September 21, 2009
Key loss in Dragon win
Quarterback Dan Pitcher suffers tear in Achilles tendon during 24-14 victory over Rowan
Now the SUNY Cortland defense will be needed to step up more than ever.
Shutting out Rowan University over the second half of Saturday afternoon’s showdown between New Jersey Athletic Conference football contenders was pretty impressive stuff, as the Red Dragons secured a crucial 24-14 victory before some 2,150 fans at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
But now an ornery defense will be even more vital to the continued success of this 2-0 nationally-ranked Cortland squad after the loss of junior quarterback Dan Pitcher to injury with 7:22 left to play — a mishap that put a damper on this huge victory.
Taking off on a second down quarterback draw from his own 25-yard line midway through the final quarter, Cortland High product Pitcher tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg. After tossing away his helmet and pounding the field turf in frustration, he had to be helped off the field with his future for the rest of this promising season in doubt.
Up to that point, Pitcher had thrown for 192 yards including scoring tosses to senior receivers Eric Hajnos and Wayne Wheeler. He also hooked up with wideout Anthony Giuliano on a crucial 54-yard pass play that set up fullback Dom Sair’s clinching two-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter — the only points scored in the second half of this thumping battle played under ideal blue-skied conditions.
“I hate injuries,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill afterwards, as an offense that had only two starters back off last year’s 11-2 championship squad will now have to undergo more changes before Kean visits this coming Saturday in another key conference contest.
“We’ve got some weapons who can take snaps,” said MacNeill, looking ahead while also feeling remorse for Pitcher’s plight. “We lost a big one. He’s a good player and unfortunately we lost him, but the next game’s coming. We have to get behind it.”
Rowan (1-1) came into this game without its starting quarterback, an ankle injury suffered by senior Frank Wilczynski in last week’s 29-7 win over Lycoming College not healing in time to take on the Red Dragons.He had been listed as a starter on the team’s depth chart during the week.
Junior back-up QB Tim Hagerty had some success, including a zig-zagging 34-yard touchdown run that got Rowan all even at 14-14 with 4:25 left before halftime. But those were the last points the Red Dragon defense allowed.
“We knew we had to have a big day,” said senior defensive end Bryan Wiley of the Dragon defense while munching on a post-game brownie. The burly 6-foot-2, 285-pound team captain was part of that big day with a team-high 15 tackles, three of those accounting for Rowan losses.
Sophomore linebacker Cody Allen was in on 11 tackles for Cortland, while defensive end Evan Wyler had seven stops including a quarterback sack.
“THEY CAME IN with a strong defense and we knew we had to step up as a defense as well,” said Wiley. “We had a good challenge on our hands and I think we took care of them pretty good. We were happy with our performance.”
The Profs finished with a slight 319-283 edge in total yards, but the Red Dragons were able to possess the football for 36:43 of this game’s 60 minutes. “We were able to get some three-and-outs there, which kept us fresh,” noted Wiley.
Rowan’s punishing “super-back” Ryan Leafey ran for 124 yards and 21 carries to lead the Profs. Hagerty was sacked the first two times he tries to pass but finished with modest 9-of-17 for 114 yard success, though he was picked of by Cortland cornerback D.J. Romano.
Rowan coach Jay Accorsi was pleased with Hagerty’s performance, saying the absence of the versatile Wilczynski wasn’t the main cause for his team’s downfall.
“Oh no, the other kid threw the ball well,” insisted Accorsi. “He threw the ball, ran, did a lot of good things. He didn’t cost us the game today. I thought Timmy did a great job.”
So what was the difference in Accorsi’s view?
“We just didn’t come up with some big plays,” he said. “We had chances to make some interceptions, changes to make some stops. We had some missed alignments, just some little things that caught up to us. And obviously the turnover at the start of the game, you just can’t do that.”
On the second offensive snap of the game freshman defensive back Steve Lenhart — called upon when Cortland junior safety Chris Hanlon was left woozy and sidelined for good after opening Leafey sweep — forced a Leafey fumble the flew up into the air. Red Dragon safety Jarnell Scott pounced on that loose ball and his short return set up the Cortland offense at the Rowan 41.
Nine plays later, a Pitcher slant pass to Eric Hajnos from seven yards out and the first of three Marc Corrado’s PAT kicks had the Red Dragons ahead 7-0.
THAT WAS THE start of some first half TD exchanges.
Rowan cornerback Malcolm Dock picked off a pass and returned it to the Cortland 16, where Leafey broke open up the middle on the next play to make this a 7-7 game with 1:19 left in the first quarter.
After pinned back Rowan got off a shanked 22-yard punt in the second quarter, the Red Dragons traveled 32 yards to the end zone in just four plays with Pitcher hooking up with Wheeler on a 21-yard TD toss to regain the lead .
The Profs final touchdown came after returning a punt to their own 37, and the visitors from Glassboro in New Jersey needed just two players to cover those 63 yards. Senior Val Terebizh made a 29-yard catchof a Hagerty sideline throw before the Rowan QB escape up the middle and scrambled his way into the end zone to tie things up at 14-14.
A 29-yard kickoff return by freshman Justin Autera got a final first half drive started for the Red Dragons that ended up with Corrado booting a 21-yard field goal as time expired.
Neither team sniffed the end zone after until the fourth quarter, when a second down Pitcher slant pass to Giuliano from the Cortland 35 was tipped and caught by Giuliano against two Rowan defenders.The junior broke free and raced towards the end zone, to be hauled down at the 11-yard line.
Running back Cory Russell went for three yards, Pitcher went six more on a QB draw and Sair found a big hole over the right side for the touchdown that put Cortland up by 10 crucial points.
Rowan could have kept things interesting if not for a missed field goal with 8:45 remaining from close range, yanked wide of the mark. On that drive, Leafey appeared to have lost a fumble to the Red Dragons that was not called by the referees.
Two final fourth quarter Rowan trips to the Cortland 37 and 34 were halted on fourth down failures.
“We just didn’t do the little things we needed to finish and win this game,” said Rowan’s Accorsi. “But Cortland’s a good football team, too. You can’t take anything away from the. That’s a good football team. They seemed to make the plays when the needed it.”
DRAGON TALES: The mild-mannered Accorsi did lose his cool late in the third quarter when a long Leafey run was called back by a personal foul flag. He came onto the field and had to be restrained by the side official while voicing his opinion. “If you look at the stats, one team doesn’t hold all the time and the other team holds. If you were to look at the statistics, it would show a huge favor on their side,” said Accorsi, Rowan with 81 yards of penalties to 45 for Cortland. “It was a nice, long run. I saw the flag thrown but our player, the running back, was just blocking the player down field face up. So there’s no penalty. It was interesting to me that a lot of times when we had big plays they were negated by penalties and that makes me as a coach worried. But I have to look at the films, and that didn’t cost us the game.”.... Even with Hagerty getting the Rowan start, Cortland didn’t alter its game plan against this no-huddle opponent. “We just played it the way we have been planning all week for it,” said defensive end Wyler, who had a big first half. “That’s a good football team and we brought it to them.”.... Frosh Lenhart was named tbe NJAC Rookie of the Week for his four tackles, cornerback Chad Stalter also seeing some playing time with Cortland moving Joe Lopez from corner to safety to help out.... Kean comes into this Saturday’s Cortland game off a 31-24 victory over Western Connecticut State.... “It was a pretty good day all around,” summed up Coach MacNeill of the Cortland effort. “Going through it in my mind, the special teams won the day there, we won the day defensively and we won the day offensively, so it was a beautiful team-played game. That’s very gratifying as a coach to have all three cylinders working.”
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