November 11, 2013
Dragons pile up the points
Beat Mustangs 62-49 in offensive shoot-out
When the leg-weary officiating crew under the direction of referee Vance Harris exited the premises Saturday afternoon, they wondered aloud about how many total yards these SUNY Cortland and Morrisville State football foes had just piled up before their astonished eyes.
The correct answer would be a staggering 1,263 yards in an exhausting New Jersey Athletic Conference shoot-out captured by Cortland 62-49, as these two offenses combined for 56 first downs and had 40 plays go for at least 10 or much, much, much more yards.
The Mustangs of Morrisville came into the game with an explosive attack under the direction of dangerous junior quarterback Lemar Johnson, who nearly rallied the feisty visitors back from a 28-7 second quarter deficit.
That the Red Dragons could respond with a season-best 641 yards of total offense was the surprising part, considering third-string quarterback John Grassi was making his first collegiate start.
“It was time to step up. It’s what I had to do,” said sophomore Grassi, who completed 24-of-34 throws for 347 yards and four touchdowns. “This is the last home game for these seniors, so I can’t look at a guy like Joe Kirchner on crutches and not come out and play a good game for these guys.”
Senior defensive end Kirchner was among the walking wounded — along with previous starting QBs Tyler Augliano (shoulder) and Tyler Hughes (concussion) — watching this madness unfold. Having broken his leg in last week’s 10-9 loss at Rowan, Kirchner could have certainly helped out a defense that had allowed just two touchdowns in its previous two outings.
“You kind of look at this game and it’s the absolute beauty of team sports,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill, whose team finishes up 5-2 in the NJAC standings and will be 5-4 overall heading into this coming Saturday’s Cortaca Jug visit to Ithaca College.
“The offense was maligned a little bit, probably, in some of the other games,” noted MacNeill. “They saved this game because the defense was really struggling.”
IN A GAME WHERE the 1,263 total yards and 111 points were single-game records for a Cortland contest, Grassi got plenty of help starting with the offensive line. “They were pushing guys around all day,” noted Grassi.
The offensive numbers were simply gaudy, on both sides.
Senior tailback Justin Autera became the first player in Cortland history to go over 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game, and was named the NJAC Offensive Player of the Week. He ran for 133 yards on 30 carries including a short TD run, though his big play was turning a swing pass into an 82-yard touchdown that put the Red Dragons up 35-14 in the second quarter.
Fellow running back Dylan Pebbles rushed for a game-high 171 yards on just 11 carries, and scored three touchdowns. The junior’s best moment came right after Morrisville had pulled to within 45-35 midway through the third quarter, taking a pitch on Cortland’s next snap and sweeping right for an 82-yard touchdown run.
Junior wide receiver John Babin caught 15 of Grassi’s throws for 160 yards, with two touchdowns to his credit. His key reception came late in the third quarter on a 4th-and-4 play from the Morrisville 33-yard -line, Babin breaking free over the middle to haul in a Grassi TD toss that put the Red Dragons up 59-35.
Freshman tight end Josh Riley also caught his first TD pass for Cortland, a five-yarder from Grassi in the third quarter following the game’s lone turnover — Cortland safety Andrew Tolosi forcing a fumble on a Johnson scramble.
ALL THOSE BIG plays were needed because Cortland could not keep wide receivers Josh Powell or Anthony Gray from catching passes for Morrisville (2-4 NJAC, 3-6 overall).
The fleet Powell matched Babin’s 15 receptions, good for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Gray had 13 grabs for 187 yards, and fellow receiver Anthony Mella broke a tackle after a short pass play and raced 65 yards for a Mustangs touchdown.
“Their team speed, they probably match up with Brockport’s team speed and that was another offense that put-up a lot of offense against us,” noted Coach MacNeill, Cortland losing 49-32 to Brockport this season.
Morrisville running back Cristian Pena balanced things out with 142 rushing yards, including a 43-yard end zone dash in the opening quarter that tied things up at 7-7 at the time.
Even when Johnson went to the sidelines shaken up after being hit throwing a pass in the fourth quarter, back-up Tony Deese came on and provided the game’s final points with a 27-yard scoring strike to Gray with 2:36 left to play.
What did in Morrisville were dropped interceptions being out-played by Cortland’s special teams.
“Like our coaches would say about Cortland, if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile,” said Morrisville’s Caleb Wright, the starting sophomore safety out of Cortland High whose homecoming was spoiled.
“So we couldn’t give up and let down and the mistakes we made, the missed tackles, that made us further apart,” added Wright. “We dropped about four or five interceptions that could have changed the momentum of the game.”
CORTLAND SPECIAL TEAMS came up big all day, starting when Morrisville punter Tyler Dunworth made a run for it on 4th-and-6 from the Cortland 29 with his side trailing just 14-7 early in the second quarter. Cortland’s Nate Burgo stopped Dunworth after a one-yard gain and three Peebles runs later the Cortland lead was 21-7.
Cortland also came close to scoring on a kickoff return for the fourth time this season, Autera handing off to Peebles on an 87-yard third quarter return — Wright stopping Peebles at the Morrisvlle 8-yard line. Grassi’s TD pass to Riley came two plays later.
The Red Dragons also blocked a Morrisville punt in the fourth quarter, senior Ben Krauz getting a piece of that boot to set up Cortland’s final points of the day — a 20-yard Daley field goal with 7:48 left.
“The one thing I will tell you, I think our special teams continue to operate at a high level,” said Coach MacNeill.
Cortland could still tie for first place in the league standings, but would need both current co-leaders Brockport and Rowan to lose this coming weekend. Having lost to both of those schools, the Red Dragons would not earn the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs.
So Cortland can concentrate on Ithaca, the Bombers (8-1) winners of the Empire 8 after beating Salisbury 24-23 in overtime this past Saturday in Maryland.
“The good news is we’re headed into our arch rival and what a great opportunity,” said MacNeill, Cortland looking for a fourth consecutive victory in this Cortaca Jug series. “You come here to play this game. Now it’s all fun, the fun of a great rivalry.”
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