October 27, 2008
Dragons defense refuses to budge
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland defenders Lou Crispo (56) and Bryan Wiley (94) close in on William Paterson's Shaun Puluse (5) in the third quarter of Saturday’s NJAC game. The Red Dragons rolled to a 38-0 victory.
Those wishing to escape the second half rainstorm that swept through the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex Saturday afternoon certainly had no qualms about seeking shelter elsewhere.
The outcome of this football gathering had long been decided by then, had been pretty much settled by halftime.
Undefeated Cortland rolled up 31 unanswered points over the opening two quarters before cruising to a 38-0 thumping of William Paterson to move a victory away from clinching first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
“A pretty complete game,” was the simple summation of head coach Dan MacNeill after his first place Red Dragons handled their seventh straight victim of the season with surprising ease. “The kids did a heck of a job. No one else has been able to do that to them.”
Though arriving to town with just 1-4 league and 2-4 overall credentials, William Paterson had played opponents tough throughout the fall. But this trip to Cortland proved to be mismatch for the New Jersey boys.
The Red Dragon defense made this gray and dismal day (though the sun did make a brief halftime appearance) feel even gloomier for the visitors, holding the Pioneers to just 103 yards of offense. William Paterson crossed midfield just twice and never advanced further than the Cortland 36-yard line.
Cortland was ahead 17-0 before the Pioneers even managed to pick up a first down.
“It was a good day for defense, rainy and with the wind at all,” said Cortland sophomore Brian Haas afterwards, sporting a sinister grin that becomes linebackers. He led the way with six tackles and a fumble recovery despite playing with heavily wrapped broken wrist.
Coach MacNeill said earlier in the week the two keys to Cortland success were stuffing William Paterson runners and making sure dangerous junior receiver Joel Rivera was held under wraps.
Well, the Pioneers finished with 28 yards rushing on 23 carries — or less than a yard per attempt. So mission accomplished there.
And Rivera, who came into the game with 46 catches including a school record 16 against a highly respected Rowan defense, had just two receptions lined up mostly against Red Dragon sophomore cornerback Joe Lopez.
The first Rivera grab in the opening quarter ended in disaster, as safety Matt Berman forced a fumble that Haas recovered to set up the second Red Dragon touchdown of the game. Berman also provided a headache for Rivera when his hard second quarter hit forced an incompletion on a slant pass.
Rivera did not make another catch until late in the fourth quarter against Cortland reserves, as William Paterson quarterback Matt Marshall completed just 11-of-25 passes. He was picked off twice, defensive tackle Lou Crispo getting his mitts on a screen pass and freshman cornerback D.J. Romano coming up with a fourth quarter theft, and was sacked once by inside linebacker Jim Smith.
“That is what we pride ourselves on, just tough-nosed defense,” said Haas, the younger brother of former Red Dragon All-America defensive tackle and current North Carolina schoolteacher Adam Haas.
THE CORTLAND OFFENSE took care of the rest with a turnover-free 363-yard performance, seeming to ignore the weather.
“It felt like they weren’t any weather conditions at all. We were just playing football,” said senior quarterback Ray Miles after connecting on 16-of-20 passes for 206 yards and a couple of touchdowns despite Mother Nature being unfavorable.
“I think we handled the conditions really well,” said Coach MacNeill. “Water is a natural lubricant, that’s all you can tell them, and you have to go out and stay focused and just concentrate harder.”
Senior tailback Andrew Giuliano and back-up Cory Russell both ran for touchdowns, tight end Jeffrey Lang and wide receiver Eric Hajnos were on the receiving end of Miles’ TD tosses and Lang booted an early field goal to account for the 31 first half points scored by the Red Dragons.
Local understudies Russell (from LaFayette) and quarterback Dan Pitcher (the former Cortland High record-setter) were featured in the only second half touchdown. That was a 79-yard, 11-play Red Dragon excursion in the third quarter that chewed up 5:47 of clock. Pitcher threw his first touchdown pass as Red Dragon, dumping off a little screen to Russell that covered the final four yards of the drive.
Cortland held the football for 11 more minutes than William Paterson, starting with the opening drive that concluded with a Giuliano 4-yard scoring run. A Lang 27-yard field goal finished off a second long drive that bogged down at the Pioneers’ 10.
After the Rivera fumble that Haas recovered at the visitor’s 30, Cortland scored two plays later when Miles hit Lang in stride on a 29-yard second down snap.
When Cortland finally had to punt early into the second quarter, even that worked out well. Kyle Peterson got off a 62-yarder with the wind into his back, the boot sailing into the William Paterson end zone.
On the very next play, the 260-pound Crispo batted a screen pass into the air, grabbed the interception and returned in to the 7-yard-line before being hauled down. Russell scored on next play for a 24-0 lead.
A 25-yard punt return by Derrick Woodard set up the final Red Dragon TD of the half, a perfectly placed 36-yard pass to Hajnos on a post pattern. Hanjos finished with seven catches for 78 yards overall, while fellow starting wideout Zacc Gauragno had five catches and Lang four.
“IT IS STARTING to come together,” said Miles. “I do think this offense hasn’t peaked yet. I think we peaked too early last season, but now I don’t think we have reached our potential.”
Miles and Pitcher connected on 77 percent of their passes, while Russell (10x72) and Guiliano (15x61) combined for a productive 133 yards behind Cortland’s hefty offensive line.
That bodes well heading into next Saturday’s noontime visit to take on The College of New Jersey in Trenton. These two teams shared first place in the conference a year ago, TCNJ earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament on the strength of a 30-0 win at Lions Stadium.
So there is that added incentive for Cortland, though this senior-laden squad has had no trouble getting ready to play anyone. Just ask William Paterson. And a victory over TCNJ would secure first place and an automatic berth into the NCAAs.
“The coaches do a good job of keeping us focused, keeping our eye on the prize,” said QB Miles.
“The best thing about this team is the chemistry. Everyone just plays really well together,” added Haas.
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