Special Teams, Defense Key Ithaca's Win at Hartwick
Oneonta, N.Y. – The Ithaca football team used several important special teams plays and improved to 3-1 on the season and 1-1 in Empire 8 play with a 27-13 victory at Hartwick (2-2, 0-1 Empire 8) Saturday afternoon at Wright Stadium. Bomber senior Spence White (Sleepy Hollow/Yonkers) blocked a first-half field-goal attempt and a fourth-quarter extra-point attempt. Ithaca also returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown.
Ithaca scored a pair of first-half touchdowns on a pair of passes by junior quarterback Jason Hendel (Deerfield/Riverwoods, Ill.) – a 5-yard toss to junior JJ Crandall (Herkimer/Herkimer) in the first quarter and a 15-yarder to senior Dan Ruffrage (Utica Notre Dame/Whitesboro) in the second quarter.
Ruffrage made one of the game's biggest plays with a 91-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter after Hartwick had narrowed Ithaca's lead to 14-7 with 6:50 remaining in the game.
Hartwick threatened on three more occasions in the final minutes of the quarter, but the Bomber defense came up with big plays to help seal the victory. The Hawks drove for a touchdown to make the score 21-13, but the extra-point attempt was blocked by White. Hartwick recovered an onside kick and drove into Ithaca territory, but junior safety Josh Liemer intercepted a pass at the Ithaca 28-yard line with less than three minutes remaining. It was Liemer's team-leading fourth interception of the season.
The Bombers were forced to punt with 1:02 left, and Hartwick once again drove inside of the Ithaca 30, but a pass toward the endzone on the final play of the game was intercepted by senior defensive back Mike Conti (Hand/Bradford, Conn.) and returned 88 yards for a touchdown.
Hendel finished the game 18-for-26 passing for 217 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He carried six times for 14 yards. Sophomore tailback Sal Sulla (North Rockland/Stony Point) was Ithaca's leading rusher with 43 yards on 16 carries. Ruffrage caught six passes for 75 yards. Junior wide receiver Joseph Ingrao (St. Anthony's/Nesconset) had five catches for a team-high 76 yards.
Defensively, White led Ithaca with nine tackles, a fumble recovery, and two blocked kicks. Senior linebacker Joe Gilfedder (Governor Livingston/Berkeley Heights, N.J.) made eight tackles, one was an eight-yard sack, and broke up two passes. Freshman nose guard Josh Skowronski (Monroe-Woodbury/Monroe) had two tackles for loss. Ithaca forced five turnovers in the game.
* It was Conti's third-career defensive touchdown, which is an Ithaca record. He was tied with three other players to score two career defensive touchdowns prior to the win at Hartwick.
* Ithaca managed 27 points against a team that came into the weekend ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense, yielding 9.33 points-per-game, and hadn't allowed more than 14 in any game this year.
* The last time Ithaca scored on offense, defense and special teams in a game was Oct. 23, 2004 in a 52-14 win over Utica.
* This was the second time in four games during the 2011 season that Ithaca has shutout an opponent through the entire first half.
* Ruffrage moved into a tie for fifth all-time at Ithaca with 120 career receptions. He also ranks seventh all-time in receiving yards with 1,567 and tied for third in touchdown receptions with 14.
* Ruffrage's kickoff return touchdown was Ithaca's first such touchdown since Sept., 29, 2007 against Brockport.
* The game took place during Hartwick's homecoming weekend, and was Ithaca's 25th win in the last 28 homecoming games played, both home and away, including eight such wins against Hartwick (four home, four away).