Football preview: Cortland takes on Alfred at home

Brandon Lewis made eight tackles, and he returned an interception 42 yards to set up Cortland's final touchdown in the Red Dragons' victory at Buffalo State this past Saturday (Darl Zehr Photography).

CORTLAND, N.Y. - Two of the top three teams in the Empire 8 standings meet as Cortland hosts unbeaten and nationally 17th-ranked Alfred University.

Alfred is the defending league champion and is currently tied for first, along with Brockport, with a 3-0 league mark. Cortland is third in the league with a 2-1 conference mark.

The Series

Alfred leads the all-time series 30-11-1, including 12 straight wins prior to Cortland's 20-14 victory in Cortland in 2015. Before Cortland's arrival in the Empire 8, the Saxons defeated the Red Dragons in Alfred in the 2013 ECAC Division III North Central Bowl, 21-14, and in Cortland in the 2010 NCAA Division III tournament second round, 34-20, as well as 10 straight games from 1977-86. The schools first met on the varsity level in 1940 (a 21-0 Alfred win), then played again post-World War II in 1946 (Alfred 20-12 win) and 1947 (Cortland 37-0 win). The series resumed in 1952, and the schools played each season for 35 straight years through 1986.

Last year, Alfred won at home, 41-28, as part of the Saxons' 10-0 regular season. Alfred led 17-0 at halftime, but only 20-14 late in the third quarter before scoring twice to take a 34-14 lead on the way to the victory. Quarterback Tyler Johnson completed 17-of-28 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 72 yards and two scores. Maleke Fuentes carried the ball 15 times for 155 yards and a score, Brendan Buisch caught seven passes for 108 yards and a TD, and Trevor Monk made two field goals, including a 42-yarder. A.J. LiCata led the defense with 10 tackles.

Cortland quarterback Kyle Schneider entered the game in the second half and completed 19-of-22 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Jake Smith caught five passes for 110 yards and two scores, while Johnnie Akins and Alex Wasserman each rushed for a TD. Tom Hagan finished with eight tackles, including two sacks, and Mark DelPrete intercepted a pass.

Cortland Capsule

Steven Ferreira passed for 222 yards and three touchdowns and Johnnie Akins ran for 87 yards and three scores as Cortland won at Buffalo State, 38-12, last Saturday. The Red Dragons turned three of the Bengals' four turnovers into touchdown drives of less than 40 yards.

Ferreira completed only 10-of-23 passes, but averaged 22.2 yards per completion. He connected with Josh Ramirez on a 16-yard TD pass and Angelo Foster on a 39-yard scoring strike, both in the second quarter. Cortland led 24-6 at halftime and 24-12 entering the fourth quarter. Akins, who averaged four yards per carry, helped seal the win with two fourth-quarter TD runs. He also scored Cortland's first touchdown.

Max Jean finished with 13 tackles, 11 solo, while Darrius Bryant, Brandon Lewis and Isaac Hicks made eight tackles apiece. Lewis, Hicks and Mark DeLuise each intercepted a pass. Dan Appley recovered a fumble that set up a short TD drive, blocked an extra point (his third block of the season), and made a stop on a Buffalo State two-point conversion run attempt. William Holscher made a 32-yard field goal and all five of his PAT kicks, and Nick Mongelli averaged 42.6 yards per punt on nine kicks.

Ferreira, who eclipsed the career 5,000-yard passing mark, is 97-of-157 (61.8 percent) through the air this fall for 1,360 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions. Akins averages 80.5 yards per game rushing (six yards per carry). Nick Anderson has caught 23 passes for 282 yards and five touchdowns and Foster has made 21 catches for 393 yards and three scores.

Hicks and DeLuise are the team's top two tacklers with 36 and 30 stops, respectively, and they share the lead with two interceptions apiece. D'monte Woody is the team leader with six pass breakups, including two at Buffalo State. Holscher is 5-for-5 on field goal attempts and 20-for-20 on PAT kicks, and Mongelli is averaging 40.9 yards per punt.

Head coach Dan MacNeill is in his 21st season with the Red Dragons. His overall record of 136-77 (.638) ranks him first at Cortland in career victories and winning percentage. He was the 2015 HERO Sports National Coach of the Year and the East Region Coach of the Year, and he and his assistants were chosen as the Empire 8 Coaching Staff of the Year. In addition, he's been the New Jersey Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in both 2008 and 2012, and also was a finalist for Liberty Mutual National Div. III Coach of the Year honors in 2008 after leading the Red Dragons to the league title and the NCAA quarterfinals.

MacNeill has guided Cortland to six NCAA playoff appearances (1997, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015) and eight ECAC bowl games (most recently in 2016). His 2008 squad was honored with the Lambert Meadowlands Trophy and the ECAC Div. III Team of the Year awards. MacNeill is a 1979 Cortland alumnus and played linebacker and defensive tackle from 1975-78. Previously an assistant coach at Division I-AA Villanova University for 13 years, MacNeill is Cortland's 11th head coach since the school's modern era of football began in 1924. He joined the Villanova staff in 1984, and he served as linebackers coach and was the team's defensive coordinator from 1988-96.

A look at Alfred University

Alfred improved to 5-0 and extended its regular-season winning streak to 15 games with a 21-14 triumph at St. John Fisher last weekend. The Saxons fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter, but scored 21 straight points on 4-yard and 35-yard TD runs by Nasir Smith and a Jayden Gavidia 25-yard TD catch from Casey Boston to take a 21-7 halftime lead. Fisher closed to within 21-14 in the third quarter and had a chance late to tie the game, but Eric Graham intercepted a pass at the Alfred 2-yard line with less than five minutes remaining and the Saxons were able to run out the clock with a 10-play drive.

Smith finished with 16 carries for 148 yards and the two touchdowns and Maleke Fuentes ran 17 times for 102 yards as Alfred ended the game with 284 net rushing yards. Boston, making his second start of the season, completed 8-of-12 passes for 140 yards and ran for 37 yards. Gavidia caught four passes for 90 yards. A.J. LiCata and Toby Hale each recorded 11 tackles, with Hale notching two of Alfred's four sacks.

Through five games, Fuentes is averaging 109 rushing yards per game (5.6 per carry) with four touchdowns and Smith averages 74 yards per contest (eight yards per carry) with three touchdowns. Boston is 19-of-28 passing (67.9 percent) for 293 yards and three touchdowns in his two starts. Bryce Morrison started the first three games of the season and is 45-of-78 (57.7 percent) for 592 yards and four scores. Gavidia is the team's top receiver with 31 catches for 533 yards and six TDs.

LiCata, last year's Empire 8 Defensive Player of the Year, has registered 54 tackles and two pass breakups in five games this fall. Cole Reed is second on the squad with 45 tackles. Kyle Moore leads the Saxons with three interceptions and shares the team lead with four pass breakups. Trevor Monk has made 17-of-18 PAT kicks and 2-of-3 field goals, including a 43-yarder versus Utica, and he averages 35.4 yards per punt.

Bob Rankl is in his fourth season as Alfred's head coach. He was appointed in May 2014 after serving as an assistant coach with the Saxons for 15 seasons. His head coaching record of 30-9 (.769) includes a 12-1 record and Empire 8 title in 2016. The Saxons finished the regular season 10-0 (8-0 in league play) and won two NCAA playoff games before losing to perennial power Mount Union, 70-45, at home in the national quarterfinals. Rankl also guided Alfred to an 8-3 record and ECAC bowl game victory in 2015. As an assistant coach, he was in charge of coaching Alfred's offensive line and coordinating the running game. Rankl is a 1999 graduate of Ursinus College, where he was a four-year starting defensive lineman for the Bears.

Cortland Red Dragons (3-2, 2-1 Empire 8) vs. Alfred University Saxons (5-0, 3-0 Empire 8)
Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017; 1 p.m.; SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex; Cortland, N.Y.
TICKETS: $6 adults, $5 students with ID
SUNY Cortland students/faculty/staff Free with ID; Children 12 and under Free

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Audio (Alfred radio)