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November 2, 2009

 

So much for bad omens, Dragons in romp

Football

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland’s Dom Sair (35) finds the hole made by lineman Chris Van De Weert (63), blocking The College of New Jersey’s Gregory Burns (40), in the first quarter of Saturday’s NJAC game.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

By now, SUNY Cortland has learned how to adapt to any kind of football adversity.
This season’s latest mishap occurred before things even got underway Saturday afternoon at the Stadium Complex, as starting tight end Eddie Spillett broke his ankle while catching a pass during the Red Dragons’ pre-game activities.
So much for bad omens on this gray and windy and rainy and gloomy and potentially perilous Halloween Day.
With the Red Dragons defense at its menacing best, with a productive offense piling up 310 yards under adverse conditions, Cortland still breezed past The College of New Jersey in convincing 30-7 fashion.
Coach Dan MacNeill’s bunch improved to 6-2 against New Jersey Athletic Conference opposition and handed the visiting Lions their third straight setback.
“Coach always said we’ve got to overcome adversity, and this season it really kind of stresses on that with everything we’ve been facing,” said versatile Cortland junior Anthony Giuliano, who caught one touchdown pass and completed a 4-yard shuffle pass to fullback Bill Smith for another score. “Before the game Eddie Spillett goes down, a tight end we have in the game plan, and we had 20 minutes to change our game plan around, and still everything went fine.”
The Red Dragons were in 23-0 control by halftime, adding to that lead early in the third quarter. The College of New Jersey, already without their two leading rushers before losing starting quarterback Chris James to a first half leg injury, turned the ball over four times and managed just 190 yards of offense.
TCNJ (3-4 conference, 4-4 overall) avoided a shutout with a 62-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against Cortland second-teamers, Michael Yetka sweeping the final 10 yards for that lone Lions’ score.
“It says a lot about the program,” said Coach MacNeill of his team’s ability to handle some crucial injuries. And in this case, Spillett’s back-up — junior Brian Haber — was already out with an injury as freshman Jason Van Wie answered the SOS call and made his first collegiate start.
“There’s a great culture here, that when one warrior goes down another steps forward,” added MacNeill. “Everyone steps forward to take on extra responsibilities.”
He added the coaching staff to those who have stepped up this season, especially on the offensive side of things where three different starting quarterbacks have been used, where some changes in backfield personnel disrupted the flow of things in mid-season.
ONE OF THOSE changes was moving junior Dom Sair from fullback to tailback, which has certainly paid off. Coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances, Sair and his offensive line dominated the opening quarter when Cortland was working into a strong wind.
Sair rushed for 72 yards on 13 carries in that opening session, as Cortland possessed the ball for 11:27 of those 15 minutes. He did lose a fumble at the two-yard line to spoil the Red Dragons’ second possession of the game, but capped a 59-yard drive soon after with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Though a skipped center’s snap spoiled the PAT, Cortland had a 6-0 lead.
“It was our game plan coming out. We thought we’d be able to run on them and Dom was just finding his holes out there,” said Cortland High grad and sophomore Matt Pitcher, Cortland’s starting right tackle. “Dom’s been having great games, all of our running backs have been running very well, and we thought we could handle them.”
A 17-point second quarter put the game away.
Explosive freshman Justin Autera returned a punt 51-yards to the Lions’ 7-yard line early in the second quarter. Three plays later from the three, quarterback Alex Smith found senior wide receiver Eric Hajnos on a crossing pattern in the end zone for the second Cortland touchdown.
After an exchange of punts favored Cortland thanks to Kyle Peterson’s 67-yarder with the wind as an ally, Autera had another nice 31-yard return that set up a career-best 40-yard field goal off the foot of Marc Corrado for a 16-0 lead.
Smith then conducted a nifty two-minute drill after taking over with 1:03 left on the Cortland 35-yard line. After a five-yard reception by Giuliano to convert 4th-and-2 at TCNJ 31, Smith hit a streaking Giuliano in stride in the back of the end zone on the very next play.
“He put the ball where only I could catch it,” said Giuliano of that 26-yard strike from Smith, coming with just nine seconds left in the half.
THE FINAL DRAGON touchdown came after defensive end Bryan Wiley recovered a fumble on the visitor’s 18 early in the third quarter. Autera swept for 10 yards with a personal foul flag added on before Giuliano — working out of Cortland’s wildcat formation — flipped a shuffle pass to fullback Smith for Cortland’s final points.
Senior defensive ends Evan Wyler and Wiley were just part of another stellar defensive outing. Wyler had a team-high eight tackles, four of those for losses. Wiley forced a fumble and recovered two others. Joe Lopez picked off a pass and had a 26-yard return for the Red Dragons, while linebacker Cody Allen also pounced on a Lions fumble.
“Everyone clicked,” said Giuliano of the Cortland effort. “We’ve been stressing all year that we need to play the perfect game and today, well we had some mishaps like the fumble in the red zone, but everyone was clicking and the defense played phenomenal.
“It shows what kind of team we are, what kind of team we really are, when we don’t make mistakes,” he added.

DRAGON TALES: Nine seniors were introduced before this final regular season home game, Cortland traveling to Brockport (3-5) to finish off conference play next Saturday before the Cortaca Jug game in Ithaca on Nov. 14.... In a key NJAC battle Saturday, Kean kept a share of first place by beating Rowan 26-23 in double overtime.... The offensive line continues to improve, Sair finding some big holes for his 85 rushing yards on 19 carries. “It’s a process. Starting off the year none of us really played together,” said Pitcher, left guard Chris Van De Weert the lone senior of this young bunch. “Every game we’re getting more and more confident and more and more familiar with each other, and it’s working out really nice. We’re getting better and better, and every game is an improvement.”.... Senior Hajnos was the leading Cortland receiver with five catches for 39 yards, as Smith completed 10-of-20 throws for 86 yards. “Each week he’s getting better and now he’s starting to throw the ball more and you can see his balls are starting to go better. Even the rain doesn’t affect them, he can put the ball where he wants it,” said wide receiver Giuliano of QB Smith.... Frosh Autera was named the NAJAC Offensive Rookie of the Week, rushing for 67 yards and returning four punts for 98 yards.... Coach MacNeill raved about his players afterwards. “Not only are they being coached well, but they’re coach-able and that speaks to the culture of the program. They say adversity is the epitome of life, and adversity doesn’t change your path of success, and we’re finding that out. We’re finding ways to win, and that’s really gratifying.”