September 23, 2013
Dandy debut by Hughes leads Dragons to victory
When an over-worked defense came up with three crucial fourth quarter turnovers, junior quarterback Tyler Hughes’ dandy debut in the SUNY Cortland starting line-up turned into a rousing success story.
Those two things were certainly vital to producing a 26-15 victory over William Paterson in Saturday’s breezy football festivities in the opening New Jersey Athletic Conference contest for the defending champion Red Dragons.
Though William Paterson cranked out 30 first downs and hogged the football for nearly 12 minutes more than the Red Dragons, the visitors from New Jersey had their opening three possessions in the fourth quarter all end in lost fumbles.
Though Hughes is considered the better passer in a still on-going quarterback competition with classmate Tyler Augliano, the first-time starter from Scranton, Pa., rushed for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Cortland bounced back from a season-opening loss to Buffalo State two weekends ago.
“It still wasn’t pretty. It still wasn’t pretty,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill after his squad never trailed following a game-opening touchdown drive. “We won the game and put enough points on the board, but it wasn’t pretty.”
Not having a turnover and coming up eight quarterback sacks helped save the day for the Red Dragons (1-1), not to mention a timely 85-yard third quarter kickoff return for a touchdown. That big play arrived after the Pioneers had pulled to within 14-12 by opening the second half with a 15-play, 75-yard scoring excursion capped by two-yard run up the middle by tailback Darious Kersey.
Cortland senior captain Justin Autera took the ensuing kickoff, headed left and handed off to Andre Green going the opposite direction. Sophomore Green, a top-notch defensive safety by trade, out-ran the pursing Pioneers to go the distance.
And while William Paterson (1-2) was fumbling a chance to earn only its second win in 17 meetings with Cortland, the Red Dragons turned the Pioneers’ first turnover of the final stanza into a decisive touchdown drive. That featured a 35-yard option keeper by Hughes to the visitor’s 20-yard line. Two plays later, wide receiver Jon Mannix scored on a 17-yard reverse some 10 minutes from the finish for this game’s final score.
“THAT’S ALL THAT counts, making big plays,” said Cortland’s Joe Kirchner, the senior defensive end who stripped the ball loose from William Paterson quarterback Ryan Gresik for a fumble recovered by linebacker Jesse Scanna early in the fourth quarter. That takeaway led to Cortland’s final touchdown.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, get turnovers,” added Kirchner, the lone senior on defense who was in on four of Cortland’s eight sacks.
After Mannix’s touchdown run, William Smith fumbled the ball away after a reception by wideout Jerome Alexander. Safety Andrew Tolosi’s tackle freed up the ball for freshman cornerback Carson Lassiter to recover.
Though Cortland then turned the ball over on downs at the William Paterson 32, the next Pioneers drive was stopped at the Red Dragons’ 29-yard-line when an errant pass in the flat was ruled a lateral. The opportunistic Green pounced on that free ball with 4:30 left to play and William Paterson’s comeback hopes were pretty much dashed.
“The turnovers, take-aways, that was good. They stayed patient, you know, showed a lot of poise,” said MacNeill of his defense. Defensive end Gabe Ostrow and linebackers Scanna, Devonte Davis and Michael McCarthy also had sacks — Ostrow closing the contest getting to Gresik.
“Their quarterback is pretty good and he gets the ball out pretty quickly, and he’s got good receivers, so I guess that’s their strength,” noted Coach MacNeill. “We were softening as the game went along because I think we were a little shell-shocked. Number 10, it looked like we were covering him and boom, he was by us.”
Number 10 would be senior wide receiver Mick Paye, who caught nine throws for 120 yards. Senior Gresik threw for 357 yards in all, though none went for touchdowns.
HUGHES GOT THE start when Augliano experienced some back woes following a 400-yard passing performance against Buffalo State, even though Augliano is considered a more effective runner than thrower.
Hughes capped the opening drive with a nine-yard scramble, though his best effort was a 49-yard TD scamper when he somehow slipped past a pair of Pioneer would-be tacklers to break free down the visitor’s sideline with 5:23 to go before halftime.
Only 10 other Red Dragons have ever rushed for over 200 yards in a game, and Hughes was the first quarterback to accomplish that feat.
“It’s a competition every day between me and Augs. We’re both can play,” said Hughes, as Coach MacNeill would not commit to who would start this coming Saturday’s non-league game at undefeated St John Fisher.
Having success running the option was crucial to the Cortland offense. “It was in our game plan. Coaches wanted to see how it would work and it was pretty effective for the game, so we kept running it,” said Hughes.
Throwing the football was another matter, as Hughes completed just 7-of-20 throws for 62 yards. Top wide receiver John Babin caught just one pass for six yards, and had a school-record streak of catching TD tosses in nine straight games halted.
Still, a win is a win — and Cortland needed that after missing out on chances in a 41-28 loss to Buffalo State.
“It’s hard to win football games, so the first thing is the kids just have to enjoy the moment, enjoy that sweet success,” said MacNeill. “Then tomorrow (Sunday) we’ll get back at it, and I know there’s going to be some things where we’re going to say we have to get better doing that.”
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