November 29, 2010
Dragons run down
Alfred frosh ignites 34-20 playoff win over Cortland
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Chris Hanlon (3) and Will Schroder of SUNY Cortland tackle Alfred receiver Josh Phillips after a short pass reception in Saturday’s NCAA second round game.
Coming into this NCAA Division III second round playoff game, the defensive units for both SUNY Cortland and Alfred University took immense pride in their ability to keep opponents from running the football.
So on a wintry Saturday afternoon with chilly westerly winds gusting up to 35 miles per hour at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, whoever had success on the ground was going to have the upper hand.
That would turn out to be Coach Dave Murray’s Saxons from Alfred, who behind diminutive and frisky freshman running back Austin Dwyer came away with a 34-20 victory over Cortland before nearly 1,000 bundled-up spectators.
The Alfred offense cranked out 26 first downs, got three touchdown runs from short-yardage specialist Nick Clark — who doubles as a starting linebacker and led the Saxons with 10 tackles while also intercepting a pass — and piled up 436 yards of offense as the stunned Red Dragons had a successful 10-2 season skid to a halt.
Earlier in the week, Alfred’s 305-pound senior left tackle Zach Morgan from nearby Homer said he and his fellow blockers were happiest in the run game. Well, those trenchmen had to be pretty giddy after the 5-foot-7 Dwyer produced 186 yards on 32 carries to help the visitors control the tempo of the game.
That made this a nice homecoming for both Morgan and Murray, the latter the head coach at SUNY Cortland from 1990-96 before moving on. He’s been at Alfred for the past 13 seasons.
“I think the telling stat is obviously the rushing stat, and 225 yards to 79 tells you exactly what the day was about,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill when glancing at the post-game sheet of statistics. “They got ahead and they could stay ahead with the run and keep their offense on the field, and then obviously we had to rely totally on the pass and again it wasn’t the easiest day to throw the ball out there.”
Throwing the ball was not completely out of the question, considering Alfred quarterback Tom Secky passed for 211 yards and a touchdown while Cortland counterpart Dan Pitcher finished with 174 yards and two scores. But the determined Dwyer enjoyed a huge day running behind Morgan’s mates, while explosive Red Dragon tailback Justin Autera was held to just 56 yards on 18 trips —a modest average of 3.1 yards per carry.
“Stopping the run was key for us,” said Alfred’s Clark, as the Saxons defense also came up with three interceptions.
“ME AND DWYER, we get all the notoriety for offense but it’s all those guys up front,” said QB Secky of the Alfred offensive line. “And big No. 77 (Morgan) didn’t practice all week. He was hurt, and he came out and gave it all he had and played a great game.”
Morgan came into the contest with an ankle sprain, hobbled off in the fourth quarter after aggravating the injury and then returned to the fray to help the Saxons improve to 10-2. Alfred advances to face unbeaten Mount Union (12-0) in the quarterfinals this coming Saturday in Ohio.
“The ground game helps. We threw some short passes in there and the wind doesn’t really effect those 10- to 15-yard throws,” added Secky, who connected on 17 of his 28 passes to keep the Cortland defense honest. “But we were able to run the ball and that made things a lot easier.
Dwyer felt from the very first Alfred snap, a 10-yard pick-up, that this might be his day.
“The offensive line was just getting a great push off the ball and really controlling the line of scrimmage,” said the rookie out of Hornell. “When you can do that on both sides of the ball you should come away with the win, which is what we did.”
Alfred’s defense came up big, too — especially when two lost first half fumbles led to only three Red Dragon points.
Alfred fumbled away the opening kickoff, which felt like a bad omen. Cortland special-teamer Chris Bright forced that turnover and recovered the loose ball at the visitor’s 27-yard line.
“The first thing that went through my mind was last week. SUNY Maritime fumbled the opening kickoff and things snowballed badly for them from that point on,” said Alfred’s Murray, whose Saxons roughed up Maritime 60-0 in a first round playoff game. “But the defense stood up and held them to a field goal, which was a little bit of a confidence boost at the time.”
After Cortland settled for a Marc Corrado 26-yard field goal and a quick 3-0 lead, Alfred went ahead for good on a 30-yard Dwyer touchdown run with 4:59 left in the first quarter and added a Clark 4-yard run some five minutes into the second stanza.
The second lost Alfred fumble after a pass completion, forced by Cortland cornerback Joe Lopez and recovered by safety Phil Bossman, came with with 3:18 left in the opening half and set the Red Dragons up at the 43-yard line. Cortland got to within 17 yards of the end zone before stalling, a second down sack of Pitcher by blitzing Alfred looming large.
Corrado’s bid for a 34-yard field goal into the wind was blown off target to the right, despite his protest to officials.
“You go into halftime in a good mood, with kind of an upswing there, and it sets the tone for the third quarter,” said Murray of Alfred’s 14-3 intermission edge.
THE ALFRED MOOD got even better when strong safety Reggie Pressley intercepted a Pitcher pass two plays into that third quarter. Alfred traveled 48 yards in just six plays after the turnover, with Clark bursting into the end zone from two yards out to put the Red Dragons in 20-3 trouble.
Cortland came back behind its wildcat offensive formation after Joe Aston returned the kickoff to the 42-yard line. Anthony Giuliano kept for 16 yards and Autera swept right for 19 more, with a facemask penalty putting the ball at the Alfred 12. After a short Autera run and two incompletions, Corrado kicked a 26-yard field goal.
The Red Dragons then trimmed the lead to 20-13 with an 81-yard drive helped out by back-to-back personal foul penalties against Alfred. After completing a crucial 14-yard third down pass to wideout Mike Humphrey, Pitcher found Eddie Spillett for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The big tight end bounced off a couple of tackles after catching the ball before getting into the end zone.
That Spillett TD came with 1:28 left in the third, putting Cortland in 20-13 striking distance with plenty of time left.
An exchange of punts provided Alfred with good field position, however, and the Saxons went 46 yards for a crucial touchdown. From the Cortland 13, Secky rolled right and threw back to his left to wide open tight end D.J. Loughlin-Pope for the scored and a 27-13 lead.
Cortland seemed to be done when Clark picked off a pass with 6:54 left to play, but the defense got the ball back and the Red Dragons matched 60 yards into the wind and scored to stay alive. Giuliano hauled in a 15-yard sideline pass, tight end Garrett Cade caught a 32-yard over the middle and Pitcher found Humphrey wide open in the left corner of the end zone for a 14-yarder that made this a 27-20 game with 2:59 left to play.
Cortland’s ensuing on-side kick attempt would not travel 10 yards. And three plays later, facing 3rd-and-1 from the Cortland 29, Clark went over Morgan’s left-tackle spot and broke into the clear for the touchdown that ended Cortland’s season.
CORTLAND’S COMEBACK was encouraging, but just not enough.
“They were tough to stop, but we made the mistakes and gave them the opportunities to get the yards they did,” said safety Bossman. “But we knew the job we had to do and we stuck with it.”
While the defense never did get a good grip on Alfred’s Dwyer, the offense did come alive. Of the 253 yards of offense Cortland gained, 185 came in the second half.
“The thing we thought was really a strength for them was their team speed on defense,” said Pitcher, who completed 20-of-40 throws under adverse conditions. “That probably proved to be pretty true. They moved around well.
“We were never able to establish the run, which is something we pride ourselves on doing,” the Cortland QB added. “That’s disappointing for us that we weren’t able to do it. You have to tip your hat to them. They’re pretty good. It’s not like we were playing an average team out there. They’re a good football team.”
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