Nationally-ranked St. John Fisher College orchestrated three
consecutive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to erase a 17-14
deficit against SUNY Cortland, Saturday at Growney Stadium en route
to a 33-25 win in a non-conference Division III matchup.
With the win, the Cardinals, ranked 18th in the latest D3football.com poll, improve to 3-0, while the Red Dragons slip to 1-2 on the season.
Facing a three-point hole going into the fourth quarter, Fisher marched 85 yards on nine plays to take the lead for good. Tyler Fenti took the snap and handed the ball off to Ryan Kramer on an end-around with Kramer lofting the ball downfield and found Nathan Nigolian for the 36-yard reception, setting the Cardinals up for the score. Two players later, Nigolian out-leaped a Cortland defender in the corner of the endzone to put Fisher up 20-17.
In Cortland's next possession, the Red Dragons looked to regain the momentum, but committed their first turnover of the day with Fisher's Dalton Donk recovering a fumble off a botched pitch and running it back to the Cortland 17 yard line. It only took Fisher's offense 1:34 to convert on another touchdown, this time Kramer used his feet to find pay dirt, giving Fisher the two-possession lead at 27-17.
Just two offensive plays later, Cortland would lose the ball again. Quarterback Tyler Hughes looked for daylight, but was chased down from behind by Mason Judd who lodged the ball loose, which was quickly recovered by Fisher's Ryan Ballard.
The Cardinals wasted no time capitalizing on the turnover. Fenti launched the ball 28 yards downfield into the waiting hands of Nigolian for another Fisher first down. Cody Miller made his way into the endzone for the fourth time this season, as Fisher scored three touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to take a 33-17 advantage.
With time winding down in the fourth, Cortland went to the hurry up offense, converting four passes in less than a minute, all while marching down to Fisher's 11 yard line. Tyler Augliano surveyed the defense and awaited the snap in the shotgun, but as it had done in the previous two possessions, Fisher's defense created another turnover Augliano reared back and threw into the endzone, but the ball was intercepted by Ballard who dodged several Cortland players to make his way to 29 yard line.
The Cardinals took over from their own 29 with 8:11 remaining in the contest. Fisher had everything going as Fenti juked his way for another first down, this time on a 22-yard scramble, but the Cortland defense held, as Fisher turned the ball over on downs.
With just over four minutes to go, Cortland marched its way down to the Fisher 15 yard line. A personal foul penalty against the Cardinals kept the drive alive for Cortland as Augliano found Dylan Peebles to bring Cortland to within 10 at 33-23. The Red Dragons elected to go for the two-point conversion to cut it to a one possession game. Augliano kept his team's chances alive, finding John Babin in the middle of the field, making it 33-25 in favor of Fisher, but that was as close as it would get as the Cardinals converted a key third down opportunity, allowing the home team to run the clock out and seal the win.
In the first half, Junior Rob Riggio scored on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Fenti to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead on their opening drive. The reception was the first of Riggio's career. Cortland forced Fisher to go three-and-out, but a personal foul (roughing the kicker) kept the drive alive and Fisher capitalized seven plays later.
Cortland made it 7-3 with a 36-yard field goal with 11:43 left in the half. Fisher had two excellent chances to extend its lead before halftime, but turnovers cost the Cardinals on both occasions. Cody Miller fumbled at the Cortland 11 with 7:45 left in the half. On the ensuing possession, Fenti was intercepted in the endzone, marking his first interception of the year.
Cortland, who trailed 7-3 at the break, took the lead early in the second half. The Red Dragons drove 50 yards on three plays, capitalizing on three Fisher penalties, and scored on a two-yard run from Hughes to make it 10-7 with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Fisher responded with an 80-yard drive with Fenti scoring on a six-yard run to put Fisher back up on top at 14-10 with 4;29 left in the third.
In the closing moments of the third quarter, Fisher committed its fourth turnover of the day, as Kramer muffed a punt at his own 20-yard line. On the very next play, Tyler Augliano completed a pass to John Babin for 22 yards to give Cortland a 17-14 edge going into the fourth quarter.
Fenti had a strong game completing 28 of 40 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 88 yards on the ground and a touchdown. The Honeoye Falls native has amassed 980 yards and seven touchdowns in three games.
Miller had 40 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Nigolian had his second straight game with over 100 yards receiving as he collected six balls for 100 yards and a score. Kramer hauled in 11 balls for 55 yards and Kevin Francis had eight catches for 67 yards.
Ryan Seymour had a team-high eight tackles in the win. Judd tallied five tackles including one sack to go along with a forced fumble. Ballard chipped in with six tackles, a half a sack and a key interception.
Fisher will return to action at 2 p.m. next Saturday and will host Frostburg State University in the Empire 8 Conference season opener for both teams.