October 28, 2011
Dragon seniors seeking a victory
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland quarterback Dan Pitcher will be among 17 upperclassmen to be honored prior to Saturday’s 1 p.m. football hosting of The College of New Jersey at the Stadium Complex.
Following a team gathering earlier this week, a few senior football players approached SUNY Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill with an important reminder.
Immersed in preparation for Saturday’s 1 p.m. hosting of The College of New Jersey, a crucial match-up of talented teams with identical 5-2 records and identical long-shot hopes of finishing first in the New Jersey Athletic Conference standings, one vital detail had escaped the coach’s attention.
“I was just totally, totally neglectful of this being our last home game and the way we honor our seniors,” recalled MacNeill. “So at the end of our team meeting a couple of seniors came up and said, “Coach, are we doing the rose thing?’ And I’m going: ‘My gosh, where did that go? You’re right. This is the last home game.’ And it forced a reflection. How can this be the last home game already? Where did the season go?”
So the introduction of 17 senior Red Dragons will be special part of the festivities at the SUNY Cortland Sports Complex tomorrow afternoon, when the new C-Club Athletic Hall of Fame class will also take halftime bows.
“The fact that they are in tune with that and they mentioned that to a negligent head coach, there’s no question this is going to be profound for these guys knowing it’s their last guaranteed home game,” said MacNeill of his players, hoping a victory will be part of the occasion where Red Dragons express their gratitude by presenting a rose to their parents.
After hosting The College of New Jersey, Cortland travels to Brockport to finish up conference play before playing the annual Cortaca Jug game at Ithaca College. What the post-season has in store for these Red Dragons remains to be seen, depending upon how the rest of the NJAC schedule plays out as well as Cortland’s results.
Cortland’s two narrow losses — 21-16 to Kean and 34-33 to Montclair State — has put its fate in the hands of other teams. Those two losses don’t detract for how this Cortland team has performed, led by the senior class.
“YOUR LEADERSHIP defines who you are going to be, and I like the definition of this football team now,” said MacNeill when asked what these seniors have meant to the program. “I know that we have two losses at this point in time. But I have to tell you, is there a stronger offense, is there a stronger defense out there collectively at this point of time? I guess there is, because we have to losses, but boy, one or two plays and it’s a whole different record.
“So this is not far away from being one of the best teams that has played here, I tell you,” he added. “People automatically assume with two losses that’s not the case, those on the outside looking in. But man, this is a fun group to go to practice with. They’re focused and there’s a lot of credibility in this program. And when that happens, it isn’t the freshmen who teach that. It’s handed down, and the seniors have done a great job of upholding the real strong values of the program. I appreciate that.”
Cortland also appreciated the fact the The College of New Jersey knocked off previously undefeated Montclair 27-21 last week, which leaves five schools still in contention for a conference championship.
The Red Dragons have discussed some of the things that have to happen to earn at least a share of first place, though MacNeill notes: “The biggest thing when we meet as a team is to game plan for the next opponent, because we know we’re going to have our hands full.”
The Lions from TCNJ will provide plenty of problems for Cortland’s quest, especially coming off the win over Montclair. Head coach Eric Hamilton — in his 35th season at the Ewing, N.J., school — is confident his team will come down from the glow of last week’s victory to focus on Cortland.
“It’s pretty easy, just put the projector on,” said Hamilton of getting his team to focus at the task at hand. “We had film of the Cortland-Montclair game and what a heck of a game that was. And it’s not hard to remember the last two years against Cortland.”
The Red Dragons shut down TCNJ 37-0 last year behind four touchdown passes by quarterback Dan Pitcher and was a 30-7 victor two years ago — though that 2009 win was later vacated when Cortland reported itself to the NCAA for inadvertently using an ineligible player that season.
THE ROAD HAS not been all that good to TCNJ. Coach Hamilton’s Lions are 4-0 at home but 2-2 on the road, with their last venture into New York State being a 34-12 loss at Buffalo State.
“I hope our guys learned their lesson from going up to Buffalo. Getting back on their feet wasn’t too hard for them,” said Hamilton. “Our defense has always been a bend but not break defense, but we didn’t bend against Buffalo State, we broke. Against Montclair, we bent but didn’t break and made a couple of nice stands.”
Both defenses will be going against experienced quarterbacks, senior James Donoghue running things for the Lions while graduate student Pitcher has thrown for 1,787 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Red Dragons.
Coach MacNeill calls Donoghue a dangerous playmaker. “He comes up in the clutch. And I tell you what, he’s not going to throw the ball away. He’s not going to do the things that are going to hurt your program, and that’s evident from where they are now.”
“Seniors, they don’t get rattled as easily,” noted Coach Hamilton. “Look at the Pitcher kid. He’s been around the block a few times and that maturity factor is probably the biggest thing a quarterback can have going for him these days.”
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