The first quarter-plus of its season-opener against visiting Westhill Friday night couldn’t have gone better for the Cortland High football team Friday night on Moiseichik Field.
The rest of the game couldn’t have gone a whole lot worse.
The Purple Tigers led 14-0 two plays into the second quarter, but from then on it was all Warriors as the visitors pulled to within 14-13 at halftime and did all of the second-half scoring en route to a 28-14 Section 3 Class B West win.
A 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by CHS senior linebacker George Hines on a pass by Westhill senior quarterback Zavion Barrot got the scoring started with 1:26 left in the first quarter, the conversion kick no good. It was the second Cortland interception in as many Westhill possessions to open the game, junior safety Brandon Ludwig having snagged a tipped pass on the visitors’ opening series.
After a quick Warrior three-and-out following the opening TD, the hosts got the ball back with 37 seconds left in the period and needed just three plays to find the end zone again. quarterback Ludwig connecting with junior receiver Rory Hines (no relation to George) to make it 14-0 after a conversion pass from Ludwig to George Hiines.
From there, things mostly went Westhill’s way.
“We could have gone up by more but didn’t execute some plays,” CHS coach Pete Reif said, his team now having lost 10 gams in a stretch dating back to late in the 2015 season. “We had our chances. Then we fumbled the ball deep in our own territory and let one bad play turn into two, then turn into three and things started snowballing a little bit.
“Three or five guys got banged up some and we went from being dominant in the first half to doing things we knew we shouldn’t be doing. Our fundamentals started breaking down and our tackling got poor. Guys started being down mentally. When things go bad you have to fight back, keep on making plays and try to get better. I think with us it’s the general attitude of being complacent; when things go wrong we panic and don’t know how to react.”
After scoring its second TD Cortland stopped Westhill on downs at the Purple Tiger 20, then promptly fumbled the ball back on a missed handoff. Warriors junior receiver Thomas Howard took a pitchout from Barrot on the next play, went right and cut up the field for an 18-yard TD run that made it a 14-7 game after junior Mark Vaughn’s conversion kick.
After the Purple Tigers went three-and-out, the visitors marched 70 yards in nine plays, aided by a pass interference call, Barrot finding Howard with a 27-yard scoring strike with 18 seconds left in the half prior to a failed kick, leaving Cortland up 14-13.
“The first TD I made a cut back and was able to find the pylon,” Howard said. “On the second one I went to the corner of the end zone, Zavion trusted me and got it to me.”
“I told the kids at halftime that it was a great comeback and to keep fighting,” Westhill coach Adam Griffo said. “They just had to keep doing what they have been coached to do, plus a little better blocking from the running backs. Zavion stepped up and became a leader. He wants it this year; he only played three games last year due to an injury. He can do great things.”
The Warriors took the lead for good, taking the opening kickoff and marching 65 yards in six plays, including another pass interference call. After Barrot rolled left for 18 yards on a third-and-10 from the CHS 21, sophomore running back Riley McNitt covered the remaining three yards and Barrot hit senior tight end Owen Rodgers with the conversion pass to make it 21-14 just under two minutes into the third quarter.
Cortland punted three times and lost the ball on downs twice in its five second-half possessions, held to just 49 of its 165 total yards in the game (to 308 for Westhill), including just five on the ground in 12 carries. Both of its stalled drives came after the game’s final points, as Barrot connected with senior receiver Chris Holt on a five-yard TD pass on a third-down play 2:14 into the fourth quarter prior to Vaughn’s kick.
The Purple Tigers’ last chance to put some pressure on Westhill evaporated when they lost the ball on downs at the Warrior 22 with 3:26 left.
“It would have been nice to get within once score and see how Westhill reacted,” Reif said. “There were plays we could have made, but were unable to finish.
“Brandon did a lot of positive things offensively,” Reif said of Ludwig. “He played well; we got a lot out of the quarterback position.”
Ludwig completed 8 of 18 passes for 97 yards and the TD. Senior back Noah Barber caught three of those aerials for 37 yards and junior tailback Dylan Strauf led the ground game with 45 yards on 12 carries.
Barrot went 10-for-21 passing for 158 yards with the TD and two interceptions. Sophomore running back Riley McNitt made four catches for 67 yards and also led the winners’ ground game with 76 yards on 12 carries.
Next up for Cortland is a short trip north to Homer this Friday to battle the Trojans for the Home-Cort Jug in a 7 p.m. start. Four-time defending B West champion Homer opened the season Friday with a 35-12 road win over Marcellus. “The kids will be motivated,” Reif said, noting that as far as he knew all 23 players on the roster would be ready to go. “Homer too, I’m sure.”
The Cortland JV football team openings it season on a strong note Thursday, routing Westhill 52-6. defeating host Westhill 52-6. “A strong all-around team effort led to a 40-0 halftime lead,” coach Dustin Bush said. “Our players demonstrated strong team tackling and everyone worked to hold their blocks. We were proud of the effort, and the players and coaching staff are setting their sights on Homer.”
That contest will take place Thursday at 5 p.m. on Moiseichik Field.