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Bombers look forward to 64th annual Cortaca Jug game returning to Ithaca

From+left%2C+Buffalo+State+sophomore+defensive+end+Nicholas+Moore+looks+to+get+around+a+block+as+first-year+quarterback+Colin+Schumm+loads+up+to+send+a+pass+to+senior+running+back+Jalen+Leonard-Osbourne.
Nolan Saunders
From left, Buffalo State sophomore defensive end Nicholas Moore looks to get around a block as first-year quarterback Colin Schumm loads up to send a pass to senior running back Jalen Leonard-Osbourne.

For the first time since 2017, the Cortaca Jug game is returning to the South Hill for the 64th edition of the “Biggest Little Game in the Nation” as the Ithaca College football team welcomes SUNY Cortland back to the Ithaca College campus. 

For most of the football team, it will mark the first time they will experience the rivalry on their own turf on the South Hill. Graduate student defensive back Derek Slywka, who is second in the Liberty League with five interceptions, is excited to take in the game for the first time at home.

“All week, the anticipation of it it’s going to be a fun experience,” Slywka said. “We’ve worked hard all season to get to this point. It will be exciting to go out there and play in front of a crowd like that; that’s what any athlete really looks for.”

One member of the team who has experienced the game at Butterfield Stadium is head coach Michael Toerper. Toerper, who served as the defensive coordinator for the Bombers from 2017–19, said he is excited for the student body and his team to experience the game in a home environment. 

“It’s a unique game here as opposed to in the big venues,” Toerper said. “It’s a lot more intimate here. It’s going to be an awesome day. It’s a tough opponent, and our guys are excited for the challenge.”

The Red Dragon’s head coach, Curt Fitzpatrick, said he expects to encounter an environment that will be fun and match the intensity of the game.

“We acknowledge it is going to be kind of a crazy environment, but that’s fun, that’s all a part of it.” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re excited for the environment. We know it’s going to be us against the world. Even in non-rivalry games like this, playing on the road is almost more fun than playing at home. It does kind of galvanize a team. I’m excited to walk back and forth in the locker room, seeing the crowd. It’s all part of the experience. We’re going to try and soak it in and play the play the best we can.”

The game returning also allows the community of Ithaca to benefit from the big game. When talking about the town, Toerper said many things draw people to Ithaca, but when Cortaca comes around, that is all anyone talks about.

“When Cortaca is in Ithaca, the whole town knows about it,” Toerper said. “That’s what’s cool, is that with everything else going on here in this town that day, all that everybody talks about is the jug. It’s going to be rockin’ up here on the South Hill, and we know the fans are going to show up, and we hope that our community and our fans are just as loud as they were at Yankee Stadium last year.”

Tickets were highly sought after. On the first day of distribution for Ithaca College students, the line wrapped throughout the Athletic and Events Center as students hoped to gain their ticket into one of the biggest games. Butterfield Stadium has an official capacity of 5,000 people, but additional seating has been brought in to accommodate the event. The capacity has not been a problem in the past, as in 2001, the Cortaca Jug held a record 12,620 spectators.

Toerper added on to the expectation of big crowds at the game and said he expects a good turnout on top of the existing student body at the college. 

“It’s going to drive some revenue because there’s going to be 8,000 people here in town that aren’t typically here,” Toerper said.

Slywka said football at the college is a special experience. He said the support from the community the team experiences is similar to what is seen in Philadelphia sports fans, comparing the Bombers’ supporters to diehard fans.

“We had the [19]88 championship [football] team here to watch one of our games and those guys love Ithaca football and they just bleed Bomber blue,” Slywka said.  “So it’s one of those things; like even the parents show up in tailgates. It’s a really fun experience.”

For first-year players like quarterback Colin Schumm, it will be their first-ever experience with the rivalry. Schumm said that at the beginning of the season, he was told by the upperclassmen on the team how special the game is, but to avoid getting too caught up in the moment.

“The guys have told me in the beginning of the season that it’s a cool experience,” Schumm said. “It’s a great game, but when it comes down to it, it’s just another game for us that we want to go out and win to improve something because we have goals going into the playoffs.”

Schumm took over the starting role after graduate student quarterback AJ Wingfield went down with a season-ending injury against Union College on Oct. 14. In his first season, Schumm is 40/67 for 492 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. While it was not expected Schumm would be starting this game, he has said that throughout the year, he has felt the embrace of the community.

“I’ve had a lot of alumni reach out to me just saying good luck, just putting positive words in my head just to relax me,” Schumm said. “I know this can be very stressful as a freshman quarterback coming in, but I think with all the support around us from from the alumni, from our staff, from our students I think it really does help what we do on the field”

The Bombers sideline hypes up a teammate that was pushed out of bounds in a 62–0 victory against Buffalo St. Oct. 28. The Bombers head into the 64th annual Cortaca Jug game at 8–1 on the season.

On the field, the Bombers will face an offense in the Red Dragons averaging 51.3 points per game. The Bombers’ defense has allowed an average of 12 points per game to its opponents. Slywka said the defense needs to do what it has done all year to slow down the high-powered Red Dragons offense. 

“It’s exciting as a player on a defense to go against a really good offense,” Slywka said. “That’s a challenge and I think everyone on this defense is ready for that.”

Overall, Toerper said the team can go back to its week one matchup against Johns Hopkins University to get a comparable experience into what they will experience on the field Saturday against the Red Dragons. 

“Talk about a team like that who exposed offensive explosiveness is most comparable to that of Cortland’s,” Toerper said. “I think that’s really kind of where we start and obviously we’ve grown a lot since week one. It’s the first year running this defense and we’re getting a little bit better in our preparation and our ability to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

While the Bombers’ defense will look to keep the Red Dragons score down, the Bombers’ offense will look to stick with what’s been working for them all season, and that’s been running the football. The Bombers have averaged 214.8 yards per game, with an average of 5.2 per run.

“It’s a huge part of our game and what we do,” Schumm said. “Early on in the game, getting the ball in [senior running back Jalen Leonard-Osbourne’s] hands is good for us. It gives our line a chance to get things moving for us to feel good. Because our line one through five is really good, they’re all stellar players and guys we can depend on and for me, it’s just getting Jalen the ball and all of our other [running] backs the ball.”

Toerper acknowledged the sentiment of the importance of establishing the run, explaining it’s a key part in what the Bombers want their identity to be. 

“As long as I’m the head coach here, we’re going to try and establish the running game,” Toerper said. “It’s something that’s really important to us as far as controlling the flow of the game and also just maintaining that dominance at the line of scrimmage.”

One of the other big factors in this game will be the first time the game will be on the newly installed field at Bertino Field at Butterfield Stadium. While it is not the first time these teams have played on artificial surfaces, it will create an even playing field for both sides.

Slywka said that even in games when it has rained this season, the playing surface has stayed consistent unlike when it rained on the old grass. Fitzpatrick also said the fact that the game is not on grass is beneficial to the players.

“I gotta say Coach Toerper is gonna hate me for saying this, but I love that it’s on turf and not grass,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s a huge one last thing for me to worry about.”

The historic kickoff is slated for noon with gates opening at 10 a.m Nov. 12 on Bertino Field at Butterfield Stadium.

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