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Tasty win for Red Dragons

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

SUNY Cortland tight end Josh Riley leaps to grab a pass against Morrisville State on Saturday.

The first quarter was at the midway point and SUNY Cortland had already given up a long touchdown drive to Morrisville State.

And on the visitor’s second possession of Saturday afternoon’s Empire 8 Conference football gathering, here was Morrisville junior wide receiver with the awesome name of Kyle Flash flashing free after catching a slant throw over the middle. He appeared to be off and running on an 89-yard touchdown pass play.

So how did we go from that shaky scenario to a lopsided 45-20 victory by the Red Dragons?

Well, first sophomore cornerback Max Jean had to run down Flash for a crucial tackle at the Cortland 10-yard line. Then when the Mustangs were unable to reach the end zone, Travis Alvarez used his 6-foot-8 frame to block a field goal attempt — the third blocked kick of the season by the rookie offensive tackle — to prevent the Red Dragons from facing an early 10-0 predicament.

Inspired Cortland then went on to reel off 31 unanswered points before halftime arrived, and winless Morrisville never recovered.

Pretty soon the gray day was a huge success for first-time starting quarterback Brett Segala, for the school’s new all-time receiver leader Jon Mannix and for a Cortland defense that picked off three Morrisville State passes. That included an interception safety Brandon Lewis returned 39 yards for a third quarter touchdown.

“We needed this,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill, whose team stands 2-5 in the Empire 8 standings, 4-5 overall and will now get a week off before hosting Ithaca College in the annual Cortaca Jug game on Nov. 12 back at this same Stadium Complex site.

“A win’s a win, but it just feels better,” he added. “It tastes better. I just had a sweet brownie and it tasted so much better.”

Segala threw for 322 yards as the fifth player to start at quarterback in this injury-plagued season for the Red Dragons.

Mannix caught 10 passes for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and is now the all-time Cortland receiving leader with 172 catches for his four seasons.

Lewis, linebacker Matt Goodman and Jean all picked off passes. Goodman’s theft set up a Cortland touchdown and Jean’s interception in the corner of the end zone denied Morrisville State (0-8) a second quarter scoring opportunity.

SEGALA FELT HE had his nerves pretty much under control while completing 28-of-39 throws, four of those touchdown pegs. He had not appeared this season until the fourth quarter of last week’s 21-19 loss at Brockport, where he led a late touchdown drive capped by his 3-yard end zone scamper.

“It was interesting. It was my first actual game start since my senior year (of high school),” said Segala, who played at Webster Schroeder near Rochester before not seeing action at Division II Seton Hill in Pennsylvania as a freshman last fall. “But I settled down, especially with my o-line. They told me to settle down and just have a good time, and that’s what I did.”

Cortland had pulled within 7-3 on a Shane Cronin field goal with 4:52 left in the opening quarter when Morrisville fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, recovered by Red Dragons linebacker Mark DeLuise — who led the defense with a career-high 14 tackles including two quarterback sacks — at the Mustangs’ 21-yard line. Two plays later Segala found running back Johnnie Akins over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown pass that put the Red Dragons up for keeps.

Before the first quarter ended, Segala delivered a pass to wide open wide receiver Jake Smith for a 21-yard TD and a 17-7 lead.

After Goodman came up with his interception and returned it to the Morrisville 22, and following 7-yard loss, freshman running back Zach Tripodi took a pitch sweeping right, broke some tackles and cut back against the grain for a 29-yard touchdown. That was part of Tripodi’s team-high 89 rushing yards on 10 carries.

BEFORE HALFTIME arrived, Segala was guiding Cortland 80 yards for another touchdown. Two big catches by tight end Josh Riley were featured attractions before Mannix scored from the 2-yard-line on a quick Segala toss out in the flat. Fellow wide receiver Anthony Pintabona provided a clutch block and the score.

With Cortland up 31-7 at the break, the teams traded second half touchdowns — Cortland six-pointers coming on Lewis’ pick-six and a nice Mannix grab in the back of the end zone of a 8-yard Segala toss early in the fourth quarter.

Morrisville’s Darrell West caught a 24-yard pass from starting quarterback Cory Benedetto early and had a 1-yard run in the third quarter, while Nick Edmond’s 14-yard end zone dash with four minutes to go concluded the day’s scoring.

“Everything was fair game,” said Segala of the things available to him from the Cortland offensive play book.

“I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of this offense. It’s a pretty easy offense to understand,” he added. “And when you have play-makers like Jon (Mannix) and Jake (Smith) and Johnny Akins… we’re unstoppable when we have play-makers like that.”

Cortland out-gained Morrisville State 439-407 and only had two turnovers.

Segala lost possession when flattened by Mustangs linebacker Kendall Clarke in the third quarter, which was the lone sack allowed by the hosts. A fourth quarter Segala pass ricocheted into the air and into the arms of Morrisville safety Tim Webber for the other Cortland giveaway.

“HE KILLED IT MAN. I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said the Mannix review of Segala’s showing. “He got it done. He stepped up. That’s what he needed and he did it.”

Mannix also took pride in his own accomplishment, especially coming in an injury-plagued senior season where a lot of his week is spent just trying to get healthy for the next game.

“It means everything. It’s everything I worked for, basically,” said Mannix of his 172 catches that broke the record shared by John Babin (who last played two seasons ago) and Steve Ellis (1991-94).

“Good for him,” said Coach MacNeill of the Mannix record. “I think we could see that coming many years ago. He’s just a great player. No surprise, just congratulations.”

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