November 26, 2010
The next step: Cortland hosts Alfred
Red Dragons’ ‘D’ wasn’t all that porous last week
After getting past the opening round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs last weekend, people kept pestering SUNY Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill with the same query.
“I’ve answered a million questions about what happened to our defense,” said MacNeill following the Red Dragons’ 49-35 home field victory over Endicott College out of Massachusetts.
“Well, nothing. Nothing, really,” was always his answer.
Twenty points were the most the Red Dragons had allowed heading into the Endicott game, and only two opponents had scored in double figures against a Cortland defense ranked No. 1 in the country at the time. Then Endicott scored twice off interception and fumble recovery returns, converted a short TD drive after a Red Dragons miscue and then reached the end zone in the final minute against Cortland reserves.
A long third quarter scoring drive was really the only Endicott damage done against the Cortland defense.
Sure, Coach MacNeill knows his defense will be tested this Saturday in the second round when talented Alfred University — under the direction of past Cortland coach Dave Murray — visits the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex for a noontime kickoff. The Saxons are fresh off a 60-0 first round romp past previously unbeaten SUNY Maritime and have enough offensive weapons to worry any defensive coordinator.
But MacNeill still has full confidence in a defensive unit that held Endicott’s 1,000-yard rusher Mike Lane to just 44 yards and out-gained the Owls by a 429-234 margin. Take away the last minute Endicott drive and the Owls would have finished with less than 200 yards of total offense.
“If just goes to prove if there’s anything to show (from the Endicott game) that it’s how turnovers, giveaways, can turn a complexion of the game,” said MacNeill of the lessons learned from last weekend, Cortland with three costly turnovers while Endicott was turnover-free.
“I guess you could say we loosened the reigns a little but too much at 42-14,” he added, that being the lead Cortland held early in the fourth quarter. “It is what it is, and we came away with the win. I don’t think the game was ever really in question.”
Of course, Alfred had absolutely no worries in its opening round.
“The upside of it was the fact our starters only played a half, so we were able to rest them,” said Alfred’s Murray of the benefits of a first-round blowout, SUNY Maritime down 50-0 by half-time. “We went into the game pretty banged up. The ability not to be in a major battle and being able to rest the guys was an upside.”
THERE ARE PLENTY of comparisons to make between these two teams.
Both have productive quarterbacks, Alfred with 6-foot-5 junior Tom Secky and Cortland with grad student and home grown Dan Pitcher. Secky has thrown for 2,429 yards and 25 touchdowns, and his 78 career passing TDs are two shy of the school record. Pitcher has thrown for 1,583 yards and 16 touchdowns, and completed 20 of his 26 tosses good for three touchdowns against Endicott. He’s thrown touchdown passes in all but one game as a Red Dragon starter.
Alfred has freshman Austin Dwyer, who started the season as the No. 2 tailback but now was 1,204 yards and seven touchdowns while also being involved in the Saxons’ wildcat offensive formation. Cortland has sophomore Justin Autera, who started the season as the No. 2 tailback but now has 1,324 yards and 21 touchdowns while also being involved in the Dragons’ wildcat offensive formation.
Both teams also have two-way performers.
Alfred’s Nick Clark is a starting junior linebacker who is also used in short-yardage situations by the offense. He was scored nine touchdowns, and has 79 yards on 31 carries. Cortland’s Bill Smith is a starting junior linebacker who is also used as a blocking back in front of Autera on offense.
“Those guys are such great competitors,” said Alfred’s Murray in admiration of both Clark and Smith. “They just want to be on the field.”
The two schools have a lone common opponent, too — Ithaca College.
Alfred jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead and then beat the Bombers 31-17. The very next week, Cortland had to rally from a 17-3 deficit to beat the Bombers 20-17 in the annual Cortaca Jug game.
“I like what they did to Ithaca, I like what we did to Ithaca, so we’re very, very compatible,” said Coach MacNeill. “So I think it’s going to be a great game.”
“They’re just so solid all-around, and obviously that’s why they have all those great stats and are ranked,” said Murray of Cortland, which came into the playoffs ranked 17th in the nation. “We will have our work cut out for us, that’s for sure. Hopefully, we’ll find the answer.”
ALFRED HAD TWO non-league stumbles this season, losing to Rensselaer and Rochester in upsets.
“We have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride at times,” says Coach Murray. “The upside of that is we played really well in our conference games, which were the key ones.”
“They’ve won all the big games they needed to win,” said Cortland’s MacNeill of Alfred. “Everyone’s focused on the disparity of those two losses, but we don’t worry about those. We just have to make sure we’re the best team in Cortland this week.”
Having inside linebacker Cody Allen back after suffering a rib injury that knocked him out of the first half against Endicott will help towards that Cortland goal. The availability of starting defensive end Evan Wyler and his injured knee is more doubtful, though MacNeill said of the senior who has battled the injury all season long: “I’ve counted him out before and he’s shown up on the field on Saturday ready to play. So he’s here, going through the things he’s gone through in the past, so we’ll see.”
DRAGON TALES: Alfred and Cortland have not met since 1986, the Red Dragons on the short end of a 34-9 final score then. From 1969-86 the Saxons won 17 of 18 meetings against Cortland, that stretch of success giving Alfred a 27-10-1 overall series lead... Homer’s WXHC Radio will broadcast the game at 101.5 FM and on-line at www.wxhc.com.... A school record 17 different Red Dragons have caught passes this fall, one better than the previous mark of 16 set in 1996, 2007 and ‘08.... Cortland is a blocked kick away from setting another school record. The nine blocks the special teams have heading into the Alfred contest matched the record set in 2005. Senior defensive tackle Lou Crispo has four of those blocks, two shy of Josh Jablonski’s school record set in 2005.... The Red Dragons went without a sack in last week’s win over Endicott. With 29 sacks on the season, Cortland is still looking to continue a string of having at least 30 sacks in every season since 2001.... Senior cornerback Joe Lopez went without an interception against Endicott, halting his school record streak of having having picked off an opponent’s pass in six straight games. Lopez has tied the school single season record with his eight interceptions on the season, Steve Daly the record-setter back in 1975.... With 21 touchdowns, Autera is one shy of the school record 22 end zone visits tailback Andrew Giuliano had two seasons ago when the Red Dragons reached the NCAA Division III quarterfinal round..... Fifty Red Dragons had Thanksgiving dinner at the Ramada Inn in Cortland on Thursday, something the team did two years ago when they were involved in the NCAA playoffs.
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