November 14, 2011
Red Dragons keep the Jug
QB Pitcher, defense shine in 27-3 victory over Ithaca
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland quarterback Dan Pitcher (9) raises his arms to the cheering crowd after a second half touchdown against Ithaca College Saturday. PItcher threw for three touchdowns in a 27-3 Cortaca Jug victory in Ithaca.
ITHACA — SUNY Cortland quarterback Dan Pitcher has already proven he can beat foes with his accurate throwing arm.
So it was the damage done by the seasoned graduate student running with the football during Saturday’s 53rd annual Cortaca Jug contest that came as a bit of a surprise, as the Red Dragons ran off with a convincing 27-3 victory over rival Ithaca College.
On this clear blue-skied afternoon at Ithaca’s Butterfield Stadium before a stoked gathering somewhat shy of the 9,700 tickets sold, Pitcher threw for 280 yards and tossed touchdown passes to three different Red Dragons. But what really stunned the hosts was how the former Cortland High signal-caller picked up some crucial first downs with some timely scrambling.
Pitcher finished with 94 vital yards on 11 often ad-libbed carries, which made him the game’s leading rusher, too. That helped Cortland convert 7-of-13 third down plays in the game, with the Red Dragons a perfect 2-for-2 in fourth down conversions.
“The lanes were there today,” said Pitcher of his big rushing day. “We did know they drop a lot of guys sometimes, and they also blitz. It was one of those things where it was kind of in the moment. I stepped up and was able to make some big runs.”
“He wasn’t going to make a mistake today,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill after Pitcher’s turnover-free decision making helped finish off an 8-2 regular season for the Red Dragons.
Sophomore tight end Tyreek Burwell, junior wide receiver Mike Humphrey and sophomore wideout John Babin were on the receiving end of touchdown passes that turned an early 3-0 deficit into a 21-3 second half cushion.
With Pitcher accounting for all but 33 of Cortland’s 417 yards of total offense — and with the defense making life miserable for junior Ithaca quarterback Jason Hendel with a couple of interceptions and eight sacks — the Red Dragons retained possession of the Cortaca Jug with their most lopsided victory on Ithaca’s home turf in this storied series since posting a 28-0 shutout in 1955.
The loss finished off a 4-6 season for Ithaca, as the Bombers dropped five of their last six outings for their first losing campaign in 42 years.
The win moves Cortland on a final ECAC Southeast Bowl game, the Red Dragons hosting Albright College (6-4) from Pennsylvania this coming Saturday. Game time has yet to be determined.
THE ITHACA OFFENSE managed just 226 yards on the day. Thirty-eight of those yards came when Tom Scanlon broke loose on a nifty fake punt — as Ithaca coach Mike Welch rolled the dice on a 4th-and-17 gamble from his own 30-yard line. That led to the Bombers opening the scoring with a 39-yard Andrew Rogowski field goal some four minutes into the second quarter.
Outside of a game-opening Ithaca drive to the Cortland 22 halted by an interception by Red Dragons senior linebacker Cody Allen, and the game’s final possession when a 46-yard run by third-string running back Adam Lajara got the hosts to the Cortland 20 before senior defensive back Greg Statler picked off a end zone toss on the game’s final play, the Bombers couldn’t get much accomplished.
Senior wide receiver Dan Ruffrage did become the Bombers all-time reception leader with 151 career grabs, catching eight passes for 85 yards against Cortland. Still, Ithaca went without a touchdown for the first time this season, rushed for just 67 yards and picked up a mere 11 first downs to 22 for the Red Dragons.
“It was a whole team effort,” said senior inside linebacker and team captain Bill Smith of Cortland’s defensive dominance. “No one person did a lot, everyone did it together, and that’s the type of defense you want to have. We were strong up front, strong at linebackers, we were all filling our holes and we were filling in for each other, and that’s the thing you love.”
Accenting Smith’s point were the defensive statistics that had nine different Red Dragons with three or more tackles, senior nose guard Steve Gruber’s six stops the team high. Gruber; linebackers Allen, Mike Wilson, Chris Bright and Jesse Scanna; and defensive ends Connor Tompkins, Vaughn Labor and Joe Kirchner were all in on quarterback sacks. Four of those sacks came on the same Ithaca fourth quarter possession, when Cortland knew Hendel had to throw the ball.
“Pleasantly surprised, I guess,” said Coach MacNeill of the way his defense shut down Ithaca. “I like our defense a lot, and I think we play well. We’re capable of doing that. No one’s done that to them, but we did it today.”
CORTLAND ONLY had three first half possessions, but put together potential scoring drives in each.
The only points, however, came on a play-action pass from the Ithaca 2-yard line that Pitcher lofted to back-up tight end Burwell for a TD with 4:46 left before halftime. That finished off a 90-yard Cortland drive that featured some 20-yard Pitcher legwork and an acrobatic 29-yard Humphrey pass reception in traffic that reached the IC 6-yard line.
Two missed Cortland field goals kept Ithaca within 7-3 at the halftime break, only to have the Red Dragons travel 80 yards to open the third quarter for their second touchdown. Babin nearly went the distance on that drive, stepping out of bounds eight yards shy of the end zone for a 47-yard sideline reception. Three plays later, Humphrey pulled down a well-placed TD pass in the corner of the end zone and Cortland was up 14-3.
The Red Dragons put the game way two plays into the fourth quarter, that 13-play, 63-yard end zone excursion capped with a perfect Pitcher back-shoulder throw to Babin from 10 yards out. It was Babin’s 15th touchdown catch of the year, adding on to his single-season school record.
Cortland’s final points came after Ithaca faced a 4th-and-28 from its own 36, only to have Kirchner sack QB Hendel for a six-yard loss.
On 4th-and-6 from the Ithaca 26 moments later, freshman receiver Cordel McInnis made his team-high seventh reception of a Pitcher pass to the Ithaca 2-yard line. On the next play, freshman Bronson Greene scored his 11th touchdown of the season with 1:50 remaining and the Cortaca Jugs were headed back to Cortland.
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