November 15, 2013
A game not to be missed
Cortland visits rival Ithaca for 55th Cortaca Jug clash
You can’ t blame Joe Kirchner for not wanting to be a spectator.
This is not the way the senior defensive end envisioned his football career at SUNY Cortland concluding, being regulated to the sidelines when the Red Dragons visit Ithaca College for the 55th annual Cortaca Jug game.
That is why despite having a broken leg as one of the dozen starters who have suffered season-ending injuries for the beleaguered Red Dragons, Kirchner had this heroic thought rattling around his head. In the mid-week prior to stepping onto Ithaca’s Butterfield Stadium at high noon Saturday before a sold-out throng in this regular season finale, the sack-master was entertaining the idea of actually giving it a go.
“I’m going to try to run around on it. If I can, I’m going to be out there,” insisted the hobbled Kirchner, who had six quarterback sacks and five QB hurries before being injured in a 10-9 loss at Rowan back on Nov. 7. That close loss knocked the Red Dragons out of contention in their quest to repeat as New Jersey Athletic Conference champions.
Team captain Kirchner also fully understands the reality of his situation, and would reluctantly add of his possible return: “But I doubt it. It is a broken leg.”
That is how badly players want to contribute to the rich tradition that is the Cortaca Jug, a game that has lived up to its “Biggest Little Game in the Nation” designation more often that not in recent Novembers. A dozen of the past 16 games in this series have been decided by eight points or less.
And if Kirchner is unable to take the field, he has additional duties to fulfill towards any Cortland success when the Red Dragons (5-4) and blue clad Bombers (8-1) continue an upstate rivalry that actually started in 1930. The Cortaca Jug became the prize for the winning side in 1959 as a brainstorm started by team captains Tom Decker from Cortland and Dick Carmean from Ithaca.
“I’m just trying to help everyone, help my back-up Tom Hagan and trying to coach him up,” said Kirchner prior to facing an Ithaca squad ranked 20th nationally in Division III. “I’ll just be the spirit on the sidelines, get everyone going. Everyone knows how important this game is and how big it is, so you don’t have to say much. I’ll be their No. 1 fan on the sideline, and they know it.”
ITHACA LINEBACKER Will Carter knows all about missing this game, too.
Now a graduate student on the South Hill, a knee injury kept him from playing in the memorable Cortaca Jug contest of a year ago when a late goal-line stand enabled Cortland to come away 16-10 winners over the visiting Bombers.
“I’m fortunate enough to be playing this year. I’ve been thinking about this for a lone time,” said Carter, who has received back-to-back Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Empire 8 Conference prior to facing Cortland.
Carter leads a stingy defensive unit that has allowed just 13.7 points per game. He had a staggering 18 tackles and forced a fumble in last week’s 24-23 overtime win at Salisbury that gave Ithaca the Empire 8 regular season title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs.
“The past couple of years we’ve lost to Cortland and I’ve had to watch teammates I care about walk off the field in tears,” said Carter. “It’s motivated me in the off-season. I’ve thought about it every day, so I’m motivated and my team is motivated.”
Ithaca reached the Cortland 1-yard line before an off-tackle fourth quarter carry lost yardage in the final seconds, which has provided a nagging Ithaca memory. “We call it ‘The Yard,’” said Carter of that game.
“It’s been brought up several times in the off-season and especially this week,” he added. “To lose a game that way for people we care about, their season to end that way, their careers to end that way, is something we’ve thought about every day.”
IRONICALLY, THIS YEAR’S match-up is a reversal from the 2012 affair, which gave Cortland a three-game winning streak in a Cortaca Jug series the Bombers still lead by a 34-20 margin.
Last year, Cortland came into the game as the NJAC champions with a lone loss to take on an Ithaca squad with long-shot hopes of earning a wild card berth into the NCAA tournament.
This year, Ithaca comes into the game as the Empire 8 champions with a lone loss to take on a Cortland squad that will need a victory to be able to play in an ECAC Bowl game the following weekend.
Cortland is looking to keep alive a streak of being in postseason play for eight straight campaigns. “You don’t want to be the team that has that signature, and we’ve got to play our best game,” says Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill of the added incentive this team has to keep that stretch of success going.
Ithaca has no doubt it will face a Cortland team at its best, despite the won-loss record and the uncommon and unprecedented rash of Red Dragon injuries.
“We’re very well prepared, because we do not underestimate this Cortland team at all based on their record,” said Ithaca’s Carter. “We were in a similar position that they are in last year, and we battled right with them. So that’s what we’re expecting, absolutely.”
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