Lions falter in first crack at NJAC action

Behind a struggling and inconsistent offense, the Lions football team suffered its second loss of the season to the Red Dragons of SUNY-Cortland 30-14 at home on Saturday.

Failing to stop the run and convert when they needed to, the Lions were unable to sustain any sort of momentum to overcome the lead Cortland held the entire game.

The Lions had two key scoring opportunities late in the game but could not capitalize.

Trailing Cortland 23-14 in the fourth quarter, sophomore linebacker Nick Steffner came up with two huge defensive plays on consecutive Cortland snaps.

After sacking sophomore quarterback Alex Smith for a loss of 10 yards, Steffner broke through Cortland’s offensive line and brought down junior running back Matt Rickert for a loss of three. Facing third-and-23, the Red Dragons went downfield with the ball, but sophomore defensive back Andrew Larkin picked off a high lazy pass from Smith and zigzagged his way back for a 50-yard return.

Following the return, the Lions’ junior quarterback, Chris Bell, may have been a little anxious to put up some points as he threw a pass into triple coverage in the back corner of the end zone, giving the Dragons the ball back. “We wanted to get some momentum back and start moving the ball,” Bell said.

With less than five minutes remaining in the game, the Lions blew another scoring opportunity just as it seemed their offense was finally working.

Junior running back Cory Schoonover used a screen pass to dash up the left side of the field on a 35-yard play and speedy senior tailback Leeaire Brown cut up the right side for a 15-yard gain. Needing two scores, the Lions set up for a 24-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked by Cortland’s sophomore running back Dustin Bowser, who also ran for 84 yards in the game.

Despite an abysmal first half in which the Lions put up a meager 29 yards of total offense and also lost sophomore quarterback Jeff Struble to a rib injury after being sacked for the third time, there were a few bright spots.

Struble made a beautiful pooch punt that bounced 64 yards, giving the Dragons the ball on the three yard line. A few plays later, senior linebacker Terrence Nish popped the ball out of the hands of Cortland’s tailback Matt Rickert allowing Steffner to rumble into the end zone after he pulled down the loose ball. That gave the Lions their only score of the half.

Down 20-7 at the half and their offense stumbling, the Lions got back into the game on their first possession of the third quarter. Set up by a play-action fake, Bell completed a 39-yard touchdown reception to senior wide receiver Alan Kotteles. However, that would be the last time the Lions would find the end zone, as the Dragons were too strong in the second half behind their two tailbacks, Rickert and Bowser, who racked up 143 yards on the ground in the final two quarters.

The Lions simply did not convert when they needed to, especially in third down situations, going one-for-14 on the day.

The Lions were also hurt by penalties when they did come through. Early in the second half, senior place kicker Blake Abbot managed to get off a 56-yard punt following a low snap, but the play was taken back because of a personal foul by one of the Lions’ freshmen.

It’s mistakes like this that drive a coach crazy.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” head coach Eric Hamilton said. “It’s frustrating. I thought we would have grown more from last week.”

During the last week’s 30-13 loss to Muhlenberg, the Lions committed seven turnovers.

Hamilton remained positive, pointing out that the effort of his players is always there.

“As bad as we played, we didn’t pack our tents up,” Hamilton said. “We played hard but didn’t play well all the time, and that’s not a formula for success.

Some of the credit should go to Cortland’s defense which played a solid game, limiting the Lions’ offense to one 39-yard touchdown strike and little else. Junior linebacker Adam Haas led the way for the Dragons, registering eight tackles and three sacks, one of which knocked Struble out of the game.

The Lions will have to make some adjustments to prepare for next week.

“We have to cut down on the mental mistakes and play as a team,” senior defensive back Miles Shanklin said.

The Lions will continue their search for their first win of the season against Fairleigh Dickenson University of Florham at Lions Stadium on Friday night at 7 p.m.