CORTLAND — The first 18 minutes of Thursday night’s game were the best the Cortland High football team had played all season.
Their run game was efficient, their offensive and defensive lines were stout and they scored the most points in any of their three games.
But one fluke play snowballed into 36 unanswered points, and the Purple Tigers lost to the Westhill Warriors, 36-12, at Moiseichik Field.
Gage Burlingame rushed 27 times for 161 yards and a touchdown, Luke Darling rushed 13 times for 74 yards and Ryan Kline had 29 rushing yards and a touchdown to account for the Purple Tigers’ offense.
Darling opened the scoring with 1:40 left in the first quarter to cap off a 10-play, 52-yard, 5:25 drive that started after the Purple Tigers forced a Westhill three-and-out where they lost 17 yards.
After stopping the Warriors at the Cortland 39 on their next drive, Burlingame scored from 2 yards out after being set up by a 23-yard rush by Darling on third-and 3.
The Purple Tigers defense looked to have a third consecutive stop on the Warriors’ third drive, but a horse-collar tackle penalty tacked on 15 yards to a 6-yard rush by Keller O’Hern on third-and-19 to prolong the drive.
Three plays later, a busted coverage allowed O’Hern (86 passing yards, 34 rushing yards) to connect with Taden Chester for a 32-yard touchdown pass to cut the Purple Tigers lead to 12-8.
The Purple Tigers had a chance to respond on their next drive as Daniel Jackson returned the kickoff 30 yards to midfield, then Burlingame rushed 43 yards to give the Purple Tigers first-and-goal.
After a false start penalty backed the Purple Tigers up, Burlingame carried the ball down to the Westhill 10, where Rahmonnyee Gonzalez ripped the ball out of Burlingame’s hands and scurried 90 yards the other way for the go-ahead touchdown.
The blow to the Purple Tigers’ psyche was apparent, and it only got worse from there.
A roughing the passer call on third down on Westhill’s first drive of the second half led to 19-yard touchdown pass from O’Hern to Gonzalez. A holding penalty stalled Cortland’s first drive of the second half at the Westhill 37, forcing the Purple Tigers to punt to Chester, who returned it 85 yards for another touchdown. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty stalled the ensuing Cortland drive.
“We physically dominated them until we had one bad thing happen,” Purple Tigers head coach Pete Reif said. “We were pushing them around, opening up holes for our running backs. Our defensive line was knocking their offensive line backward, but one bad thing happened, and that led into another thing, and things just snowballed from there.”
To put the icing on the cake, Cortland took a safety with three minutes left in the game, then allowed a 46-yard touchdown rush to Lee Haynes to send the Purple Tigers to their third straight loss.
“We dug ourselves a hole, and in the second half, we took foolish penalties,” Reif said. “They put us in bad situations where it’s 1st and 25. We’re not built this year for that.”
Senior running back Reggie Welch aided the Warriors (2-2) effort with 98 all purpose yards.
The Purple Tigers (0-3) host ITC at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Dryden at Chenango Valley, 7 p.m.
ITC at Homer, 7 p.m.
Homer at Manlius Pebble Hilll, 4:30 p.m.
Madison at DeRuyter, 4:30 p.m.
Cincinnatus at Cooperstown, 4:30 p.m.
DeRuyter at Madison, 4:30 p.m.
Whitney Point at Groton, 4:30 p.m.
Jamesville-Dewitt at Cortland, 6:30 p.m.
Homer at Weedsport, 4:30 p.m.
Marathon at Owego Apalachin, 5:30 p.m.
Cincinnatus at Vestal, 4:30 p.m.
CBA at Homer, 3:30 p.m.
East Syracuse-Minoa at Cortland, 3:30 p.m.
Marcellus at Homer, 4:30 p.m.
Central Square 4, Cortland 0
Tyler Colton’s hat trick propelled Central Square to the shutout victory over Cortland (4-4).
Cortland 3, Living Word Academy 1
The Purple Tigers played what head coach Cheri Olson described as their “best passing game… all season” to win by scores of 25-16, 29-27, 18-25 and 25-16.
“We are a third of the way done with our season and it feels like we are finally starting to get in a rhythm,” Olson said. “We have had specific focuses in practice and they are starting to pay off in our games. The girls are slowly building some confidence and I love that.”
Emma Hutchings led the Purple Tigers offensively with 11 kills and four aces. Aliza McCormick had six kills, no hitting errors, five aces and 19 digs. Molly Steve had a career-high 20 assists.
“Living Word was very good defensively,” Olson said. “It was hard to find open spots on the court. We were so consistent on serve receive and had a lot of really nice digs. It was a really fun game to watch.”
Westhill 3, Homer 1
The Warriors broke a one-set tie by winning sets three and four by scores of 25-14 and 25-19.
Homer was led by Kloey Roos (eight digs, five kills, two aces), Mya Updyke (13 assists, three aces, two digs), Mallory Douglass (12 digs), Keira Miller (six digs, three aces) and Lilly Sorenson (five kills, three blocks, three digs).
Homer 8, Cato-Meridian 1
The Trojans picked up a big road win by scoring three goals in the first quarter and scoring two more in both the second and fourth quarters.
Morgan Brown led the Trojans with four goals. Fiona Hartnett, Carley Calabro, Sara Cargen and Carly Gallow each had a goal. Emily Daniels made six saves.