CORTLAND, N.Y. – Cortland graduate student quarterback Dan Pitcher (Cortland) passed for three touchdowns, including two scores to sophomore John Babin (Warwick Valley), as the nationally 13th-ranked Red Dragons rallied from a 12-7 third-quarter deficit to defeat visiting Buffalo State, 28-12, in the season opener for both teams.
Pitcher finished 13-of-27 passing for 169 yards. Babin caught five passes for 86 yards and junior tailback Justin Autera (Mahopac) rushed for 82 yards and a score.
Buffalo State junior quarterback Ryan Lehotsky (North Royalton, OH) completed 21-of-33 passes for 237 yards. He was 14-of-19 for 191 yards in the first half. Sophomore Mike Doherty (Tonawanda/Kenmore East) caught six passes for 93 yards.
The Bengals took a 3-0 lead on a Nick Debbins (Lancaster) 25-yard field goal with 9:52 left in the first quarter. Less than four minutes into the second quarter, junior linebacker Pasquale Vacchio (Glen Head/North Shore) sacked Pitcher and forced a fumble. Senior Kimani George (Brooklyn/William E. Grady) caught the fumble in mid-air and raced 25 yards for a touchdown. The extra point failed and Buffalo State led 9-0.
An unsportsmanlike penalty after the touchdown, however, forced the Bengals to kick off from their own 15-yard line. Cortland started the ensuing drive on the Buffalo State 45-yard line, and on the fourth play Babin took a screen pass and broke free for a touchdown that drew the Red Dragons within 9-7.
A Debbins 27-yard field goal midway through the third quarter put the guests ahead 12-7. The Bengals, however, failed to move the ball into Cortland territory on any of its final six drives of the game.
Following the Debbins field goal, Cortland mounted a 9-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a 24-yard TD pass from Pitcher to senior tight end Brian Haber (Northport) with 4:54 left in the third.
On their next possession, the Red Dragons drove 59 yards on five plays for another score. Babin's 29-yard reception on 3rd-and-7 moved the ball to the 12-yard line, and Pitcher found him again on the next play for a 12-yard touchdown and a 21-12 lead. Autera finished the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left in the game.
Junior linebacker Chris Bright (East Meadow) led Cortland with nine tackles, 1.5 for losses, and a fumble recovery. Junior safety Steven Lenhart (Ticonderoga) added eight tackles and senior linebacker Bill Smith (Nanuet) finished with seven stops and a forced fumble.
Senior defensive back Kevin Healy (East Meadow) paced Buffalo State with eight tackles. Vacchio totaled seven tackles, six solo, a forced fumble and two tackles for losses.
Buffalo State outgained Cortland 296-250 in total offense. The Bengals held a 222-77 advantage in the first half and Cortland gained 173 yards to Buffalo State's 74 over the final 30 minutes.
Cortland is off next week and will host Kean University on Sept. 17 at 1 p.m. Buffalo State will play its lone non-league game of the season next week, Sept. 10, when it travels to St. John Fisher for a 7 p.m. contest. Cortland and Buffalo State were playing as New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) foes for the final time – Buffalo State is moving to the Empire 8 in 2012.