Cortland Overpowers Fitchburg State in Football Opener
FITCHBURG -- This was not the way Fitchburg State’s Jim McGuire dreamed of starting his head coaching career. But it didn’t come as a complete surprise, either.
McGuire’s Falcons fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter against visiting Cortland State en route to a 51-14 season-opening loss on Saturday afternoon at Elliott Field.
Quarterback Brett Sagala (11 of 18, 257 yards) threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth to lead the Red Dragons, who built a 44-0 lead after three quarters.
“We struggled in the early going, but I thought we made improvements and the defense played a lot better,” said McGuire. “We’re a young team and we’re going to make mistakes, but I was really happy with the way they hung in there and played hard the whole game.”
Fitchburg State quarterback Brandon Brown, a freshman from Fort Meyers, Florida, showed occasional flashes of the athleticism that has the FSU staff excited about his potential. But he mostly struggled in his first collegiate game, completing just 7 of 20 passes and throwing three interceptions. Two of those picks were in the end zone, snuffing out a pair of second-quarter scoring chances.
“Yeah, we had chances. We started moving the ball well. A couple of mistakes or it could have been 21-14 at halftime,” said McGuire.
Senior halfback Sterlin Garvin provided some of the few highlights for the Falcons, rushing for 97 yards on 21 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown that broke up the shutout early in the fourth quarter. The score was set up by a brilliant 45-yard reception by Jalen Brown, who was interfered with on the play but still managed to leap over the defender and haul in the pass from Brandon Brown.
Brandon Brown (12 carries, 70 yards) capped the scoring with a nifty 24-yard scramble later in the quarter.
It was the first-ever meeting between Fitchburg State and Cortland State, which plays in the Empire 8 Conference. While both teams are Division 3, it didn’t take long for the Red Dragons to show that the level of play in the Empire 8 is a step or two up from the MASCAC.
Segala got Cortland State on the board midway through the first quarter with a 40-yard scoring strike to Jake Smith. On the Red Dragons’ next possession, Segala struck again, capping a six-play, 67-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard TD pass to Jason Carlock to make it 14-0.
But Segala, making his first career start, wasn’t finished. With time winding down in the quarter, he found a streaking Alex Wasserman for a 67-yard touchdown pass and suddenly it was 21-0 before Fitchburg State could manage to pick up a first down.
The Falcons began to find their footing in the second quarter, putting steady pressure on Segala and stifling the Red Dragons’ running attack. In the meantime, the FSU offense started having success using misdirections and counters, and taking advantage of the over-aggressive Cortland State defense.
Twice, the Falcons were able to march inside the Red Dragons’ 10-yard line behind the play of Garvin and Brown. But each time, Cortland State came up with a huge defensive play. The first time, it was Mark DeLouise jumping the route of the receiver at the goal line and returning the interception to the 33. The next time, it was Denarii Beard making a sensational diving interception in the end zone.
Cortland State began the second half the way it started the first, gashing the FSU defense on the ground behind Johnnie Akins (17 carries, 74 yards) and Zach Tripodi (6 carries, 42 yards). And when FSU tried to shut down the run, Segala burned the defense through the air.
Segala scored on a 10-yard touchdown on the Red Dragons’ opening possession of the half, then added a 51-yard TD pass to Nick Anderson to make it 35-0. After a 32-yard field goal by Nick Mongelli, Tripodi added a 4-yard touchdown run and it was 44-0 after three quarters.
Fitchburg State is back in action next Saturday, at home against Castleton State.