November 19, 2012
Red Dragons survive scare
Missed extra point costs visiting Rams
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland QB Chris Rose looks to escape the rush of Chevere Archer (9) of Framingham State as Shawn Stevenson (right) grabs his jersey during Saturday’s NCAA playoff game. Cortland advanced with a 20-19 victory.
A little good fortune went a very long ways toward getting SUNY Cortland into the second round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs.
The Red Dragons escaped with a 20-19 victory over Framingham State in a Saturday afternoon first round tussle, where the difference came down to a pair of extra-point plays that turned disastrous for the gritty visitors out of Massachusetts.
“Good teams win close games. That’s the way you get up to where the air is rare, and these guys are up there,” said head coach Dan MacNeill after his nationally-ranked Red Dragons claimed their ninth straight victory to keep this season going.
Sophomore wide receiver Kordel McInnis caught a pair of Chris Rose touchdown passes, junior Mike DeBole booted a couple of field goals and all four defensive backs came up with interceptions to advance Cortland (9-1) into a second round game against Wesley (9-1) this coming Saturday in the Delaware town of Dover.
What made things difficult for the Red Dragons was dangerous and slippery Framingham State running back Melikke Van Alstyne, who rushed for 227 yards on 31 carries. The junior scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns that had Cortland on the brink of elimination — if not for those PAT problems suffered by the Rams.
l Early in the fourth quarter, a 42-yard punt return by John O’Connell to the Cortland 4-yard line gave Van Alstyne the chance to burst off tackle on the next snap for his first TD run. That got the Rams within 17-12, and Van Alstyne followed with a successful two-point conversion run.
That PAT run was negated by a holding penalty, however, and Phil Clain was called upon to kick the extra point that left the Rams trailing by four points.
— After DeBole missed a field goal and then connected from 23 yards out following back-to-back fourth quarter Cortland interceptions by senior safety Phil Bossman and senior cornerback Pete Furey, the Red Dragons were up 20-13 with just 5:23 left to play.
That’s when Framingham State needed just five plays, including a Van Alstyne 43-yard sideline scamper to the Cortland 3, to travel 79 yards for what appeared to be the tying touchdown. But after a 3-yard Van Alstyne TD run, Clain’s extra-point boot smacked off the left upright leaving the Rams a point short.
Framingham State would not touch the football again over the final 3:38, Cortland clinching the victory when quarterback Rose converted a 4th-and-1 sneak from the Rams’ 43-yard line with just over a minute left to play.
“I’m real proud of my team. We really respected what Cortland was all about in his (Coach MacNeill’s) program,” said Framingham State coach Tom Kelley, his 10-2 squad’s 10-game winning streak coming to a halt. “They’ve been here and this was our first venture in the big dance, so to speak, and we rose to the occasion. I’m so proud I can’t put it into words.”
THE RAMS’ QUICK and swarming defense also made things tough on Cortland, who had two New Jersey Athletic Conference first-team all-conference performers in senior tailback Dorian Myles and senior left tackle Mike Wutzer not in uniform. And sophomore running back Bronson Greene was dressed but did not see action.
That left the ball-carrying load up to Justin Autera, and the junior tailback had a 31-carry workload that covered 121 yards of precious Stadium Complex acreage.
“It’s not a new situation. Two years ago I was use to getting the bulk of the carries like that,” said Autera, who was the NJAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 before missing most of last season with a knee injury the required surgery. “At the same time, having the three backs that we do, we’re looking forward to getting them back and getting them healthy for the next few weeks.”
The offensive line also hopes to heal up for the Wesley game after right guard Randy Bloom was moved to Wutzer’s spot in the trenches against Framingham State, while sophomore Mason Thorbjorsen got his first start in Bloom’s spot.
“It was a tough task for these guys going up against the good defense we saw today,” said Autera of his blockers.
“There’s no question you’d like to have all your starters,” said Coach MacNeill. “But it is what it is and it’s the next man up and the next man up won the game today. Did they have their hands full? Yeah, but I think they would have had their hands full no matter if we had our starters on the field. That was a good defense.”
Junior inside linebacker Pat McGrath had a game-high 13 tackles for the Rams, who also sacked Rose three times — defensive tackle Olajuwwon Dickerson with a pair — and got an interception from cornerback Ony Ramos.
“We wanted to show not just Cortland but the whole country we could play with the top of the competition, that we’re not just this New England team from Massachusetts that can’t play football” said Framingham State’s McGrath.
CORTLAND TRAILED 3-0 when McInnis broke wide open to haul in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Rose almost two minutes into the second quarter, as the Framingham State cornerback fell to the turf on the play.
“When I threw the ball he was on Kordel’s hip, so I was trying to put it over the shoulder for him,” said Rose of the play. “After the ball was released the guy tripped over Kordel’s feet and fell, so it made it a little easier.”
An exchange of Clain and DeBole field goals gave Cortland a 10-6 lead to talk over at halftime. On the third possession of the second half the visitors reached the Cortland 20, only to have an overthrown pass by Rams’ quarterback Matt Silva picked off by freshman safety Andre Green.
Cortland took advantage of the timely turnover with an 83-yard drive featuring a 38-yard Autera excursion to the Framingham 30-yard line. Six plays later, facing 2nd-and-1 from the 10, McInnis crossed underneath and turned a short toss from Rose into a TD — going airborne over a couple of tacklers for the final few yards.
That 17-6 lead was not safe with Van Alstyne becoming unstoppable in the fourth quarter.
“He was really a shifty kid,” said Cortland’s Bossman of the opposing running back. “He was hitting open holes and running through. He was pretty quick and he could make people miss, but we did an all right job today and once we got our hands on him he was going down.”
Still, after Framingham State pulled to within a point on Van Alstyne’s second TD followed by the missed PAT boot, Cortland did not want to give him the chance to ruin Cortland’s day. That’s why MacNeill decided not to punt the ball away and gambled with the fourth down QB sneak.
“I WAS THINKING about kicking the ball out of bounds and lengthening the field,” said MacNeill of that late-game situation. “And you kind of take a look at it. The ball is a half yard, you know, and so percentage-wise you’re going to get a half yard. And we did. It was just a matter of making sure everyone on the offense knew exactly what we were doing and how we were going to do it.”
“I read wherever the center goes and just follow,” said Rose of his sneak. “It puts a lot of pressure on the center and the guards, but they got the job done.”
And that ended this Framingham State upset bid.
“We knew what we were up against,” said Van Alstyne. “We had nothing to lose. We were just going to play football. We’ve been working all year. I was definitely glad we got the chance to really come in her and play in this great stadium. We really thought the underdog would win today.”
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe