October 7, 2013
Red Dragons’ defense helps to tame Cougars
This was the kind of football victory fiery SUNY Cortland strong safety Andrew Tolosi and his defensive mates could really savor.
While an offense featuring alternating quarterbacks and a bunch of inexperienced blockers continues searching for an identity and some consistency, putting a little extra burden on the defense works out just fine in Tolosi’s thinking.
At least that was his opinion after the defending champion Red Dragons remained unbeaten in New Jersey Athletic League play on Saturday afternoon, coming up with 10 fourth quarter points to put away Kean University 17-7 at the Stadium Complex.
“I love defensive games like this when it’s on us. I love the pressure,” insisted junior Tolosi, whose interception with 1:39 left to play was the third fatal Kean turnover in a final quarter gone awry for the visitors from the Garden State.
“We know it’s on us this year, so we’re fine with the pressure,” added Tolosi.
This is also the kind of victory that could get the Red Dragons started towards something special, as Cortland will take a 2-0 conference record and a 2-2 overall mark on the road to face Montclair State this coming weekend before a trip to Brockport.
“It’s easier to build off a win, it just is,” said head coach Dan MacNeill of conducting this Cortland work-in-progress. “It puts you in the right frame of mind to be a little more open. We’ve got work to do.”
While the offense struggled at times, the Red Dragons defense held Kean to 248 yards of offense and came up with four quarterback sacks. A Tolosi third quarter hit on scrambling Cougars quarterback Christian Bailoni sent the senior signal-caller to the sidelines, too, though back-up Robert Meade III orchestrated his side’s lone touchdown drive that tied things up 7-7 in the third quarter. Running back Sean McKee scored that tying TD from a yard away.
THIS WAS A 7-7 defensive struggle when last quarter miscues by Kean (1-3) turned the game around.
First came a fumbled punt recovered by Cortland’s Andre Green at the Kean 28-yard line early in the fourth quarter. But after a Justin Autera five-yard run, back-to-back sacks of both Cortland quarterbacks — Tyler Hughes and Tyler Augliano — forced Cortland to punt the ball away.
Tolosi’s effort to down that Luke Hinton boot at the 1-yard-line was ruled a touch-back and Cortland had squandered a scoring chance and vital field position.
But on the very next play, outside linebacker Troy Beddoe came up with a defensive tri-fecta — getting a sack of Kean’s Meade, creating a fumble and then coming up with the loose ball by himself at the opposition’s 10-yard-line.
“I actually held his arm and tried ripping at it at the same time. He was stuck in the passing position,” said the sophomore out of Union-Endicott of the crucial play, as Beddoe had Meade’s throwing arm pinned.
The Red Dragons reached the Kean two but could get no further, settling for a Nick Daley 25-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead with 8:25 left to play.
Kean went nowhere on its next possession, hurt by two penalties, and punted the ball away. Autera returned the kick straight ahead 11 yards to the Kean 47-yard line. Starting with 14-yard flanker screen to D.J. Spencer and featuring the Cougars’ second horse-collar tackle penalty of the quarter, Cortland finally put together a second half drive.
Facing second down from the Kean 9-yard-line, freshman Joel Nunez broke free on a flanker reverse to score his first touchdown in a Cortland uniform with 2:51 left to play. “It was great misdirection. You could see it was wide open and our coaches had it right,” said MacNeill of the clinching touchdown play.
“FORCE MORE TURNOVERS and most likely you’re going to win,” noted Cortland free safety Green, who earned NJAC Defensive Player of the Week honors for being in on 14 tackles to go along with his fumble recovery. Eleven of those stops were solo tackles for the sophomore out of Indian River.
While Kean had those three late turnovers to go along with 10 penalties, Cortland had a lone turnover and a lone five-year penalty walk-off. “We took more away from them then they took from us, and that usually tilts the score,” said Coach MacNeill.
Cortland’s turnover did spoil the chance to take a 10-0 lead into halftime, as a scrambling Augliano was picked off with a tardy end zone toss at the Kean 22-yard line with 1:04 left before intermission.
Cortland’s other scoring drive came in the first quarter, a 58-yard excursion in nine plays capped when wide receiver John Babin broke free on slant to haul in a 12-yard throw from Augliano for the touchdown.
The Red Dragons didn’t get a first down in the third quarter and struggled before that clinching 47-yard TD drive, leading MacNeill to note: “It was disappointing, the offense’s production.
“In the first half it should have been 10 points, because we threw an interception when we had a field goal. That’s frustration,” he added. “The fact is, we did just enough to come out with a win and we’ve got another week to continue to solve those issues.”
THE DEFENSE MADE up for those offensive struggles, led by Green and freshman linebacker Tristan Laurore. Laurore was in on 10 tackles and had a sack to earn NJAC Defensive Rookie of the Week honors.
Senior defensive end Joe Kirchner also had a sack, while fellow defensive ends Jake Ceresna and Tom Hagan combined for a sack to help keep Cortland atop the conference standings tied with Rowan with matching 2-0 marks.
“We’ve got to win every game in the conference now. That’s our goal and it’s not impossible,” said Green, as Cortland has only NJAC foes left before facing Ithaca College in the season-ending Nov. 16 Cortaca Jug contest.
Struggling Montclair State and upstate rival Brockport will be challenges, for sure.
“We get better each game,” noted Tolosi. “It’s going to be difficult, but we’re going to prepare all week and we’ll be ready.”
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