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November 16, 2012

 

It’s tourney time for Red Dragons

Host Framingham State in NCAA opener

red dragons footballBob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland running back Justin Autera, taking a handoff from quarterback Chris Rose in last weekend’s Cortaca Jug game, is expected to carry more of an offensive load in Saturday’s NCAA playoff opener against Framingham State.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Framingham State’s first ever football venture into the NCAA Division III national tournament will be as vast underdog, if you believe head coach Tom Kelley.
That was Kelley’s educated opinion prior to the Rams’ arrival from Massachusetts to take on nationally-ranked SUNY Cortland in a Saturday noontime first round match-up at the Stadium Complex.
“Let’s face facts. We’re coming out of New England. We’re considered weak sisters nationally,” said Kelley, who also doubles as the athletic director at his alma mater. “We’re playing a Cortland team that is a perennial power in the east. We just want to see where we stack against these guys.
“We understand where we’re at, and we’re underdogs.”
Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill isn’t buying into that, however, and hopes players don’t either when his Red Dragons (8-1) take on the Rams (10-1) to begin this quest for a national title.
“I think you’ve got to watch that. Everyone likes to make prognostications or assessments, and that’s part of the game trying to make comparisons,” said MacNeill. “The fact is, he’s got a pretty good football team and we’ve got our hands full. They’re well-coached and they will be well-prepared for us. You know what, any given Saturday everybody has a shot so we have to take care of business.”
The two sides do have one thing in common. Both are riding nice winning streaks.
Framingham State dropped its season-opener 34-7 to Endicott, in a game where two lost quarterbacks and seven turnovers were insurmountable obstacles. Since then, the Rams have reeled off 10 consecutive wins including last Saturday’s 28-16 victory over Salve Regina in the New England Football Conference’s Bogan Division title game that earned an automatic berth into the NCAAs.
Cortland lost its season opener 49-31 at Buffalo State, in a game were the defense struggled while giving up over 700 yards of total offense. Since then, the Red Dragons have reeled off eight consecutive victories including a 31-17 win at Kean that wrapped up a New Jersey Athletic Conference regular season title before topping Ithaca 16-10 in last Saturday’s emotional Cortaca Jug contest.
“We circled the wagons, moved some kids around, and fortunately with a long season we’re getting healthier,” said Coach Kelley of his team’s resurgence. “No one is healthy at this time of the year, but we’ve gotten some people back and we’re happy with where we are.”
THE RAMS ARE ALSO happy having productive running back Melikke Van Alstyne, who averages 142.1 rushing yards per game, on their side. Coming into the Cortland contest the junior has covered 1,676 yards rushing on 280 carries, has caught 18 passes for an additional 300 yards and has found he end zone 17 times for the Rams.
“He’s a special kid,” said Kelley of his 5-foot-10, 190-pound weapon. “He’s a slasher. He not a downhill kid, but for 20 yards he’s as quick as anyone.”
“He’s good. He’s really good. He fits into their offense perfectly,” said Cortland’s MacNeill of Van Alstyne. “They really force you to run laterally and he just plants his foot and find the hole.
“There are some real straight-away runners who like to get behind a lead blocker,” he continued. “He’s one of those guys who goes laterally and will continue to go laterally until he finds what he’s looking for. He will cut it all the way back, and if you don’t tackle him he’ll roll off you and get extra yardage that way.”
The Rams also have a play-maker at quarterback in Matt Silva, who has thrown for 1,676 yards and 16 touchdowns. And when in short yardage situations, the Rams used Matt Mangano at QB and he has 11 touchdowns to his credit.
“He has the intangibles, and he knows how to win,” said Kelley of signal-caller Silva. “He’s not big, he’s not fast, but he gets the job done for us.”
The Rams passing game spreads things around. Alex Avery the top receiver with 40 catches, six of those touchdown grabs.
That’s what the Red Dragons defense will have to take on. Freshman safety Andre Green has a team high 67 tackles and has also picked off a pair of passes. Inside linebacker Chris Bright and cornerback Pete Furey, both seniors, have been in on 58 stops — with Furey coming up with the play of the season when he returned an interception 75 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown at Kean.
“Their defense, we’re really impressed,” said Kelley of Cortland. “We think they’re fast up front and they’re going to cause some problems for us.”
CORTLAND’S OFFENSE will most likely be without senior tailback Dorian Myles, who was hurt in the first quarter of the Cortaca Jug game and was scheduled to have x-rays on his neck during the week. And with Bronson Greene also banged up from the win over Ithaca, junior running back Justin Autera will carry a bigger load.
That also means freshman Jonathan Prior out of Cortland High has moved up the Red Dragons depth chart and could make his season debut as a Red Dragon.
Cortland’s balanced offense has thrived under the direction of senior quarterback Chris Rose, who has thrown for 2,075 yards and 19 touchdowns. Senior Mike Humphrey has 53 catches for 632 yards and six touchdowns, with sophomore Kordel McInnis with 45 catches for 569 yards and seven scores.
The Red Dragons will go up against a defense that has allowed just 212.6 yards per game with a premier defensive tackle in James Muirhead.
“He’s a lot to handle. He’s a fast kid and he’s got a motor that doesn’t quit,” said coach Kelley of Muirhead, a 6-foot, 255-pond senior who is the Rams’ leading tackler. Framingham State also has picked off 26 passes, five of those by cornerback Tyrone Notice.
And Cortland has senior center Anthony Pedrotti and senior left tackle Mike Wutzer a bit banged up, though both are expected to play with so much on the line.
Framingham State just hopes not to be caught up in the moment.
“We’ve tried to keep the kids grounded and explain that we’re going to this beautiful stadium to face this team that’s battleworn,” said Kelley. ““I just hope we play our game. I hope we don’t get too tight and do things we haven’t done all year. We have to play assignment football, and not turn the ball over.”
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DRAGON TALES: Both teams exchanged game tapes of their last three contests, while Coach MacNeill also contacted former Red Dragon standout C.C. Grant for some information. Grant is on the coaching staff at Coast Guard, which lost 39-3 to Framingham State back on Oct. 27. “I’m sure they’re reaching out to people they know in our conference so there’s some familiarity to it,” said MacNeill of the scouting process.... Cortland kicker/punter Mike DeBole and safety Green earned honors for their performances in the Cortaca Jug game. Green was on the D3football.com national “Team of the Week” after coming up with 10 tackles and a key pass breakup. DeBole was named the ECAC Southeast Special Teams Player of the Week for the third time. He was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and averaged 43 yards on six punts..... Coach MacNeill admitted it took a few days for the Dragons to recover from the win over Ithaca. “When you empty your tank in a game like that there’s going to be a little residue. The celebration kind of continues a little bit,” he said. “To get the kids really focused, Wednesday was the first practice where we had to say, ‘Hey, let’s move forward.’”

 

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