September 20, 2010
Dragons tame Bengals
After scoring six touchdowns in a pair of SUNY Cortland victories to get this football season underway, sophomore running back Justin Autera is making it look easy.
And perhaps it is a snap for the elusive 5-foot-11, 190-pounder who visited the end zone three times — and had a lengthy punt return for another TD negated by a holding penalty — in Saturday afternoon’s 35-7 romp past Buffalo State before some 3,000 sun-drenched fans at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
“I have the easy part,” insisted Autera after rushing for 134 yards on 18 carries in his back-up role behind bruising starting tailback Dom Sair. “The O-line up front, everyone blocking for me, they’re doing perfect and I can’t ask for anything more. I’ve got the easy job.”
The offensive spark Autera is providing has helped the Red Dragons get off to a 2-0 start in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, Cortland jumping out to a 21-0 halftime en route to making this home opener a success.
A defense missing starting senior defensive end Evan Wyler to a knee injury held the Bengals (0-2) to just 15 yards rushing, a half-dozen sacks of starting Buffalo State quarterback Ryan Lehotsky and back-up Cam Jones part of that equation. It was fitting that inside linebacker Bill Smith finished off the scoring returning a fumble for a touchdown after Lehotsky was dislodged from the football by blitzing freshman linebacker Chris Corvino.
“We really just planned for what we saw in their first game, which was basically to stop the run and they’d resort to the pass. So we wanted to stop the run first,” said junior Smith of the Red Dragons’ mission against Buffalo State. Fellow inside linebacker Cody Allen contributed 10 tackles towards that goal, cornerback Joe Lopez in on seven other stops.
The Cortland offense ended up with a 385-225 edge in total yards, too. Home-grown starting quarterback Dan Pitcher completed 17-of-28 passes for 162 yards, including buying some extra time in the pocket on a 22-yard touchdown fling to wide open wideout Mike Humphrey with 33 seconds left prior to halftime.
Sair contributed 51 rushing yards on just six carries before turning his ankle, the senior taking the second half off. Senior wideout Anthony Giuliano caught five of Pitcher’s passes for 61 yards to lead a dangerous bunch of Red Dragon receivers.
But most people were buzzing over Autera’s sparkling performance — though there were plenty of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ when impressive rookie Corvino displayed his athletic ability while hurdling over a would-be Bengals blocker to harass Lohotsky into a first half incompletion.
“EVERY TIME HE gets the ball he’s looking pretty good,” said head coach Dan MacNeill of Autera, who was also a top sprinter during his high school days at Mahopac. “He’s an electrifying kid with the ball in his hands.
“Without question, we need to get the ball to him more and there’s a lot of different ways to do get a good athlete the ball,” he added, the sophomore also catching four passes against Buffalo State.
Autera already handles punts and kickoff returns and is the trigger man who takes direct snaps from center Corey Hymes when the Red Dragons unveiled their Wildcat offensive formation a few times in this victory. So he stays pretty busy as it is.
Autera capped a 69-yard first quarter Cortland scoring drive with a 12-yard touchdown run, breaking a tackle and tip-toeing down the sideline before sneaking into the end zone at the pylon.
After linebacker Corvino recovered an errant Buffalo State center snap at the visitor’s 16-yard line on the final play of first quarter, Cortland was back in the end zone three plays later as Autera bounced off a few hits to score up the middle from five yards away.
His third touchdown run — not long after Rob Smith caught one of his 13 passes in the corner of the end zone for the lone Buffalo State touchdown midway through the third quarter to cut the Cortland lead to 21-7 — came after he nearly went the distance on a 38-yard punt return. From the Buffalo State 30, Autera scrambled for 10 yards out of the Wildcat and then swept left for the final 20 yards.
That gave Cortland a 28-7 lead with 1:58 to go in the third quarter.
“He’s really something else. It’s interesting because he takes a slow step and boom, he’s gone. So he’s probably hard to zone in on from a tackling standpoint,” admired MacNeill.
Autera lauded assistant coach Jason Rebrovich for his special teams success, having returned the opening kickoff of this season for a touchdown in a win over Kean. He also had a punt return that just missed going the distance in that game.
“Coach Rebs, he’s a master mind. He set everything up and we just do what we’re suppose to do,” said Autera, who thrives in the open field. “When you get there, you just make the most of it.”
CORTLAND STILL HAS plenty of concerns heading into Saturday’s conference trip to Western Connecticut State.
Pitcher tossed a couple of early interceptions, though he was an accurate 10-of-11 in the second quarter when Cortland starting pulling away. The Red Dragons had 10 penalties, including hold infractions that wiped out Autera’s TD punt return and a nice second quarter Pitcher-to-Giuliano 23-yard touchdown pass.
“It seemed a little sloppy,” appraised Coach MacNeill afterwards. “We’ve got to be in synch more, not as a team but as a staff in making sure we end things when they should be ended. We kept Kean it it and we kinda kept Buffalo State in it a little bit. The penalties and mistakes we’re making, they’re lessons to be learned.”
Touchdown scorer Smith is still learning lessons as a linebacker, still doubling up as a fullback on offense on occasion.
“I’m learning every game. The first game it was a little bit with the endurance, but not too much this game. So every game I’m getting better with that,” he said of his duel role. “I love it, I love it. Anything to to do to help the team, you know.”
Getting advice from older brother and former all-conference linebacker Jim Smith helps.
“Every game I get criticized by him after the game,” said Smith of his brother. “There’s always something to improve on. We definitely made mistakes that we can get better at and we’re going to fix those mistakes and on to the next game.”
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