CORTLAND, N.Y. – Sophomore tailback Justin Autera (Mahopac) rushed 37 times for a career-high 232 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 10:49 remaining, as SUNY Cortland rallied from a 17-3 deficit to defeat visiting Ithaca College, 20-17, in the 52nd annual battle for the Cortaca Jug. Cortland won the series traveling trophy for the first time since 2006.
Cortland completes the regular season with a 9-1 record, while Ithaca ends the year at 6-4. Cortland finished as tri-champions in the New Jersey Athletic Conference with Rowan and Montclair State, each with 8-1 league records. The first two league tiebreakers are even, leaving the league's NCAA automatic berth to be determined by the third tiebreaker – opponents' opponents winning percentage in all Division III games.
The winner of the tiebreaker will be announced later Saturday night by the league, with the two teams that lose the tiebreaker still eligible for an NCAA at-large berth. The NCAA selections and pairings will be announced on ESPNews on Sunday, Nov. 14, sometime between 3 and 3:30 p.m.
Autera's 232 rushing yards are the most by any player from either school in a Cortland-Ithaca game. Cortland's Gareth Grayson ran for 227 yards in a 1988 NCAA playoff loss at Ithaca, while Jamie Donovan of Ithaca rushed for a then-Cortaca Jug record 203 yards in the Bombers' 2004 win at Cortland.
Autera also caught four passes for 23 yards to account for 255 of Cortland's 282 yards of total offense. Dan Pitcher (Cortland) completed 10-of-16 passes, but only for 63 yards with one interception while his school-record streak of 11 straight games with a touchdown pass ended.
Ithaca, conversely, gained 271 of its 290 total offensive yards through the air. Rob Zappia (Rochester/Greece Athena) completed 19-of-39 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown. Thomas Vossler (Loon Lake/Saranac Lake) caught eight passes for 83 yards and Dan Ruffrage (Whitesboro/Utica Notre Dame) had six receptions for 53 yards. Cortland's defense limited Ithaca to 19 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Cody Allen (Medina) led Cortland with nine tackles. Senior cornerbacks Joe Lopez (Port Jefferson Station/Comsewogue) and D.J. Romano (Newburgh/Newburgh Free Academy) each intercepted passes. Lopez extended his school record to six straight games with an interception.
Ryan Clarke (West Friendship, MD/Archbishop Spalding) paced Ithaca with 13 tackles, including 1.5 for losses. Eric Toporoff (Montville, NJ/Montville Twp.) made 12 tackles and had one of the Bombers' three sacks.
Cortland's comeback started with Ithaca in punt formation midway through the third quarter leading 17-3. Ithaca punter Andrew Rogowski (East Amherst/Canisius) bent down to field a low snap at his own 3-yard line and was ruled down when his knee touched the ground. Autera ran in for a 3-yard score on the next play to cut the Cortland deficit to 17-10.
Later in the third quarter, Cortland punter Pete Furey (Niskayuna) pinned Ithaca at its own 5-yard line. The Bombers lost two yards over three straight runs and Cortland regained possession at the Ithaca 45-yard line following a punt. Autera ran for 16 yards twice to advance the ball to the 13-yard line, and three plays later Marc Corrado (Newburgh/Newburgh Free Academy) hit a 32-yard field goal, his second of the game, to pull Cortland within 17-13 with 12:55 remaining.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cortland's Chris Bright (East Meadow) forced a fumble that Joe Aston (Binghamton/Chenango Forks) recovered at the Ithaca 32-yard line. Cortland covered 26 yards over the next three plays, keyed by an Autera 21-yard run. Junior Dorian Myles (Lackawanna/Hamburg) then broke a run around the right end before being pushed out at the 1-yard line. Autera leaped over the pile on the next play for the go-ahead score and a 20-17 lead.
Ithaca took a 7-0 lead on an 80-yard scoring drive in the first quarter. The big play on the drive was a 47-yard pass from Zappia to Andre Jamison (Carmel) to the Cortland 5-yard line. On the next play, Zappia faked a handoff and ran around the left end and snuck just inside the pylon for a score.
Corrado's 26-yard field goal with 1:25 left in the first quarter made the score 7-3. Ithaca had a good scoring opportunity thwarted with less than seven minutes left in the first half when Lopez picked off a pass at the Cortland 10-yard line.
With 4:05 left before halftime, Ithaca started a drive on its own 17-yard line. On the ninth play of the series, Vossler made a nice leaping catch at the Cortland 3-yard line. Allen, however, sacked Zappia two plays later and Rogowski made a 29-yard field goal on the final play of the half to put Ithaca up 10-3.
Cortland fumbled the ball away on its first series of the third quarter, and Ithaca quickly struck on the next play. Zappia threw a pass to Dan Higgins (Rochester/Greece Athena), who caught the ball near the 10-yard line, bounced off a defender and broke tackles into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown and a 17-3 Ithaca lead.
After Cortland rallied to take the lead, the Red Dragons forced Ithaca to punt on its next possession. Ithaca's next drive ended on Romano's interception at the Cortland 42-yard line. Ithaca had one last chance with 2:04 remaining on its own 33-yard line. Lopez broke up a pass on first down, Allen broke up a throw on third down and Lopez's hit on a receiver forced a fourth-down incompletion that gave Cortland ball back with 1:43 left. Facing a 3rd-and-4 at the Ithaca 27-yard line, Cortland clinched the victory with an Autera 5-yard first-down run.