October 6, 2012
Purple Tigers pull off playoff clincher
MARCELLUS — On a night when big plays were called for, the Cortland High football team was equal to the task.
Because of that, the Purple Tigers are officially a playoff squad.
In a game that was ruled by the defenses, junior quarterback Caden Giroux threw for two touchdowns as the Purple Tigers scored a 12-7 victory over Class B West host Marcellus on its Homecoming/Senior Night to improve to 3-1 in the league and assure themselves of finishing no lower than third.
The top four teams make the sectionals, and conversely the loss eliminated the Mustangs — now 1-3 in the division and 1-5 overall — from the postseason picture.
“We played well,” CHS coach Dave Darrow said. “I think we were in a little better shape than them (down the stretch) and combined that with power. The offensive line did a great job. In six games we’ve had six different lines now.
“We had a great week of practice,” he added. “The kids knew this was the one we had to win. A record of 4-2 is pretty good for us.”
“The kids played hard, but we made too many mistakes,” said Mustangs coach Joe Fiacchi, whose team was victimized by three interceptions in the contest. “Cortland is a good, athletic team, and you can’t turn the ball over like we did and beat a team like that. We weren’t consistent enough to beat them.”
The two teams combined for just 312 yards of total offense, the winners with 157 — 113 on the ground — to 155 for Marcellus, which rushed for 91 yards. Senior tailback Andrew Potter led Cortland with 86 yards on 20 carries and picked up 45 of his yards while lugging the ball five times on what proved to be the game-winning drive, spanning from late in the third to 4:20 into the fourth.
“Andrew’s a good runner, a stud,” Darrow said. For his part, Fiacchi noted that “Potter had a great game. His runs in the box kept their drives alive. He’s one of their key guys.”
The crucial drive was capped by a seven-yard scoring pass from Giroux to senior tight end Josh Gutchess at the front left side of the end zone. “It was a post corner route,” Giroux said, the 6-foot-4 Gutchess able to outreach his defender for the score after drawing a pass interference penalty on fourth-and-15 from the Mustang 19 to keep the drive alive. That put the ball on the nine-yard line, and the TD came three plays later.
“This was a huge game for us, and we had a great week of practice. everyone played well tonight.”
“We’d run the same play before the past interference, and I knew their cornerback would bite,” Gutchess said of the game-winner. “Caden threw a great ball, and the line blocked well. All week long the coaches stressed that this was our season, our Super Bowl. We worked hard, and it paid off.”
THE PURPLE TIGERS never trailed in the contest, getting on the board first 3:08 into the second quarter on a 19-yard fourth-down scoring toss, also to the left front end zone, from Giroux to junior running back Teddy Phillips That drive started late in the first quarter when, after Marcellus had gotten to the Cortland 26, senior lineman Kody Cranston hauled Mustangs junior Tom Keegan down for a nine-yard loss on a fourth-down fake field goal.
Potter carried the ball five times for 28 yards on the drive, which was capped on fourth-and-11 by the scoring aerial from Giroux to Phillips on a wheel route out of the backfield.
“I pump-faked and the then led Teddy with the pass for the touchdown,” said Giroux, who wound up completing 5-of-11 passes for 45 yards and the two TDs.
“It was a good play call,” Phillips said. “We’d run the same play earlier. I was able to get free of the cornerback and make the catch. This was by far our biggest game of the season; we had to win to get into a good position for sectionals.”
Phillips intercepted a pass from Marcellus senior quarterback Duncan Merritt on the hosts’ ensuing possession, returning it to the Mustang 24, but the visitors couldn’t get anything going and turned the ball over on downs.
The Purple Tigers were on the wrong end of a tilted field for most of the third quarter after an intentional grounding call and a sack pushed them back to their own 13 on the opening possession of the second half. They only advanced to their own 13 and 24. respectively, on their next two possessions, but on each of the three fourth downs senior Brian Hughes got them out of danger with long punts — the first for 46 yards before two 48-yarders.
Marcellus wasn’t able to move the ball on its first two second-half possessions, but got to the Cortland 32 on the third, late in the third quarter, before senior middle linebacker Colin Walsh flattened Mustangs senior tailback Brad Kermes (whose 42 yards on 10 carries led his team) for a four-yard loss on fourth-and-one. That play gave CHS the ball for what proved to be the game-winning drive.
AFTER THE WINNERS went up 12-0, Potter and senior linebacker Eric Richardson intercepted Merritt on the next two Mustang possessions. The hosts, however, recovered CHS fumbles two plays after each interception, and, starting from the Cortland 18, finally found the end zone after the second one.
On third-and-10 from the 18, Merritt threw a swing pass to senior tailback Nick Nye, who caught the ball coming out of the backfield and went around the right side to complete the 18-yard scoring play with 1:24 left. Nye added the conversion kick for what proved to be the final margin.
The Purple Tigers were ready for the ensuing onsides kick, and though Nye executed it well, with the required second high bounce, junior Phil Speranza fell on it at the Cortland 47. The winners were then able to run out the clock and send the Mustangs to the crossover pool for the postseason.
The Cortland coaches gave the game Offensive Award to the offensive line of junior left tackle Paul Sabin, senior left guard Kevin Parker, junior center Jim Kendall, senior right guard Justin Travis, junior right tackle Andy Crosby and Cranston at tight end.
Richardson earned the Defensive Award and Hughes the Special Teams Award. Darrow also made special mention of junior Devon Lane, who didn’t see any touches but shifted from the line to play some fullback.
The Purple Tigers are currently tied for second in the league with Homer — a 28-21 winner at Westhill Friday night — with the Trojans holding the tie-breaker by virtue of their 16-6 win over host CHS to open the season. Marcellus visits Homer this Friday, also the night that Cortland has the task of closing out its regular season by hosting Chittenango in a 7 p.m. start at Moiseichik Field.
The Bears, currently ranked third in the state in Class B and the defending sectional B champions, come into the game with a perfect 6-0 record after outlasting defending sectional A kingpin East Syracuse-Minoa 27-26 Friday at home.
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