Football surrenders place at top of NJAC

Riding high after a four-game win streak, the College came crashing back down to Earth, losing a pair of games to SUNY Cortland and SUNY Brockport by the scores of 20-7 and 14-3, respectively.

The Lions (4-4, 3-2) struggled offensively against the two SUNY schools, scoring a combined 10 points.

The Lions drop two games over the break, falling to 3-2 in NJAC play. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

In their game against SUNY Cortland, the Lions continued their trend of getting off to a fast start. Sophomore quarterback Chris Spellman led the team on an eight-play 80-yard drive in the middle of the first quarter that was highlighted by big plays. Spellman tossed passes of 46 and 25 yards to freshman wide receiver Jeffrey Mattonelli and senior wide receiver Frederick Sprengel, respectively. The touchdown came by a 1-yard plunge by sophomore running back Victor Scalici.

“It’s always a good feeling to score early in a game,” senior linebacker Nick Bricker said. “To have that lead early in the game is a real momentum shift in our favor.”

After that drive, however, it was all Cortland. The Red Dragons managed to score on their three ensuing drives, sandwiching a 16-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Hughes to John Babin in between two field goals.

The latter of the field goals was nearly a Lions touchdown. The original attempt was blocked by the College and taken to the house, which would have given the Lions a 14-10 lead. The play was ruled dead, however, allowing Cortland to rekick and connect on the second try.

“The rekick was definitely a big play in the game, but that’s the rules and great teams are able to deal with adversity,” Bricker said. “We cannot focus on one play. As a team we have to move on to the next play.”

The offense was having a lot of trouble finding its rhythm, with the defense trying desperately to keep it in the game, but a special teams play proved to be the dagger.

On the second half kickoff, Cortland’s Justin Autera returned the kick 97 yards for the touchdown and made the score 20-7 — a score that wouldn’t change.

“Special teams is just as important as the other two phases of the game,” Bricker said. “In order to succeed, we need to be sharp in all three phases. That being said, we cannot let one or two plays decide the outcome of the game.”

The Lions were effective on the ground, with Scalici (105 yards) and sophomore running back Brad Young (115 yards) each passing the 100-yard mark. Turnovers were a big problem with the offense, as Spellman and sophomore quarterback Sam Palladino combined for three interceptions. Mattonelli’s four catches for 86 yards was the lone bright spot in the passing game.

Bricker was once again a dominant force for the Lions’ defense, recording 17 tackles and leading a unit that only gave up 13 points and 275 total yards. Junior linebacker Ryan Lowe record nine tackles, while junior defensive lineman Thomas Masi notched seven of his own.

The home contest against SUNY Brockport was not much better. The Lions couldn’t get off to a hot start like they did against Cortland, as they were held scoreless until the fourth quarter, thanks to a 25-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Evan Costello.

Wayne Bonsell scored on an 11-yard touchdown run for Brockport’s first touchdown in the second quarter, while Dan Andrews added a 5-yard touchdown in the third. The team had 128 rushing yards on the day.

“We didn’t make timely plays,” Paladino said. “Their defense did a good job keeping everything in front of them and we just didn’t execute.”

The offense wasn’t as bad as the three points indicated, but they simply could not score. Sophomore quarterback Sam Paladino was nine for 18 with 94 yards and an interception, while Paladino, freshman quarterback Craig Cicardo and sophomore running backs Victor Scalici and Brad Young combined for 100 yards rushing.

“We had some opportunities but we need to work on smelling the end zone,” Paladino said. “When we have the ball on their side of the field, we have to come out with points. We have to dig deeper and want to score.”

Paladino’s defense did all it could to keep the Lions in the game. Allowing only 14 points, the defense put on another great performance. Senior linebacker Nick Bricker had 13 tackles, putting him at 97 for the season, while sophomore defensive back Matthew Fleck had eight.

At 3-2, the College is still in the thick of things in the NJAC, only a game behind Brockport and Rowan University in the standings. With the game against Brockport being their last home game of the season, the Lions will have to be road warriors as they travel to William Paterson University and Rowan in the final two weeks of the regular season.

“Even though things didn’t go our way last weekend, we are staying positive and knowing that every game is going to be a battle in this conference,” Paladino said. “We’ve learned from the loss, moved on and are ready to get back to winning.”