September 14, 2009
Almost Pitcher perfect
Red Dragons captures season opener behind new quarterback
As director of a relatively brand-new SUNY Cortland offense, the passing prowess of junior quarterback Dan Pitcher figured to be a plus heading into this football season.
No one really imagined, however, that the first contribution the former Cortland High bombardier would provide in his first collegiate start would be a 68-yard touchdown scramble on the Red Dragons’ third offensive snap of the game.
That opening sideline scamper provided a nifty accompaniment to Pitcher’s 233-yard passing performance, featuring scoring strikes to wide receivers Eric Hajnos and Anthony Giuliano, as Cortland defeated visiting Morrisville State 26-17 to get the New Jersey Athletic Conference season underway.
“I’ve been nursing a little bit of a groin thing all along in camp and I haven’t really tested it, but I guess it’s all right,” said Pitcher of that opening touchdown burst that got things off to a rousing start Saturday before over 3,000 fans at the Stadium Complex.
Pitcher accounted for 331 of the 419 total yards gained by the Cortland offense, and earned NJAC Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process.
The Red Dragon defense sacked Morrisville quarterback Jamieson Crast five times and held the Mustangs to just 52 rushing yards, as senior defensive end Evan Wyler was named the NJAC Defensive Player of the Week for being in on a dozen tackles — eight of those solo stops.
And outside of a couple of missed extra points in the second half, Cortland special teams used a 71-yard kickoff return by sophomore Bryan Davey and a pair of 50-yard plus punts by Kyle Peterson to help score 12 unanswered third quarter points.
All of those things helped the defending conference champions overcome 110 yards of penalties and three turnovers — two lost fumbles and an interception. Those opening day errors kept feisty Morrisville (0-2) in this game, the Mustangs within 14-10 at halftime.
“We couldn’t stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Cortland coach Dan MacNeill afterwards of the mistakes that made things harder for his squad. “Maybe that’s where the immaturity comes in, but we have to get over that quick.”
That’s because Rowan is headed to town this coming Saturday afternoon for another 1 p.m. kickoff. And in pre-season polling of league coaches, Rowan was picked to finish first ahead of Cortland this season.
“I think Dan knows he’s always going to get our best shot,” said Morrisville coach Terry Dow, who was happy with his team’s improvement coming off a 49-25 loss at Hartwick College the previous weekend. “But I think they get everyone’s best shot. They’re going to get best shots for the next nine weeks.”
PETERSON WASN’T asked to punt once in the opening half when the Red Dragons piled up 277 yards of offense, yet still Morrisville (0-2) was within 14-10.
“We left a lot on the table in the first half,” said Pitcher. “We didn’t capitalize, but we always had the sense we were in control of the game. We just needed to capitalize on some more opportunities. We did that a little bit in the second half, but we still have to get better.”
Cortland’s 7-0 lead came when Pitcher broke free up the middle on a third down scramble, found some blockers downfield and beat the Morrisville secondary in a sideline sprint to the end zone.
But counterpart Crast completed his first nine passes against the Red Dragon defense, five of those on the ensuing drive including a four-yard flip to fullback Sean Barrett slipping out of the backfield that quickly knotted things at 7-7.
“We’re suppose to disguise things a little better,” said Coach MacNeill of Morrisville’s early success against his defense. “We didn’t have very good poker faces in the first half so he knew when the flat were there.”
“Once we got a real good feel for what they were doing, we were all right,” said senior captain and nose guard Lou Crispo of the Red Dragon defense.
Tied at 7-7, Pitcher directed a 64-yard drive with a 17-yard sideline strike to Wayne Wheeler and a 20-yard to tight end Brian Haber before faking a reverse and hitting Hajnos in stride for a 31-yard scoring pass play.
Cortland could not add to that 14-7 lead, however.
The Red Dragons wasted a Wylie sack that lead to a Crispo fumble recovery at the Morrisville 35, an ensuring field goal try blocked.
The Red Dragons wasted Pitcher completions to Hajnos and tight end Eddie Spillett that created another scoring chance, fullback Dom Sair stuffed for a loss on a 4th-and-1 carry at the Morrisville 25-yard line.
The Red Dragons reached the Morrisville 30 moments later, only to have a fourth down pass dropped.
And after Morrisville kicked a field goal with 40 seconds left in the half, Cortland moved to the Morrisville 21 before a Pitcher pass was picked off at the goal-line.
THE THIRD QUARTER proved to be the difference, Davey nearly going the distance with the opening kickoff. His 71-yard journey ended at the Morrisville 7.
Giuliano came on to run the “wildcat offense” as a quarterback, took a direct snap and then turned what appeared to be a loss of yardage into a tackle-breaking touchdown run on the first play.
Cortland then got the best of some punt exchanges with Peterson getting off boots covering 52 and 57 yards, the latter putting the Mustangs back on their 15. Back-to-back quarterback sacks by linebacker James Lenhart and Wylie put the visitors back to the 2-yard-line, leading to Davey fair-catching a hurried punt at the Morrisville 24.
“You give a good football team a short field and it won’t be long before they’re kicking an extra point,” said Morrisville’s Dow. One play after fourth down Pitcher QB sneak keep the drive alive, Giuliano caught a 13-yard touchdown pass for a 26-10 lead and Cortland was kicking — albeit missing — the PAT.
A lost Cortland fumble led to Morrisville keeping things close with a short fourth quarter scoring drive, tailback Peter Enriquz with the TD on a five-yard run with 5:43 left to play. But the Mustangs never touched the ball again, as Cortland ran out the clock thanks to a nifty Giuliano sideline grab of a 25-yard Pitcher pass that got the Red Dragons out of 3rd-and-23 trouble.
“It’s hard to win games, it just is,” said MacNeill after escaping. “So you enjoy these, so let’s just enjoy it.”
But Rowan is coming.
“Rowan is ranked ahead of us. They’re a good football team, we’re a good football team, too. We’re looking for a battle,” said Crispo. “As long as we play football like we did today without the penalties and the things like that, the little decisions, we’ll be okay.”
DRAGON TALES: Cortland never did get its ground game going against Morrisville. Besides Pitcher’s scrambling yardage, the rest of the Red Dragon runners had 88 yards on 17 carries. “That’s probably not good,” said Pitcher of being the top rusher. “We’re going to look at the film, but give Morrisville credit. I mean, those linebackers play hard. They play downhill. They’re run guys, and that’s why I think we got so much out of the passing game. They’re a pretty good defense against the run. They play the run hard.”... “We improved a thousand-fold on defense,” said Morrisville’s Dow. “When you look at the grand scheme of things, one touchdown they got was on special teams when they had that great kick return at the start of the second half. Then they got back-to-back sacks and we had to punt from the 1-yard line and got lousy field position. Those two scores right there were the difference in the ball game.”.... Linebacker Lenhart had 10 tackles including two sacks for the Red Dragons, while safety Chris Hanlon had nine tackles and forced a fumble... Peterson impressed both coaches with his punting. “Just let him, punt. Punting’s winning. We’ve got a weapon there,” said Coach MacNeill. “Their punter, my god. As you can tell where our punt returner was lined up we weren’t ready for that.”.... Rowan will roar into town fresh off a 29-7 win over Lycoming this past Saturday. “It’s the little things, the little things we have to focus on,” said Crispo of that upcoming challenge.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe