September 28, 2009
Red Dragons taste defeat for first time
SUNY Cortland entered this latest challenge having won a dozen straight games against New Jersey Athletic Conference foes.
On top of that, the Red Dragons had never lost in 13 previous meetings to these Kean University football folks who hail from the New Jersey city of Union.
But both of those streaks were put to rest on this overcast Saturday afternoon. Quick-footed quarterback Tom D’Ambrisi ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in leading the Cougars to a 24-10 victory over the Red Dragons, putting a damper on Parent’s Weekend spirits for the majority of some 4,800 on hand to take in this clash of conference contenders.
After failing to generate much of a running game in support of quarterback Hudson Woodward’s first collegiate start, the junior intercepted three times during his 183-yard passing debut, defending conference champion Cortland has to deal with disappointment or the first time this season. The Red Dragons had opened with back-to-back home field wins over Morrisville and Rowan before this stumble against a revived Kean program, both sides now 2-1 this season.
“You can’t live life in the rear view mirror. There’s nothing I can do about this game,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill after a scoreless second half sealed his nationally-ranked team’s fate.
“It’s a disappointment, and it should be,” added MacNeill. “As I told the kids, it’s a bitter taste, it should be, and you have to roll it around in your mouth a little bit and respond. And how we respond will dictate the remainder of the season. I like the character of this group. I think they’ll do a good job in response, but right now you have to absorb the loss.”
Meanwhile, Kean coach Dan Garrett was elated to knock off the defending champions, the Cougars now with back-to-back NJAC road wins to sit atop the conference standings.
“It’s a big win for the program, a big win for the kids who have been here four or five years, who were here before when we weren’t really good,” said Garrett, who took over the program in 2006 after having been a successful player and defensive assistant at Montclair State.
“This is big. We’ve come a long ways,” Garrett added. “And it’s because of the kids, not just me. They just listen and buy into it, drink the Kool-aid. We’ve got good kids. Maybe not the best players, but we have good kids.”
Sophomore D’Ambrisi, who gave Division I football a try at Division I Monmouth before coming to Kean, is one of those good kids. He completed 14-of-21 passes to a variety of different receivers worth 136 yards of SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex real estate, and led a productive Kean ground game with 64 yards on 15 carries.
D’AMBRISI WAS THE main reason the Red Dragons trailed 17-10 at halftime, and then added to that Kean lead with a touchdown run early in the third quarter. Cortland never recovered from that two-touchdown deficit, though three times in the fourth quarter drives came to a halt on Rowan’s side of the field.
— Cortland reached to the Kean 27 when Woodward was sacked for a nine-yard loss on a first down pass play to close out the third quarter. Two plays and zero yards later, the Red Dragons had to punt the ball away inside the Cougars’ 5-yard line.
— Cortland moved to the Kean 9-yard line moments later thanks to good field position provided by an exchange of punts and an 18-yard run around the left side by tailback Cory Russell. But on a 4th-and-2 snap from the nine, Woodward had a pass batted down by blitzing Kean strong safety Jamahl Williams.
— Cortland’s last productive drive in that final stanza, when the Red Dragons converted third down plays on three straight occasions, bogged down at the Kean 25 and ended on a fourth down incompletion.
— Cortland’s final possession just short of midfield ended with Williams picking off a Woodward slant pass with 2:30 left to play. The Red Dragons never got their mitts on the football again.
“The fact is we gave ourselves a chance to win the game, and didn’t win the game,” said Coach MacNeill. “Some of the third downs were pretty good and some of the fourth downs were pretty ugly. The first thing that has to be cleaned up are the penalties. We had too many penalties in the first half. You take seven points off the board and it makes a big difference.”
He was referring to the third play of the game when sophomore running back Will Loeb went in motion, took a Woodward handoff and circled the left side for 53 yards and an apparent touchdown. Two penalties against the Red Dragons — a hold and a clipping call — negated that much-needed confidence boost.
Thanks to a fumbled Kean punt during that same opening drive, forced by Joe Lopez and recovered by special-teamer Matt Mancz at the Kean 14, Cortland did get early points when Marc Corrado booted a 29-yard field goal. Kean kept pace with a 40-yarder of its own off the foot of Billy Daniels on its first possession.
THE TEAM TRADED touchdowns early in the second quarter, starting with a leaping 16-yard touchdown grab of a D’Ambrisi pass by Kean wideout Matt Puorro for a 10-3 lead.
Woodward, directing the offense after starter Dan Pitcher was injured and lost for the season last week, took the Red Dragons 72 yards in nine plays for the equalizer. A nice sideline toss to tight end Brian Haber for 35 yards was the big play. On third down from the Kean 7, Woodward rolled to his left and found Haber again in the corner of the end zone to tie things up at 10-10.
It only took Kean eight plays to move ahead for keeps — a 33-yard catch by tight end Alex Cade, a 16-yard burst up the middle by running back Chris Aquino and an 18-yard pick-up on a shuffle pass to Aquino taking big chunks of yards. D’Ambrisi shook off a tackle to cover the final three yards of that TD drive.
Woodward found receiver Wayne Wheeler wide open in the slot for a 35-yard pass play in the next drive, but the Red Dragons stalled. He was picked off on the next two possessions by Kean before Cortland’s fourth quarter chances went astray.
The Red Dragons rushed for only 68 yards on 30 carries, which really hurt.
“Hudson did what we asked him to do,” said MacNeill of his quarterback. “I thought he was a good leader and had a nice poise to him. He was adequate, certainly did a capable job of stepping forward and taking advantage of his opportunity, but you can’t turn the ball over.”
And new quarterback or not, Kean’s defense did the job after some early season struggles.
“That’s the defense I wanted to see from week one,” said Kean’s Garrett, his team with a slight 295-251 edge in total yards. “We played well and the guys who needed to stepped up. And we beat a good team. We weren’t listening to the talk that they had a new quarterback who was getting his first game under his belt. We beat a good team.”
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