October 28, 2013
Red Dragons regain top spot knocking off Lions
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland quarterback Tyler Hughes (18) looks for running room in the first quarter against the College of New Jersey Saturday. Hughes ran for 51 yards and threw for 171 yards in Cortland’s 20-7 victory.
There was nothing fancy to how SUNY Cortland went about reclaiming first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference football standings on Saturday.
Winning the turnover battle certainly went a long ways toward enabling the Red Dragons to emerge 20-7 victors over The College of New Jersey, those Lions having arrived in town sitting alone in first place and riding a four-game winning streak.
The Red Dragons picked off three passes — two by sophomore cornerback Ke’Shaun Stallworth and another by junior safety Andrew Tolosi — and thwarted four second half trips the Lions took into Cortland territory.
By comparison, the hosts were turnover free during this chilly, gray and windy afternoon affair played before 2,404 well-bundled spectators at the Stadium Complex.
Though the Cortland offense was out-gained 330-275 in total yardage, dependable junior wide John Babin latched onto 10 passes good for 138 yards. One of those grabs was a 16-yard scoring strike from junior quarterback Tyler Hughes that provided a 10-7 first quarter lead the Red Dragons never relinquished.
After taking a 13-7 lead into halftime with the help of a fortunate ruling that enabled senior Nick Daley a second shot and making a 22-yard second quarter field goal after his first attempt was blocked, Cortland wasted little time adding to its lead.
Senior Justin Autera took the opening second half kickoff at his own 3-yard line, faked a handoff to fellow tailback Dylan Peebles and broke free along the sideline for touchdown that proved to be the final points in this encounter.
It was the third time this season Cortland has taken a kickoff the distance, a school record.
“It’s just the system,” noted Autera, who had handed off to Pebbles for a kick return touchdown to start last week’s game in Brockport. “Coach (Tom) Murphy is the kickoff coach and he does a good job scheming it every week. That’ s just how it sets up. It freezes up the back side and opens up the near side.”
So that is simply how the Red Dragons now find themselves 4-1 in NJAC play, a half-game better than the 3-1 records of Rowan (this coming Saturday’s opponent), Brockport (which handled Cortland 49-32 the previous weekend) and these gritty Lions from The College of New Jersey.
“WE HAVE TO DO more, obviously, with the run game and the pass game. But we just have to move on,” was Babin’s assessment of this victory that has defending conference champion Cortland 4-3 overall. “We have big opponents coming up and we have to dominate every play.”
Rowan is the next challenge on the road, with surprising Morrisville State visiting the following weekend prior to this year’s Nov. 16 Cortaca Jug festivities at Ithaca College.
“I thought out kids played steady, with a lot of poise,” said head coach Dan MacNeill. “We went through the ups and downs there a little bit and weathered it really well. I thought every page of what we were doing was okay. We managed it all well.”
The Lions are also 4-3 overall, but had their four-game winning streak under new head coach Wayne Dickens snapped despite having running backs Brad Young (19 carries-112 yards and recent flu-recoverer Victor Scalici (10-103) each surpass the century mark.
Two big pass plays enabled the Lions to score on the game’s third possession. Facing 3rd-and-3, a defensive back slipped down to enable TCNJ freshman Jeff Mattonelli to haul in a 48-yard pass to the Cortland 25-yard line. After two incomplete passes from starting quarterback Chris Spellman, a third to down toss was tugged away from a Red Dragons defender by Frederick Sprengel and the visitors were four yards from the end zone.
Two runs by Scalici covered the remaining distance, and TCNJ led 7-0 — but would not find the end zone again. And Spellman’s day was over when he was knocked from the game after being sacked by blitzing Cortland linebackers Jesse Scanna and Derrek Dalton with under three minutes to go in the opening half.
CORTLAND COUNTERED that early TCNJ score with a long drive featuring a third down Hughes to sophomore Nate Burgo 24-yard pass play that set up a Daley 30-yard field goal.
After Tolosi picked off a pass at the Lions’ 29 on the next possession, five snaps later Hughes found Babin on a 16-yard slant pass for the go-ahead touchdown.
Stallworth’s first pick followed, as Spellman was hurried into a poor throw while being pressured by linebacker Troy Beddoe. Starting at their own 22, the Red Dragons then went on a long march featuring a remarkable Babin catch on a 45-yard Hughes bomb.
Babin also drew a pass interference call that set up Cortland six yards from the end zone. After three runs failed to produce points, Daley’s field goal attempt was blocked. A whistle blew on the play as TCNJ was scooping up that free football, and after the referees huddled up it was ruled that inadvertent act meant the down had to be replayed.
“We got a break on that field goal,” admitted MacNeill afterwards when Daley connected on the reprieve. That sent Cortland into halftime ahead 13-7, with the lead to grow with Autera went the distance to start the second half.
From there, it was only a matter of keeping the Lions from roaring back from behind their back-up quarterback, Sam Paladino.
TCNJ reached the Cortland 28-yard line only to have a 45-yard field goal attempt fail with 4:36 left in the third quarter, had a 4th-and-2 run by Scalici come up a yard shy at the Cortland 22-yard line on the opening play of the fourth quarter and squandered a 55-yard run by Young when Stallworth picked off a pass in the end zone with 8:45 remaining to halt that drive.
“WE’RE STARTING TO come along, week to week,” said Autera of the offense, as quarterback Hughes finished 11-for-18 passing for 171 yards to go along with 51 rushing yards on 21 carries. “We’re getting more experience for the guys up front, which is key. Experience, everything comes from that and we’ll just keep pushing along.”
And the defense did its job, especially holding back-up QB Paladino to just 4-of-12 passing for 32 yards including that clinching Stallworth pick.
Freshman inside linebacker Tristan Laurore had a team high 13 tackles, and earned NJAC Rookie Defensive Rookie or the Week honors. Junior defensive end Gabe Ostrow was in on 11 tackles.
That will send Cortland to Rowan in a good mood, the Profs 20-9 winners over William Paterson over the weekend. That crucial match-up of contenders is a 1 p.m. start at Wackar Stadium in Glassboro, N.J.
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