By Adam Samrov
A good recipe always has lots of quality ingredients, and good flavors come from good ingredients.
Cortaca has lots of good ingredients every year, but especially this year.
“There are lots of flavors instilled in this game,” Cortland coach Dan MacNeill said in a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “It has all the spice it needs to bring an unbelievable flavor into this game.”
Food analogies aside, the Cortaca Jug game started in 1959, and Ithaca leads 32-17, and in the most impressive number department, the teams have split the last 16 games -- Cortland has won eight and so has Ithaca.
Usually both teams are good, and even if one isn't that season, the game will usually be a classic.
But this year, the stakes are some of the highest yet. Cortland is 9-0. Ithaca is 8-1. Both are ranked, Cortland seventh and Ithaca 17th by D3football.com.
“Two ranked teams, both national powers, it really enhances the rivalry,” MacNeill said.
Cortland's already in the playoffs, winning the automatic qualifier against TCNJ and sealing it against Brockport. Ithaca's only loss is to St. John Fisher, and they are fighting for their playoff fate and lives.
“From the fan standpoint and the casual Cortaca observer, this is the greatest time of the year,” MacNeill said. For the avid fan, everyone is proud of what we've accomplished so far.”
“It's been great years for both teams,” Ithaca coach Mike Welch said. “Something is on the line for the teams, even more than just the Jug. We're excited. Both campuses are very excited about this football game.”
Cortland is bringing in some extra firepower for this game -- the 1988 team, the last Red Dragons squad to go undefeated. They are also the last (and only) team to face Ithaca in the playoffs and the regular season, beating Ithaca for the Jug, but falling in the playoffs as Ithaca went on to win its second of three national championships.
“There can be a lot of distractions around a big game like this,” Welch said. “They need to stay focused and do the things they can control.”
It's easy to understand why these players could be. Watching the webcast of the press conference, it really has a Division I feel to it.
“It's a first-class event,” Welch said.
On the field, both teams are quite strong. Both have high-powered offenses, and it may be a matter of who stops who last.
Ithaca senior quarterback Dan Juvan (finger) and junior running back Thomas Bergerstock (leg) are fighting injuries but both should be ready to go on Saturday, Welch said.
“Thomas should play, we're taking things day to day,” Welch said. “I think he'll be fine. Dan Ruggiero did a good job last week, so we're in good shape either way.”
Ruggiero ran for four touchdowns in the Bombers' win against Alfred.
“It's really a testament to our offensive line. We have good players up front and they will be a key factor in this whole scenario,” Welch said.
Cortland hasn't allowed a runner to get to 100 yards all season.
“We take great pride in stopping the run,” MacNeill said. “We have to stop the run and make Ithaca one-dimensional.”
Welch said the Bombers will have to be able to run and pass and be balanced against the Red Dragons.
“Both teams have strong offenses, and both have the ability to play well,” Welch said.
On defense, Welch said that Cortland's balance make them tough to defend.
“Their quarterback is having a great year, same thing with their running back,” Welch said. The balance is a sign of a good offense.”
Senior linebacker Matt Scalice said on Wednesday's webcast that he's excited to strap it up on Saturday.
“[Cortland is] big up front, we need to use our speed to stop the run and be successful,” Scalice said.
For Cortland offensively, running back Andrew Giuliano is in the middle of a record-breaking season, and he knows he'll have to keep his level of play up to get past the Bombers.
“[Ithaca has] great players and they're well-coached. We just have to come out high and firing on all cylinders,” Giuliano said.
My prediction? I think both teams come out at a really high level, and I think it will come down to who has the football last. Homefield advantage will also give Cortland a small edge. I think Cortland wins 38-31.
The MAC is still up in the air. Three teams still have a chance at the AQ and four teams still have a chance to grab at least a slice of the championship.
Matt Levy, the Delaware Valley Sports Information Director, has figured out what each team's chances are to win the automatic qualifier.
The basic gist is that Albright already has a piece of the title. They have control of their own destiny because if they beat Delaware Valley on Saturday they win the championship outright, and according to Levy, that's the only way they can.
Lycoming took a big hit with their loss against King's last week, but they can still clinch the AQ, but they need some help. If they beat Lebanon Valley and Delaware Valley beats Albright, they would get the AQ because they have head-to-head wins over Albright AND Delaware Valley.
Delaware Valley is in the same boat as Lycoming. If they beat Albright and LVC beats Lycoming, they get in. However, they might have a look as a Pool C bid based on their wins over Wesley and Salisbury, two top-25 football teams.
Thanks to Levy for his work and to Delaware Valley radio broadcaster Gordon Mann for pointing me in the right direction.
One playoff scenario -- maybe?
I mentioned this one on an East Region message board for playoff scenarios. It assume that each team involves wins their last game of the season, except if two of the teams play each other (Cortland vs. Ithaca, for example)
It might be a way that keeps the East Region with eight teams, and doesn't import a North Region or South Region team in:
1. Cortland (10-0) Pool A NJAC
2. Hobart (8-1) Pool A LL
3. Montclair State (9-1) Pool C NJAC
4. St. John Fisher (7-3) Pool A E8
5. Albright (8-2) Pool A MAC
6. Plymouth St. (10-1) Pool A NEFC
7. Ithaca (8-2) Pool C E8
8. RPI (8-1) Pool C LL
Many don't believe that the East will get three Pool C bids, but it's definitely a possibility. The one that could be the most vulnerable to not making the playoffs is RPI, just based on their out-of-conference schedule being one of the weaker ones of the group. But if it ended up like this, the first round matchups would be:
Cortland vs. RPI in a rematch of the 2006 ECAC game, Hobart vs. Ithaca, Montclair State vs. Plymouth State and St. John Fisher vs. Albright. None of the teams play a conference opponent in round one.
All the mileage works out too, being less than 500 miles.
I said this last year when they decided to switch Mount Union into the East region, and I'll say it again: I think have MUC in this region destroys it. I think that eight east teams should be in the playoffs, not seven. The majority of D-III football is in the Eastern third of the country, and you mean to tell me there's not eight worthy of representing the region against the other 24 teams that make the playoffs? I think that's wrong.
In what was probably the de facto Liberty League championship game, Hobart beat RPI 20-17 on a last second 28-yard field goal by freshman kicker Conor Callahan, the longest one of his short college career.
So right now, as stated above, if RPI and Hobart win their games next week, the two would be co-champs, but the Statesmen would get the automatic qualifier and an 8-1 RPI would have to be very observant viewers of the ESPNews selection show.
RPI's Ray Davis had eight catches for a career-high 123 yards in the loss. Hobart linebacker Jeff Sanders, Callahan and Doug Vella all earned Liberty League honors for the week for their performances.
Springfield ran for 524 yards total as the triple option was chugging on all eight cylinders on Saturday against defending Empire 8 champion Hartwick.
Sophomore quarterback Josh Carter led the charge, running for 159 yards and two touchdowns, but two other Pride runners had more than 100 yards on the day, Mark Safer (5 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns) and fullback Baldwin Cunningham (10 carries for 112 yards).
In the same game, Hartwick's Jason Boltus threw for 415 yards and four touchdowns, but he also had two interceptions late that sealed the game for the Pride. Senior receiver Jack Phelan had seven catches for 177 yards and two scores to lead the Hawks.
Union's Charles Hovsepian had a nice day on the defensive side of the ball against the Merchant Marine Academy, making six tackles, three for loss and two sacks.
Susquehanna's Dave Paveletz continued his great season in the backfield for the Crusaders. On Saturday, he rushed for 160 yards and two scores and caught a touchdown as Susquehanna blew out WPI 51-21. For the Engineers, Cody McGregor caught seven passes for 207 yards.
TCNJ junior cornerback Justin Beres had three interceptions in the Lions' 30-20 win over Western Connecticut.
Alfred's freshman quarterback Tom Secky completed 30-for-55 for 355 yards and a touchdown and senior receiver Trevor Bork had 11 catches for 208 yards and the touchdown as the Saxons' bid to knock off Empire 8 conference leader Ithaca just fell short, 43-35.
In the same game, Ithaca's star running back Thomas Bergerstock was hurt, but no matter -- Dan Ruggiero came in and only ran for 194 yards and four touchdowns. The Bombers are starting to look like the Denver Broncos of a few years ago -- you could put in a stick to run the football and he'd gain 100 yards.
Delaware Valley sophomore tailback Matt Cook went over the 1,000-yard plateau in the Aggies' 28-20 win over Wilkes. Cook rushed for 147 yards against the Colonels. Saturday's win was the first for Delaware Valley at Wilkes since 1991.
As a team, Lebanon Valley rushed for 264 yards in their 38-3 rout of FDU-Florham in a Middle Atlantic Conference matchup. 11 different backs carried the ball, including quarterback Joe Brennan, who rushed for 52 yards and passed for 162 more in the game.
King's, the last place team in the MAC, upset first-place Lycoming 24-7 on Saturday. King's Rich Maerten ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns, a career high. King's rushed for 264 yards on a day against the MAC's top rushing defense.
Rochester senior Mike Sondericker had a big day rushing against St. Lawrence. On senior day, Sondericker ran for a career-high 202 yards in his first start.
In that same game, St. Lawrence's Eric Jones rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Another good performance on the ground came from Albright freshman Josan Holmes. Holmes ran for more than 100 yards again, running for 195 and two touchdown as the Lions took sole possession of first place in the MAC with a 21-10 win over Widener.
Buffalo State's Greg Meyer broke the Bengals school records for most receiving yards in a game and tied the record for career touchdown catches against Morrisville on Saturday. Meyer caught seven passes for 265 yards and four touchdowns against the Mustangs in Buffalo State's 52-20 win. The four touchdowns gives Meyer 26 total for his career.
Union freshman quarterback Andrew Connolly tied a Dutchman record with five touchdown passes in one game in their 42-14 win over the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on Saturday.
Cortland remained undefeated at 9-0 with their 42-30 win over Brockport. Andrew Giuliano tied his career high with four touchdown runs after a 146-yard day. He has 21 touchdowns runs on the season, a Cortland school record, breaking Omar Darling's 18 touchdowns back in the 1998 season. Quarterback Ray Miles set a career-high with 348 yards in the air, and Eric Hajnos and Zacc Guaragno both went over 100 yards receiving.
Brockport's offense wasn't too shabby on the day either. The Golden Eagles had three guys go over 100 yards receiving -- Felipe Diaz, who had 12 catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns, freshman Tamere Shannon, 11 catches for 121 yards and Matt Newman, 8 grabs for 105 yards.
Delaware Valley's Mike Isgro became the third quarterback in Aggie history to go over 5,000 yards passing in a career.
Kean's Jared Chunn broke the Cougars' season record for rushing after his 121-yard performance against William Paterson in the Kean 28-21 victory. Chunn has rushed for 1,316 yards, breaking the record of 1,311 set in 1998 by Tidy Corbett. Chunn is ranked in the top 10 nationally in yards per game, as well.
Warning: Homer alert!
Utica was down 25-6 with 10:46 left in the fourth quarter against Empire 8 foe Norwich, but the Pioneers never gave up. On the ensuing kickoff, Cody Elliot returned the kick 82 yards for a touchdown to cut the score to 25-13. After the exchange of punts, Norwich quarterback Zach Angelos was intercepted by Kevin Hennion, and the ball was returned to the Cadets' 29, and quarterback Michael Clark led the team on a short four-play drive, running the ball in from a yard out to make the score 25-20 with five minutes left.
After another Angelos interception, the Pioneers got the ball back with 3:40 left and Clark led the Pioneers on a 12-play, 85-yard drive, completing the comeback, throwing for his only touchdown, a two-yard pass to Tyler Malagisi to take a 26-25 lead, and then Clark converted the conversion to put them up three, 28-25 with 19 seconds left. A squib kick and a couple of incomplete passes later and UC had their third win of the season and second in conference play.
No top 10 this week. With one week left in the season, it's all about the playoffs at this point. Next week we'll go over all the playoff matchups with some predictions.