Cortland Red Dragons hold off Springfield in First Round of DIII Playoffs

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Jaden Alfanostjohn (Westhampton/Westhampton Beach) ran for 85 yards and two scores and Brees Segala (Webster/Webster Schroeder) completed 12-of-19 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown as nationally 13th-ranked Cortland defeated visiting Springfield, 26-21, in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.

Cortland (11-0) will face 18th-ranked RPI in the second round next Saturday, Nov. 27. The time and site of that game will be announced on Sunday. RPI (10-1) won at Endicott, 20-14, in the opening round.

JJ Laap (Stony Brook/Ward Melville) finished with four receptions for 127 yards for the Red Dragons, including a 51-yard TD catch with 10:01 remaining to give Cortland a 26-14 lead, along with a 47-yard reception to the 1-yard line in the second quarter that set up Alfanostjohn’s second TD run.

Linebacker Dylan Dubuque (East Greenbush/Columbia) led the Cortland defense with 13 tackles, matching his career high, linebacker Zack Thuesen (New Fairfield, CT) finished with a career-best 10 tackle, and safety Christian Legagneur (Brentwood/St. John the Baptist) added nine tackles. Linebacker Tziah Owens (Brooklyn/Midwood), and defensive lineman Nick Lardaro (Smithtown/Smithtown East) added a career-high eight tackles each, with linebacker Paul Imperiale (East Meadow) also registering eight stops.

Patrick Ladas ran 28 times for 88 yards and scored all three Springfield touchdowns. Ryan Deguire gained 44 yards on six carries, Isaiah Cashwell-Doe had seven rushes for 41 yards, and Tim Callahan ran eight times for 40 yards. Springfield’s triple-option offense entered the game ranked second nationally in Division III in rushing at 365.7 yards per game and finished with 238 rushing yards on 61 carries.

Defensive back Mark Montano paced the Springfield defense with eight tackles and a forced fumble. Linebackers Billy Carr, DJ Brown and Aiden Lewin had seven tackles apiece.

Springfield’s Ian Porter blocked a punt less than two minutes into the game to give the Pride the ball on the Cortland 21-yard line. Seven plays later, Ladas ran in from a yard out and Springfield led 7-0. Cortland tied the game on its next possession with a 12-play, 73-yard drive. Alfanostjohn capped the drive with an 8-yard TD run on and 2nd-and-goal.

The Pride seemed poised to re-take the lead early in the second quarter, mounting nearly a nine-minute drive from their own 20-yard line to inside the Cortland 10. Facing 4th-and-1 at the 5-yard line, Springfield elected to go for it instead of kick a field goal and Ladas was stopped for no gain on tackles by Owens and Joshua Cordero (Monroe-Monroe-Woodbury).

Cortland then went on a 95-yard drive for a touchdown on only six plays. Derek Cruz (Oceanside) caught a 25-yard pass on the second play and fumbled, but Springfield was ruled out of bounds as it recovered the ball. Two plays later a 2nd-and-4 run was stopped for no gain, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Springfield advanced the ball to just inside midfield. Laap’s 47-yard reception to the 1-yard line followed, followed by Alfanostjohn’s 1-yard TD run. The PAT kick failed and Cortland led 13-7 with 1:47 left in the half.

The Cortland defense forced a three-and-out on Springfield’s next series, with the Red Dragons calling their final two timeouts of the half. Following a punt, Cortland took over at its own 20-yard line with 59.4 seconds remaining in the half. Segala ran for 11 and 10 yards, then spiked the ball with 38 seconds left. Two plays later a Springfield personal foul moved the ball 15 yards to the Pride’s 44-yard line. Segala ran for 14 yards, spiked the ball with 13.5 seconds left, threw a 16-yard pass to Cruz to the Springfield 14-yard line, then spiked the ball again with 5.2 seconds remaining. Nick Guglielmo (Staten Island/St. Peter’s) made a 31-yard field goal with 1.9 seconds remaining and Cortland led 16-7 at halftime.

Cortland’s next score was set up by a Cordero blocked punt that gave the Red Dragons the ball on the Springfield 17-yard line. Two holding penalties over the next three plays made it 2nd-and-29 at the 36-yard line. Segala found Laap for 20 yards on the next play, and two snaps later Guglielmo hit a 36-yard field goal and Cortland led 19-7.

Springfield closed to within 19-14 on a Ladas 9-yard TD run that completed an 11-play, 75-yard drive with 13:07 left in the game. Segala threw deep to Laap for a 51-yard TD pass on the next series to re-establish a 12-point Cortland lead. Springfield, which held a 32:46-27:14 advantage in time of possession, drove 75 yards on 17 play over the next 7:12. Quarterback David Wells ran for 10 yards on 4th-and-2 at the Cortland 14-yard line, and two plays later Ladas found paydirt from one yards out with 2:43 left.

Springfield lined up for a potential onside kick and pooched a kick over the Cortland front line to the Red Dragon 22-yard line. CJ Messina (Sayville) controlled the ball, and the Red Dragons needed just one first down to control the game. The Pride defense held, however, and forced a punt with 1:19 left, and Springfield started its final drive at its own 44-yard line with 1:11 left. On the first play of the drive Wells was pressured and threw an errant pitch that Will Ruckert (Lindenhurst) recovered at the Pride 41-yard line to seal Cortland’s win.

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