December 01, 2008
Red Dragons rolling on to Ohio
Defense dominates Curry in 42-0 romp
Having now conquered the best the New England Football Conference has to offer, SUNY Cortland gets to take on what most folks consider the best Division III football program in the nation.
The Red Dragons were certainly at their tenacious best while putting away visiting Curry College with surprising 42-0 ease in an NCAA Division III second round playoff outing this past Saturday afternoon at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
It was the second consecutive post-season victory over a representative from the NEFC for the Red Dragons, who knocked off playoff champion Plymouth State 31-14 the previous weekend in a first round match-up at the Stadium Complex.
So after winning back-to-back playoff games for the first time in school history, after grabbing a school-record tying 11th victory, the Red Dragons get their shot at perennial power Mount Union next.
Heading into the playoffs as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, an unbeaten Mount Union (12-0) team seeded first in the region will host the third seeded Red Dragons (11-1) this coming Saturday afternoon at noon in a quarterfinal round tussle in Alliance, Ohio. The Purple Raiders have won nine Division III titles over the past 15 years under head coach Larry Kehres.
“From the springtime our main goal was to get to this point and then keep going,” said Cortland wide receiver Zacc Guaragno, the senior out of Lansing who caught six passes against Curry including a 78-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Ray Miles. “We’re still shooting for the biggest goal yet, getting those rings.”
To keep that quest going Cortland had to deal with a dangerous Curry squad out to prove a 26-21 first round upset at Ithaca College was no fluke. But a second consecutive trip to Central New York would not produce another playoff surprise.
“We’re a better team that we showed today,” said Curry coach Skip Bandini before heading back to his Milton home in Massachusetts with a 10-2 record.
The Red Dragons dominated in all facets in what head coach Dan MacNeill called a complete team performance.
The Cortland defense made this a long day for highly regarded Curry senior quarterback Ryan Van De Giesen, as the Colonels were shutout for the first time losing to Nichols 33-0 back on Sept. 30 of the 2000 season. That was 97 games ago.
The Cortland offense took advantage of man-to-man coverage in the Curry secondary for some big plays, as quarterback Miles tied his personal best with four touchdown tosses while throwing for 298 yards.
And special teams were special, indeed. The punting of Kyle Peterson, the kickoffs of Jeffrey Lang and some productive kick returns by elusive Derrick Woodard — who even had a 60-yard effort on a punt return negated by an illegal block — kept the Red Dragons in good field position for most of the day. Cortland even scored on special teams, James Lenhart returning a fumbled Curry punt snap for third quarter touchdown.
That is how the Red Dragons became part of the Elite Eight still in pursuit of a national title. That is why Coach MacNeill could say afterwards: “It’s neat to be up where the air is rare, and that’s where we are now.”
THE CORTLAND DEFENSE made this a long day for Van De Giesen, as Curry managed only 208 yards of offense. The Colonels came into the game as the fifth most productive offense in the country, averaging 473 yards per contest.
Cortland tackle Lou Crispo, linebacker Brian Haas and linebacker Josh Jablonski all had sacks as Van De Giesen was on the run for most of the day. The Red Dragons stuffed the Colonels running attack, too, as senior tackle Richard Rolo was in on 10 tackles and defensive end Bryan Wiley seven.
“Not establishing the line of scrimmage on offense made a difference,” said Coach Bandini after Curry averaged less than two yards per carry. That allowed the Red Dragons to harass Van De Giesen — who came into the game having thrown for 2,464 yards and 24 touchdowns — even more.
“We just gave them so many looks, things we hadn’t put in all year,” said Red Dragon grad student Jablonski, who also recovered a Van De Giesen fumble. “I think the blitzes got to them.”
“There was always someone in my face,” said Van De Giesen, who completed just 11-of-25 throws and was picked off by freshman cornerback D.J. Romano. “They were getting after it.”
Cortland picked up a late interception, too, sophomore Will Schroeder doing the honors against backup Curry QB Patrick Maloney.
Curry’s deepest venture into Cortland territory came in the opening quarter, after falling behind 7-0. The Colonels reached the Cortland 20 before two dropped passes and a 3-yard option run by freshman tailback Michael Gentili forced the visitors to try a 35-yard field goal.
That boot by Matt Alksininis drifted wide left.
The only other decent scoring chance came early in the fourth quarter, reaching the Cortland 35 before Romano picked off a deep first down pass at the 10-yard line.
CORTLAND OPENED the scoring seven minutes into the game after Woodard broke free for a 43-yard punt return to the Curry 15.
After a short run, fullback Dave Murphy slipped out of the backfield to be in the receiving end of a 13-yard Miles touchdown pass — the first collegiate TD scored by the senior known for his blocking.
A 69-yard scoring drive kept alive by an early 16-yard Miles to tight end Lang third completion produced a 14-0 lead. Miles and senior wideout Eric Hajnos connected on a 19-yard slant pass for the touchdown.
Two plays after Curry punted the ball right back, a defensive back bit on a Miles pump fake and Guaragno broke free behind the secondary for the 78-yard pass play that produced a 21-0 lead with 8:07 left in the half.
Cortland broke things open in the second half, starting when Woodard returned the opening kickoff 34 yards to the Red Dragon 48. A bit of good fortune kept that drive going on a 17-yard pass play to Guaragno, who broke a tackle, lost the football in his determined bid for extra yards and then recovered that fumble.
On 3rd-and-8 from the Curry 27, Miles found Hajnos crossing open over the middle. With downfield blocks by Guaragno and Lang helping out, the senior turned the corner and reached the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.
It was the ninth touchdown catch of the season for Hajnos, tying a school record. It was the 46th career touchdown pass thrown by Miles, which is a school record.
Curry went nowhere and had to punt from its own 21, and when the snap was mishandled special teams performer Anthony Giuliano forced a fumble that Lenhart gathered up at the 6-yard line and returned for a TD and a 35-0 lead.
Good field position set up by the defense led to another short field for the Cortland offense to work with to close out the third quarter, Cory Russell scoring on a 1-yard run on the first snap of the fourth quarter.
“MAYBE ALL THE stuff caught up to us, but we came here to win and with high expectations,” said Curry’s Bandini after a second straight trip to these parts had a sour ending. “We’ll be back. We’ll be back.”
Curry did slow down senior running back Andrew Giuliano, who rushed for only 35 yards on 11 carries. But Miles made Curry pay for concentrating on the run. “Ray did what Ray’s been doing,” said MacNeill of his record-setting quarterback.
So Miles and Company are headed to Ohio to take on a Mount Union team that pulled away to beat Hobart College 42-7 in the second round, the Purple Raiders looking to bounce back after losing to Wisconsin-Whitewater in last year’s title game.
“No one wasn’t aware that it would go through Ohio, and we’re there,” said Coach MacNeill of the task ahead.
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