CORTLAND, N.Y. (9/17/11) – For the second straight week, the Kean University football team knocked off a nationally-ranked opponent, as the Cougars defeated #11 SUNY Cortland, 21-16, in the team's New Jersey Athletic Conference opener on Saturday afternoon.
A week after upsetting #3 Wesley, the #18 Cougars (2-0, 1-1 NJAC) defeated the host Red Dragons (1-1, 1-1 NJAC) for just the second time in series history. Kean's only other win against Cortland was in 2009, when the Cougars posted a 24-10 win in Cortland, N.Y.
With Kean leading 21-16 after three quarters of play, the Red Dragons had third and goal at the Kean two-yard line with less than a minute remaining. The Cougar defense held on third down, before junior Brett Yacjaji broke up the final pass of the game to seal the Kean win.
Junior Will Evans scored what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown in the third quarter, returning the Cortland kickoff 89-yards for the touchdown to give the Cougars the 21-16 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.
In the victory, senior quarterback Thomas D'Ambrisi completed 15-of-23 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, as senior Chris Suozzo caught both touchdown passes from D'Ambrisi and finished with four receptions.
The Red Dragons would score on their first possession of the game, picking up three first downs before quarterback Dan Pitcher completed the 19-yard post pass to Brian Haber to cap the 10-play, 63-yard opening drive.
After the Cougars went three-and-out on their first drive, Cortland looked to extend the lead, however the 37-yard field goal was wide left and the scored remained 7-0, as Kean took over at their own 20-yard line with 5:38 remaining in the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive, the Cougars would eventually have first and goal at the Cortland six-yard line, however on the first play of the second quarter, defensive lineman Vaughn Labor forced the fumble on D'Ambrisi's quarterback draw, and Bill Smith would recover the ball for the Red Dragons at their own one-yard line.
The Red Dragons would move the ball out towards midfield on the drive, however the Cougars would get the ball back on a turnover, as Yacjaji forced and recovered the fumble and Kean would take over just inside Cortland territory. Three plays later, D'Ambrisi hit Suozzo with the 18-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 after the Billy Daniels extra point.
Cortland regained the lead just before halftime following a 15-play, 82-yard drive, as Pitcher complete six passes for 67 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown pass to John Babin with just 20 seconds remaining in the half. Kean senior linebacker Bekim Bujari blocked the extra point attempt to keep the score at 13-7 heading into the break.
The Cougars moved the opening drive of the third quarter down to the Cortland one-yard line, however the Red Dragon defense held the line on back-to-back quarterback sneaks, as D'Ambrisi would fumble the ball on fourth-and-one and was unable to recover the ball himself and the Red Dragons would take over on downs just outside the endzone.
After the Cougar defense forced Cortland to punt after managing just eight yards on three plays, junior T.J. Denehy moved the Cougars into Cortland territory with a 21-yard punt return to the 33-yard line. Two plays later, Denehy would then catch the 31-yard reception from D'Ambrisi to set up a three-yard touchdown pass from D'Ambrisi to Suozzo, as Kean would take its first lead of the game at 14-13 following the extra point from Daniels.
Cortland regained the lead on its next possession, as the Cougar defense nearly intercepted the ball in the endzone and limited the Red Dragons to just a field goal after having first-and-goal at the Kean five-yard line. The 22-yard field goal from Marc Corrado gave the Red Dragons the 16-14 lead with just 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Evans gave the Cougars the lead right back with what would be the final score of the game, as he returned the kickoff 89 yards after breaking away from the pack and racing down the left sideline for the 21-16 lead after the Daniels' extra point.
Both teams had multiple drives in the fourth quarter, with Cortland's best opportunity coming on its final drive. Trailing 21-16, Cortland started its final drive on its own 35-yard line with 5:21 remaining in the game. Three plays into the drive, a wild snap forced Cortland into a second-and-32 from its own 30-yard line. However, Dorian Myles picked up 15 yards on the second down carry and Pitcher connected with Haber on a 26-yard pass completion to keep the drive alive.
Cortland would eventually have first-and-goal at the five-yard line, with Myles carrying the ball on back-to-back plays to give the Red Dragons third-and-two after a three-yard carry. Kean junior Jerelle Peay and sophomore Will Nahan stopped Pitcher for no gain on the quarterback draw on third down, before Yacjaji knocked down the jump ball in the endzone to seal Kean's second straight win in Cortland, N.Y., as the Cougars would take a knee three times to run out the clock.
Suozzo and Matt Pitarresi each had four receptions for a combined 70 yards, while tight end Scott Davis added three receptions for a team-high 57 yards. On the ground, senior running back Chris DiMicco carried the ball 15 times for 54 yards.
Defensively, seniors James Boyd and Richard Esdaille each made nine tackles, while junior Chris VanFechtmann made eight stops, one intereption and one pass break-up. Bujari also made eight tackles, while breaking up a pair of passes and blocked the extra point. Yacjaji finished with six tackles, one force fumble, one fumble recovery and the final pass break-up.
The Cougars were victorious despite being outgained offensive for the second straight week, as Cortland had 455 yards of total offense, including 187 yards rushing. Pitcher completed 22-of-36 passes for 265 yards and one interception. Myles carried the ball 17 times for 91 yards, while Justin Autera added a team-high 20 carries for 73 yards.
Cortland was led defensively by Kyle Nisbitt, who finished with nine tackles, while Mike Wilson added seven tackles, including 2.5 tackles for a loss of nine yards.
The Cougars remain on the road next week, as they battle Western Connecticut State University in NJAC action on Saturday, September 24th, at Noon.