December 08, 2008
Mount Union plays keep-away
Dragons upset bid vanishes in 2nd half
ALLIANCE, Ohio — The good news for the SUNY Cortland offense was that staying warm on a snowy, bitter cold day was pretty easy.
The downside was that the unit spent most of Saturday afternoon on the sidelines in front of the heaters.
After leading 7-0 and scoring twice in the first half to trail by just six points at intermission, the Red Dragons could only watch as the Purple Raiders of Mount Union dominated time of possession in the second half and pulled away for a 41-14 victory in the NCAA Division III playoff quarterfinals.
“You can’t score if you don’t have the ball,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill. “We just didn’t have a lot of opportunities in the second half. We thought we were right where we wanted to be, down by only six points, but they won the third quarter and that was the biggest difference.
“We took our best swing at it, until that third quarter. Then, we got down and it’s tough for an offense to have to score every time, knowing that we were one-dimensional.”
The Red Dragons trailed 20-14 at halftime, thanks to a quick two-play drive that lasted just 17 seconds. Quarterback Ray Miles connected with Jeffrey Lang for a 31-yard scoring bomb with 41 seconds left in the second quarter.
That was the end of the offensive highlights for Cortland. Mount Union’s punishing running game took over in the second half, controlling the clock and the tempo. In the third quarter alone, the Purple Raiders held the ball for 12 of the 15 minutes.
Cortland ran just nine plays in the period, holding the ball for just three minutes.
To make matters worse, Miles left the game with six minutes left in the quarter after injuring his throwing hand and wrist.
“I hit it on a defender’s helmet,” said Miles, whose 23 touchdown passes this season broke the team record of 21 by J.J. Tutwiler in 2001. “I was hoping to come back in, but sometimes you have to make decisions that are best for the team. I couldn’t have helped much out there.
“We killed ourselves on a few possessions and didn’t complete a few balls that we should have. I don’t know if it was a mental thing or what, but you have to credit their defense,” he added.
The Purple Raiders’ defense limited Cortland’s rushing attack to 0 net yards and 200 total yards. The Red Dragons converted only 1-of-15 third down opportunities.
Mount Union ran 81 offensive plays and owned the football for 42 ½ minutes, compared to Cortland’s 17 ½ minutes. Doing the damage for the Purple Raiders was All-American running back Nate Kmic, who piled up 227 yards on 45 carries.
“Mount Union really did a good job on third down,” said senior defensive end Ben Nagle, who led the Red Dragons with 14 tackles, broke up a pass and forced a fumble. “The offensive line stayed on their blocks well and they have a good offense. We tried to keep up the pressure, but they made some adjustments and wore us down a little bit.”
CORTLAND WAS turnover free, Miles completing 10-of-16 throws for 191 yards. Senior wide receiver Zacc Guaragno and tight end Lang each caught four passes.
While Nagle was the leading tackler on an over-worked defensive unit, senior safety Matt Berman had 13 tackles — nine of those solo. Senior linebacker Jim Smith was in on a dozen stops and senior safety Mark Schaller had 10 tackles.
The game couldn’t have started any better for Cortland. The Red Dragons handed Mount Union its first deficit of the season when they scored on the game’s opening possession to seize a 7-0 advantage.
Cortland drove 75 yards in six plays and Miles hit senior fullback Dave Murphy for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 11:35 left in the first quarter.
Mount Union responded with four straight scoring drives — two Kmic touchdowns and a pair of Ryan Wilk field goals — to build a 20-7 lead.
Cortland’s late touchdown — a 21-yard Derrick Woodard kickoff return and a 23-yard Miles to Mike Lane pass coming before the touchdown grab by Lang — provided some momentum to take into halftime.
But Mount Union took the first possession of the third quarter and drove into the wind 70 yards on nine plays for a touchdown. Kmic broke off back-to-back runs of 16 and 21 yards during the drive, the latter his longest run of the game, and scored from two yards out two plays later to put the hosts up 27-14.
Later in the quarter, Cortland forced Mount Union’s lone punt of the game and Miles hit wide receiver Eric Hajnos on a 40-yard bomb on the next play to advance the ball to the Purple Raiders’ 36-yard line. The Red Dragons, however, lost two net yards over the next three plays and Kyle Peterson’s punt just went into the end zone beyond the front left pylon to give Mount Union the ball at its 20-yard line.
On Mount Union’s next drive, it faced a 1st-and-25 from its own 22-yard line following a personal foul facemask penalty — the first penalty called on either team in the game. Micheli hit Kmic on an 8-yard pass on first down, ran for seven yards on second down and found Chad Reynolds for a 14-yard completion on third down to move the chains.
Later on 3rd-and-7 from the Cortland 46-yard line, Micheli completed a 23-yard pass to Vince Petruziello. Kmic covered the remaining 23 yards on four carries, the last from three yards out with 14:29 left in the game.
CORTLAND MADE ONE last push trailing 35-14. Woodard’s 47-yard kickoff return started the Red Dragons on the Mount Union 48-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Dan Pitcher completed a 9-yard pass to Guaragno, and an illegal helmet contact penalty on the play pushed the ball to the Mount Union 29-yard line. On 3rd-and-3 from the 22-yard line, however, James Herbert sacked Pitcher for an 8-yard loss, and a fourth down pass was knocked down.
The hosts finished the scoring with a 70-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 22-yard pass from Micheli to Reynolds with 5:55 left. Reynolds finished with five catches for 111 yards and Cecil Shorts made six catches for 63 yards.
“THE KEY STAT to me was their zero rushing yards,” said Mount Union coach Larry Kehres. “They have a good running back and they were averaging over 120 rushing yards a game. We were able to make sure their running game never got started.”
Cortland senior tailback Andrew Giuliano finished with just nine yards on eight carries. His 1,480 yards rushing this season is a single season school record.
“I’d say in terms of how good they were on film and how they played live, I think they are the best team we’ve faced this year,” was the praise Coach Kehres gave to the Red Dragons.
Mount Union will host Wheaton College of Illinois this Saturday in a semifinal game at noon. The other semifinal has Mary Hardin-Baylor hosting defending national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater in Texas.
The Amos Alonzo Stagg title game is Dec. 20 in Salem, Va.
SUNY Cortland sports information director Fran Elia contributed to this report.
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