October 1, 2012
Hawks clipped by Dragons’ defense
This was the SUNY Cortland defense that head coach Dan MacNeill hoped would show up on Saturday afternoon.
The Red Dragons were at their tenacious best keeping visiting Montclair State from enjoying any football prosperity while posting a 20-0 shutout victory over the Red Hawks to remain unbeaten in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
While improving to 3-1 overall, the Red Dragons have started conference play with three consecutive victories since giving up 49 points to Buffalo State in a season-opening, non-league stumble.
While senior quarterback Chris Rose tossed a pair of touchdown passes and kicker Mike DeBole connected on a couple of field goals in the opening half to provide all of Cortland’s points, it was the continued improvement of the defense that stood out before those 2,733 in attendance at the Stadium Complex.
“The defense played really, really tough, and Andre Green had a helluva game,” said inside linebacker Chris Bright, the Cortland senior who is among the several new starters on a defensive unit that has experienced a few growing pains.
Freshman Greene came up from his safety spot to get in on seven tackles, while fellow frosh and outside linebacker Troy Beddoe had a team-high eight stops including two of Cortland’s four quarterback sacks. Beddoe, out of Union-Endicott, would be named the NJAC Defensive Rookie of the Week.
“Everyone was coming down and gang-tackling, just like we wanted. We wanted a single thud when we made tackles, and that’s how it turned out,” added Bright. “The first week we had trouble with the pass, and the second week was kind of similar. Last week he had a little trouble with the run and today it all came together. Finally, it was one of those all-cylinder days.”
The Red Hawks (2-1 NJAC, 2-3 overall) out of New Jersey are certainly not used to being handled like this. The loss marked the first time the Red Hawks have been blanked since the autumn of 1998, an amazing stretch of 144 games.
Losing leading rusher A.J. Scoppa to a knee injury in the early going didn’t help Coach Rick Giancola’s squad. And the Red Hawks already arrived to town without their best defensive performer, as senior linebacker Dan Avento had his arm in a sling having not recovered from a deep shoulder bruise suffered the previous weekend.
But as Bright pointed out: “I don’t think it really mattered what kind of running back they had. If they had Adrian Peterson (of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings) in there, I don’t think they were getting any yardage.”
“AS FAR AS THE way the game was played, it was the line play,” said a disappointed Giancola, dismissing the importance of not having Scoppa for the entire day.
“The line play was the difference. Their line on both sides of the ball took control,” the Montclair coach added. “We couldn’t muster any running game at all, were forced to pass on second and long, third and long, and they continually blitz us. It was difficult for us to complete any passes.”
The Red Hawks crossed midfield just three times, and only once after the opening quarter. Take away 45-yard run by Scoppa in the first quarter and an under-thrown 29-yard sideline pass Rashad White came back to catch in the fourth quarter, and the rest of the Red Hawks offense accounted for just 116 yards on their other 64 snaps.
Coach MacNeill was surprised how Montclair State struggled on offense, though adding: “I think we had a lot to do with it, so good for us.”
Montclair had one scoring chance, coming on the game’s third possession after Cortland had already grabbed a 3-0 lead when DeBole connected from 26-yards after a drive bogged down inside the 10-yard line.
Scoppa’s lone long run and a 17-yard White reception of quarterback Drew Cathey’s pass set up a first-and-goal from the Cortland 9. The Red Hawks stalled there, a field goal was missed and the visitors never reached the red zone again.
Bad field position hurt, too, as Cortland got the best in this battle where 19 punts were booted by both sides.
“When Cortland punted, we’re on the 7-yard line, we’re on the 11-yard line, we’re on the 13-yard line... and we’re not a club that can go 80 yards,” said Giancola. “We’re just not good enough to do that. Credit to them. They were the better team and they played well. They deserved it.”
CORTLAND WENT AHEAD 10-0 late in the opening quarter with a 86-drive, that featured an early 39-yard sideline connection from Rose to Kordell McInnis and a big 23-yard third down pass to a wide open Mike Humphrey. Senior Humphrey tried tried to vault a Red Hawks tackler and was flipped over at the 2-yard line, where two plays later Rose was flipping a pass that senior back-up tight end Sean Obanhein snatched for his first career touchdown.
That drive is also where starting center Anthony Pedrotti suffered a high ankle sprain, the senior to watch the second half on crutches. The offensive line was already without starting left guard Greg Kolodinsky to an injured shoulder.
Still, Cortland tacked on 10 more points in the second quarter, with Rose and McInnis repeating their sideline act. After a Montclair punt rolled out of bounds at the Cortland 34 early in the second quarter, McInnis pulled down a 37-yard sideline toss from Rose and then repeated that performance on the very next play — which resulted in a 29-yard touchdown.
Rose completed 20-of-39 throws on the day for 258 yards, McInnis with 105 yards to show for his three grabs while Humphrey had a game-high eight grabs for 101 yards. Add that aerial success to 180 rushing yards — senior tailback Dorian Myles with 84 yards on 10 carries — and Cortland had success moving the ball.
The Red Dragons got inside the 10-yard line late in the second quarter, but settled for a DeBole 26-yard field goal and a 20-0 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, after linebacker Beddoe recovered a fumble when Cathey had the football slip from his grasp trying to pass, Cortland had another scoring chance starting from the Montclair 11. The Red Dragons bogged down five yards short of the end zone. Lined up for a 23-yard field goal, DeBole instead tried to pass off a kick fake but that floater fell incomplete.
THAT WAS IT FOR the scoring chances on either side, MacNeill taking the blame for toning things down with the Cortland offense the rest of the way.
“We had two injuries on the offensive line, and we’re a no-huddle team.There’s a lot of stress, a lot more plays,” said MacNeill. “We had to be a little more intelligent about taking plays out of the game. I had to kind of temper the attack a little bit. The results of the offense had a lot to do with the head coach holding the break on them a little.”
Cortland still rolled up 438 yards and collected 20 first downs. The Red Dragons also had just one turnover, Myles losing a first-half fumble.
Now the Red Dragons will search for a fourth straight victory on the road this coming Saturday, to take on The College of New Jersey at noon.
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