At noon today when the opening kicks happen, it will have been 728 days since SUNY Cortland and Ithaca last faced each other for the Cortaca Jug. The wait for the 62nd Cortaca Jug game has been the longest since 1948, but this year’s iteration looks to be one of the most competitive in the series’ history.
The two teams have a combined record of 17-1, with Cortland sitting at 9-0 and Ithaca at 8-1. The Bombers are No. 18 in the d3football.com poll after beating previously-unbeaten Union last week, while the Red Dragons are No. 14.
SUNY Brockport and Alfred are the only two common opponents between the two Jug participants. Cortland and Ithaca won both games convincingly, with the Red Dragons beating Brockport 31-10 and Alfred 47-3. The Bombers won those matchups 23-8 and 34-0, respectively. Those two games represent Brockport’s only losses this season.
Despite the similarities between those games, Cortland head coach Curt Fitzpatrick knows they were played early in the season and that both Cortland and Ithaca have changed since then.
“Those games happened so long ago. Teams evolve over the course of the season,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re not the same team as when we played Brockport, and Ithaca has evolved since they played them in Week 2. We take a little from that, but it’s hard to say. I could see this game going a bunch of different ways, and it’s going to be fun to watch and coach.”
With a win, Cortland can complete its first undefeated regular season since 1988. It’s only the third time in program history the Red Dragons have started the season 9-0, with the other coming in 2008. Senior linebacker Paul Imperiale said the team isn’t feeling any added pressure to go unbeaten in the regular season and make history.
“We focus on going 1-0 every week and that’s it,” Imperiale said. “9-0 isn’t in our minds. 10-0 isn’t in our minds. It’s just 1-0 and this week we’re 0-0. We’re going to do what we do and prepare like we always do. This is just another football game for us.”
No matter what happens today for Cortland, this is not the end of the season.
The Red Dragons have already clinched the Empire 8 title and will be going to the NCAA Tournament. Snapping a three-game skid in the rivalry game would go a long way to helping Cortland embark on a deep postseason run.
“We talk about it all the time in our position meeting rooms, about how we aren’t even close to our peak yet,” Imperiale said. “We’ve done a lot of great things this year, but we’re going to keep on preparing, keep on improving. Hopefully with a win this weekend we’ll be the No. 1 seed in the East and that’ll lead to a run into December.”
While the game will take center stage today, not having it in 2020 showed how much the Cortaca Jug means to everyone involved. Now that it’s back, Cortland Director of Athletics Mike Urtz stressed that the fans and players cherish the opportunity to have these two teams back together and competing.
“We took a lot for granted before COVID, including this game,” Urtz said. “Don’t take this special opportunity for granted. Play hard and play fair.”
With the world still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the reason last year’s season was cancelled, Ithaca head coach Dan Swanstrom noted how both teams have bounced back from the lost season to set up a monumental clash in one of the nation’s biggest small-school rivalry games.
“As the world is suffering, we’ve got two programs that are flourishing and will get together Saturday,” Swanstrom said