Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Jon Mannix of SUNY Cortland heads into Saturday’s Cortaca Jug hosting of Ithaca as the school’s all-time leader in receptions.
Jon Mannix has already earned his permanent place in Cortaca Jug football lore.
That arrived two seasons ago when a botched last-second SUNY Cortland attempt at a game-tying field goal turned into a game-winning touchdown pass hauled in by the dependable wide receiver against arch rival Ithaca College.
Frantic kick holder Luke Hinton, who was a late arrival on the field and then could not handle the center’s snap, was in desperate scrambling mode before he located Mannix open in the end zone for a decisive TD toss. That pulled out a crazy 23-20 Cortland win, becoming an instant social media hit and a featured attraction on ESPN television shows in ensuing days.
Now Mannix hopes to play an even more prominent role in his final Cortaca Jug appearance, as the senior will be departing as the school’s all-time receiving leader when the Red Dragons play host to the Bombers from Ithaca in Saturday’s annual sold out noontime clash at the Stadium Complex.
“It’s always such a great game,” said Mannix of this year’s Empire 8 Conference regular season finale pitting upstate rivals Cortland (4-5) and Ithaca (5-4) together for the 75th time since 1948. The two schools have been grappling over possession of the Cortaca Jugs — coveted pottery awarded to the winner — ever since 1959.
“It’s always so much fun and everyone comes out, so I would not want to go out any other way,” Mannix adds.
Mannix caught 10 passes and scored twice in Cortland’s last outing, a 45-20 win over Morrisville State two weekends ago. That put the 6-foot-3 wideout with 172 career receptions, surpassing the school mark of 170 previously shared by John Babin and Steve Ellis — though the Ellis catch count does not include 11 receptions in three ECAC playoff games. The NCAA rules did not count post-season stats until 2002.
Mannix has 42 grabs for 614 yards this season, which is remarkable considering he has been battling injuries throughout and is part of an offense that has been forced into using five different quarterbacks.
“It’s not easy,” said Mannix of having to mesh with a different quarterback on an almost weekly basis due to injuries. “It was nice to have it like last year, to go through the season with the same guy, the same chemistry, the same everything. But you have to adapt.”
Steven Ferreira was that Cortland quarterback throughout a successful 2015 campaign, when the Red Dragons ended up sharing first place in the Empire 8 standings, defeated Ithaca for a sixth consecutive season and went two games deep into the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Ferreira was back at the helm this year when Cortland posted non-conference wins at Heidelberg 30-28 and over Framingham State 49-21 before suffering a severe ankle injury in the Empire 8 opener at St. John Fisher back on Sept. 17.
“Any ball thrown his way, he usually catches it,” was the rave Mannix review offered up by Ferreira, the senior quarterback still on crutches as his broken ankle heals.
“Any ball thrown his way he usually catches it. He has such strong hands,” Ferreira continued. “He just comes down with a lot of jump balls. Or even on balls thrown behind him, he’ll reach out his hands and squeeze it and catch it. He’s got, I guess you would say, ball security when the ball is in the air. He catches it and comes down with it about 90 percent of the time.”
Freshman DeAngelo Walker, senior Kyle Schneider, sophomore Ryan VanGalen and sophomore transfer Brett Segala are the quarterbacks who have taken snaps for Cortland after Ferreira’s injury, Cortland going 2-5 over that stretch of games.
That has made it difficult on a talented group of Red Dragon receivers featuring Mannix, as junior speedster Jake Smith (41 catches-716 yards), senior Anthony Pintabona (26-308) and senior tight end Josh Riley (22-258) are all effective weapons.
After completing 28-of-39 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns against Morrisville, Segala gets his second collegiate starting assignment against a tough Ithaca defense that is fresh from a 7-0 shutout victory over Buffalo State last Saturday.
“He’s just playing better,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill of staying with Segala as his starter, though Walker and Schneider are both recovered from concussions and available for duty. Schneider is listed as the back-up on the depth chart, while Coach MacNeill indicated Walker will get on the field in certain offensive situations against the Bombers.
“All these quarterbacks are handling the pressure pretty well. They just have to handle the adversity that presents itself,” said Ferreira of his back-ups.
Though he will be a frustrated and disappointed spectator at this year’s Cortaca Jug game, Ferreira could return.
“I will hopefully get this medical red-shirt and come back and play next year,” he said, expecting to be crutch-free by Christmas. “Football has just been my whole life. It would be kind of tough to go out on a note like this when I’ve been playing for so long. It definitely has been tough watching it, but again I’m trying to get involved as much as I can and get healthy and get back.”
Ferreira just won’t have his senior buddies to throw to anymore including fellow Long Islander Mannix, who could possibly see his football days conclude with the Cortaca Jug contest.
Mannix came to Cortland from a John Glenn High School program crowned Long Island champions, but was injured as a freshman after appearing in just three games. He caught 56 passes as a sophomore, including that Cortaca Jug game-winner. He had 55 receptions and 10 touchdowns as an Empire 8 first-team wide receiver as a junior, including a “Hail Mary” end zone catch of a Ferreira fling that pulled out a last-second win over Heidelberg.
Mannix will be leaving Cortland with a degree in economics, which is why he says of his future: “I’m going to see where that takes me, and I don’t know. Only time will tell.”