November 18, 2011
Very hectic ‘bowling’ week for Red Dragons
Scrambling to prepare for an unknown opponent is among the challenges SUNY Cortland faces before finishing off the football season hosting Albright College in the ECAC Division III Southwest Bowl at noon Saturday.
The players were texting about their opponent even before head coach Dan MacNeill discovered early Monday morning just who the Red Dragons would be facing. Those ECAC Bowl selections were not determined until after the NCAA Division III tournament brackets — with Cortland failing to receive an at-large bid after finishing the regular season 8-2 — were filled up Sunday evening.
Then MacNeill had to wait until Monday evening before three recent game tapes of the Lions finally arrived, and due to a technical snafu sent the coaching staff home. That made for a long day Tuesday that started at 5 o’clock in the morning and staying busy into and after that day’s practice.
“You don’t have a comfort zone, everything’s harried,” said MacNeill of the week’s early work load.
Then bad weather arrived Wednesday, so practice was moved indoors. By the time practice actually started the weather had improved, but the Red Dragons still stayed inside and the coaching staff was unable tape that workout to see how the game plan was proceeding.
Still, though things have not gone as normal, it’s still been an enjoyable if hectic experience.
“It’s actually kind of exciting. You don’t know any of the names, the entities. We don’t know much about their conference, who’s strong and who isn’t, so we’re kind of discovering,” said MacNeill prior to Cortland and Albright meeting for the first time ever. “I think we’ve got a pretty good feel, and the kids want to get it just right, just like they do every week.”
One thing is for sure about Albright (6-4) or any opponent at this stage of the season. “Everyone who’s playing right now is pretty good,” says MacNeill.
OF COURSE FIFTH year head coach John Marzka is in the same situation preparing Albright — based in Reading, Pa. — for the Red Dragons. Cortland is fresh off an uplifting 27-3 victory over rival Ithaca College in the Cortaca Jug game, and winners of five straight contests.
The Lions out of the Middle Atlantic Conference have a knack for winning ECAC Bowls, having captured five of the six previous appearances they have made in these post-season affairs. Albright has also been in the NCAA playoffs four times, the latest in 2009 when they finished 11-2 with a second round loss to Mount Union.
Three of Albright’s four losses this season came against teams playing in the post-season. The Lions lost 20-10 to NCAA participant and MAC regular season champion Delaware Valley, and were beaten by ECAC Bowl hosts Lebanon Valley (24-17) and Widener (60-20 in a snow storm).
This is a team that averages 34 points and nearly 400 yards per game, directed by two quarterbacks. Sophomore T.J. Luddy has passed for 1,195 yards and a dozen touchdowns, junior Adam Galczynski has throw for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns and senior wide receiver Scott Pillar has caught 60 passes including 12 end zone grabs.
“They kind of make for a little bit of a different dimension when they’re in there, so you’re really taking on two offenses,” said Coach MacNeill of the Albright QB tandem of Luddy and Galczynski. “Their offensive line is big, their tailback (senior Josan Holmes) is talented, they have a big fullback (240-pound senior Marty Reinhardt), and a powerful running game. Buckle your chins strap, there’s going to be a lot of dust flying.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Sam Ott leads the way with 75 tackles. The Lions also have a weapon in punter Brooks Mitzkewich, another senior who averages 42 yards per boot.
CORTLAND HAS SIMILAR offensive numbers, as the Red Dragons average 37 points and 419 yards per game.
Quarterback Dan Pitcher heads into his final game as a Red Dragon having thrown for 2,442 yards through 10 games, the best regular season showing in school history. His 29 touchdown passes this season and 52 career scoring strikes are also school records.
Junior wide receiver John Babin has also become a Cortland record-setter with 1,110 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches this season. His 68 receptions have tied the school single-season mark.
The Cortland defense has been successful getting to opposing quarterbacks and stopping the run.
The Red Dragons have 37 sacks this season, that 3.7 sacks per game average third best in the nation. Freshman linebacker Jesse Scanna has eight sacks and sophomore defensive end Joe Kirchner seven. Inside linebackers Bill Smith and Cody Allen are the leading tacklers with 74 and 65, respectively, for a Cortland defense that ranked 13th nationally giving up only 86.7 yards per game.
No wonder Coach MacNeill says of his team, that ended up sharing second place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference: “I would love taking this team to the (NCAA) playoffs.
“We’re playing at a high level, and we could potentially put a good dent in it,” he added, Cortland having gone two rounds deep into last year’s tournament. “It is what it is. What you do is you make the best out of the moment you’ve got, and there is a tremendous attitude of gratitude amongst this team. You’re not going to find a lot of unhappy players right now, because they are playing a game and they are getting a chance to play with one another one more time. And I like that.”
DRAGON TALES: Sophomore Mike DeBole will handle the placekicking and soph Nick Daley will continue doing kickoff duty for the Red Dragons against Albright. Senior kicker Marc Corrado was suspended for an infraction of team rules... Pitcher was named the quarterback on last week’s D3footballcom national “Team of the Week” and earned his third NJAC Offensive Player of the Week honor off his performance in last Saturday’s win at Ithaca. Pitcher passed for 280 yards and three touchdowns and led all rushers with 94 yards.... Senior cornerback D.J. Romano enters his final game with 14 career interceptions, one behind the school record of 15 picks Jeff Beck had from 2004-07.... Don’t think the Red Dragons are more than interested in how the NJAC stacks up against the Middle Atlantic Conference. “Aren’t you always?” said Coach MacNeill. “First and foremost it’s about us, but certainly we’re proud of our affiliation and a win is something we’re looking forward to. The extra is seeing the NJAC goes out a winner against the MAC.”.... How senior cornerback Chad Stalter’s first name got turned into Greg on the game story done this past Monday on the Cortaca Jug is a puzzlement, the Standard apologizing for that miscue. He was mobbed by teammates after picking off a pass in the end zone on the final play of the game.
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