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January 20, 2007

 

Colts, Bears make a ‘Super’ pair

Manning rallies Indy past Patriots in AFC

Football

Associated Press/Jeff Roberson
Chicago Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian (80) catches a 33-yard touchdown pass during the third quarter of the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday in Chicago. The Bears roared to 39-14 win.

By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning insists his latest masterpiece wasn’t all about history, legacies or demons.
In a way, he’s right.
It was more.
Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to a stirring comeback and a late-game touchdown drive Sunday to defeat New England 38-34 and finally make it to the Super Bowl. Winning the AFC championship was a defining moment for the long-suffering quarterback, and Manning’s name will forever be associated with one of the best games the NFL has ever seen.
“Win, lose or draw, he is the greatest quarterback ever,” Colts tight end Dallas Clark said.
There’s a long way to go before that, though Manning could certainly shift more opinions in his favor on Feb. 4, when the Colts (15-4) play the Chicago Bears in what will be a very special Super Bowl.
Tony Dungy, himself on the Super Bowl schnide until Sunday, joined Lovie Smith to become the first black head coaches to meet in the NFL’s biggest game.
“It means a lot,” Dungy said. “I’m very proud to be representing African-Americans. I’m very proud of Lovie.”
The Colts are the early seven-point favorites to beat the Bears, who defeated New Orleans 39-14 in the NFC title game.
Manning finally broke through despite throwing an interception that put his team behind 21-3 early in the second quarter. He led the biggest comeback in conference title-game history, yet still, he refused to concede that a huge weight had been lifted with this win, the biggest in his nine-year NFL career.
“I don’t get into monkeys and vindication,” he said. “I don’t play that card. I know how hard I worked this season, I know how hard I worked this week.”
He threw for 349 yards and one touchdown and took the Colts to their first Super Bowl since Bob_Irsay’s midnight flight out of Baltimore brought the team to Indy_in 1984.
The Patriots (14-5) lost in the championship game for the first time in six tries and saw their hopes of winning four Super Bowls in six years — a la the Steelers of the late 70s — derailed by Manning and Co.
Joseph Addai capped Manning’s late drive with the winning score, a 3-yard run with 1 minute left to help the Colts complete the rally and give them their first lead in the game.
After the final score, Manning was on the sideline, his head down, unable to watch. Tom Brady threw an interception to Marlin Jackson and the RCA Dome crowd went wild. One kneel down later and Manning ripped off his helmet to celebrate.
“I said a little prayer on that last drive,” Manning said. “I don’t know if you’re supposed to pray for stuff like that, but I said a little prayer.”
This was a game filled with crazy bounces and unexpected heroes. New England guard Logan Mankins opened the scoring by pouncing on a loose ball in the end zone. Not to be outdone, Colts center Jeff Saturday also recovered a fumble for a touchdown. Manning’s lone touchdown pass was to defensive tackle Dan Klecko, though the Colts quarterback also threw a pass that was intercepted by Asante Samuel and returned for a touchdown.
Samuel’s interception gave New England an 18-point lead early in the second quarter. That put Manning in catch-up mode, but he insisted it was no time to panic.
“You hate getting down to these guys because hardly anyone comes back when the Patriots get the lead,” Manning said. “But what are you going to do? It’s last game of season if you don’t win. There’s no use in panicking. You just go about your job.”
He led the Colts on an 80-yard drive late in the first half for a field goal to make it 21-6. In the third quarter, he was at his cruel best, dissecting an exhausted Patriots defense for a pair of long drives and scores.
The first came on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The second was capped by a 1-yard pass to Klecko, who came in as a supposed decoy at the goal line. A circus catch by Marvin Harrison for the 2-point conversion tied the game at 21.
After Indy’s tying score, the Patriots answered with an 80-yard kickoff return by Ellis Hobbs, which set up a 6-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Jabar Gaffney.
Manning came right back but his handoff to Dominic Rhodes misfired. The ball scooted forward and Saturday got this touchdown to tie the score at 28.
After that drive, Manning could be seen on the sideline, nursing a sore thumb. But he wasn’t coming out.
“I was a little worried at first, but I went over, made a few warmup throws and it was fine,” he said. “I guess adrenaline pulled me through there a little, too.”
The teams traded field goals, then Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski put New England ahead 34-31 on a 43-yarder with 3:49 left.
That set the stage for Manning’s drive: 11 yards to Reggie Wayne, 32 yards to Bryan Fletcher, another scary completion to Wayne, who nearly lost the ball but snatched it back.
A roughing-the-passer call gave Indy the ball at the 11, then Manning handed off three straight times to Addai for the last 11 yards.
“It was momentum swing after momentum swing,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “It was all about momentum swings and theirs was the one that finished it.”
Manning entered the game 5-6 in the playoffs and 0-2 against New England. Last year, he saw another great chance for the Super Bowl disappear in a home loss to Pittsburgh. The storyline all week was what a break the Colts got in getting the Patriots at home, and what a sensational feeling it would be to finally knock off the team that bedeviled them most.
That story had a happy ending for the Colts, as Belichick found himself uncharacteristically unable to shut down Manning and Co.
The Colts piled on 455 yards and scored on six of their final eight drives, not counting the last one where Manning kneeled down. The mystique that seemed so prevalent last week in an upset win over San Diego seemed missing, and this looked like a tired, desperate, defeated team in the end. Maybe it was due in part to a flu bug that worked its way through its locker room during the week.
So while that dynasty is dead, it is now Manning’s turn to take a shot at starting a new one.
“It probably won’t shut anybody up until we win” a Super Bowl, Dungy said. “But Peyton Manning is a great player. Anybody who doesn’t know that doesn’t know much about football.”

 

Cortland women capture 13th straight win

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Getting into early foul trouble, missing 13 free throws and making just 1-of-15 shots from beyond the 3-point arc would spell doom for most basketball teams.
But despite those uncharacteristic troubles on Saturday night, SUNY Cortland women survived and thrived.
In a rematch of last year’s SUNY Athletic Conference playoff championship game, the Red Dragons overcame those woes and earned a bit of revenge with a 65-59 victory over old nemesis Oswego.
Not only did the Red Dragons remain unbeaten in conference play with a 13th consecutive victory, they continued a winning Corey Gymnasium habit that has now stretched out to 31 consecutive home court triumphs.
Cortland stands 6-0 in conference play, 13-1 overall.
“With this team, we do everything we can no matter what,” said junior Sara Cavanaugh, who poured in a game-high 20 points. “We keep our heads up and just keep going.”
Coming off a 30-point performance in Friday’s 77-72 overtime win over Geneseo, in which Cavanaugh tied a school record making eight 3-point shots, the 6-foot forward continued her hot shooting touch against Oswego’s aggressive man-to-man defense.
Though she was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, she made 9-of-15 shots closer to the basket while pulling up for jumpers in the lane or working the low post. “They were guarding me on the outside so I just dribbled by them,” she said of her offensive success.
Not that Cavanaugh was without help.
* Freshman forward and team scoring leader Jessica Laing had 15 points and 11 rebounds despite missing a large chunk of the opening half with foul woes.
* Sophomore back-up guard Kristin Ciccone had 10 points and six rebounds, and scored the game’s biggest basket on a drive late in the second half.
* Senior guard Kerry Costello had nine points and eight rebounds while providing a first half offensive spark, and starting sophomore forward Ali Canale helped Cortland have a 52-40 rebounding edge while grabbing 10 caroms.
Cortland also held Oswego to just 29 percent shooting from the floor with its own man-to-man tenacity. The Lakers, fresh from an impressive 50-42 win at Oneonta on Friday, are now 6-2 in conference play and 12-4 overall.
For Oswego — which started four seniors for Coach Michelle Collins — guard Kelley Mraz had 13 points, center Jessica Tremblay 13 points and 10 rebounds and top reserve Samanatha Driscoll 13 points in the loss.
“THEY HIT SOME big shots and we didn’t,” said Coach Collins, who was hurt by the loss of 6-foot junior forward Sarah Lombard to what could be a season-ending knee injury suffered the previous evening at Oneonta.
“Cortland plays so well in this gym. Hopefully, we’ll shoot better in our gym,” she added, already looking ahead to this Friday’s rematch in Oswego.
Give Cortland credit for battling back from a second half deficit, taking the lead for keeps at 55-50 with a 9-2 run that featured a corner 3-pointer from guard Maggie Byrne — the lone Red Dragon trey.
Ahead 60-57 with just under a minute to play, Ciccone broke free from the left side and made a floater from in close for a 62-57 lead that pretty much finished the job.
“She’s getting better every day in practice and in games, so we’ve seen her come along and know she can contribute,” said Coach Jeannette Yeoman of Ciccone, who also nailed the clinching free throws with 9.5 seconds to play.
But the key to this victory was the opening half, when Laing, Canale and Cavanaugh all spent significant time on the bench after being whistled with their second personal fouls.
Despite those foul woes, despite turning the ball over 11 times against the quick-footed Lakers, the Red Dragons were all even 31-31 at halftime. Costello provided a huge lift just when it seemed the offense was stalling out. The veteran scored eight of Cortland’s final 15 points in the half, and provided a nifty assist to set up a short Canale shot along the baseline.
Getting into halftime all tied up, with Laing on the court for only eight minutes, was crucial.
COMING UP BIG on back-to-back nights was nice, too — both teams showing signs of being road weary warriors.
While Cavanaugh admitted feeling some fatigue, getting up for Oswego negated that weariness. “They are our rivals, so it’s always good to beat them,” she said.
Coach Yeoman echoed those sentiments, and was happy to get two tough wins over the weekend to start a tough schedule stretch that continues when contending Brockport visits Corey Gymnasium Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
“In the next four of five games we want to get as many wins as we can,” said Yeoman. “The league is so hard, so evenly balanced, so it’s important winning at home. That’s what you are suppose to do.”

 

Red Dragons searching for winning touch

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

This basketball scenario has become all too familiar for SUNY Cortland men.
Or as head coach Tom Spanbauer stated after Saturday night’s conference combat on Cortland’s Corey Gymnasium home floor: “We’ve been down this street before and I know its frustrating to all the players involved.”
The Red Dragons would lead visiting Oswego for most of this evening, only to see a well-earned 45-40 lead transform into a 56-51 loss over the final five minutes of play.
Some second half stumbles have been a reason why the Red Dragons have a lone win to show for their six SUNY Athletic Conference outings, why the defending regular season champions sit in 10th place in the 11-team standings.
Sophomore forward Carson Niehoff was the lone Red Dragon in double figures with a career-high 20 points. He scored 12 straight points for his side early in the opening half, giving Cortland (5-10 overall) a lead it maintained well into the second stanza with the help of some scrambling defensive work and a 38-32 rebounding edge over their taller foes.
But Niehoff would shoot just 1-for-9 from the floor in the second half, while leading Red Dragon scorer Dave Maggiacomo would go scoreless after intermission before fouling out with 1:30 left to play chasing after his own errant shot.
Over the final 20 minutes, Cortland shot just 22 percent from the floor — including making just one of 11 attempts from 3-point range. Maggiacomo’s seven points were the second best total for the Red Dragons.
Still, the chance to get into overtime arrived after Juan Miolan banked the ball high off the glass to convert a drive with 55 seconds remaining, getting the Red Dragons within 54-51. And when Oswego missed a pair of free throws to keep the door open, after Niehoff grabbed an offensive rebound when Miolan missed a long 3-point attempt, Cortland had a final chance for a tying trey. Though Coach Spanbauer used up three timeouts to direct final possessions with 25.2, 18.8 and 9.9 seconds to go, that tying basket never arrived.
Oswego prevailed as Erik Roberson scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half, to go along with 10-point outings from team scoring leader Todd Franze and top reserve Dominick White.
Roberson made a trio of 3-pointers early in the second half to keep Cortland from pulling away. White came off the bench to help cool off Niehoff with his defensive work, and to provide a thunderous fast break dunk that was the highlight of the Lakers comeback.
And sophomore back-up guard Kyle Reuter, who Cortland High fans recall well from his days as a top scorer at Mexico High School, made two big second half baskets for the Lakers — including the go-ahead two-pointer on a scoop shot in the lane.
“I FEEL SORRY for Cortland,” said Oswego coach Kevin Broderick after his team improved to 5-3 in conference play and 9-7 overall. “This is the seventh or eighth game that we’ve played that has come down to the last possession, and we’ve lost our share. It’s tough.”
In fact, Oswego was coming off a disappointing 68-67 loss at an Oneonta team sitting in first place at the time. Cortland had its own Friday night frustration, dropping a tough 64-61 game at Geneseo — whose Knights moved past Oneonta into first place with a Saturday victory.
“Looking at this weekend, knowing we’re going to play the number one team in the league Friday and the number 10 team in the league Saturday, I knew they would be no difference between the two games and there wasn’t,” said Broderick. “I don’t even look at the standings anymore. It doesn’t matter. You know every game is going to be tough because every team has guys who can play.”
Niehoff surpassed his 11.4 points per game average a mere 9:15 into the game, giving Cortland a lead that grew to 30-22 at the break. And when starting center Joe Sargent stepped up to make Cortland’s lone second half 3-pointer in the early going, the Cortland advantage was 11 points.
That’s when Reuter snuck down court for an uncontested lay-up following a Red Dragon missed shot, followed by Roberson back-to-back 3-point swishes.
But with the lead trimmed to 33-30, Cortland turned a pair of Oswego turnovers into crisp fast break baskets finished off by Miolan and freshman center Mike Lewis. Scrappy point guard Derrick Fish made a pair of free throws and Cortland seemed to have regained the momentum with a 39-30 lead.
BUT OVER THE final 12 minutes of play, Cortland scored just 12 points. And though Oswego helped out by shooting just 7-of-15 from the free throw line in the second half, the Red Dragons could not hang on, could not get a big basket when it counted the most.
The Red Dragons are 2-3 in second semester play, and had a chance to win all three of those losses.
“When we get over the ridge — and it’s not a mountain, it’s a ridge — then the wins will come. We are still not making the progress in the league we need to be making,” said Spanbauer.
Cortland will host Brockport Tuesday at 8 p.m. in its next opportunity to turn things around.