Saxons beat Ithaca; earn Empire 8 title and trip to NCAA championships

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ALFRED, NY – The Alfred University football team defeated visiting Ithaca College, 31-17, Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Saxons won the Empire 8 Conference title and punched their second straight ticket to the NCAA Division III championship tournament.

Freshman tailback Austin Dwyer ran for 273 yards on 29 carries against an Ithaca defense that came into the game allowing only 87 rushing yards per contest. For the game, AU ran for 308 yard and piled up 487 yards of offense. The Saxon defense held Ithaca to 322 yards of offense, including a mere 34 on the ground.

With the win, only Alfred's second over the Bombers in the last 13 meetings, AU earns the Empire 8 title outright for the first time. The Saxons shared the Empire 8 crown with St. John Fisher last season, but earned the conference's NCAA bid by virtue of a win over the Cardinals.

Alfred (7-2, 4-0 Empire 8) led 17-3 after the first quarter, scoring twice after fumbles by Ithaca quarterback Rob Zappia. The first, at the Ithaca 26-yard line, resulted in a 21-yard field goal by junior kicker Eric Rockwood. Alfred got the ball back at its own 17 after an Ithaca punt and on the Saxons' first play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Tom Secky connected on an 83-yard TD pass to sophomore wideout Andre McCloud. McCloud caught the ball at the Bomber 45 and weaved his way through several defenders for the score to put Alfred up 10-0.

On Ithaca's next possession, a sack of Zappia by junior defensive end Marcellus Jones  forced a fumble, which Jones recovered at the Bomber 26-yard line. Six plays later, on a first-and-goal from the Ithaca 5-yard line, AU lined up in its short-yardage formation and Secky tossed a TD pass to junior linebacker Wes Smith to put AU up 17-0 with 5:44 left in the first.

Ithaca (6-3, 3-2 Empire 8) got on the scoreboard with 3:08 left in the period on a 34-yard Andrew Rogowski field goal. Alfred pushed its lead to 24-3 on the Saxons' next possession, with junior linebacker Nick Clark scoring on a one-yard run to cap a nine-play 64-yard drive 1:11 into the second. The Bombers scored on an eight-yard pass from Zappia to wide receiver Dan Ruffrage with 3:10 left in the half to make it 24-10, Alfred.

The Saxons pushed the lead to 31-10 with 9:10 left in the third, driving 68 yards in 12 plays, with Dwyer scoring on a six-yard run. Ithaca answered with an eight-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard Zappia-to-Ruffrage TD pass with 6:06 left in the third. Ithaca had five more drives, but two ended in punts, two more ended with the Bombers turning the ball over on downs, and the last ending with an interception at the Saxon goal line.

Secky completed 12 of 20 passes for 179 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. McCloud had two catches for 90 yards; senior wideout Ryan Thon caught four passes for 41 yards and freshman wide receiver Josh Phillips caught three for 31 yards.

Zappia completed 25 of 45 passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Ruffrage had six catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns and wideout Thomas Vossler caught a game-high seven passes for 61 yards. Tailback Jared Prugar had 56 yards on 14 carries.

Jones finished with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries to pace the Saxon defense. Clark had eight tackles and a pass breakup; senior cornerback Matt Mazur  (one pass breakup) and senior linebacker Chad Pieri (two pass breakups) each had seven tackles; and sophomore tackle Mike Raplee had six tackles, including two for loss and a sack. Junior cornerback Roland O'Brien had an interception, his seventh of the season, and now has had an interception in each of the last six games.

Linebacker Ryan Clarke had a game-high 11 tackles (one for loss) and a forced fumble to lead the Ithaca defense. Linebacker Eric Toporoff had 11 tackles; strong safety David Ahonen had 10; and cornerback Mike Conti had an interception.

Alfred is in action next on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 1 p.m. at Empire 8 foe Utica. Seedings for the NCAA championship tournament will be announced Sunday evening, Nov. 14.