November 23, 2012
Red Dragons now truly battle tested
Face 2nd round test at Wesley
Before entering into these NCAA Division III football playoffs, SUNY Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill offered this prospective.
“We’re seasoned, we are. We’re well prepared. Now we’ve got to win, but we’re well prepared,” said the Red Dragons boss.
The previous five weekends have certainly been character builders as the Red Dragons go surging towards Saturday’s second round noontime NCAA match-up, Cortland (9-1) to take on Wesley College (9-1) in a clash of nationally-ranked squads at Scott Miller Stadium in Dover, Delaware.
Winners of nine straight games since a season-opening stumble at Buffalo State, Cortland has had its mettle tested down the stretch of this memorable season.
It all started with a 24-21 win over Rowan in a first place New Jersey Athletic Conference showdown back on Oct. 20 at the Stadium Complex in Cortland. After losing the lead with 1:52 left to play, the Red Dragons drove 63 yards in just three plays with senior quarterback Chris Rose throwing the game-winning 33-yard pass to freshman wide receiver DJ Spencer.
Then came a trip to Kean the following weekend with a chance to clinch a regular season conference title in another tussle for first place.The Red Dragons rallied from an early 17-3 deficit to pull out a 31-17 victory on that occasion, as senior cornerback Peter Furey and senior defensive end Vaughn Labor turned fourth quarter interceptions into the decisive touchdowns — Furey going on a 75-yard end zone journey with his pick for the go-ahead score.
Superstorm Sandy proved to be a foe Cortland could not beat after that, and the Red Dragons had their scheduled Nov. 3 visit to William Paterson canceled because of the damage done in New Jersey resulting from that natural disaster.
That unexpected respite led to the annual Cortaca Jug showdown against upstate rival Ithaca College to close out the regular season. The Red Dragons came up with an emotional 16-10 victory before a Stadium Complex crowd of over 7,000 by stuffing the Bombers on a 4th-and-inches play in the final seconds.
That led the Red Dragons, a bit battered and still giddy from the victory over IC, into the first round NCAA tournament scare last Saturday. That’s when an extra-point attempt smacked off the left upright to prevent visiting Framingham State from Massachusetts from tying things up in the late going, Cortland coming away with a 20-19 victory.
So pressure and close games and adversity will be nothing new for Coach MacNeill’s bunch heading into the Wesley contest, which should be Cortland’s toughest test to date.
Wesley is ranked fifth by the American Football Coaches Association and sixth in the D3football.com poll, and is coming off a 73-14 rout of Mount Ida in its NCAA tournament opener last Saturday.
Cortland is ranked 16th by the AFCA and 18th by D3football.com, and will be facing Wesley for the first time in school history.
Winning the NJAC title in unbeaten fashion earned Cortland its spot in the national playoffs.
A team without a conference, Wesley was the lone independent to receive a “Pool B” bid into the playoffs. The Wolverines played teams from five different states during this season, with the lone loss a 32-25 home field setback to currently unbeaten and No. 2 ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor at Scott Miller Stadium.
Wesley and head coach Mike Drass — who has a 176-48-1 record in his 20 seasons with the Wolverines — could get a chance to avenge that loss. The Cortland-Wesley survivor will advance to the quarterfinal round on Dec. 1 to take on the winner of Franklin’s visit to Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Both Cortland and Wesley are directed by talented senior quarterbacks.
That would be senior Chris Rose for the Red Dragons, who has thrown for 2,264 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. He has completed 61 percent of his passes, senior Mike Humphrey (63 receptions-726 yards) and sophomore Kordel McInnis (49-641) having been his favorite targets. McInnis scored twice in the win over Framingham State, and has a team-best nine TD grabs.
That would be senior Justin Sottilare for the Wolverines, who has thrown for 2,626 yards and 29 touchdowns. He has completed 61 percent of his passes, with eight different receivers having caught at least a dozen throws. Senior Matt Barile is the top receiver, with five TDs among his 32 catches.
Both Cortland and Wesley have youngsters leading their respective defenses.
That would be freshman safety Andre Green for the Red Dragons, who has a team-high 73 tackles. His third interception of the season helped thwart a Framingham State drive last week. Also on the Cortland defense, Furey has a team-high five interceptions and senior inside linebacker Chris Bright has been in on 61 tackles.
That would be sophomore linebacker Sosthene Kapepula for the Wolverines, who has been in on 95 tackles so far this season. Ten of those Kapepula tackles have gone for losses, while the 6-foot-3, 220-pound outside linebacker has also forced three fumbles and tops the team with six pass break-ups.
Both teams have been productive in special teams play, too.
Cortland junior Mike DeBole is averaging 40.2 yards per punt and now holds the single-season record with 14 field goals — two booted in the NCAA over Framingham State. Meanwhile, Cortland kickoff specialist Nick Daley has recorded 26 touchbacks on the season.
Wesley leads the nation in Division III returning punts, with a 19.3 average with junior Sean Hopkins the main man there, while the Wolverines are 18th nationally in kickoff returns with 22.7 yards per game depending on junior Jeremiah Howe and Steve Koudossou.
DRAGON TALES:WXHC Radio will broadcast the game live, the pre-game show coming on at 11:20 a.m. tomorrow. You can turn your dial to 101.5 FM or go on-line to listen at xxx.wxhc.com... Cortland set a school record by returning four interceptions for touchdowns this season. Besides the key TDs by Furey and Labor in the win at Kean, sophomore cornerback Andrew Tolosi and freshman linebacker Matt Ambrose also returned interceptions the distance.... The Red Dragons will have more work to do to keep a streak of having at least 30 sacks in the past 11 seasons going. Cortland has 23 through 10 games heading into the Wesley game.... Besides facing Mary Hardin-Baylor out of Texas, Wesley also posted wins against two Alabama schools — Birmingham Southern (26-17) and Huntingdon (31-21) — to go along with a 30-13 win over Menlo in California back on Oct. 20... After missing the Framingham State game with an injury, senior tailback Dorian Myles is listed as a back-up on the Cortland depth chart this week. Myles averages 6.6 yards per carry. Junior Justin Autera, coming off a 121-yard day against Framingham, is the listed starter. The tailback trio of Autera, Myles and sophomore Bronson Greene (who has a team-high eight touchdowns) have combined to rush for 1,648 yards with 15 TDs.
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