineman Ben Tomaino, an Oneonta High graduate, hammered WNE running back Jordan Capitanio on a second-and-7 run up the middle before senior defensive back Mike Ashcraft broke up a pass intended for Ron Chiaccio.
The Golden Bears settled for a 21-yard field goal by James Farrell, cutting Hartwick's lead to 7-3 with 7:40 left in the opening quarter.
Hartwick ran five consecutive passing plays over the next 1:38, the last a 32-yard Boltus-to-Phelan touchdown on a slant to the middle. WNE ran out the first quarter with eight plays to set up a first-and-10 at Hartwick's 33.
Justin Oelgeschlager then intercepted Walz on the opening play of the second quarter, a lob to the right side that was first tipped by Hartwick's Zach Kerzner, to give the Hawks possession at their 34 with 11 seconds gone in the new period.
Two plays later, Hartwick held a 21-3 lead. Boltus found tight end Brett Radley over the middle for a 26-yard gain, then hit Phelan on a 40-yard pass in the right corner of the end zone. Again facing single-coverage, Phelan hit the ground as the ball bounced off his stomach but grabbed the rebound while sliding backwards on his back.
"It was about matchups," seventh-year Hartwick coach Mark Carr said. "They wanted to blitz us every down and Jack is a great route runner. He's got great hands and Jason just found him."
The two teams combined for five touchdowns in the last 4:36 of the first half. Capitanio scored on a 1-yard run and, after Jim Kostek intercepted Boltus, Chiacco caught a 16-yard TD pass to pull the Golden Bears within 21-15.
DeMulder then capped a five-play scoring drive _ highlighted by a 25-yard pass to Phelan _ with a 1-yard TD run to the left side. Capitanio followed with a 55-yard TD run on the next play from scrimmage, and Walz hit Chris Vaillant on a two-point conversion pass as WNE pulled to 28-23 with 1:04 left in the half.
Of course, all that did was give the Hawks another chance to score.
With 58 seconds left after the kickoff, Hartwick used four plays to cover 42 yards. Boltus lopped off a large chunk with a 26-yard scramble up the left sideline, and Hartwick got 14 more yards on a pass interference to set up a first down at the WNE 2. Boltus then needled a pass to Phelan in the left corner of the end zone for a 35-23 halftime lead.
"We're always ready for a team when they come back," said Phelan, who helped Hartwick win the highest-scoring game in NCAA Division III history _ 72-70 at Utica _ on the final day of the regular season last year. That victory led the Hawks to a share of the Empire 8 Conference title with St. John Fisher and the program's first berth in the NCAA D-III Tournament. "We've just got to keep scoring. And that's our motto: To score on every possession."
Hartwick almost had to as the Golden Bears kept it close in the third quarter. Walz scored on a 2-yard run to cut the lead to 35-30 and, after DeMulder scored on another 1-yard run, he hit Dan Crane for a 39-yard TD pass to pull within 42-37.
Boltus and Phelan hooked up twice more before the end of the third quarter _ on TD passes of 31 and 28 yards _ as Hartwick took control.
"We knew we were going to get blitzed and we were going to get 1-on-1 coverage, so if we picked up the blitz a little bit and just put the ball on the receivers, it was going to be like that," said Boltus, who finished 20-for-40 despite a steady rainfall from start to finish.
Boltus tied the school record for TD passes in one game when he hooked up with Noah Koreman for a 20-yarder 1:36 into the final quarter. Boltus matched 2003 graduate Dan Pincelli, who threw seven TD passes in a 69-14 victory over Curry in the 2002 Eastern College Athletic Conference North Atlantic championship game.
Carr said his offensive line played a huge role in Saturday's victory.
"Giving a guy with Boltus' ability time to throw the ball to quality, quality receivers, good things are going to happen to us," said Carr, who added that roughly 15 NFL scouts have come to Oneonta to get a glimpse of Boltus since practice started.
Boltus' 392 passing yards marked his lowest output in his last four outings. After throwing for 257 yards in a 19-12 win at Norwich on Oct. 27, 2007, Boltus closed last season with three straight games of 400-plus passing yards.
That said, Boltus is more than likely to break Pincelli's all-time record at Hartwick for passing yards during the Hawks' next game, a 1 p.m. Empire 8 showdown at Ithaca College on Sept. 20. Boltus is 157 yards shy of Pincelli's record of 9,891.
Hartwick will play in its second of three straight homecoming games Sept. 20. The following week, Hartwick will be at St. John Fisher for the Cardinals' homecoming game.
Hartwick beat Ithaca, 32-30, and St. John Fisher, 31-28, at Wright Stadium last season.
"Wins are most important, especially during the regular season," Phelan said, "and that's what we're focused on right now."
Dean Russin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.