October 15, 2007


Dragons pull off great escape

Late do-or-die TD toss saves the day


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland receiver Eric Hajnos tries escaping a Western Connecticut defender inSaturday’s NJAC game. Hajnos caught three TD passes in the fourth quarter, the last with 12 seconds left in 27-26 Red Dragons victory.

Sports Editor

Eric Hajnos would rather forget about the first pass thrown his way as an open receiver in the end zone, when his fingers betrayed him and the football dropped harmlessly to the turf.
The wide receiver naturally preferred to discuss the last of 46 passes thrown by quarterback Ray Miles, the dramatic do-or-die fourth down peg into the end zone that Hajnos latched onto with a mere 12 seconds left to play. That clutch touchdown reception finished off a remarkable 27-26 SUNY Cortland victory over a gritty Western Connecticut State on this wind-chilled Saturday afternoon.
“And the same play call,” said Hajnos with a grin, comparing the decisive six-yard TD grab to his earlier muff. The catch, the third touchdown grab of the day for the junior from Grand Island, secured a fourth consecutive New Jersey Athletic Conference victory for the first place Red Dragons.
“I knew me and Ray would connect on it this time,” added Hajnos of the slant pass that settled a wild contest in which the lead changed hands three times in the final three minutes of play. “He had it on target the first time, too. I just let the ball, somehow, slip through my fingers.”
All three Miles-to-Hajnos touchdown tosses arrived in the fourth quarter as the Red Dragons recovered from mishap after mishap to improve to 4-0 in the NJAC and 5-1 overall. Western Connecticut State, behind sensational sophomore quarterback James Williams and an offense that produced big play after big play, had thoughts of an upset dashed after grabbing a 20-9 lead late in the third quarter at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
From that perilous point, the undaunted Miles directed three touchdown drives on the next four Red Dragon possessions — part of a 290-yard passing performance for the Port Byron native. His 31 completions were a career high and the third highest total in school history.
“Ray Miles... he has grown up, hasn’t he,” marveled Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill of his junior signal caller who handled the pressure of the situation with aplomb.
“For some reason, I knew we were going to do it. We’re a good football team and I just had a positive feeling about it all the time that we were going to do it,” said Miles of the comeback Cortland pulled off.
Western Connecticut State headed back to Danbury with a 1-2 conference record, the Colonials now 3-3 overall.
“VERY FRUSTRATING,” was how Western coach John Burrell reacted to the loss.
“We’re still looking for that win I talked about earlier,” he added, Burrell having pointed out his squad has yet to beat elite programs Rowan, Cortland or Montclair State since joining the conference in 2004. “And we had the game won, we knew we had it won, but Cortland is tough and they kept fighting.”
Through three quarters all the Cortland offense could muster were three field goals delivered by stellar senior place kicker Matthew Mintz, as the offense acted as if the end zone was off limits. “We were driving the ball and just killing ourselves, with penalties, incompletions,” said Miles. “We were finding any way we could not to score.”
And while the Red Dragon defense did a good job bottling up freshman running back Wayne Neal — the NJAC rushing leader held to just 32 yards on 23 carries including numerous carries for lost yardage — the Colonials were a dangerous team throughout.
A 22-yard Williams’ completion to Allan Bowen on 4th-and-12 from the Cortland 27 set up the game’s first touchdown late in the opening quarter. Bowen scored on an 11-yard pass play crossing over the middle for a 7-0 lead.
Early in the third quarter, Western went up 13-6 when Derrick Way turned a short flat pass into a 75-yard romp down the sideline in front of a stunned Cortland bench.
And after Mintz kicked his third field goal when a Cortland drive stalled at the 6-yard line, Western took advantage of a  fumbled punt it recovered at the Cortland 19 — the game’s lone turnover — to add to its lead. Way ran a 16-yard reverse to the Cortland two and Neal scored up the middle on the next play. After a bid for a two-point conversion failed, Western had its 20-9 advantage.
MILES LED CORTLAND on a 55-yard touchdown drive in response, featuring a 23-yard third down scramble, to begin this fourth quarter revival.
Hajnos hauled in a perfectly thrown 22-yard pass by Miles in the corner of the end zone to finish off that drive. That came on a 3rd-and-16 play after a holding penalty had wiped out a successful screen pass that tailback Andrew Giuliano lugged into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. The Red Dragons were within 20-15 after a PAT pass failed.
The deficit was still at five points when a pooch-punt by QB Williams on a fourth down snap from the Cortland 35-yard line was hauled in by Red Dragon cornerback Jeff Beck at the 13 with 7:22 remaining.
After Miles was sacked for an eight-yard loss by Western senior defensive end Kevin Marchant on the very first play, Cortland drove the length of the field. Third down receptions by Giuliano and Mike Lane and a pass interference call against Western helped out before Miles found Hajnos once more in the same end zone corner — the 6-foot-1 Hajnos wrestling this pass away from a safety.
That put Cortland ahead 21-20, after another missed two-point PAT try, with just 3:38 left to play.
Western needed just four plays to regain the lead, including a 43-yard reception Keith Rosedom nearly took the distance. The visitors then made the Red Dragons pay for a blitz, with the speedy Way catching a short pass and out-running his defender into the end zone. Though the PAT pass was broken up by cornerback Ronny Rodriquez, Cortland was in 26-21 trouble with just 1:33 left to play.
“There was no panic at all,” remembered Miles. “The coaches knew we were going to score, and players knew we were going to score. We had been doing it all day.”
FRESHMAN WILL LOEB returned the kickoff to the 50, and Miles completed a 22-yard sideline pass to Keith Greene — who led the Red Dragons with nine catches for 70 yards — to begin Cortland’s final march.
Facing 4th-and-1 from the 18, Hajnos leaped to catch a ball before being belted by two tacklers for a crucial five-yard gain. Moments later, Cortland faced a 4th-and-3 from the 6-yard line. Cortland had already used its three timeouts over the final 40 seconds, and Western called timeout to discuss this critical play.
“It’s not really our bread and butter play, but when we called it I knew were going to score with it,” said Miles, who then delivered the pass to Hajnos. Giuliano’s two-point conversion run came up short.
“We used up all of our times outs and all of our bullets,” summed up MacNeill of that final drive.
Western almost made one last big play, but a double hook-and-ladder pass play featuring two laterals had Way break free to the Cortland 36 before being hauled down to end the game.




Fourth straight win for Trojans

Staff Writer

LaFAYETTE — That 0-3 start is but a distant memory to Homer Central football players now.
The Trojans have won four straight games, thanks to a 41-0 Trojan victory at Gordon Ohstrom Memorial Field Saturday over LaFayette/Fabius-Pompey to wrap up the Section 3 Class B West regular season.
Homer (4-3) will make its fourth trip to the Section 3 Class B playoffs as the seven-seeded Trojans begin post-season play against the team that knocked them out in the semifinals a year ago, unbeaten Cazenovia (7-0), this Saturday at 2 p.m. The Lakers wrapped up their third straight Class B East title with a 30-0 win over South Jefferson Saturday.
Cazenovia is the number two-seed in the playoffs with Class B B West champion Westhill (7-0) the top seed.
“We have a tough opponent in Cazenovia,” said Trojan captain Will Connery, who caught a 54-yard touchdown pass from Joey Rivers that gave Homer a 21-0 lead with 5:06 with in the first half. “I really think that we will have an advantage because no one will expect us to win. We have nothing to lose, so we could use that as a point to rally around.
“We really wanted to get a big lead early today so the White team (second-team) could have a lot of playing time,” Connery added. “That was our big goal today. Those guys have worked hard all year, but have not seen as much playing time.”
“It’s great to be back in sectionals,” said senior Jake Smith, who switched from running back to the offensive line to help make the team stronger during the season. “Everyone has really taken some hits. We have been working hard and moving things around on offense and defense to find the right combinations. We really trust our coaches and they are making the right decisions as to where we should be.
“Those first three games of the season were the toughest teams in our division,” Smith continued. “Losing those games was a wake-up call. It made us realize that we could lose and it made us play harder. It brought us together as a team and it has made us better.”
HOMER SCORED on the first offensive series of the game as the Trojans marched 82 yards on six plays. Brandon Simonetta (8 carries-91 yards) capped the drive with a big 47-yard run down the sideline for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 9:29 left in the first quarter.




Marathon topples Caz behind Knapp

Tessa Knapp continues her hot scoring touch. The Marathon Central junior scored two more goals Saturday as the Olympians defeated Cazenovia 3-0 in non-league field hockey action at George Butts Field in Homer.
Knapp has totaled 11 goals during her seven-game scoring streak and now has 18 goals for the season. That leads the team has does her 21 total points.
“I am happy that we came back strong after playing a game the day before,” said Marathon coach Karen Funk as her team improves to 14-1 overall. “I think we really surprised them.
“It was big to score those first two goals early in the match and within two minutes of each other,” Funk added. “We also started the second-half strong and controlled play.”
Knapp gave Marathon a 1-0 lead fourth minutes into the match as she converted a solid pass from Hannah Griep (11 assists, 18 points). Two minutes later, Knapp scored again with McKenna Light assisting for a 2-0 halftime advantage.
Light gave the Olympians some breathing room with eight minutes left in the match as she recorded her goal. Marta Malmberg picked up the assist, her 11th of the season and 20th point.
Roni Allen made four saves in the Marathon goal and she notched her eighth shutout of the season. In fact, the Olympian defense has not allowed a goal in four straight games.
Marathon will return to Section 4 Division III field hockey action Tuesday at Newark Valley.
Marathon JVs lost a 1-0 decision to Cazenovia.
Cicero-NS 3, Cortland 0: Alex Gale gave Cicero-North Syracuse a 1-0 halftime lead and the Northstars went on for a 3-0 non-league victory over visiting Cortland High Saturday.
“We really hung with them for a long time,” said Cortland coach Jamie Brown. “We had some nice passing sequences during the game and we moved the ball well between the 25-yard lines.
“Our problem is inside the 25,” Brown continued. “We are just not getting a lot of scoring chances. We did play a lot of defense Saturday.”
The Purple Tigers (4-6-2) did not get a shot in this match and were kept close by goalkeeper Maggie Brown, who made three saves.