ITHACA, N.Y. – Junior John Babin (Warwick/Warwick Valley) caught two touchdown passes, including a go-ahead 41-yard reception with one minute, eight seconds remaining, as Cortland rallied to defeat nationally 20th-ranked Ithaca, 28-24, in the 55th Annual Cortaca Jug game.
The Red Dragons won the Jug for the fourth straight year. The last time Cortland defeated Ithaca four consecutive times was during a five-year streak from 1955-59, with the last of those five wins for the inaugural Cortaca Jug.
Cortland finishes the regular season with a 6-4 record and will await a possible ECAC bowl game berth. Ithaca (8-2) is the Empire 8 champion and will play in an NCAA tournament first-round game next week.
Babin finished with eight catches for 174 yards. He is now Cortland's career leader with 2,382 receiving yards, and his 72 catches this season match his own school single-season record set in 2011. Babin caught a 63-yard TD pass early in the third quarter to put Cortland ahead 21-14. Ithaca scored the next 10 points, however, and Cortland eventually started its final drive on its own 25-yard line with 2:28 remaining. Junior quarterback Tyler Hughes (Sranton, PA/West Scranton) ran for eight yards, threw a 7-yard pass to Babin, then rushed for another eight yards. Sophomore Dylan Peebles (Port Leyden/South Lewis) followed with an 11-yard rush to the Ithaca 41-yard line. On the next play, Hughes lofted a pass deep down the left sideline. Babin out-leapt a defender, caught the ball and ran in for the score to put Cortland ahead.
Ithaca drove into Cortland territory on its final drive. With less than 40 seconds left, Tom Dempsey completed a pass to Vito Boffoli. He ran to the 41-yard line, but was hit by Tom Hagan (Hopewell Junction/John Jay-East Fishkill) and fumbled. Cortland recovered at its 38-yard line and took a knee three times to run out the clock.
Cortland led 7-0 in the first quarter on a Peebles 6-yard TD run that capped a 9-play, 81-yard scoring drive. Early in the second quarter, Ithaca had to punt from its own 6-yard line, but Cortland fumbled the punt and the Bombers recovered at the Cortland 37-yard line. On the next play, Boffoli took a handoff from Dempsey on a slot end around, then passed to Joel Lynch for a 37-yard TD pass to knot the game at 7-7.
Midway through the second, Cortland mounted a 62-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 12-yard pass from Hughes to freshman Joel Nunez (Bay Shore) to put the Red Dragons up 14-7. Ithaca started its ensuing drive on its own 25-yard line and marched down the field on a 16-play, 75-yard TD drive to tie the game. Dempsey capped the drive with a 3-yard TD pass to Boffoli on 3rd-and-goal with 16 seconds left in the half.
Cortland lost the ball on a fumble on its next play from scrimmage, giving Ithaca a shot at a Hail Mary with two seconds remaining, and the Bombers' Lynch almost made a leaping catch in the end zone but lost the ball as he hit the ground.
Cortland scored on the 63-yard connection from Hughes to Babin 1:13 into the third quarter to take the lead. Ithaca drove to the Cortland 8-yard line on its next possession, but the drive eventually ended with an Andrew Tolosi (Monroe/Monroe-Woodbury) interception in the end zone. The Bombers, however, forced a quick 3-and-out and started their next drive on their own 44-yard line. Evan Skea broke a 45-yard run on the first play of the drive, and three plays later Dempsey found Lynch on a 6-yard TD pass to tie the game at 21-21.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ithaca punted from its own 37-yard line but recovered the ball at the Cortland 20-yard line after the punt was fumbled. The Red Dragons limited the Bombers to five yards over the next three plays and Garrett Nicholson made a 32-yard field goal with 9:24 left to give Ithaca its first lead of the day at 24-21.
The Bombers seemed poised to add to their lead when Sam Carney returned a punt 44 yards to the Cortland 23-yard line with 7:43 left. However, Matt Ambrose (Wyckoff, NJ/Ramapo) forced a fumble on the next play that Hagan recovered. The teams traded punts before Cortland mounted its winning drive.
Hughes finished 16-of-24 passing for 251 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and rushed 10 times for 59 yards. Peebles also had 10 carries for 59 yards and scored once. Ambrose led the Red Dragons with a career-high 15 tackles and added a forced fumble and pass breakup. Troy Beddoe (Endicott/Union-Endicott) and Hagan each made nine tackles. Beddoe and Gabe Ostrow (Nanuet) each registered 1.5 of Cortland's four sacks.
Cortland outgained Ithaca in total offense, 379-350, despite the Bombers holding a significant advantage in time of possession, 37:51 to 22:09. Dempsey completed 23-of-34 passes for 216 yards and Skea ran 25 times for 110 yards. Jared Prugar made seven catches for 79 yards, while Boffoli and Chris Bauer each finished with five catches.
On defense, Ithaca was led by Marc Recio's seven tackles and Mike Sheldon's six tackles, including two sacks, and two forced fumbles.
John Babin has now caught at least one TD pass in eight straight games and 17 of his last 18 contests; the only game in the last 18 in which he did not catch a TD pass was at home versus William Paterson on Sept. 21...Babin extended his school career record for TD catches to 30 in 26 games played...Babin's 1,174 receiving yards this season are nine short of his school-record 1,183 yards in 2011, and his 145 career catches rank third in school history...Ithaca has won 34 of the 55 Cortaca Jug games, but Cortland is now 16-11 in Jug games decided by eight points or less. Thirteen of the last 17 Cortaca Jug games have been decided by eight points or less, with Cortland victorious in nine of those contests.