Flannery: Saturday’s loss was a step backward for TCNJ defense
Ryan Flannery definitely would have welcomed a chance to acclaim his defense in response to post-game interview questions, hoping to stand minutes removed from perpetuating last week’s dominance.
Conditioned to seeing the redshirted junior’s limbs extended toward blocked extra points and errant passes, it’s not hard to picture the TCNJ free safety’s arms wide open at the opportunity.
“I think we definitely took a step back,” he said, a short week removed from TCNJ’s first sub-200-yard defensive stand since 2007—the year it claimed a share of the conference title (limited MSU to 169 yds total offense).
In contrast to its stout effort put forth during a16-13 homecoming loss to Montclair State University, Red Dragons’ running back Dom Sair finished just 14 yards shy of extending his two-game streak of eclipsing the century mark to three, averaging 4.5 yards on his 19 attempts (MSU Jeff Bliss—29 rush, 32 yds).
It may have maintained status as the conference’s sixth-best–or, fourth-worst–unit against the run (avg. 179 yds/gm). But the dissolving mixture of precipitation (compliments of Mother Nature) and pressure (attributed to SUNY-Cortland) eroded any foundation erected upon its short-lived success.
Entering the season listed as the Red Dragons’ starting fullback—predominantly a blocking back in his offense’s conventional I-formation—the junior barreled through Lion tacklers for the entirety of the afternoon, epitomized during a one-yard touchdown to christen his team’s scoring.
“Montclair [State] was clearly our best game we had as a defense and we were trying to follow that up with a solid performance,” said Flannery, minutes after SUNY-Cortland garnered offensive yardage totals over 300 for the seventh time this season (Cortland-310 total off.) “We didn’t do that today.”
Maybe not. But outside circumstances didn’t often offer favorable opportunities for success. And Flannery—an on-the-field extension of TCNJ defensive coordinator Matt Hamilton—knew it.
“As a team, we put ourselves in bad situations—fumbling the ball and on special teams. It hurt us a lot.”
The impact of altogether ineffective afternoon for the Lions offense (season-low 190 yds) pervaded even after changes of possession, evidenced by SUNY-Cortland’s absurd starting field-position throughout the contest (avg. start C41). Setting up shop, on average, from the TCNJ 44 during the second quarter, the period produced 16 of the Red Dragons’ third-highest point-total of the season (most-42, Sept. 3 vs. Buffalo St.).
Well-aware of the stacked odds—it’d be hard not to notice—Pac-Man Flan still argued that his defense needed to improve its effort toward damage-control.
“As a defensive side, we’ve gotta stop them,” though it did on 10-of-12 unsuccessful Red Dragon 3rd downs. “We’ve gotta force field goals. We can’t always allow easy touchdowns.”
The group settled into new digs after Week 5 while gradually progressing elsewhere according to NJAC barometers. Actually adding a quarter-tally to average opponent point totals , the unit hasn’t to budged from the conference’s sixth-ranked spot since early October (opp. avg. 30.50 pts/gm).
But scoreboard currency wasn’t all it issued in 2009. Ravaged by injuries and hampered by its schizophrenic offense, the group already fostered two performances worthy of weekly conference accolades entering Saturday’s match-up.
…To players not wearing TCNJ navy and gold (Chunn-Kean, McKinney-WPU won NJAC Offensive Player of the Week for Wks 5, 7). And after the versatile contribution by one of its emerging stars, a recent SUNY-Cortland impact player earned this season’s third at the expense of the ailing Lions’ D.
Wide receiver Justin Autera’s statistical impact toward coach-turned-captain Alex Smith’s 10-of-20 performance on his third step on 2009’s progressive reclamation consisted of a lonely catch for no gain.
But, adding 67 toward the Red Dragons’ 207 total gains on the ground on his only five carries, the freshman woke up to an early-morning shout-out from the conference commissioner’s office, named this week’s top rookie performer.
Two Saturdays removed from winning league honors as Week Seven’s top specialist, Autera’s afternoon also reiterated his value as a weapon-of-mass-yardage in any field position battle.
Of the four punts he fielded—gaining 98 yards altogether—he returned one 51 yards to the TCNJ seven yard-line, priming a SUNY-Cortland touchdown three plays later. He was tackled 31 yards into another, three plays before a 40-yard field-goal that extended his squad’s advantage to 16 points.
Flannery and the rest of the team conceded hopes of a post-season berth two weeks ago, after it lost its third inter-conference bout to Montclair State. But even after Saturday added to a game to the team’s losing skid (lost last 3 gms.)—the streak its defense didn’t continued—one of its proven leaders focused on what could be salvaged.
“We’ve got two games left,” said Flannery, looking forward to next weekend’s home finale versus Western Connecticut State (1-6, 1-5 NJAC; last in conf.). “Six-and-four is a still a lot better than five-hundred.”