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September 08, 2008

 

Giuliano rushes to record as Dragons avoid an upset

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

MORRISVILLE — Though the outcome of this season-opening football challenge had finally been settled, with less than a minute to play SUNY Cortland coaches asked Andrew Giuliano to do one more task.
Or as the sturdy senior running back related afterwards: “They just told me: ‘Get nine more yards.’”
Three carries later, with the help of a Cortland timeout to get in one final snap, he got those nine yards and more to earn a place in school history. Giuliano surpassed former Red Dragon standout Dave Cook as the Red Dragons’ single-game rushing record setter with a 281-yard performance in this wild 51-37 victory over a bunch of feisty Morrisville State Mustangs.
School all-time rushing leader Cook, out of Vestal, had held the record since 1983 when he ran for 276 yards in a victory over St. Lawrence.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Giuliano scored four touchdowns in this New Jersey Athletic Conference opener for both teams on runs covering 40, 70, 89 and a more modest six yards. That 89-yarder was the second longest TD jaunt in school history, two less than the record also held by Cook.
But on this gray Saturday afternoon at Drake Field, on a grassy turf softened by some pre-game rainfall, Giuliano’s 281 yards accounted for only a small chunk of real estate covered by both offenses. Cortland and Morrisville combined for 1,032 total yards. And that total does not include over 300 yards of kickoff returns from both sides, including the 94-yard touchdown burst by Morrisville freshman Dale Ross that gave the hosts a short-lived 20-16 lead late in the second quarter.
Morrisville certainly made Cortland work for this victory.
Cortland had opened last season with a 71-7 home field romp past Morrisville, Giuliano rushing for a career high 247 yards then. The defending conference co-champions and pre-season favorites to win the NJAC this season were hoping for a repeat performance, but ran into a vastly different Morrisville club in this rematch.
Senior quarterback Billy Poling accounted for 412 yards of total offense as conference newcomer Morrisville, coming off a 3-7 season a year ago, nearly pulled off the upset. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, as senior Eddie Hull (10 catches for 158 yards) and freshman Wendall Williams (5 catches for 123 yards) kept getting open against an inexperienced Red Dragon secondary.
“Better, but we’re not there yet,” was the assessment of Morrisville head coach Terry Dow after giving Cortland fits. “As a competitor you can’t call it a moral victory, but it’s a lot better than last year.”
Fortunately, Cortland’s offense was just as productive rolling up 537 yards. Twice senior quarterback Ray Miles found wide receiver Zacc Gauragno behind the secondary for long-distance TD tosses covering 55 and 53 yards, while fellow wide receiver Eric Hajnos turned a sideline toss into a crucial 46-yard third quarter touchdown pass play.
Those big plays helped overcome Cortland’s defensive struggles.
Cortland now has a bye week before traveling to New Jersey to take on Rowan in a crucial NJAC early season clash. Rowan and Cortland tied for first place in the league in 2005 and 2006. And as senior defensive end Ben Nagle, a team captain who was in on four tackles, noted: “We can’t play defense like that against Rowan.”
GIVE THE DRAGON defense credit for coming up big on three occasions when Morrisville failed to convert fourth down plays on the Cortland side of the field.
The Mustangs tried to convert a 4th-and-11 from the 24-yard line on their opening drive, only to have a scrambling Poling flipped a yard short of the first by defensive back Jarnell Scott. 
In the opening drive of the second half protecting a slim 3-point lead, linebacker Josh Jablonski was the first of a swarm of Red Dragons to stop Morrisville fullback Kacy Saile on a 4th-and-1 play from the Cortland 32-yard line.
Also in the third quarter, Morrisville had a 3rd-and-2 at the Cortland 30-yard line when linebacker Brian Haas threw running back Daryle McClenic for 3-yard loss leading to an incomplete fourth down pass.
Those plays loomed large in the final scheme of things, though Morrisville quarterback Poling provided game-long headaches for the Red Dragons.
“We just gave up too many big plays,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill, who is also in charge of the defense. “Their quarterback is pretty good, but we didn’t get enough pressure on him. More people are doing that to us, getting in the shotgun and throwing fast.”
“He’s a good athlete,” said Nagle of New Jersey native Poling. “He was really good at getting rid of the ball quickly and we couldn’t get enough pressure on him.”
Poling was sacked just once, by sophomore defensive lineman Alex Greenburg, while completing 23-of-31 passes for 304 yards. Morrisville was turnover-free, too.
“I expected it. We’re not young anymore,” said Poling of Morrisville’s offensive success, though the Mustangs do have a bunch of freshman starters on defense. “We were young for a couple of seasons, but now we’re all seniors and juniors and we know what to do.
“If we had gotten the ball more it might have been different, because we were moving the ball against them. They were getting a little frustrated out there,” he added, Morrisville racking up 22 first downs.
MORRISVILLE NEVER did slow down the Cortland offense, even though they did bottle up Giuliano and the running game in early going, even though safety Tommy Moyon did pick off an errant Miles pass in the first quarter to set up the game’s first touchdown. A Jeffrey Lang 37-yard field goal provided the only first quarter points for the Red Dragons.
“Just everyone got used to what they threw at us,” said Giuliano of how the Cortland offense got untracked from that slow start. “In the first game of the year those things are going to happen but we got rolling, finally.”
“We knew they would have eight people in the box, and if we could control them with our ground game we could control the game,” said quarterback Miles. “Giuliano and the offense line were just outstanding, obviously, with the record and all.”
Three consecutive touchdowns put Cortland in control, starting with a Giuliano 70-yarder with 2:14 left to go before halftime in response to the TD kickoff return by Ross — the former Westhill High standout.
In the middle of the third quarter, after a penalty pushed the Cortland offense back to the 11-yard line, Giuliano broke free off left tackle on a delay, got a downfield shoulder block by Guaragno and broke free along the sideline for his 89-yard scamper and a 30-20 lead.
The final fourth down stop by the defense led to the third unanswered TD. On 2nd-and-14 from the Morrisville 46, senior Hajnos caught a pass along the sideline, escaped a tackler and went the distance for a 37-20 advantage that stood the test of time.
MORRISVILLE CAME away confident it could make some noise in the NJAC this season, with a bye week before playing host to Montclair State.
“We’re better in every position than we were a year ago,” said Dow. “We’ve got a chance now. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming at me anymore.”
Cortland hopes to use its bye well wisely, too, with Rowan up next. The Profs opened the season with a 24-14 win over Bridgewater State of Massachusetts this weekend and also will have two weeks to prepare.
“We’ll clean it up. We have a bye week coming up and we’ll get a lot of work in, a lot of work,” said QB Miles looking ahead to the next challenge.
“Rowan is going to be tough,” said Giuliano. “We’ve got to get back on the field and practice up.”