October 11, 2013
Road test for first place Dragons
SUNY Cortland knew defending its conference football title was going to be a difficult task, especially after graduation and additional factors took a big chunk out of last year’s roster.
So heading into their second road trip of the season looking to remain unbeaten in New Jersey Athletic Conference play, the Red Dragons are well aware of the challenge at hand prior to Saturday’s 2 p.m. visit to Montclair State.
Sure the Red Dragons are 2-0 conference co-leaders, coming off a 17-7 home field victory over Kean last Saturday. And yes the Red Hawks from Montclair State are 0-2 in the conference following back-to-back agonizing NJAC stumbles, losing 7-0 to Rowan and 21-16 a week ago to The College of New Jersey.
Those contrasting records offer little indication of what may transpire Saturday, when another up-for-grabs tussle between two schools usually considered among the league’s elite is expected. Cortland leads the overall series with Montclair State 17-11-1, with the rivals having split the last four match-ups including Cortland a 20-0 shutout victory a year ago.
“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about the opponent. We spend more time trying to get ourselves fixed, get the game plan right,” said head coach Dan MacNeill prior to having his Red Dragons (2-2) taking on the Red Hawks (1-4) at Sprague Field in New Jersey.
“There are blind spots obviously when you have guys who haven’t been to war with these guys, but I’d like to think our kids are clearly understanding that Montclair is a pretty good football team,” he added.
No conference contest is a given these days. Just look at last weekend when Cortland’s 10-point margin of victory over Kean was the most lopsided of four NJAC match-ups — with the others all decided by four points or less.
“I think from top to bottom it’s a rigorous conference. I don’t think we’ve done well out of our conference in terms of out-of-conference wins, and certainly Montclair can attest to that and we can attest to that,” said MacNeill, as Cortland’s two losses were 41-28 to Buffalo State and 33-25 to nationally-ranked St. John Fisher.
“We haven’t won a game out of our conference, but what does that mean? I don’t know what it means but it is what it is,” he added. “”Within this conference it’s going to be a dogfight to the end.”
CORTLAND WILL HEAD into this dogfight without one of its top defensive players, safety Andre Green. He earned NJAC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the win over Kean when he was in on 14 tackles, and tops the team with 43 tackles and three fumble recoveries.
Green visited a specialist Thursday to have numbness in his arm checked out, Coach MacNeill not sure of the injury is a bruised nerve or a shoulder problem. The sophomore out of Indian River has not practiced, however, and will not make the trip to Montclair.
Cortland did have junior defensive end Gabe Ostrow get the medical green light to return following his own shoulder woes, and he’s slated to start. The other defensive end, senior Joe Kirchner, has been playing with an injured groin and will also start — though Coach MacNeill got good minutes from sophomore back-up defensive ends Jake Ceresna and Tom Hagan in the win over Kean. All four defensive ends will see time, keepingCortland’s pass rushers fresh.
Cortland has 18 quarterback sacks through four games, with Kirchner in on a team-high six of those.
Offensively, Cortland will continue to rotate junior quarterbacks Tyler Hughes and Tyler Augliano. Starter Hughes has rushed for 246 yards and three touchdowns, while Augliano has thrown for 796 yards and six touchdowns.
Coach MacNeill remains comfortable with using both as the situation warrants, and noted the team is monitoring play calls in hopes of not displaying tendencies that would make the Cortland offense too predictable.
“For people outside of the program it’s a controversy. For people inside the program it’s a competition and an effective use of personnel,” said MacNeill of the quarterback situation. “They both have a measure of ability that can enhance our team.”
MONTCLAIR STATE HAS traditionally fielded a rugged defense, and this year’s seasoned group is no exception. “It might be the No. 1 defense in the conference, statistically,” noted MacNeill.
Senior outside linebackers Adnan Sakiri (44 tackles), Marc Aspinwall (33) and Dan Avento (32 tackles) lead the Red Hawks. Junior defensive tackle A.J. Sakiri has been in on 44 stops and senior safety Matt Mancino has picked off four passes.
Four of Montclair State’s setbacks have been decided by a touchdown or less, including 15-14 loss to Lebanon Valley to open the season.
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Davies directs the offense, having thrown for 677 yards and four touchdowns. He had two TD tosses as the Red Hawks rallied from a 14-0 deficit to pull even with The College of New Jersey last week.
Sophomore split end Aaron Williams is the leading Red Hawks receiver with 18 catches for 227 yard and a touchdown, and senior A.J. Scoppa is a dangerous runner who has 347 rushing yards and a touchdown..
And with head coach Rick Giancola heading into his 31st season at Montclair, the Red Hawks will be eager to secure their first conference victory on Homecoming against the defending champs.
“Hey, it looks just like the tough conference, the rough conference, that we are used to,” said MacNeill of the chase to repeat as NJAC champions. “To me it’s still wide open. Yeah we’re undefeated, but we have to remain undefeated so it’s a big game for us.”
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe