NCAA Division-III Playoffs: R. 2, Red Dragons v. Wildcats
NCAA Division-III Playoffs
Cortland State Red Dragons
No. 2 Linfield Wildcats
How They Got Here: The Cortland State Red Dragons finished 6-2 in the Empire 8 Conference. This tied them with St. John Fisher for the conference title, but their victory against them earlier in the season made the Red Dragons conference champions in their inaugural season in the conference. Cortland won a series of close games, including 26-24 over Heidelberg to begin the season, won 48-45 over Hartwick, and had an 11-8 over Ithaca on the last day of the regular season, proving that they know how to make their own luck to gain the advantage.
Suny Cortland welcomed Salisbury in the first round of the playoffs last weekend, and dominated after an even first quarter. Both teams put up 14 points in the first frame, but from there the Red Dragons scored 31 of the next 38 points to win the game 45-21. Quarterback Steven Ferreira had an unbelievable game, completing 23 of 29 pass attempts for 447-yards and 3 TDs. Jake Smith and Nick Wagner each had 6-receptions, with Smith gaining 134-yards and Wagner 122. Both had a receiving touchdown.
The Linfield College Wildcats once again dominated the Northwest Conference. They rolled to a 7-0 record in the conference and finished 9-0 overall. Their defense allowed just 61-points while their offense rolled up 481-points, including scoring over 70 in three different games. The Wildcats never scored less than 24-points in any game, and the 24-0 victory over George Fox was the smallest margin of victory for the team.
Linfield made it to the semi-finals last season, before narrowly falling to eventual champion Wisconsin-Whitewater. In the first round of the playoffs they left no doubt that they intend to return again. The No. 21 Whitworth Pirates kept it a close game through the first quarter (7-3), but 34 unanswered points blew the game wide open and the Wildcats rolled 48-10. Sam Riddle continues to impress, going 15-24 passing for 268-yards and 4 TDs. Spencer Payne had 139-yards on the ground and Riddle added 52-yards and a TD.
Steve Ferreira has been outstanding all season long, passing for 2,895-yards and 26 touchdowns against just 2-interceptions. His 67.1 completion percentage shows was a true marksman he is with the ball.
Ferreira has found three different primary targets to his liking. Nick Wagner led the team with 51-catches for 731-yards, and Jon Mannix is a guy who makes huge plays, posting a gaudy 19.3 yards per catch average to go along with 944-yards receiving and 10-touchdowns. All three of these stats led the team. Jake Smith caught 40-passes for 718-yards, an impressive 18.0 ypc average.
Dylan Peebles and Donny Davis split time at the running back position and both are outstanding. Peebles rushed for 544-yards, a 4.9 yards per carry average, and 6 TDs. Davis was just 10 yards behind, scored one less TD and had a 4.1 ypc average.
On defense Carson Lassiter and Matt Ambrose always seem to be in the play. Lassiter finished with a team leading 93-tackles and had 3 interceptions, 10 pass break up and 13 pass defenses. Ambrose was second on the team with 84-tackles and added 3 QB sacks and a pick. These two have incredible instincts and find a way to get their hats in on every play.
Jake Ceresna led the team in sacks with 7.5 and Mark DelPrete was the leader in interceptions with 5.
Riddle is a challenge for any defense to try to figure out. He threw for 2087-yards this season with 27 touchdowns and just 5 picks. Throw in the 226-yards and 5 TDs he put in on the ground and it is easy to see why he will be a major key to this contest.
Payne rushed for 1,012-yards on only 130-carries, a very impressive 7.4 yards per carry average. Because of the high scores this offense generates Payne has been able to rest for large portions of many games, meaning he should be plenty fresh for a championship run.
The defense also saw a lot of faces take to the field as they were dominating games, so the numbers for most players are not huge. However, Alex Hoff is quite possibly the best defensive end in Division-III football. The senior has 12 sacks, tied for eighth nationally, and had 20 tackles for losses. He also forced two fumbles and recovered three. A lot of lineman are going to be miserable seeing a motivated and well rested Hoff as these playoffs progress.
Outlook: It has been a nice run for the Red Dragons, as they won the conference title in their first season in the E8. However, that run is about to come to an end. Linfield is the No. 2 team in the country for good reason and Cortland State is going to get to see first-hand why the Wildcats are a potential national champion. This should be a great quarterback battle, but Riddle will prevail. Take Linfield to easily win 48-17.
By Robert Pannier