September 30, 2011
Dragons host Mustangs under the lights
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland QB Dan Pitcher (9) will be trying to elude Morrisville State tacklers Saturday night at the Stadium Complex.
When reminded about the last time SUNY Cortland decided to play a home football game at night, Terry Dow simply cringed.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Dow of the nightmarish evening spent in Cortland back in 2007 that the Morrisville State head coach has been trying to clear from his conscious.
Who could blame Dow for that? The Red Dragons defeated Morrisville by a lopsided 71-7 score in a contest that featured a pair of lightning delays that amounted to over three hours of delays. Even with the referees running the time clock throughout the final quarter, the game did not conclude until 12:46 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Undeterred by that occasion, the two Central New York schools will try it one more time this Saturday evening when the Red Dragons (2-1) host the Mustangs (0-3) in a 7 p.m. start at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex as part of Homecoming Weekend festivities on campus. It will be just the second night football game played at the Stadium Complex.
So it was rather ironic when Dow’s practice on Tuesday was interrupted by a thunder storm. That brought back those not-so-fond memories from his Cortland visit four seasons ago.
Though coming into this New Jersey Athletic Conference contest winless in three games, Coach Dow feels his Mustangs are in the best position ever to end an 0-for-6 losing habit against Cortland. The kicking game let Morrisville down in a 14-11 non-conference loss to Hartwick College and while nearly upsetting nationally ranked Montclair State in a 20-19 disappointment the following weekend. Two costly turnovers in the red zone did in Dow’s youthful squad while being defeated 28-14 by undefeated The College of New Jersey last weekend.
“The kids know how close there are, that’s the important thing,” said Dow. “If you saw our kids practice, you would never know we’re 0-3.”
Morrisville hopes to get over the proverbial hump against a nationally-ranked Cortland squad still giddy from last Saturday’s crucial come-from-behind 31-28 conference win over Rowan in New Jersey.
“They’re very dangerous, and I think our kids understand that,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill of taking on the Mustangs, noting he never spends a whole lot of practice time talking about an upcoming opponent. “Talking to the seniors, they’re all very understanding that this is a dangerous team.”
CORTLAND COMES INTO the game ranked 18th in this week’s D3football.com national poll and carrying the momentum of rallying from a 21-10 second quarter deficit to beat Rowan. “It says all the right things, it really does,” said Coach MacNeill of that Cortland comeback.
Quarterback Dan Pitcher threw for a career-best 315 yards and two touchdowns in that game, while sophomore wide receiver John Babin latched onto eight passes covering 183 yards.
Meanwhile, senior inside linebacker Cody Allen was in on a dozen tackles and broke up a pair of Rowan passes. The Red Dragons leading tackler was rewarded for that effort by being named to the D3football.com Team of the Week, as Rowan rushed for only 67 yards.
“Cody had a huge game, I mean a huge game,” said Coach MacNeill of linebacker Allen. “He made plays all over the place.”
The Red Dragons overcame injuries to starting senior tailback Dorian Myles and senior cornerback D.J. Romano in the win over Rowan, too.
Myles suffered a thigh bruise and was back running in practice this week. Coach MacNeill said the running back is “probable” for this week — which means freshman Bronson Greene may get more than his fair share of carries from the tailback slot.
Romano separated his shoulder and freshman Andrew Tolosi is expected to start against Morrisville, though Coach MacNeill noted: “D.J’s a warrior and wants to get right back into the fray.”
Tolosi was tested right away when he took over in the Rowan game, and came up with eight tackles and an NJAC Rookie of the Week honor. “They knew exactly who was out of the game and they started challenging him a lot. We did what we could to help him out,” said MacNeill.
Cortland coaches had the rookie switch spots with starting cornerback Pete Furey to help make things easier, and Furey had what Coach MacNeill called “a real solid game.”
FOR MORRISVILLE, sophomore quarterback Lamar Johnson has been running the show. He leads the Mustangs in rushing with 206 yards on 32 carries and has completed 35-of-71 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson was going to share time at quarterback this season, but has been the featured performer after T.J. McLaughlin tore his ACL in the loss to Hartwick to open the season.
An improved running game with Johnson and freshman tailback Sam Stonerock (32 carries-121 yards) out of Hornell has been important to Morrisville’s progress. “We’ve been able to run the football and that takes pressure off our defense. We don’t go three and out anymore,” noted Coach Dow.
Morrisville also has been impressive on defense, outside linebacker Enrique Robinson the leading Mustangs tackler through three games.
“We’ve got guys in the secondary who can run with people,” adds Coach Dow, sophomore safety Jeremy Stewart out of Moravia one of those defensive backs. “Of course, Dan Pitcher down there is breaking his own records every week so that’s pretty scary. He doesn’t make mistakes, which he shouldn’t as a sixth year kid.”
And don’t expect Cortland to make the mistake of taking the Mustangs lightly.
“The good point to winning is there’s just a better taste in the program. It’s easier to practice. Everything just comes a little bit easier,” said MacNeill of the Cortland state of mind after beating Rowan.
“The other side of that, there is such a thing as overconfidence,” he added. “I think our kids are assessing this opponent well. I like the demeanor of this team, so I guess we’ll find out. I have nothing to question that they’re not ready.”
DRAGON TALES: Last year Cortland was a 42-6 winner at Morrisville when Justin Autera rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns, including breaking free on a 64-yard TD run on the game’s first snap. Coach MacNeill said junior Autera, injured in a loss to Kean two weeks ago, is done for this season and will have knee surgery.... Sophomore receiver Babin has 20 catches through three games. That’s the most by a Red Dragon since Anthony Falco started the 1997 campaign with the same number of catches. The single-season record at Cortland is 68 catches by Steve Ellis, who then grabbed four more that year in an ECAC playoff game that did not count towards season statistics at the time.... QB Pitcher (offense), LBer Allen (defense) and kicker Marc Corrado (special teams) were selected players of the game for the win at Rowan. Allen and starting senior center Corey Hymes will be honorary captains for the Morrisville game..... Cortland JVs were 29-6 winners over rival Ithaca College this past Monday.... Despite still being a youthful team, with a new facility Coach Dow (in his 15th season at Morrisville) feels the program is headed in the right direction. “Our sophomore class and freshman class are very strong, so certainly there’s a bright future. We want to have that bright future right now.”
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