November 12, 2010
Dragons defense must stop Zappia
IC quarterback has thrown for 2,232 yards
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Senior team captain Anthony Giuliano, dodging a Brockport defender earlier this season, is the leading SUNY Cortland receiver heading into Saturday’s 52nd annual Cortaca Jug game against Ithaca College.
The SUNY Cortland defense has distinguished itself throughout this football season.
The Red Dragons are ranked No. 1 nationally in Division III in allowing a meager 6.8 points per game, that number boosted by a stretch of three consecutive shutout victories at one juncture.
So when looking for a key to the 52nd annual Cortaca Jug game this Saturday, it will be how the Cortland defense deals with a dangerous Ithaca College attack directed by talented senior quarterback Rob Zappia.
Heading into the noontime kickoff at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, where a sold-out crowd of 10,000 will get to watch the Red Dragons (8-1) and the Bombers (6-3) renew their intense rivalry under what is promising to be an ideal autumn afternoon, Rochester native Zappia has thrown for 2,232 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“They are really relying on their quarterback and those wide receivers,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill, the Ithaca pass catchers led by senior team captains Dan Ruffrage and Thomas Vossler. Ruffrage has caught 47 passes, eight for touchdowns, while Vossler has been on the receiving end of 44 throws including four TD pegs.
“They’re going to test the waters with the run, there’s no question about that. But he’s an excellent quarterback, probably the best we’re going to see,” added Coach MacNeill of his impressions of the 6-foot, 185-pound Zappia. “As usual it’s a well-orchestrated attack, and that’s why he’s had success there, even if they don’t have the running attack they’d like to compliment the passing with.”
Ithaca is only averaging 2.2 yards per rush, but Zappia has thrown for more than 200 yards in eight of Ithaca’s nine games.
Getting after Zappia will be crucial for a Cortland defense that has posted 28 quarterback sacks coming into the game. The Red Dragons are looking to continue to streak where the defense has posted 30 or more sacks for nine consecutive years.
“It’s nothing we haven’t seen all season,” said senior defensive end Evan Wyler, who had 11 tackles in last week’s 38-7 win over William Paterson that secured first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, of the Ithaca offense. “Their quarterback seems like a good player and makes good decisions with the ball, but there’s not much we haven’t already seen.”
Inside linebacker Cody Allen leads the Cortland defense, the junior with 87 tackles. Cornerbacks Joe Lopez and D.J. Romano will play key roles against the Bombers, Lopez with a team-highs seven interceptions and comes into the Cortaca Jug game with a school-record streak of picks in five consecutive contests.
Having safety Chris Hanlon back will help out too, the senior missing last week’s win over William Paterson with shoulder problems.
CORTLAND HAS BEEN pretty balanced on offense while averaging 31 points and 346.6 yards per game.
Sophomore tailback Justin Autera, who was nursing an ankle sprain in practice this week, has rushed for 1,044 yards after taking over the starting spot when senior Dom Sair suffered his own ankle mishap in the second week of the season. Also a kickoff and punt return threat, Autera has scored a team-high 18 touchdowns.
Quarterback and Cortland High alum Dan Pitcher has thrown for 1,288 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has at least one TD pass in all 11 games he’s started for the Red Dragons — another school-record streak. Senior Anthony Giuliano has been his favorite pass target with 37 catches and six touchdowns, and is averaging 16.6 yards per catch.
Two linebackers, sophomore Will Carter and junior Eric Toporoff, lead the Bombers with 69 and 66 tackles, respectively. Senior defensive end Matt Dibble has been in on a team-high eight sacks, while junior cornerback Mike Conti has a handful of interceptions.
“They’re well disciplined, they’re athletic in the secondary, they have a big nose tackle (in senior Andrew Halm) and they move well up front,” said Cortland QB Pitcher of the Bombers defense. “And their second level guys, their linebackers, move around a lot and they have some pretty athletic safeties, so we have our hands full. This reminds us a little bit of how we prepared for Montclair.”
Cortland beat previously unbeaten Montclair 10-9 two weekends ago in a classic NJAC defensive struggle.
“With a team like that, it really becomes about simplifying things and making the plays that are there, and not forcing anything,” said Pitcher. “If we can do that and make good decisions, we’ll be all right.”
ITHACA HAS WON the last three Cortaca Jug games, including a 23-20 victory at Butterfield Stadium last year. Since they started fighting over possession of the Cortaca Jug in 1959, IC has won 34 of the previous 51 games.
So Cortland seniors have that incentive, along with NCAA playoff aspirations on the line.
If Rowan and Montclair State win their NJAC finales on Saturday, they will tie Cortland for first place in the conference standings with 8-1 records. Cortland needs a win over Ithaca to finish 9-1 overall and keep up with those two conference teams when tie-breaking rules decide which NJAC team advances into the NCAA Division III tournament.
Ithaca had its hopes of winning an Empire 8 title — and an automatic NCAA bid — halted with a 31-17 loss to Alfred last weekend.
“Alfred played lights out on us, but we didn’t respond,” said Ithaca head coach Mike Welch of last week’s loss, the Bombers unable to overcome an early 17-0 deficit. “We fell behind early, which is uncharacteristic of us, so it’s something we’re addressing this week.”
“It’s a little disappointing after losing last week, and the playoffs are a long-shot for us if not out of the question, but it’s nice to play one more game and hopefully end this thing on a good note,” said Ithaca’s Ruffrage.
“Ithaca’s just waiting to spoil our playoff hopes,” said Cortland’s versatile Giuliano, who caught a touchdown pass, threw a touchdown pass and returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in last week’s win over William Paterson. “They’re going to come out and play their hardest. It’s the Cortaca Jug. Playoffs or no playoffs, they’re going to play as hard as they can.”
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