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November 14, 2008

 

Cortaca Jug rivalry turns 50

Host Dragons, Bombers both ranked

Cortaca

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Sights like Red Dragons receiver Drew Lascari celebrating a win with fans by jumping into the stands at the Stadium Complex have been among the scenes coming out of 50 years of Cortaca Jug contests.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Writer
The Cortaca Jug is getting a pretty nice 50th birthday present on Saturday.
Specially gift-wrapped for this special football occasion will be two nationally ranked teams stepping onto the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex for a noontime kickoff.
SUNY Cortland is a perfect 9-0 and has already captured the New Jersey Athletic Conference regular season title. The Red Dragons are ranked sixth nationally in the American Football Coaches Association poll and seventh by D3football.com.
Ithaca College is an almost perfect 8-1, riding a five-game winning streak, and has clinched at least a tie for first place in the Empire 8 standings. The Bombers are ranked 17th by D3football.com pollsters and 18th by the AFCA.
As if this battle over possession of the two Cortaca Jugs that are currently being embraced by the Bombers — 40-17 winners on their own Butterfield Stadium grounds a year ago — needs an additional attraction, having two powerhouses certainly brings even more luster.
“It’s true, it brings more attention to it,” said Ithaca coach Mike Welch, who has been associated with this game as running back for the Bombers and an assistant coach before taking the head job from coaching legend Jim Butterfield in 1994.
All 9,500 tickets for this sold out game have been distributed, though Time Warner (Channel 26 locally) will televise the game live and radios can be turned to WXHC (101.5 FM) for a listen. Web-casts are also available to follow the action.
With rain in the forecast, those hoping to bring an umbrella to the proceedings will be disappointed — those are not being allowed into the Stadium Complex. And everyone will need a ticket to enter, with the usual free admittance for children 12-and-under not in effect.
Cortland coach Dan MacNeill is also an expert on the emotions of this game, having been a former Red Dragon defensive standout, an assistant coach at Ithaca as a graduate student and the head coach at his alma mater for the past 12 seasons. So at a mid-week press conference, he put this game into prospective.
“It is the Cortaca Jug, but there are a lot of other flavors involved in this game,” said MacNeill. Among those flavors he highlighted are:
Tom Decker of Cortland and Dick Carmean of Ithaca, captains of their respective 1959 teams who collaborated to get the Cortaca Jug tradition started, will be on hand to take part in a ceremonial coin toss at the start of the game.
— The 1988 Cortland team, the last Red Dragon bunch to go undefeated in the regular season, will be celebrating their 20th anniversary at the game.
— A Cortland victory would give the Red Dragons the top regional seed for the upcoming NCAA Division III playoffs, Cortland having already getting an automatic berth by winning the NJAC title. That means home games for the post-season.
— An Ithaca victory would keep the Bombers post-season hopes alive, with the Bombers in position to still win the Empire 8 title outright if Alfred can knock off St. John Fisher on Saturday. A St. John Fisher victory would tie Ithaca for first place in the Empire 8, and the Bombers would not get the automatic berth because of a 37-6 loss at St. John Fisher. In that scenario, beating Cortland would make Ithaca a prime contender for at at-large bid into the playoffs.
— And as MacNeill also pointed out, seniors on either side never want to end their careers with a loss in this rivalry.
“Those are all the spices that come to this game, that just adds flavor, especially this year, to the rivalry,” concluded MacNeill.
Ithaca leads the Cortaca Jug series 32-17, though Cortland has won four of the last six. These two teams have been playing since 1930, IC with an overall 37-26-3 edge.
Both coaches also agree the glamour of the occasion helps in recruiting, has helped both teams continue to be among the best programs in Divison III.
“You can’t come to a game like this and not become awed,” said Cortland’s MacNeill.
“It really does help. It’s a typical reaction for a kid to look around amazed to see the insanity and the atmosphere surrounding the game,” said IC’s Welsh. “We use that when someone is tipping one way or another about coming here. Who wouldn’t want to play college football in Central New York at either Cortland or Ithaca?”
CORTLAND RUNNING back Andrew Giuliano, who has rushed for 1,188 yards on the season including a school record 21 touchdowns, was an unassuming teenager as far as his knowledge of the Cortaca Jug.
“I didn’t know much about the Cortaca Jug until I got recruited to come there,” said Giuliano, who attended Westlake High School in Thornwood. “This could be the biggest sporting event for college in all of New York State.”
Guiliano and senior quarterback Ray Miles give the Red Dragon offense a balanced looked, Miles with 2,174 passing yards and 21 touchdowns to date.
With plenty of seniors on both sides of the ball, handling the pressure of a Cortaca Jug game should not be a problem for the hosts.
Senior defensive end Ben Nagle knows emotions will be high at the start, but also understands: “That wears off once the game goes on.”
Ithaca senior quarterback Dan Juvan can also offer advice on handling the pressure, hoping a recent hand injury does not keep him from his third Cortaca Jug start.
“I feel like to play at your highest leven you have to have adrenaline pumping, which does make it harder to play,” said Juvon, who has thrown for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. “You do have to stay composed and stay focused and just do what you’ve been doing in practice.
“If you come out too pumped up, it will affect your game a little bit,” he added.
Cortland’s senior linebacker Jim Smith, coming off a career-best 19 tackle performance in last weekend’s win over Brockport that earned him NJAC Defensive Player of the Week and a spot on the D3football.com Team of the Week, puts the same sentiments in simpler terms.
“Do the little things right and big things will happen,” said Smith of how to play in this game.
EVERYONE WANTS to play in this game, which is why grad student Josh Jablonski is expected to be back at his starting linebacker role for the Red Dragons after recent shoulder woes.
Ithaca were without injured QB Juvan (hand) and 1,000-yard rusher Thomas Bergerstock (ankle) injuries while holding off Alfred in a 43-35 victory last weekend.
Though their back-ups performed more than admirably in that victory — Dan Ruggiero rushing for 192 yards and four touchdowns while quarterback Brian Grasatoft throew for 161 yards and another score — don’t expect or Juvon and Bergerstock  to sit out this game.
“Me and Brian are both taking snaps in practice. We’ll see what happens,” said Juvon about that situation.
“We’re reasonably healthy,” said Coach Welch. “We’ll be ready to go. I don’t now if, in any of these games, if there’s any way to predict it.”
Since losing to St. John Fisher, Ithaca has scored 41, 51, 42, 37 and 43 points in its recent win streak.
“They do everything pretty well, pass the ball and have a big line, but basically nothing we haven’t seen before,” said Red Dragon linebacker Smith.
Or course, there’s more to it than just being seniors.
“That’s the thing about this team. We’re a team,” said Giuliano. “I’ve been her four years andI think we’re bonding more and we’re more together as a team.”