With the SUNY Cortland special teams being especially special, the outcome of this football affair was pretty much decided by the time halftime arrived.
So a good portion of the 3,521 folks who showed at the Stadium Complex on this warm Saturday afternoon for the Red Dragons’ home opener could wander off towards other endeavors well before this lopsided 49-21 victory over Framingham State had concluded.
Cortland grabbed 42-14 command of this non-league confrontation by the time intermission arrived, with a special thanks going to special teams play that provided a huge helping hand towards that early success.
“How about those special teams, right?” crowed Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill of his 2-0 squad, that appears ready to open up Empire 8 Conference play this coming Saturday at home against a similar 2-0 St. John Fisher outfit that shared first place with the Red Dragons last season.
Sophomore Alex Wasserman, a shifty running back out of New Jersey by trade, returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and blocked a punt to set up another score to help send the highly-regarded Rams (1-1) back to Massachusetts still shaking their heads in disbelief.
“That’s demoralizing,” said Coach MacNeill of the Wasserman TD return that snapped an early 7-7 tie and ignited a stretch of 28 unanswered Cortland first half points. “That’s a big swing, too. That was fun. Special teams were really good.”
Three big special team plays helped create the first three Cortland touchdowns.
l The first came on the opening kickoff, when senior Carson Lassiter broke free and seemed headed for a touchdown — only to be betrayed by his footing and taking a tumble at the visitors’ 47-yard line. The Red Dragons scored just five plays later when quarterback Steven Ferreira produced a perfectly placed pass into the arms of wide receiver Jake Smith for an 18-yard touchdown 2:11 into the game.
“Those opportunities come in so little time, you’ve got to take advantage of those,” said Lassiter. “Turf monster came up and got me. Film comes tomorrow (Sunday) and the team will be getting on me for that one. I’ve got to keep my feet. Seriously, I’ve got to be able to be an athlete there and help my team when I can.”
Safety Lassiter more than helped out the team with two interceptions and eight tackles, with a third interception called off because of a penalty committed by twin brother Layton Lassiter. “He will be hearing about that later on tonight,” promised Carson.
l The second came after Framingham marched 82 yards on 14 plays to respond to Cortland’s early score with its own TD, Zak Walker covering the final yard untouched on a quarterback keeper. Wasserman took the ensuing kickoff at his own 10-yard line, broke free along the Framingham sideline and did some nice late maneuvering with the help of downfield blocker Mark DeLuise to score.
“There were a bunch of guys just all clogged up, so I thought I’d bounce it out to the left side,” said Wasserman of the play. “I saw a seam and I just did my thing, and everyone was blocking downfield for me.”
l The third big special teams play came after Cortland squandered a pair of scoring chances with turnovers, leading to Wasserman blocking a punt to set up the Red Dragons offense on the Framingham 18-yard line.
“He ended up just rolling out and I just ran right into him. My eyes were just wide-open… wow,” said Wasserman of the Chris Dagg punt attempt. “Making plays on special teams, it’s one-third of the game and it’s a game-changer.”
Cortland cashed in three plays later when sophomore running back Johnnie Akins shook off a facemask tug during a 6-yard sweep into the end zone for a 21-7 edge three minutes into the second quarter.
CORTLAND ADDED TWO more quick scores to pad the lead.
After a 44-yard Jon Mannix catch of a Ferreira sideline thrown, Ferreira ran a 2-yard keeper for a 28-7 lead. After cornerback Mark DelPrete forced a fumble linebacker Kyle Richard recovered at the Framingham 46, on the very next play Wasserman took a screen pass and went the distance untouched while cutting back against the Rams’ pursuit.
Both sides then traded touchdowns before the half arrived.
The Rams went 65 yards in eight snaps to score when wide receiver Michael Calicchio made a nice back-shoulder grab of a 1-yard Walker TD toss with 1:16 left to play.
After another heads-up special teams play, a Red Dragon calling for a fair catch and then drawing a penalty for being hit before Framingham recovered an ensuing on-side kick attempt, Cortland took over at the Rams’ 31-yard-line and scored on three straight Ferreira scrambles.
The last ad-lib by Ferreira — who led all Cortland rushers with 94 yards on 15 carries while also passing for 191 yards on 11-of-17 accuracy — came from five yards away for Cortland’s 42-14 halftime advantage.
Things bogged down from there, with an exchange of fourth quarter touchdowns the only scoring over the final 30 minutes. Stephen Beahn crashed over from the 4-yard line for Framingham, while Atkins scored his second touchdown from a yard away with 6:47 left to play. Shane Cronin converted his seventh PAT to conclude the scoring, and also averaged 39 yards on four punts — though he didn’t have to punt until the third quarter.
Cortland held a 408-327 edge in total offense, as Framingham passers were picked off four times.
WHILE SAFETY LASSITER had his two interceptions, defensive backs Taj Anderson and Mark Caputo also pilfered Rams’ passes. Defensive end Dan Appley and linebacker Matt Goodman had nine tackles apiece, while freshman nose guard Ike Schannauer and linebackers Joe Sarno and Rich Lagano had QB sacks.
“Last year they put 40 something points on us, put up a good amount of points,” noted Lassiter, referring to Cortland’s wild 61-49 win at Framingham last September. “We had a sour taste in our mouth and we wanted to come out flying.”
“Still a couple of inconsistencies there (on defense), just like the offense,” was Coach MacNeill’s review. “Gosh sakes, we fumbled the ball in the end zone again. We can’t tolerate it and that’s the pall that comes over some of these guys.”
Cortland lost fumbles at the 1-yard-line and 12-yard-line to halt first quarter scoring chances against Framingham. In a 20-28 win at Heidelberg the previous weekend, turnovers in the red zone kept things close, too.
“Last week we pouted a little too much about it. We let other people allow that to happen,” noted MacNeill. “This week we didn’t. I like how we were tougher.”