TIFFIN, Ohio — After appearing to be breezing towards victory, SUNY Cortland had to respond to a season-opening football challenge instead.
Three squandered chances to score additional touchdowns nearly proved costly for the debuting Red Dragons this past Saturday, as the defending Empire 8 Conference champions had to turn back a fourth quarter comeback bid by host Heidelberg University before securing a 30-28 road victory before 1,850 fans at Hoernemann Stadium.
Senior quarterback Steven Ferreira threw for 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Red Dragons, who came into the non-conference contest ranked 17th nationally in pre-season Division III polling.
Cortland led 17-7 at halftime, and when freshman running back Zach Tripodi scored on a two-yard run with 5:59 left in the third quarter the visitors enjoyed some 30-14 breathing room. But the Student Princes scored twice early in the fourth quarter — on a 22-yard Demetrius Magee touchdown reception from Tyler Stoyle and a 2-yard Cameron Vocke run — before the Cortland defense halted Heidelberg on two final possessions to emerge victorious.
There were three missed red zone TD opportunities for Cortland.
— Running back Donny Davis fumbled the football away into the end zone stretching out from the 1-yard line early in the second quarter with Cortland up 14-7.
— After an 80-yard drive to close out the first half, which finished less than a yard away from the Heidelberg end zone, Cortland elected to take the points from a Shane Cronin field goal to head into intermission up 10 points.
— A tipped Ferreira pass was picked off by Heidelberg to stop a Cortland second half drive that had reached the hosts’ 14-yard line. The Red Dragons were up 30-21 at the time, and Heidelberg responded with a scoring drive capped by Vocke’s TD run that provided some late anxiety for the eventual winners.
Cortland out-gained Heidelberg 531-454 in total yardage, rolling up 29 first downs on the day.
FERREIRA FINISHED 21-of-35 passing and also rushed for 47 yards and an opening touchdown for Cortland. Senior wide receiver Jon Mannix caught five passes for 132 yards and a touchdown and rookie Tripodi lugged the ball six times for 93 yards.
Cortland’s grabbed an early 14-0 lead. After a missed Heidelberg field goal, Cortland traveled 75 yards on just four plays — including a Mannix 63-yard catch and scamper — to set up a Ferreira 1-yard TD run. On their next possession, the Red Dragons covered 81 yards on 10 snaps capped by a 26-yard Ferreira to Mannix TD toss.
Heidelberg got on the scoreboard when running back Bryan Lacey broke free up the middle on a 4th-and-1 carry for a 14-yard TD run on the final play of the first quarter to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Cortland took possession on its own 20-yard line with 5:15 remaining in the first half and methodically drove to the Heidelberg 2-yard line. A running play with 13 seconds left was halted at the 1, and another rush was also thwarted shy of the stripe. Cronin then connected on an 18-yard field goal at the horn on the drive’s 16th play and Cortland led 17-7 at the break.
The Red Dragons extended their lead to 23-7 on a 3-yard TD pass from Ferreira to tight end Josh Riley on their first drive of the third quarter, though the extra point was blocked.
Heidelberg then answered with a 4-play, 60-yard TD drive that was capped by a Lacey 5-yard run and Cortland’s lead was 23-14.
Cortland responded with a sustained scoring drive covering 72 yards on 11 plays, the final 26 on a Tripodi 24-yard rush and 2-yard scoring burst. That put the visitors up 30-14 to set the stage for Heidelberg’s comeback bid.
HEIDELBERG QB Tyler Stoyle connected on 27-of-45 passes for 315 yards and a touchdown. Nick Delisa and Magee each caught seven passes, while Lacey rushed 18 times for 94 yards and his two touchdowns.
Linebacker Matt Goodman led Cortland’s defense with 12 tackles — 10 solo — and two pass breakups. Layton Lassiter finished with seven tackles and a breakup, while senior cornerback Mark DelPrete and freshman defensive lineman Ike Schannauer were in on six tackles each.
In addition to Tripodi’s 93 second half rushing yards, Alex Wasserman gained 57 yards on 17 carries for Cortland. The Red Dragons also converted on 9-of-18 third-down attempts and both of their fourth-down plays.
Cortland will host Framingham State this coming Saturday at noon in a non-leaguer match-up at the Stadium Complex. Both teams were league champions last season — Cortland in the Empire 8 and Framingham State in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference.