November 13 , 2006
Cortaca Jug staying in Cortland
Mintz boots Bombers as Dragons win in OT
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Ithaca College’s Ryan Terlecki trys for a leaping tackle after a reception by SUNY Cortland receiver Drew Lascari in the first quarter Saturday. Lascari caught a touchdown pass in Cortland’s 23-20 overtime victory in the annual Cortaca Jug game.
Senior tailback Matt Rickert has not thrown a forward pass since his junior varsity playing days in high school, to the best of his recollection.
Though he has three interceptions this season, senior inside linebacker Matt Hauser has never picked off a pass as important as this one.
Though he has developed into a productive and consistent kicker as a junior, Matthew Mintz has never booted the ball so far and true in his collegiate career.
And because rugged running back Rickert did unleash a clutch fourth quarter touchdown pass, because Hauser did step in front of an overtime pass for the game’s biggest turnover and because Mintz did drill a game-ending and career-best 40-yard field goal, the coveted Cortaca Jug remains in the clutches of this resilient SUNY Cortland football squad.
As Cortaca Jug drama unfolded once more before 9,700 fans on a dreary and rain-soaked Saturday afternoon at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, the Red Dragons pulled out a memorable 23-20 overtime victory over the Ithaca Bombers.
As “The Biggest Little Game in the Nation” continues to live up to the hype, the Red Dragon reward for perseverance was a 9-1 overall record and a second straight overtime victory over their upstate rivals.
There would be no additional reward, however, as the NCAA snubbed the New Jersey Athletic Conference co-champions and did not award Cortland an at-large bid into the Division III playoffs. Cortland awaits an ECAC bowl game assignment to be announced today.
Ithaca’s season is over with a 7-3 mark, the Bombers not interested in a possible ECAC post-season game consolation prize.
“This was one we should have had, but give Cortland credit,” said Ithaca coach Mike Welch, whose Bombers lost their final two outings to drop out of the national rankings. “Cortland clawed and fought and did the things they had to do to win.”
Down 17-13 with the fourth quarter clock winding down, Rickert swept to his left on an apparent run before flipping up a 14-yard touchdown pass that senior tight end Dave Fregelette — a former 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive lineman — secured in the end zone.
“I was almost getting hit and I chucked it up there and Fregelette made a great play in the ball,” said Rickert.
That trick play capped an 80-yard touchdown drive directed by freshman quarterback Sean Pratt, an unlikely hero (see separate story) who was pressed into service when the Red Dragons lost their third signal caller of the season to injury.
ITHACA DID NOT fold after losing the lead on that fourth quarter Cortland touchdown. Behind the running of Jamie Donovan and some clutch throws by quarterback Dan Juvan, IC staged a gutsy drive that stalled at the Cortland 10-yard line. That enabled school all-time scoring leader Bret Kitenpolen to send this game into overtime with a 27-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in regulation.
Cortland won the toss and elected to play defense to begin the first extra session, which gives each team a chance to score with drives starting at the opponent’s 25-yard line.
After Hauser tackled Donovan for a yard gain, the linebacker stepped in front of a Juvan pass intended for wide receiver Kelly Gordon. His bid to return that theft for a game-ending score did not get very far, but Cortland defense did its part and gave the offense a chance to end things.
Blitzing safety Ryan Terlicki forced Pratt into an incompletion and a short pass to Mike Lane picked up a couple of yards on the Red Dragons’ possession. Cortland then ran Rickert into the middle of the field for better field goal positioning, where an apparent lost fumble was ruled to have occurred after the captain’s forward progress was stopped.
That left it up for Mintz to try to make his third field goal attempt of the game, having already been successful from 38- and 23-yard distances. This 40-yarder split the uprights with ease.
“I hit it pretty good, I knew I could make it happen,” said Mintz of his game-winning boot. Only afterwards did he realize it was his career best.
“I practiced really hard and I was really determined,” he said of preparations that went into a stellar season that has him a perfect 34-for-34 in extra-point tries and 12-of-17 in field goals.
“I wanted to be an All-American kicker, but I missed a few kicks this year,” Mintz added, still smarting from a field goal try that bounced off the uprights in last week’s 14-7 overtime loss at Rowan. “But it’s all about making adjustments and being prepared.”
THIS GAME WAS a 10-10 standoff at halftime.
Ithaca was intent on stopping the Cortland ground game, which was expected with senior quarterback Bryan Shea making his first start — having become the third starter used this season by the injury troubled Red Dragons.
Shea eased some nerves connecting with Drew Lascari on a 22-yard pas play on the Red Dragons opening possession. And after an exchange of punts, as a Stef Sair 31-yard return and a 15-yard Ithaca personal foul penalty set up Cortland on the visitors’ 30-yard line, Cortland took advantage.
On a second down snap from the 28, Shea found Lascari open in the back of the Ithaca end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
“We knew they would bite on the run. I just gave a jab step, a fake, which got me behind the secondary,” said Lascari.
After falling behind, Ithaca found success running to its left with Donovan. The senior ended up scoring the game-tying touchdown with 59 seconds left in the first quarter from four yards away.
Interceptions by Ithaca safety Charlie Stevens and Cortland safety Matt Berman led to second quarter field goals, Mintz knotting things up with just four seconds left in the half.
Then came the second half kickoff, lined by Cortland’s Jeffrey Lang into the mitts of Gordon. The speedy senior broke free near the Ithaca sideline and then crossed the entire length of the field to escape the final Red Dragon tackler before diving just inside the pylon and into the end zone. That 89-yard return had the Bombers ahead 17-10.
And the Cortland offense was not taking advantage of good field position with Pratt at the controls, as heavier rain made in tough on both teams in the second half.
“You have to stay confident and believe in yourselves,” said Lascari of fighting through those offensive woes.
“It’s pretty frustrating, but you have to be patient,” said Rickert.
THE CORTLAND DEFENSE, which got 10 tackles from All-America defensive tackle Adam Haas and nine stops from Hauser, kept Ithaca from improving on its 17-10 lead. The Bombers, out-gained 270-238 in total yards, only had two first downs in the second half before its late drive that tied the game.
“We had lousy field position and we wanted to be careful with the football,” said IC coach Welch. “Sometimes when you do that, you get a little conservative.”
Down by four points and taking over at their own 20-yard line after a Sair fair catch of an IC punt, the Cortland offense suddenly clicked.
Pratt scrambled for 10 yards. Rickert broke off a 14-yard run, his longest gain of the day. Then on a deep second down pass thrown by Pratt from midfield, Cortland’s Lane and Ithaca’s Jason Chier seemed to come down with the football ball together at the Bomber 17. Lane was given the catch, leading to Rickert’s halfback touchdown pass moments later.
The Rickert pass play was one Cortland had worked on in practice for the past couple of weeks. “Give him credit for calling it,” said Rickert, pointing to offensive coordinator Dan Lounsbury.
That TD set the stage for another fantastic finish, the IC drive at the end of regulation, the Hauser pick, the Mintz field goal.
That led MacNeill, worried about a possible NCAA bid, saying: “No one has gone through the adversity this team has gone through the last two weeks. I sure hope the NCAA is paying attention. We’re hobbled, but we deserve it.”
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QB Pratt answers SOS call
Someone could pick up plenty of loose change knowing the answer to this Cortaca Jug trivia question.
Who is the only SUNY Cortland quarterback to defeat Ithaca College twice during a single football season?
The answer to that query is Sean Pratt, the undaunted freshman who answered Saturday afternoon’s SOS call before 9,700 rain-soaked and energetic fans packed into the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
Pratt completed 11-of-17 throws for 125 yards coming off the bench as the Red Dragons pulled out a 23-20 overtime victory over the Bombers. He had also conducted a victory at Ithaca much earlier this season as the signal caller for the Cortland junior varsity squad — thus giving him this rare double distinction.
Of course no one back then figured that this rookie, who was an all-country quarterback at Brockport High School a year ago, would be needed this season to enable the Red Dragons to maintain possession of the Cortaca Jug.
The 6-foot, 195-pounder was poised and practically error-free after taking over when Bryan Shea went down. Shea was third quarterback to start a game for Cortland this season and became the third quarterback to suffer an injury. He was carried off the field, unable to put any pressure on his right leg, after being injured at the end of a 10-yard run with 4:23 remaining in the opening half.
That is when Pratt stepped onto the field for the just the third time this season and earned himself a place in Red Dragon folklore.
“Wow, with all the tradition and all the lore surrounding the Cortaca Jug game already you can imagine when they talk about the ‘06 Cortaca Jug, when they talk about how Cortland was down to its fourth string quarterback being on the field and he did the job,” said ebullient Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill.
Pratt saw second half and overtime action last week, after Cortland lost second string quarterback Ray Miles to a broken thumb in a 14-7 loss at Rowan. Miles had been productive as a starter, taking over after multi-talented junior Alex Smith bashed up his knee at Western Connecticut State in the sixth game of this season.
“As hard as it was at the time, I can say it helped me out today. It really helped me get my feet under me,” said Pratt of getting those snaps in against Rowan. He completed just one of four passes for a four-yard gain.
There was some thought he might get the starting nod over Shea for the Cortaca Jug, though Coach MacNeill elected to go with the senior. And Shea responded well to his first start, completing 3-of-5 passes including a 28-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Drew Lascari before being sidelined.
Shea was also picked off, setting up an Ithaca field goal.
Pratt had no turnovers on a wet day against a formidable Ithaca defense, though he did almost lose a bobbled snap from center.
“It became a little more real to me in the last couple of weeks, because when our first two quarterbacks went down I knew I might have to play,” said Pratt of the chance that he might be called upon to play an important role with this team. “I wasn’t prepared to start, but was prepared to play.”
And his teammates made things easier for him along the way — a sign of a veteran team able to stare adversity in the face.
“There were only positive things said in the huddle, and that really calmed me down,” said Pratt.
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Eagles play new role in comeback
“I’m kind of nervous,” Williams said when asked her thoughts on making the Final Four. “But it’s going to be good; we’ll do well.”
CHITTENANGO — A change in roles Saturday afternoon insured that the McGraw Central girls’ soccer team will be playing a new role this Friday in the semifinals of the state Class D tournament.
After being outplayed by Section 4 champion Milford in the first half of Saturday’s regional contest at Chittenango High and trailing 1-0, the Eagles came out strong. After an extended intermission due to lightning, McGraw got the equalizer and then scored again in the first overtime session for a 2-1 victory that put them in the state Final Four for the second time in three years.
The Section 3 Class D champions, who won the state title in 2004 and are ranked fifth in the state this week, will be an underdog for the first time this season when they meet Section 5 titleholder Arkport. At 22-0 on the season, the Blue Jays are the second-ranked D team in the state.
The contest will be one of two semifinals to take place at 5 p.m. Friday at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, the other featuring Section 7’s Chazy, the top-ranked team in the state, going against unranked S.S. Seward from Section 9. The winners will meet for the state Class D championship at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the Stadium Complex.
It was the second close game between McGraw and Milford this season. The Eagles won 3-1 in a shootout after the squads had played to a 1-1 tie through regulation and overtime Sept. 10 in the Group 3 championship game in the Hall of Fame Soccer Tournament.
Freshman forward Emily Williams made sure this one was a little shorter, getting what proved to be the game-winning goal for McGraw with 3:56 left in the first of two 10-minute overtime sessions. The Wildcats, pegged seventh in the state this week, applied some pressure thereafter, especially in the second overtime with their backs to the wall, but were unable to mount a serious threat and ended their season with a 19-2-2 record.
Williams’ goal, her 18th of the season, was the result of an extended period of pressure by the Eagles, and came after a cross from the right wing by senior midfielder Jaimie Harriger. Williams took the ball in the middle some 15 yards from the goal and sent the ball hard and low into the right side of the net as Milford goalie Chynna Pitlock was unable to reach it in time.
“I took Jaimie’s pass and shot, but I didn’t think it was going in,” Williams said with a laugh. “I thought it was going to hit someone, but it went in. We just picked it up in the second half and were able to play well. We weren’t ready to end the season.”
“It was the same as the Davenport game,” McGraw senior midfielder-forward Jen Rutan said, in reference to a 5-3 regional win at Chittenango in 2004 that propelled the Eagles closer to their eventual state crown. McGraw trailed 3-1 at halftime in that one before rallying for the victory. “We knew we had to pick it up, because we didn’t want the season to end.”
Rutan had scored her team-high 19th goal of the season just 2:46 into the second half to tie the game at 1-1 after lightning had forced the addition of 30 minutes to halftime of the soggy contest.
“It felt like it was 0-0 again after that, and we could just go for broke,” she said of her tying tally, which came from about 12 yards out on the near right wing. “There was a whole bunch of purple (the color of Milford’s jerseys) in front. I just took the ball from one of their players and shot it when I saw an opening. I didn’t see where their keeper was because there was another purple jersey in front of me.”
Despite the drastic switch in momentum once the second half began, McGraw coach John Rutan said that there were no thunderous halftime utterances after his team started out flat for the second game in a row, on the heels of its 2-0 win over Madison for the Section 3 D title exactly one week before.
“The girls didn’t play with emotion or enthusiasm at all in the first half,” he said. “We were going into the wind, and it was at our backs in the second half. “I moved (freshman) Nicole Law back to central midfield, where she played very well, brought Jen up and to the outside and put Emily in the middle. Then things started moving. When things don’t work, you change up.
“I was concerned with Brenna,” said Rutan, Brenna Campbell being Milford’s leading scorer with 33 goals and 17 assists. “That’s why I had Jen back. But we did a nice job on her.”
McGraw, in fact, shut out the Wildcats’ high-scoring junior halfback. The only Milford score came 1:55 into the game when freshman forward Chandler Prouty controlled a bouncing ball and scored from in close on the right wing.
McGraw had a 9-7 shot advantage in the game. The Wildcats had a 4-2 first-half edge in that department, but were then outshot 5-2 by McGraw in the second. The winners had two shots and Milford none in the first extra period; the Wildcats took the only shot of the second overtime stanza.
Each goalkeeper — Eagles sophomore Chelsea Hayes and junior Chynna Pitlock from Milford — had four saves.
Jen Rutan had come close to tying the game with 22 minutes left in the first half, shooting just wide left on a play similar to her goal, except on the opposite side, off a corner kick by Law. Milford looked to have brought Law down in the box about five minutes after Rutan’s tally, but play continued. A shot from in close on the right side by Campbell skittered across the goal-mouth with 9:25 left in regulation, and Rutan whistled a shot just over the upper right corner of the crossbar with just 1:30 left.
“We did a good job in the first half, but I think the long intermission hurt us,” Milford coach Lorin Campbell said. “I like five-minute halftimes, but our opponents always take 10. And then with the extra time.. it’s hard to maintain your game.
“McGraw had also played on a surface like this, and we hadn’t. Tthis field is narrower than the Hall of Fame Fields,” he added, referring to the site where Milford played en route to its Section 4 title.
“Don’t take anything away from McGraw,” said Campbell. “They’re a good team and physically stronger than we are. We’re a small team, physically, with little depth. And some of our bench players aren’t that quick, which isn’t a good thing on a surface like this.”
“You never know how a delay is going to affect you,” John Rutan said. “We had an hour-long delay because of lightning against Cincinnatus and they came out just as hard as before and took the lead on us before we were able to answer (in a 1-1 tie).
“I don’t think the first game we played with Milford was a factor today. They came out loose and happy to be here, ready to go for broke, after winning their first sectional championship. They were feeling good.”
The Eagles will be in somewhat the same position Friday against Arkport.
“Now it’s the other way,” said Coach Rutan, who noted that he had incorrectly counted the first Milford contest as an official win rather than a tie and that his squad is now 19-0-2. “Now we can go for broke, hopefully for the whole 80 minutes, and just loosen up and play. You have to like being the underdog; we haven’t been right straight through this season.”
“The girls who were on the team two years ago are very lucky to have a chance to be going back to the Final Four,” Jen Rutan said. “This is such a close-knit team. And we’ll love being the underdog.”
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