Elite Eight Engineers slay Red Dragons
A 42-yard touchdown run from Dylan Burnett ’22 and a late interception by Francis Perry ’22 secured a 21‒14 victory over the No. 13 SUNY Cortland Red Dragons. The No. 18 Engineers are set to face the reigning champion No. 1 North Central College Cardinals in the Elite Eight.
Rensselaer traveled west to Cortland for their second-round matchup against the Red Dragons. The freezing weather and snowfall were less-than-optimal conditions for a playoff football game.
RPI received the kick to begin the game, but went three-and-out on their first drive. After a punt, the Red Dragons took over in Engineer territory at the 46-yard line. The first play of the possession was a handoff to running back Jaden Alfanostjohn, who ran for 15 yards before being brought down. Two completions to receiver Derek Cruz and several rushes brought the Red Dragons to the three-yard line. Quarterback Brees Segala then took the snap and punched his way through the line into the end zone. Cortland took a 7‒0 lead five minutes into the game.
The Cortland defense struggled on the following drive. Two offside penalties and one pass interference gave the Engineers an extra 19 yards. Running back Dylan Burnett did a fantastic job finding gaps between his blockers, ultimately racking up 31 rushing yards on the possession. On second and 8 at the Cortland 33, quarterback George Marinopoulos (Gr) threw a screen to his right to Vinnie McDonald (Gr) to avoid getting sacked. With the rushers focused on Marinopoulos and the defensive backs in man coverage downfield, McDonald had a clearing in front of him. He ran ten yards, then shifted into high gear to race past a Red Dragon for an additional seven yards, bringing RPI into the red zone. Two rushes to Burnett brought the Engineers within ten yards of the end zone. On third and 2, Marinopoulos threw a pass to receiver Sterling Walker-Sutton ’23. Walker-Sutton made the catch at the line of scrimmage and fought for the final eight yards for RPI’s first score. The game was tied at 7‒7 with less than four minutes left in the first quarter.
The Red Dragons came back upfield for the last four minutes, reaching the RPI 28 as the quarter concluded. Despite making it so far, Cortland was thwarted when they went for it on fourth and 10, turning the ball over to the Engineers at the 24. The second quarter was tough for both teams. The following two drives ended in punts. The next two ended in 40-yard field goal attempts that sailed wide left. The first half ended with the score still tied at 7‒7.
Cortland started out with possession to begin the second half. On the first four plays of the drive, the Red Dragons gained 24 yards to bring them to the Engineer 46. On the subsequent play, Segala found Cruz open in the middle of the field. Cruz gained 19 yards, but C.J. Lyons '22 stripped the ball loose. Engineer Cole McGrath ’22 fell on the fumble and the Engineers regained possession at their own 13.
Failed drives for both teams meant that RPI started a drive at their 29-yard line with less than six minutes remaining in the quarter. The Engineers faced third and 9 on their first set of downs. Marinopoulos passed it to receiver Peter Lombardi ’22, who was running to the right. Lombardi used his speed to get around the Red Dragon covering him and his agility to juke another Red Dragon to gain 23 yards. On third and 2 at the Cortland 39, McDonald blew past his man and Marinopoulos lobbed a high-arching pass downfield. McDonald hauled it in for a 30-yard reception, bringing the Engineers within ten yards of the end zone once again. On second down, a four-yard completion to Lombardi in the back of the end zone gave the Engineers their first lead of the game.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the quarter, the Red Dragons took over. On the last play of the quarter, Alfanostjohn took the handoff and rushed up the middle. Engineer lineman Josh Cohen ’22 punched the ball out of his hands and Joe Deptula ’22 recovered the fumble to give RPI a fantastic field position heading into the final quarter.
The Engineers started the fourth quarter on the Cortland 38. On fourth and 2, Marinopoulos was quickly blitzed. With two rushers about to tackle him, Marinopoulos threw the ball to tight end Kenny Schrader ’22 in the center of the field. Schrader ran past a Red Dragon for a gain of 23 yards. The Engineers were stopped on the next three downs and RPI sent out Trevor Bisson ’22 to kick the 26-yard field goal. His kick hooked left like his attempt from the second quarter, keeping it a one-score game. Cortland took over at their own 20.
The Red Dragons gained yardage quickly, with 18- and 13-yard completions to Cruz and Alfanostjohn, respectively. Despite their quick advance, they were halted at the Engineer 37. On fourth and 11, Cohen dragged Segala to the ground to turn the ball over on downs with five and a half minutes remaining.
In a four-minute offensive situation, the Engineers elected to hand the ball off to Burnett several times to burn the clock. They reached the Cortland 42 and forced the Red Dragons to begin taking timeouts to preserve time. On third and 7, Marinopoulos handed it off to Burnett. He found a seam up the middle and was engulfed by three Red Dragons. Burnett broke two tackles and trucked the last Cortland player, the rebound sending him past the last defensive back. A mustang galloping the last 30 yards of empty turf, Burnett ran into the end zone to make it a two-score game, cementing the RPI lead with three minutes remaining.
However, the Red Dragons were not finished. They completed multiple deep passes towards the sidelines to make significant progress while also preventing the clock from running out. Cortland reached the RPI 29 and Segala threw a deep pass to receiver JJ Laap in the end zone for a touchdown, bringing the score to 14‒7 with 1:40 on the clock. With only one timeout remaining, the Red Dragons had to attempt an onside kick to prevent RPI from running out the clock. The kick bounced up and ended up being recovered by Cortland at the RPI 42. The Red Dragons had one more shot.
The offense retook the field, needing a touchdown to send it to overtime. Segala threw the ball downfield intended for Cruz. RPI defensive back Francis Perry came up with a crucial interception to secure the victory for the Engineers. They ran down the clock, preventing the Red Dragons from touching the ball again. The victory sends the Engineers into the Elite Eight to face off against the North Central College Cardinals, the champions of the 2019 NCAA tournament, in Naperville, IL.