Red Dragons prepared for nationally-ranked showdown in annual Cortaca Jug game

A special thank you goes to Visions Federal Credit Union for partnering with us to provide the greater Cortland County community with additional sports coverage

(Photo Source: Kevin L. Smith of The Cortland Voice).

SUNY Cortland senior linebacker and captain Zack Thuesen absorbed a saying that former Red Dragons coach Dan McNeill would continually echo.

“He used to say ‘I will do what I can, while I can, so when I cannot I will not regret when I did when I could have,’” Thuesen said.

A quote sewn into Thuesen’s mind, it’s stuck with him since he was a freshman in 2019.

“That statement has meant a lot to me,” he said. “It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things. It helped me when I was a young football player.”

Coach McNeill’s words will be used as a motivational tool for Thuesen, as the senior and the Red Dragons are geared for the 63rd annual Cortaca Jug contest against rival Ithaca College at noon Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

“I’m excited to prove ourselves as a team,” Thuesen said, who considers himself a “juice guy” that “brings the energy up.” 

“I’m pumped to lead these guys and this team,” he added.

The Dragons and Bombers are both 9-0 heading into Saturday’s contest. According to, SUNY Cortland is ranked 11th in the nation, while Ithaca College stands as No. 12. Each squad is a sure-fire playoff contender. 

For senior offensive lineman Connor Hill, the intensity of the storied Red Dragons-Bombers annual showdown calls for a matchup of SUNY Cortland’s high-powered offense versus Ithaca College’s high-powered defense.

“It’s a very unique situation that we’re in,” Hill said. “It’s a huge game. There’s a lot of hype around it.”

SUNY Cortland starting sophomore quarterback and captain Zac Boyes has connections in his family’s history with Cortaca. His father, Jerry, is a former Bombers quarterback. Jerry also went on to coach the Buffalo State football team. As a kid, Zac fondly remembers the Bengals’ matchups against SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College.

“It was cool growing up and being around the two programs,” Zac said. “I didn’t like both programs at the time, but now I have a lot of love for Cortland football.”

Most of the current Red Dragons football players experienced the Cortaca Jug game that took place at MetLife Stadium during the 2019 season. A majority of those players didn’t dress for the game, but Joshua Cordero played as a cornerback.

Going from big stages like MetLife Stadium recently to Yankee Stadium this year, Cordero said it’s all about “sharp focus” for a game of this magnitude.

“(The Cortaca Jug game) is a national holiday for a lot of people, so there are a lot of distractions,” he added. “It’s about staying locked in collectively as a team and sticking to our roles.”

A game with two teams having playoff implications attached to this seasons’ resume makes for a “hostile environment,” Cordero said.

“We have to be in the moment and the next-play mentality,” he added. “It’s going to be a hostile environment, but communicating, playing for each other and trusting each other is key to coming out with a win.”

Boyes noted two programs with a postseason in their future makes for an opportunity to “put on a show.”

“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “Not a lot of D3 schools can say they’ve played a football game in front of (30,000 to 40,000) people.”

Christian Legagneur, another senior captain and defensive back for SUNY Cortland, noted it’s all about putting its “best foot forward” when under the spotlight at The House that (Derek) Jeter Built.

“It’s on me to show that I truly believe our team and our coaching staff in what they set forth for us to have the ability to execute and pull through in this game,” Legagneur said, noting the importance as a captain to absorb the game plan from coaches and transfer it to himself and his teammates.

“It’s such a great challenge playing against this team,” SUNY Cortland head coach Curt Fitzpatrick said. “Our players are focused and excited for such a big stage. The Red Dragons will be ready to roll on Saturday.”

The 63rd annual Cortaca Jug game will be televised on the YES Network. Further details of the matchup can be seen here.

A special thank you goes to Visions Federal Credit Union for partnering with us to provide the greater Cortland County community with additional sports coverage