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Lions’ Post-game Recap: TCNJ loses 30-7 at SUNY-Cortland–but hey, it could have been worse

November 1, 2009

CORTLAND, NY–What went well during Saturday’s blowout in SUNY-Cortland Stadium Complex—moreover, what didn’t—depended on your perspective. And for the few Lions’ faithful seated among the 825 in the arena, the 30-7 rout offered plenty of fuel for pessimism.

Holding onto a feasible shot at New Jersey Athletic Conference championship contention as recently as a month earlier, SUNY-Cortland (6-2, 6-3 NJAC) handed TCNJ (4-4, 3-4 NJAC) its fourth conference loss this weekend—extending the Lions’ late-October skid to three games.

The streak itself buries memories of the team’s once-promising 2009 campaign, an unanticipated start that—had it continued—could have distanced the program from disappointing seasons past. Its worst three-week period in years, literally, the Lions’ hadn’t dropped three straight since 2006, when they lost consecutive dates from October 21 until November 10 (W 14-10 vs. Kean on Nov. 11).

The team finished 4-6 overall that year.

An epic win toward the Red Dragons’ season, the Lions’ effort in its latest installment was historic with regard to the series.

The 23-point margin returned the favor for the TCNJ’s 30-0 win two years ago, its successful effort to wedge its way toward a piece of the 2007 NJAC throne—one it shared with SUNY-Cortland. Ranking in the top-five most-lopsided deficits in rivalry history, the spread was its widest since 1967 (Cortland W 40-0).

But even in the immediate, the loss showed early signs of a horrific worst-case scenario for the team and toward hopes to salvage its season.

When Chris James went down late in the first quarter, hit while throwing a third-down interception, TCNJ fans could only watch in helpless disbelief. The team had lost both its starting running backs in 60 minutes a week ago, apparently the advanced stages of an injury bug that already ravaged its offensive line.

“Do you know what we’re playing with right now?” TCNJ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta said of the team’s recent depth chart woes. “Two tailbacks out (starters Justin Donoloski, Chase Misura), our quarterback’s banged up. Tackles are banged up (Drew Mason). Guards are banged up (Joe Mecca). We’re not deep at all.”

The cerebral leader of its complex offense, losing the four-year starter would diminish any hopes of finishing the season strong with only two games remaining—clear that the one in progress was far out of reach.

The scene demanded heartfelt sympathy for the senior personally, considering how close he’d come to setting a few more career marks to add to his expansive trophy cabinet.

Entering the game as the record-holder for most attempts, completions and yards in school history, James needed only 235 yards to eclipse the program’s mark for yardage in a single season, and three more scores through the air to reign supreme as its undisputed passing king (Bob Schurtz-1937 pass yds in 2001, Flip Faherty-48 pass TDs bet. 1982-83). Had an injury ended this season prematurely, robbing him from one last crack at TCNJ’s most bitter rival (Wk 11 vs. Rowan), it also would have cut short an already accomplished career that could have been padded with a few more starts.

When he returned for three of his offense’s four second-quarter possessions it supported teammates’ claims of his toughness.

“He’s a fighter, man,” backup quarterback Jay Donoghue said afterward. “He never gives up.”

But when he explained his departure for the entirety of the second half, his decision to pull himself out of the game epitomized another distinguishing feature—his selflessness. Not to mention, of course, it permitted much-appreciated sighs of relief.

“I didn’t want to hurt the team’s chances, being selfish and playing on a bum [wheel] when I can’t run that much and I can’t move,” James said of his limitations, completing only seven of his 14 throws for 55 yards while leading the struggling offense that garnered only 90 first-half yards (finished w/ season-low 165 total yds).

“I just told [coaches] to take me out and put Jay in. He needs the experience for next year.”

The move made sense—though the assumptions it provoked couldn’t have gone over well with fans.

The Lions only trailed by 16 with just over three minutes remaining in the second quarter, after SUNY-Cortland kicker Marc Corrado added three with his successful 40-yard attempt. But later, just nine ticks away from a chance to regroup in the locker room, Anthony Guiliano’s touchdown grab from 26 yards out dissolved any realistic chances of a TCNJ comeback (Cortland led 23-0 at halftime).

Frustrated with the game’s end result and his inability to impact it, James couldn’t help but project how things could have gone differently after.

“In the beginning, a couple turnovers and then the fumble down there,” he said, alluding to the untimely turnover at SUNY-Cortland’s 33-yard line, ending the Lions’ second possession. “I really believe might have it switched the whole thing. Maybe I don’t get hurt, maybe we score a touchdown right there and get momentum—college football’s all about momentum.”

The sentiment is understandable, considering how poor a taste any loss—let alone one that decisive—leaves in any true competitor’s mouth. But even though no official information was given from the program, his words and demeanor suggest he’ll likely be back next Saturday for his final home game as a collegiate athlete (Nov. 7 vs. Western Connecticut St.)—another shot to cement his name in record books and reroute the course of his season gone awry.

So for those struggling to maintain a positive outlook moving forward, be mindful of this past Saturday—a brief reminder that no matter how bad the going gets, it could always be worse.

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