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October 6, 2008

 

Red Dragons pull away from Bengals to stay unbeaten

Football

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland receiver Zacc Guaragno (80) is off on a 21-yard gain to the 1-yard line to set up a fourth quarter touchdown in the Red Dragons 35-14 win over Buffalo State Saturday. Giving chase is Willie Hordge of the Bengals.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

As time was running out on this latest SUNY Cortland success story, it only seemed fitting to see senior offensive tackle Justin Kindt standing in the end zone holding the football triumphantly aloft.
After all, it was the grunt work of Kindt and his veteran trench-men up front that helped the undefeated Red Dragons finally get a firm grasp on an eventual 35-14 victory over visiting Buffalo State Saturday.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Kindt pounced on a fumble after senior tailback Andrew Giuliano had lugged the ball to the goal line’s doorstep, only to loose the handle. That end zone recovery produced the game’s final touchdown, and the first Kindt recalled ever scoring in his career, as the first place Red Dragons improved to a perfect 4-0 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
That final TD was the third time Cortland had recovered its own fumble on the afternoon, leading to a turnover free performance in this home opener at the Stadium Complex.
That final TD was the last bit of work for Giuliano, who was not exactly overjoyed despite carrying 28 times for a 153 tough yards and a couple of touchdowns. “I’m kind of disappointed. I didn’t play as well as I wanted to play, but it’s great to be 4-0 in the NJAC,” he said.
That final TD also punctuated the difference between these two teams on this day.
Buffalo State, now 0-4, never could completely stop the Red Dragons from moving the ball on the ground. Meanwhile, Cortland limited the Bengals to a mere 67 yards rushing. The visitors averaged just 1.9 yards per carry.
Of course, a defense that featured nine tackles from junior defensive end Bryan Wiley had its job made easier when Buffalo State lost starting quarterback Jeremy Mountain to a concussion just before halftime arrived with Cortland ahead just 14-7.
“That’s not good for us,” said Buffalo State coach Paul Shaffner of that misfortune. Mountain had completed 11-of-16 passes before the second concussion suffered this month most likely put an end to his football playing for this season.
Though senior wide receiver Greg Meyer caught 10 passes for 114 yards for the Bengals against a Cortland secondary that lost its third starter this season to injury, Buffalo State was down to third string quarterback Kenny Murphy while Cortland was pulling away with a 21-point fourth quarter.
Now the Red Dragons will get ready for a first place showdown with Montclair State, that clash of unbeatens taking place at 1 p.m. this coming Saturday at the Stadium Complex. The Red Hawks are 3-0 in the NJAC and 4-0 overall after rallying past William Paterson 14-13 over the weekend.
The offensive line and Giuliano, who is averaging 28 carries and 166.5 yards per game, will have to be ready once again.
“WE’RE A BIG family, a big family,” said Kindt, a former second team all-state scholastic standout out of Depew High in Western New York, said of an all-senior offensive line starting together for a second straight season. “We communicate with each other really well and know when to help each other out. We’re working really well together.”
Guiliano certainly appreciates tackles Kindt and Sean James, guards James Mignone and Joe Weinstein and center John Schillinger — a group that averages a shade under 300 pounds per player. Don’t forget to add senior tight ends Jeffrey Lang and Colin Jones to the mix of productive Red Dragon blockers, too.
“That’s how we usually do it, wear down defenses in the second half,” said Giuliano, who started that process with 94 rushing yards during a second quarter when Cortland rallied from an early 7-0 deficit.
“They’ve got a very good back and a big line,” said Buffalo State boss Shaffner. “Wear us down? Yeah, they wore down our young kids a little bit. But you’ve still got to make plays and we didn’t do that. He got a lot of yards after being hit.”
“It looked like they had pretty good control of things,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill of his offensive line, good field position set up by the defense also lending a helping hand in the second half. “Giuliano doesn’t look like he’s fast, but he does a great job at falling forward after he’s been hit. He’s fast enough. And with our offensive line, it’s a nice marriage.”
Back-up tailback Cory Russell also broke off a 17-yard touchdown run when sprung free by the offensive line providing a fourth quarter Giuliano breather.
Quarterback Ray Miles threw for 153 yards to give the offense some balance, including hooking up with Zacc Guaragno with a 20-yard second quarter touchdown pass that answered an opening Buffalo State score.
THE BENGALS had nothing to show for hogging the ball for all by 3:30 of the opening quarter, running off 22 plays to Cortland’s seven. But the visitors scored first when Mountain hit Meyer in stride for a 32-yard touchdown pass midway through the second period.
Cortland struck right back, starting with a 35-yard kickoff return by Derrick Woodard to the Red Dragon 47. Six plays later this game was tied at 7-7. Lansing High grad Guaragno, back in the line-up following an injury, hooked up over the middle, caught a Miles pass and then beat the secondary to the corner of the end zone for a 20-yard TD pass play.
When the defense stepped up to force a quick Buffalo State punt, Cortland was back in business at the Bengals’ 45-yard line. This time it took five plays — four of those Giuliano runs — before the tailback plowed over the right side and bounced off a tackler for the go-ahead touchdown.
Both teams squandered long third quarter drives, Buffalo State missing a field goal attempt, before Cortland took over.
Guaragno almost had his second touchdown during a 62-yard drive that began late in the third quarter, that 21-yard pick-up to the one leading to Giuliano’s second TD.
Buffalo State was then pushed back to its own 2-yard line, thanks to a penalty and a Wiley third down sack, and a Woodard returned a short punt to the visitor’s 27. Three plays later Russell cut back into a huge hole and raced into the end zone to put Cortland ahead 28-7 with 10:28 left.
Murphy and Meyer would hook up for a touchdown pass to keep things interesting. But when the Bengals dropped a well set up screen pass out of punt formation facing a 4th-and-4 at their own 26 with 4:21 left to play, Cortland came up with that final touchdown drive that ended up in the Kindt TD fumble recovery.
“WE”RE GROWING. Thank God we’re getting better and learning lessons with wins,” said Coach MacNeill after staying unbeaten, his team ranked 13th and 15th nationally in two difference Division III polls.
Big contributions in the secondary from grad student Mark Schaller and freshman D.J. Romano were part of that learning processs.
Schaller, making his first start in place of injured senior Mark Berman at safety, had eight tackles and broke up a pass. Romano, the rookie out of Newburgh Free Academy who was needed when starting cornerback David Landesburg was injured early, had two solo tackles, broke up two passes, picked off a late Murphy pass and was named the NJAC Defensive Rookie of the Week.
This is a secondary that has already lost Jarnell Scott for the season to injury, and will most likely be tested again when Montclair State arrives to town with first place on the line.