CORTLAND, N.Y. – Freshman Kyle Carlson (Meriden, CT/Maloney) blocked a punt that junior Dakym Davis (Buffalo/Hutch Tech) returned 35 yards for a touchdown to give Cortland the lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Red Dragons held on to defeat visiting Utica, 24-23, in an Empire 8 game.
The victory, combined with Alfred’s loss at Brockport, clinches Cortland’s berth into the inaugural New York State Bowl. The Red Dragons (6-3, 5-2 Empire 8) are guaranteed to be the top non-NCAA qualifying team in the conference and will travel to face a Liberty League opponent, to be determined, in the bowl game Nov. 18. Cortland wraps the regular season next Saturday at noon at Ithaca in the annual Cortaca Jug game.
Cortland won despite being outgained 302-162 in total offense by the Pioneers (3-6, 2-4 Empire 8). The Red Dragons, however, blocked two punts – one early in the game to set up a field goal and the second that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown.
Kyle Richard (Lakeview/Malverne) led Cortland’s defense with a career-high 15 tackles, 12 solo, and Mark DeLuise (Wayne, NJ/Wayne Valley) registered 13 tackles, 12 solo.
Steven Ferreira (West Sayville/Sayville) finished 10-of-22 passing for 108 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game with an injury late in the third quarter. He has thrown at least one TD pass in all nine games this fall and 22 of his 23 career appearances. Alex Wasserman (Closter, NJ/Northern Valley Demarest) caught six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown and Zach Tripodi (New Fairfield, CT) finished with three receptions for 32 yards and a score. Nick Mongelli (Marlboro) averaged 41.1 yards per punt on seven kicks.
Utica’s Vinny Aloi completed 27-of-48 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked seven times. Donovan Brunson and Peyton Miller each caught eight passes, with Miller and Josh Hood making TD grabs. Maki Medici made all three of his field goal attempts, highlighted by a 44-yarder in the first half. Utica’s Vinny Aloi completed 27-of-48 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked seven times. Donovan Brunson and Peyton Miller each caught eight passes, with Miller and Josh Hood making TD grabs. Maki Medici made all three of his field goal attempts, highlighted by a 44-yarder in the first half. Derrick Sekuterski led Utica’s defense with seven tackles and an interception. Keanu Heedram, Jack Derby and Nick Yelich each forced fumbles and Anthony Bierra-Anderson broke up two passes.
Cortland trailed 20-17 after Aloi connected with Miller for a 14-yard TD pass with 14:08 remaining. The Red Dragons went three-and-out on their next possession, but held Utica on its next possession and forced a punt from near midfield. Carlson broke through to block the punt, and Davis scooped up the ball at the Pioneers’ 35-yard line and ran in untouched for a score and a 24-20 lead with 11:10 left. The play was Cortland’s first blocked punt return for a touchdown since Connor Tompkins accomplished the feat at Western Connecticut in 2010.
Utica drove 67 yards on its next series and faced a 4th-and-3 at the Cortland 20-yard line. The Pioneers elected to kick and Medici hit a 37-yard field goal to pull the guests within 24-23 with 5:42 left.
Cortland was able to gain two first downs on its next possession on a Brett Segala (Webster/Webster Schroeder) first-down 11-yard run and a 13-yard Segala pass to Tripodi on 2nd-and-13 from the Red Dragon 38. Cortland was eventually forced to punt, giving Utica the ball at its own 14-yard line with 2:44 remaining.
Utica was briefly able to keep its final drive alive on a pass interference call on 4th-and-12 from its own 26-yard line. Cortland’s defense responded after that, however, as Richard sacked Aloi for a 7-yard loss on 3rd-and-8, and a fourth-down pass missed mark to turn the ball over to the Red Dragons on downs with 1:09 left.
Cortland’s first blocked punt of the afternoon came during the game’s opening series. My-Kell Farrar (Monticello) busted up the middle to block the kick and Cortland recovered on the Utica 9-yard line. The Red Dragons eventually settled for a William Holscher (Commack) 21-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Later in the quarter, Cortland took only four plays to move 66 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. Ferreira connected on a 22-yard pass to Nick Anderson (Jacksonville, FL/Saratoga Springs (NY)) and a 25-yard throw to Wasserman to start the drive. Two plays later, Ferreira found Tripodi on a 16-yard post pattern for the score.
Utica scored the game’s next 13 points to take the lead. Hood caught an 11-yard TD pass to cap a 12-play, 51-yard drive late in the first quarter. Medici tied the game with his 44-yard kick midway through the second, and his 24-yarder with 3:06 left before halftime put the Pioneers ahead 13-10.
The guests got the ball back with 1:35 left, but on their first play Max Jean (Lakeview/Malverne) intercepted an Aloi pass at the Utica 37-yard line. Six plays later, Wasserman made a diving catch in the back right portion of the end zone for a 20-yard score on 3rd-and-10 and Cortland led 17-13 at the break.