November 3 , 2006
Red Dragons not eager to share
Can secure first alone with win at Rowan
This job is hardly finished.
So while accepting congratulations for clinching at least a share of the New Jersey Athletic Conference regular season football title during the week, SUNY Cortland football coach Dan MacNeill felt somewhat uneasy.
“Our goal was never to have a share of the NJAC title,” he says.
The Red Dragons want first place, and the automatic NCAA Division III tournament berth that goes with it, all to their selves. That chance arrives on Saturday, when MacNeill’s undefeated squad travels to Rowan in a clash of the league’s top two teams.
Rowan and Cortland, co-champions last year, will kick things off at 1 p.m. at John Page Stadium in Glassboro, N.J. The game will be aired live by WXHC radio, which can be heard on 101.5 FM and on-line at www.wxhc.com.
To wrap up their first outright NJAC title, the Red Dragons will have to end a four-game losing habit to the Profs — including last year’s 24-16 Rowan victory in Cortland. Since becoming regular opponents in 1996, Rowan has gone 9-1-1 against the Red Dragons.
To remain undefeated and become the first Red Dragon team to go 9-0 since 1988, the Red Dragons will have to keep accurate senior Rowan quarterback Mike Orihel under wraps and generate some offense against defense that ranks among the nation’s best.
To get this task done, the Red Dragons will have to continue its stellar play on the road this season. Cortland has beaten previous hosts by an average of 30.5 points, having lopsided wins at Morrisville (52-14), Buffalo State (38-20), Western Connecticut State (49-21) and Montclair State (41-3).
Since 2003, Cortland has an impressive 16-5 road record.
THE RED DRAGONS, 6-0 in the NJAC and 8-0 overall, rallied in the second half to beat The College of New Jersey 26-14 last Saturday.
“No question, the kids did a nice job with the situation we were in,” said Coach MacNeill, Cortland trailing 14-5 at halftime. “Good teams win close games, and were a good team.”
The national polls agree, the Red Dragons ranked fifth in this weeks AFCA Division III national poll.
The Rowan Profs, 4-1 in the NJAC and 5-2 overall, are coming off a 27-20 overtime loss at rival Montclair State last Saturday. The only other setback suffered by Coach Jay Accorsi’s squad came against Division I-AA Robert Morris. Rowan is a perennial Division III power, and reached the semifinal round of the NCAA Division III playoffs a year ago before losing to eventual champion Mount Union.
Veteran signal called Orihel has completed 88-of-164 passes for_879 yards and five touchdowns heading into the game. He has been picked off eight times.
“My gosh, their quarterback is so accurate,” said MacNeill of Orihel. “He’s their best offensive weapon because he’s so accurate picking apart the defense.”
So the Red Dragon defense hopes to hurry Orihel into mistakes, and stay close to a bunch of talented receivers led by Jim Migliore. “How you do it, well, we have our game plan,” says MacNeill.
The Cortland defense has gone nine quarters without allowing a touchdown. Senior inside linebacker Bill Hauser leads the defense with 49 tackles. Matt Montpetit, Cortland’s other senior inside linebacker, was in on nine tackles last week against TCNJ including two quarterback sacks.
Cortland has picked off a dozen passes, with junior cornerback back Jeff Beck leading the way with four interceptions. The Red Dragons have 38 quarterback sacks, defensive end Rich DeJesus leading the way with seven. All-American defensive tackle Adam Haas had five and a half sacks, Montpetit five and linebacker Dave D’Aurelio four.
THE ROWAN DEFENSE leads the national in allowing just_10.7 yards rushing per game. They are third in total defense having_allowed just 161.9 yards per game. By comparison, the Cortland_defense yields 222.4 yards per_contest.
Sophomore outside linebacker Chris Pinto leads the Profs with_52 tackles, a dozen of those going for losses. Junior defensive end Randy Tosh has six and a half sacks so far, while senior quarterback Dawaine Whetstone has picked off five passes.
Cortland’s offense struggled early against TCNJ, including having a Ray Miles pass picked off and returned for a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Miles injured his hand in that game, but has been working well all week according to Coach MacNeill.
This will be the third start for Miles, who took over after three-year starter Alex Smith was injured at Western Connecticut State back on Oct. 14. Junior Smith is undergoing knee surgery today to fix_a damaged ACL and is gone for_the season.
Miles has completed 38-of-69 passes for 506 yards and six touchdowns since taking over. Senior Anthony Morat is the leading Red Dragon receiver with 29 catches for 409 yards and four touchdowns — and had his 100th career catch last weekend.
Senior tailback Matt Rickert averages 75 yards per game and_has scored 11 touchdowns, nine rushing.
The punt return prowess of senior safety Stef Sair certainly helped out the Red Dragons in last weekend’s escape, his returns setting up short touchdown drives. The punting_of Jimmy Cunneen, the placekicking of Matthew Mintz and Cortland’s coverage teams have been bright spots.
“This has been a fun year evaluating special teams,” said MacNeill. “There have been so many big special teams plays, it’s just fun.”
And that may be crucial in order to knock off Rowan and finish alone in first place.
“The addition of all that stuff is where you win games. You need complete team play where everyone contributes,” says MacNeill.
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