November 11, 2011
Dragons, Bombers get chance to vent
Cortaca Jug kicks off Saturday
The 53rd annual Cortaca Jug football game will give both SUNY Cortland and host Ithaca College the opportunity to vent some frustration.
Going into Saturday’s noontime kickoff at Butterfield Stadium on the Ithaca campus, where tickets are sold out and a throng of nearly 10,000 is expected, it’s a toss-up determining which side in this rivalry is more dazed by what has transpired this autumn.
Though Cortland has enjoyed 7-2 success and its on the fringes of Top 25 national polls, the Red Dragons find themselves out of the running for a New Jersey Athletic Conference regular season championship. That means there will be no automatic berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs, which Cortland secured a year ago and fully expected to duplicate this fall.
The Red Dragons of Coach Dan MacNeill can only look back at shake their collective head over what might have been. There was the 21-16 loss to Kean two weeks into this campaign when a potential go-ahead drive fell two yards shy of the end zone in the final minute. There was a 34-33 setback at Montclair State when a second half rally went un-rewarded, the hosts booting a late game-winning field goal.
Ithaca has an uncharacteristic 4-5 overall record, and has lost four of its last five Empire 8 conference outings to coming into the Cortaca Jug game.
The Bombers of Coach Mike Welch had chances to turn all four of those recent losses into victories. however. Ithaca was beaten 13-10 in overtime by St. John Fisher, was nipped 38-33 at Springfield College, fell 20-15 at Utica College and got edged out 21-19 at home last Saturday by Alfred.
“A lot of it is we’re not scoring enough points,” said Coach Welch of the rash of close calls that have gone against the Bombers.
“We’re facing some pretty good teams, and our offense is young. Dan Ruffrage, he and Matt Hannon are the only seniors, along with Greg Peck, so we’re very young,” he added, Ruffrage and Hammon wide receivers while Peck is listed as a back-up center on this week’s depth chart. “That is a factor. Plus, everyone (in the Empire 8) has brought their level of play up, and we added two very good teams in Salisbury ant Frostburg.”
“We just try to take it one game at a time. We try not to worry about what’s gone on in the past,” said team captain Ruffrage, who is also among the nation’s best kick returners. “Every game is a new challenge for us. We’ve lost four games by, I think, a combined 13 or 14 points, so we’ve been close in a lot of games. We just have to execute a little better and hopefully the outcome will be in our favor.”
OF COURSE, WHEN when it comes to the Cortaca Jug no extra incentive is needed.
“Everyone knows Cortaca, it’s the Super Bowl for each team,” said Cortland senior linebacker Cody Allen. “Whether you’re not going to the playoffs, or you’re going to the playoffs afterwards, or you have (ECAC) bowl games afterwards, it doesn’t matter. It’s the Super Bowl for both teams, each year. Each team comes to play, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Cortland comes to play with an offense that is averaging 37.8 points per game under the direction of graduate student Dan Pitcher at quarterback. The Cortland High product has already thrown for 26 touchdowns and 2,162 yards, and is the school’s all-time leader in touchdown tosses.
The Red Dragons have gone over 400 yards of total offense in seven games and have scored more than 50 points on three occasions — including a 64-point outburst at Brockport just last weekend.
Cortland has put up these numbers for the most part without running back Justin Autera, who injured his knee in the loss to Kean on the second weekend of the season. The explosive junior scored 18 touchdowns a year ago, two of those coming during a 232-yard rushing performance in last year’s 20-17 win over Ithaca.
“As Coach Mac says, ‘Close the ranks.’ If someone goes down, just close the ranks,” says Cortland captain Billy Castro, the 315-pound senior left tackle on the offensive line, of overcoming the loss of Autera. “We’re missing Justin, but we’ve still got games to play. Dorian Myles stepped in right away and did what he needed to do. Bronson Greene was shining, he did what he needed to do. It doesn’t matter who’s behind us. We’re going to block and open the holes for them, they just have to find them and go.”
Senior tailback Myles averages 91 yards rushing per game, tailback Greene’s 10 touchdowns are the most ever scored by a Cortland freshman and sophomore wide receiver John Babin has caught 63 passes including 14 touchdowns as the top Cortland receiver.
“I think we’ve just been clicking. Coach (Greg) Roskos is calling great plays, great games, the O-line is getting it done up front and the running backs are finding the holes, making the cuts,” summed up Castro. “And Danny Pitcher is making throws, every throw. I mean, he’s having a phenomenal year.”
SENIOR LINEBACKER Joe Gilfedder leads an Ithaca defense out to stymie this high-powered Cortland offense, leading the Bombers with 87 tackles. Nine of those have gone for losses. Junior free safety Josh Leimer leads the Ithaca secondary with 54 tackles and four interceptions.
Senior Ruffrage is the top offensive threat for the Bombers, as a wide receiver and a kick returner. He has caught 143 passes in his career, second best in school history and only two grabs away from record-holder Thomas Vossler. Ruffrage’s 14 career touchdown passes are third best in school history, while his 1,866 receiving yards is an IC record.
Ruffrage has caught 40 passes this season, with Joseph Ingrao the top Bombers pass catcher with 45. Both Ruffrage and junior Ingrao have three TD receptions.
Where Ruffrage is probably more dangerous is returning kicks, having gone the distance on two punt returns and a kickoff return already this season. He averages 26 yards per punt return, which is second best nationally in Division III. He averaged 31 yards per kickoff return, the 15th best in the country.
Sophomore Phil Neumann and junior Jason Hendel have been spent time at quarterback for the Bombers, Neumann to get he starting nod going up against the Red Dragons. Sophomore Sal Sulla is the leading rusher with 463 yards and three touchdowns, going up against a Red Dragon defense that allows 89 rushing yards per game.
The Red Dragons also average three sacks per contest. Senior linebackers Bill Smith and Cody Allen the top tacklers with 60 and 50, respectively. Senior cornerback D.J. Romano leads the secondary with three interceptions.
“We’ve got our hands full, we know that,” said Cortland coach MacNeill of the task facing his team, hardly fooled by Ithaca’s won-loss record.
“When you’re losing it’s tough, but they are a resilient group,” said Welch of his Bombers. “We know we have a great challenge, but we’ve got confidence in our abilities and what can happen.”
And in Cortaca Jug contests, anything can happen.
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