CORTLAND, N.Y. – Junior Will Evans (Newark, NJ/Malcolm X Shabazz) returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter for what proved to be the winning points and Kean stopped Cortland twice on the 2-yard line in the final minute as the nationally 18th-ranked Cougars held on to win 21-16 at the 11th-ranked Red Dragons in a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) matchup.
Kean improves to 2-0 (1-0 NJAC), with both victories against ranked opponents. The Cougars opened the season at home last week with a 31-28 win over then third-ranked Wesley. Cortland falls to 1-1, both overall and in the NJAC.
Kean senior quarterback Thomas D'Ambrisi (Eatontown, NJ/Monmouth Regional) completed 15-of-23 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, both to senior receiver Chris Suozzo (Old Bridge, NJ). Suozzo and Matt Pitarresi (New Providence, NJ) each finished with four catches.
Cortland graduate student quarterback Dan Pitcher (Cortland) recorded career highs of 22 completions (in 36 attempts) and 265 yards. He threw TD passes to sophomore wide receiver John Babin (Warwick Valley) and senior tight end Brian Haber (Northport). Babin led the Red Dragons with seven catches. Senior tailback Dorian Myles (Lackawanna/Hamburg) came off the bench and rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries and junior starting tailback Justin Autera (Mahopac) finished with 20 carries for 73 yards. Cortland outgained Kean, 455-277, in total offense.
Kean senior defensive lineman James-Edwards Boyd (Highland Park, NJ) and senior outside linebacker Richard Esdaile (Neptune, NJ/Saint John Vianney) shared the team lead with nine tackles each. Junior defensive back Chris VanFechtmann (Hazlet, NJ/Raritan) finished with eight tackles, an interception and a pass breakup.
For Cortland, junior safety Kyle Nisbett (Staten Island/Monsignor Farrell) led the way with nine tackles. Junior linebacker Mike Wilson (Penfield) recorded seven tackles, including 2.5 for lost yardage.
Trailing 21-16, Cortland started its final drive on its own 35-yard line with 5:21 remaining. Three plays into the drive, a wild snap from center forced the Red Dragons into a 2nd-and-32 from their own 30. However, Myles ran for 15 yards on second down and Pitcher hit Haber on a 26-yard pass to keep the drive alive.
Cortland eventually had 1st-and-goal on the 5-yard line after a Myles 5-yard run on 3rd-and-1. Myles was stopped for no gain on first down and gained three yards on second down. With 52 seconds left, Pitcher was held for no gain on a quarterback draw on third down. On fourth down, Pitcher lofted a pass to the front left corner of the end zone. Haber jumped for the ball, but Kean junior safety Brett Yajcaji (Toms River, NJ/Toms River East) was able to knock the ball away. Kean took a knee three times to run out the clock.
Cortland took a 7-0 on the game's opening drive – a 10-play, 63-yard series that ended with a 19-yard pass from Pitcher to Haber. Kean started a drive with 5:38 left in the first quarter that eventually progressed to the Cortland 6-yard line early in the second quarter. On 1st-and-goal, however, Cortland defensive lineman Vaughn Labor (Norwich) stripped D'Ambrisi on the quarterback keeper and the Red Dragons recovered on the 1-yard line.
Kean, however, forced a Cortland fumble near midfield when Yajcaji hit Autera. The Cougars took only three plays to score, capped by D'Ambrisi's 18-yard pass to Suozzo that knotted the game at 7-7.
Toward the end of the half, Cortland mounted a 15-play, 82-yard drive that featured four successful third-down conversions. Pitcher's 7-yard TD pass to Babin gave the Red Dragons a 13-7 lead, but Bekim Bujari (Secaucus, NJ) blocked the extra point.
Kean's first drive of the third quarter appeared to be heading for a score, but Cortland held the Cougars on four plays from the Red Dragon 2-yard line. On the fourth down play, D'Ambrisi tried to score on a sneak but fumbled the ball into the end zone. Kean recovered, but, by rule, only D'Ambrisi was allowed to recover his own fourth-down fumble to gain yardage and Cortland took possession at the 1-yard line.
The Cougars held, and a 21-yard punt return by T.J. Denehy (Monroe Township, NJ) set up Kean at the Cortland 33-yard line. Denehy then caught a 31-yard pass at the Cortland 2-yard line on 3rd-and-10 and, three plays later, D'Ambrisi hit Suozzo on a 3-yard TD pass to give Kean a 14-13 lead.
Cortland responded with a 12-play, 70-yard drive that stalled at the Kean 5-yard line. Senior Marc Corrado (Newburgh/Newburgh Free Academy) made a 22-yard field goal to give the Red Dragons a 16-14 lead. That advantage was short-lived, however, as Evans broke free down the left sideline for an 89-yard kickoff return that put the Cougars up 21-16.
Next Saturday, Cortland travels to Rowan at 1 p.m. and Kean plays at Western Connecticut State at noon in NJAC action.