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October 29, 2012

 

Red Dragons defense delivers title

UNION, N.J. — The opening day woes of the SUNY Cortland defense are a distant football memory now.
What will be remembered more is how the defense saved the day on this memorable Saturday afternoon, when fourth quarter interception returns for touchdowns by cornerback Pete Furey and defensive end Vaughn Labor gave the Red Dragons a seventh straight victory, a conference crown and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.
Cortland conquered Kean University 31-17 in a clash of conference unbeatens thanks to those late TD thefts, enabling Coach Dan MacNeill’s squad to secure the top spot in the New Jersey Athletic Conference standings. After finishing up conference play at William Paterson this coming Saturday before hosting Ithaca College in the annual Cortaca Jug madness the following weekend, the Red Dragons will appear in the NCAA playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons.
The nationally-ranked Red Dragons — now 7-0 in the NJAC and 7-1 overall after moving into the No. 23 slot in last week’s D3football.com poll — got this accomplished by overcoming a 17-3 second quarter deficit.
Cortland’s persistent defense — which had given up over 700 yards of offense in a season-opening 49-31 loss at Buffalo State way back on Sept. 1 — kept the Cougars out of the end zone for a large chunk of the second quarter and the entire second half. That provided the opportunity to pull off this comeback victory on a warm and cloudy afternoon at Kean Alumni Stadium.
The Red Dragons overcame five turnovers, some untimely penalties and problems finishing off scoring chances to upend the Cougars (5-1 NJAC, 5-3 overall) and halt the hosts’ own five-game winning streak.
The Cortland offense had a school-record stretch of seven straight games with at least 400 yards of total offense come to an end, Kean with a 390-332 edge in that department. Early Cortland scoring chances failed to produce touchdowns, too, though kicker Mike DeBole did connect on three of four field goal attempts as the Red Dragons trailed 17-9 at halftime.
The only time the offense found the end zone was when sophomore tailback Bronson Greene — who covered 108 rushing yards on just 10 carries to lead a Cortland running attack that produced 205 yards — broke free for a 52-yard scoring jaunt midway through the third quarter. Cortland missed a two-point PAT bid to tie the game, trailing 17-15 at the time.
WHO SUSPECTED THAT when Cortland quarterback Chris Rose was picked off for the fourth time in the game, Kean senior cornerback Chris VanFechtmann giving the Cougars possession at midfield early in the fourth quarter, that this game was about to change?
Senior captain Furey turned things around on the very next snap, the defensive back picking off a wayward pass by Kean quarterback Christian Bailoni at his own 25-yard line. Furey maneuvered his way through traffic, found running room down the right sideline and eventually dove just inside the pylon for a 75-yard end zone excursion to put Cortland in front for the first time.
Rose and senior wideout Mike Humphrey hooked up on a two-point conversion pass for a 23-17 lead with 13:02 showing on the stadium scoreboard.
The defense then halted a Kean drive to the Cortland 36, forcing a punt that pinned the Red Dragons back on their own 10-yard line. That’s when Greene broke off a 41-yard run to provide a crucial switch in field position, Cortland eventually punting the ball away to the Cougars’ 3-yard line.
Three plays later, senior defensive end and Norwich native Labor picked off a pass and cruised eight untouched yards for the clinching score with just 3:26 remaining. QB Rose and Humphrey did their PAT pass thing once again to provide the final two-touchdown margin of victory.
Cortland’s defense was a little unsteady early, starting when the Cougars traveled 76 yards with the opening kickoff to take a 7-0 lead on Deandre Fowlkes’ 8-yard touchdown run. A 35-yard field goal by Bill Cullen, a lost Cortland fumble on the ensuing kickoff and a 28-yard scoring drive finished off by Bailoni’s one-yard toss to Jim Dennis put the Red Dragons into a 17-3 hole with 13:31 remaining in the first half.
Though dangerous running back Darious Kinney finished with 116 yards on 21 carries, though Bailoni completed 29-of-45 passes for 236 yards, Kean would not score again.
FRESHMAN SAFETY ANDRE Green and senior inside linebacker Chris Bright both had 12 tackles to lead the Cortland defense, while Furey was in on 11 stops to be named the NJAC Defensive Player of the Week.
Green was named the NJAC Rookie Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season.
Sophomore cornerback Andrew Tolosi also picked off a pass for Cortland, junior defensive end Gabe Ostrow came up with the game’s lone quarterback sack and Labor was in on eight tackles on the day.
Kean and Rowan — who face each other this coming weekend in Glassboro, N.J. — could still tie Cortland for first place in the conference standings when the regular season concludes two weeks from now. Cortland would have to lose at William Paterson to create that possibility, but has the head-to-head tiebreaker after beating both Kean and Rowan on back-to-back weekends.
Cortland will be making its eighth overall NCAA appearance on Nov 17, its first since 2010 when the Red Dragons reached the second-round before losing to Alfred.

 

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