October 30, 2006
Dragons unflappable & unbeaten
Bounce back in 2nd half to overtake TCNJ, 26-14
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Tailback Matt Rickert, of SUNYCortland, breaks away and runs the ball down the sidelines against TCNJ Saturday. The senior rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns as Cortland remained unbeaten, rallying for a 26-14 victory.
When adversity raised its ugly head in the first half, SUNY Cortland confidence never diminished.
On a dismally gray Saturday afternoon, with rain and gusting winds part of the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex landscape, an ornery defense and some extra special play from the special teams saved the day for the Red Dragons.
Cortland came back from looming disaster to defeat The College of New Jersey 26-14, remaining undefeated with its eighth victory of this football campaign.
The Red Dragons did it by not growing despondent after trailing 14-5 at halftime, by not getting discouraged after the visiting Lions scored twice on an interception return and a blocked punt. With the offense sputtering, with starting sophomore quarterback Ray Miles suffering a painful cut on his throwing hand, the Red Dragons could have — should have — been rattled.
“There was no panic, not from the coaches or the kids,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill of the predicament his team was in during this Homecoming occasion.
“There was still a lot of football to be played,” said senior safety Stef Sair, whose punt return talents helped the Red Dragons take over in the second half. “The defense, we dominated. And the offense picked it up in the second half like we expected.”
“We went in at halftime and had our talks,” said senior inside linebacker Matt Montpetit, who had nine tackles in leading a defense that held The College of New Jersey to a mere 83 yards of total offense. “Everyone expected the offense to come on tough. The defense is always tough. We’re family.”
Senior tailback Matt Rickert ran for a pair of second half touchdowns to highlight 90 yards gained on 20 tough carries, including turning the corner on a 10-yard end zone tote that finished the scoring with 5:25 left to play. Senior wide receiver Anthony Morat latched onto a go-ahead second half touchdown pass from Miles and came up with his 100th career catch as Cortland survived.
Now the Red Dragons find themselves as the lone unbeaten remaining in the New Jersey Athletic Conference standings — thanks to Montclair State coming from behind to knock off Rowan 27-20 in overtime on Saturday. Cortland is 6-0 in the league, with Rowan falling to 4-1 in the NJAC and 5-2 overall.
“The table is set for us,” said Coach MacNeill, as Cortland heads to Rowan to finish up league play this Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. “If we want to win a championship, it’s all there for us.”
THE VISITING LIONS — who headed back to Ewing, N.J., with a 1-4 league and 3-5 overall record — proved to be a feisty foe behind a defense that held Cortland to a season-low 194 yards of total offense.
Cortland seemed in early control, especially after punter Jimmy Cunneen got off a 43-yard boot that died on the Lions’ 2-yard line. Two plays later, senior defensive tackle Mike Connelly was smacking TCNJ fullback Daniel Dornacker in the end zone and the defense had produced a safety and a 2-0 lead.
And after Bill Hauser returned the ensuing free kick to the Lions’ 47, Rickert broke off a nine-yard run off tackle and all was okay.
That’s when trouble arrived big time.
On a 2nd-and-1 pass, TCNJ linebacker Justin Laurence stepped in front of a Miles pass and lugged the interception 67 yards down the sideline to put Cortland in a 7-2 hole. And after a punt exchange, Frank Schultheis blocked a Cunneen punt that was gobbled up by Ernest Covington and returned for a touchdown that had Cortland down 14-2 with 31 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Cortland offense finally got something going late in the half, after taking over on its own 44. Four first downs and a Miles third down scramble reached the 4-yard line, where Matthew Mintz booted a field goal to make it 14-5 at the break.
That’s when the special teams provided a huge helping hand, along with a defense that allowed only two first downs for the Lions in the second half. Cortland would have eight quarterback sacks in the game and has now gone nine consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown.
Linebacker Montpetit, having an emotional game following the death of a close cousin during the week, had five of his nine tackles go for losses including a pair of sacks. Safety Matt Berman had eight tackles and linebacker Dave D’Aurelio made seven tackles, forced two fumbles (with TCNJ got back) and broke up two passes.
STARTING WITH back-up fullback Mike Emard’s return of the second half kickoff to midfield, the Red Dragons spent most of the second half on The College of New Jersey’s side of the field thanks to some big punt returns.
“Special teams keep us in every game and actually wins them,” said Morat. “Stef Sair and Jeff Beck, and all the other guys, it’s amazing what they do for us.”
Cortland could not take advantage of a Sair 18-yard punt return to near midfield, as backup quarterback Bryan Shea had a third down pass picked off. But moments later Sair was off and running again with another put, picking up 23 yards to the visitor’s 28-yard line.
Rickert covered those 28 yards in two carries, a 25-yard burst off right tackle and a 3-yarder TD run when he cut back a run off left tackle. Mintz connected on his 39th consecutive PAT kick and Cortland was within 14-12.
After a sack by a blitzing Berman pushed the Lions back, it was Beck’s turn to come up with a big punt return. After his 19-yard effort to the 29-yard line, Cortland scored five plays later when Morat caught a 16-yard slant pass from Miles.
“It was great defense and it went right off my hands. I should have caught it the first time,” said Morat of career catch No. 99, which he bobbled but recovered before it hit the ground. Miles and wide open tight end Paul Caughell combined for a two-point PAT pass and a 20-14 lead.
Sair was back at it early in the fourth quarter, recovering a mishandled punt at his own 10-yard line and nearly breaking free again — the last New Jersey tackler preventing a touchdown. Cortland stalled, however, but after an exchange of punts Sair had a 27-year return that set up the final touchdown run by Rickert.
“STEF SAIR, IS he Superman or what?” asked Coach MacNeill of the senior who was also honored at halftime for winning an NCAA Division III wrestling title last winter. “I’m glad when the ball is in his hands.”
“I just try to do what I can, try to give some extra effort,” said Sair of his punt returning.
Coach MacNeill is also glad to see the offense come on in the second half. Morat and Mike Lane each caught three passes. Miles, in only his second start after taking over for injured Alex Smith, completed just 10-of-21 passes with a hand injury that will require stitches, according to MacNeill.
“I thought the offense moved the ball pretty well against a pretty good defense,” said MacNeill.
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Homer gridders flattened by Caz
CHITTENANGO — Sometimes you get a feeling very early that things may not go your way. That was the case for Homer Central football coach Gary Podsiedlik Saturday before the Trojans traveled to Chittenango for a Section 3 Class B semifinal-round showdown with Cazenovia.
“I had a bad feeling as soon as I walked out of the house for the team breakfast and saw my truck had a flat tire,” said Podsiedlik.
It was not any better once the game started under windy, rainy, cold conditions as the second-seeded Lakers forced the third-seeded Trojans into six turnovers during a 48-0 rout.
Cazenovia will face top-seed Westhill in a battle of 9-0 teams at 5 p.m. in the Carrier Dome Saturday. The Class B title game closes out a tripleheader of high school action in the Dome that day.
“These kids continue to amaze me,” said Cazenovia head coach Tom Neidl. “They have been doing this all season long. They have come out hot in the first half of every game and make the big plays. It has been 11 kids on the field playing great football. No real superstars, just a group of good players with a lot of talent. I am really proud of them.”
“There is no denying that the good teams take advantage of your mistakes and Cazenovia did that,” said Podsiedlik. “The fumble return for the touchdown was executed well and set the tone for Cazenovia. They did what they have done to every opponent this year. They forced mistakes and they capitalized. There was no doubt in my mind that they were the better team on the field today. We needed to control things and we did not to that.”
Homer (7-2) took the opening kickoff and was on the march before things turned ugly quickly.
On the seventh play of the drive, record-setting tailback Mark Brenchley did an uncharacteristic thing. The senior fumbled the ball at the Cazenovia 46-yard line. Senior linebacker Brandon Moyer picked up the ball and raced 54 yards for the touchdown and the Lakers were in front to stay with 8:50 left in the quarter.
Brenchley would finish the day with 136 yards on 27 carries while Moyer was just beginning a huge day of his own.
The Trojans moved the ball again on their next drive, but stalled at midfield. Dylan Calale booted a beautiful punt that was downed at the Cazenovia four-yard line, putting the Lakers in a deep hole. After Brian Bartlett went nowhere on the first offensive play, quarterback Cole Koesterer went to the air and hooked-up with Aaron Race on a 57-yard pitch-and-catch to the Trojan 39. Moyer raced 20 yards on his first carry of the day before Bartlett capped the 96-yard drive two plays later with a one-yard blast up the middle for a 13-0 lead with 4:38 left in the quarter.
The next Homer offensive series lasted one play when Justin Hubbard picked off a Tristan Hartnett pass, but the two teams exchanged punts as the defenses made strong stands. A big sack by Trojan sophomore K.J. Reese forced another Lakers punt, which led to one of the turning point moments that escaped the Homer squad. The long snap sailed over the Hubbard’s head and rolled into the end zone. The punter retrieved the ball in the end zone and booted the ball out to the Cazenovia 30-yard line where Homer took over.
Though one scoring chance was missed, the Trojans still had great field position. Unfortunately, a bad pitch two plays later was recovered by Thomas Eachen at the 36-yard line and Cazenovia got the ball back with 10:18 left in the first half. On the very next play, Moyer took the hand-off on a fullback-trap play and raced untouched on the 64-yard touchdown dash for a 20-0 Laker lead.
Homer punted on its next series and the Lakers took possession at their own 41. Flashing back to the previous Laker offensive play, Moyer again took the ball on the trap-play and raced 59 yards for his third touchdown of the half and a 27-0 Cazenovia lead with 6:17 left in the first half. Moyer would only carry the ball six times in the game, but he netted 157 yards.
Things continued to spiral downwards for the Trojans as Hartnett (0-for-14) threw his second of three interceptions, but Homer got the ball right back as Koesterer (6-for-10, 140 yards) tossed a 12-yard pass to Dewan Benjamin who fumbled immediately after a hard hit by Mike Carboine. Hartnett recovered the ball at the midfield, but the Trojans could not mount any offense.
Cazenovia did cap the first-half with a nine-play, 66-yard drive when Koesterer ran 19 yards on the QB option. Koesterer added the two-point conversion run for a 35-0 halftime advantage.
Cazenovia opened the second half with a five-play scoring drive. Koesterer tossed a pass to Chris Nourse, who turned a 20-yard completion into a 40-yard touchdown run with a couple of next cut-back moves after catching the ball.
Bartlett concluded the scoring with 8:07 left in the game as Bartlett notched his second touchdown of the day on a two-yard blast to make the final score 48-0.
Homer did come close to scoring in the third quarter by reaching the Cazenovia 20-yard line during a six-play drive and roughing the passer penalty after Will Connery attempted a pass to Calale on the flanker-reverse. The drive ended when the wet ball squirted out of Hartnett’s hand. The high throw, which resembled a high punt, was picked off in the end zone by Eachen, his second interception of the day.
Brenchley finished his career with 1,832 rushing yards in 2006 and 2,118 career rushing yards. The single-season total (a school best average of 203.6 yards/game) leaves the senior in second-place in the record books and in fifth-place on the Homer all-time rushing list.
Brenchley, just the sixth Trojans to post 2,000 career rushing yards, also has the three highest single-game rushing marks and tied Dustin Morris in touchdowns scored with 22 this season.
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