October 22, 2012
Late TD toss beats nationally-ranked Profs, 24-21 —
Resilient Red Dragons nip Rowan
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland defenders Vaughn Labor (97) and Gabe Ostrow (6) celebrate after sacking Rowan quarterback Louie Bianchini in the first quarter Saturday.
Stunned but not staggered late in the fourth quarter, SUNY Cortland resiliency was put to the test on Saturday afternoon while remaining unbeaten in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
A mere 26 seconds after nationally-ranked Rowan had apparently snatched this football victory away from the host Red Dragons with less than two minutes remaining, senior quarterback Chris Rose lofted a 33-yard sideline scoring strike that freshman wide receiver D.J. Spencer hauled in for the go-ahead touchdown in Cortland’s victorious 24-21 test of character.
“I’ve been waiting to get my chance and I got it today, and I knew I had to step up,” said Spencer, whose four catches on the day were his first receptions this season as a Red Dragon rookie.
“The man was inside and I knew I could get outside leverage on him,” added the speedy 6-foot-1 frosh out of Cleveland Hills High School in Buffalo of the game-winning play. “When I beat him I just threw my hand up at Chris and then it was like ‘I’m going to get it.’ Once the ball is in the air it’s my ball, so I took it down and the rest his history.”
That decisive touchdown toss with 1:26 remaining was just part of a zany conclusion to this slugfest between top NJAC heavyweights that left the Red Dragons 6-0 in conference play, 6-1 overall and in prime position to wrap up a regular season title.
Cortland had turned a 14-7 halftime deficit into a 21-14 lead as a defense that forced four turnovers on the day had turned tenacious. So when the Red Dragons punted the ball away to the Rowan 24-yard line with 2:04 left to play, there was no real concern.
This game was far from finished, however.
On the very first play following that punt, Rowan back-up receiver Dan Reed broke free over the middle on a simple slant route and turned a pass from quarterback Louie Bianchini into a 76-yard touchdown that in a blink-of-an-eye put the Profs back in the lead.
With 1:52 still to be played, there was no Cortland panic to that large chunk of adversity.
“It’s not good, but the first thing that crossed my mind is we’ve got enough time,” is how Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill recalled of the moment that Rowan went ahead. “It’s the two-minute drill you work on every Thursday (in practice) and it’s about the same amount of time on the clock. The kids did a great job.”
After sophomore Andy Parker from nearby Homer returned a squibbed Rowan kickoff to the Cortland 37, it took just three plays for the Red Dragons to answer back.
“OUR OFFENSE IS pretty good at not getting caught up in the moment too much,” said senior Rose, who completed 32-of-53 passes for 320 yards including a couple of end zone hook-ups with sophomore wideout Kordel McInnis. “Defenses, they have to get all hyped up. The offense has to do a pretty good job at just focusing on what you have to do at that particular time. Obviously, the excitement level rises a little bit. The idea is not to let it get out of hand.”
Rose tossed a quick eight-yard pass that enabled tight end Rob Van Bargen to get out of bounds, and then rolled to his left before passing back against the flow to McInnis for a crucial 22-yard pick-up to the Rowan 33. Rose and Spencer then hooked up for the final time to regain the lead.
Ah, but more madness was soon to follow.
After running back Matt Dortch was barely tripped up while almost breaking free on the ensuing kickoff, after a third-down Bianchini pass to wide receiver Warren Oliver got the Profs to their own 47-yard line, the visitors from New Jersey had one more big moment in store for the Stadium Complex crowd of 1,108.
Wide receiver Ed Eisenhart worked himself free along the Rowan sideline, caught a pass in stride and was finally knocked out of bounds by freshman safety Andre Green three yards shy of the Cortland end zone.
To Cortland’s relief, that potentially fatal 50-yarder was negated by a penalty flag. A formation snafu was detected and Rowan was penalized for having an illegal receiver downfield on the play.
The Profs still reached the Cortland 37 after a 22-yard pass to Anthony Barone. But after Bianchini spiked the ball to stop the clock, an over-thrown second down pass was picked off by Green and the Red Dragons had survived.
BIG PLAYS WERE crucial to Rowan (4-1 NJAC, 5-2 overall), whose only previous loss this season was against Division II Merrimack.
Put in a hole by a wind-aided 67-yard punt by Cortland’s Mike DeBole in the first quarter, the Profs scored two plays later on a 62-yard pass to a wide open Eisenhart to open the scoring.
An exchange of turnovers followed, Rowan safety Frank Rubino turning what looked like a certain 31-yard touchdown pass to McInnis into an interception before linebacker Jesse Scanna forced a Bianchini fumble that defensive end Greg Ostrow recovered and returned to the visitor’s 35-yard line.
McInnis stretched out to make a diving catch of a Rose 20-yard touchdown pass four plays later to tie things at 7-7, only to have Rowan regain the lead by overcoming a holding penalty during a 65-yard drive capped by tailback Keith Corcoran’s 24-yard burst up the middle.
When Rowan touched a bouncing DeBole punt in the third quarter and turned the ball over, recovered by Green, Cortland traveled 34 yards in five plays to tie things up. McInnis worked free to haul on 14-yard Rose pass in the corner of the end zone.
Two other Cortland red zone trips produced only three points, however — though those three points were DeBole’s go-ahead field goal for a 17-14 lead with 3:02 left in that stanza.
That set the stage for the frantic finish that Cortland survived.
That set the stage for this coming Saturday, when Cortland can wrap up the NJAC title with a victory over a Rowan squad that is also unbeaten in conference play. Game time is 1 p.m. in Union, N.J.
“The kids have done a marvelous job. It’s in our hands, and good for us,” summed up Coach MacNeill.
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