I woke up the morning of Saturday Nov. 16 with the feeling that probably most human beings across the globe were feeling that day – the desire to further sink into my mattress’s abyss.
But I couldn’t afford to do so, as this was no ordinary Saturday. It was the day of the 61st Cortaca Jug game. And to make even more atypical, this year’s bout was being staged at MetLife Stadium – home of the New York Jets and Giants and stage for music icons like New Jersey deity Jon Bon Jovi. So I rose from the comforts of my bed and got myself ready, coincidentally fueled by Bomber-blue blueberry pancakes.
Even if I wanted to elude such cheers, I couldn’t. I knew I needed to clear my mind of its foggy state and prepare myself for what was going to be a historic afternoon for Upstate New York football: the first ever Cortaca Jug game held off-site, as Cortland and Ithaca prepared to decide their annual rivalry at MetLife Stadium. The “biggest little game in the nation” had never had an opportunity like this to live up to its moniker, and another might never come again.
Stadium parking was a hellscape, with traffic as congested as expected. A record-setting 45,161 fans for a DIII game packed the stadium with security and state troopers armed with automatic rifles on the alert. One would’ve thought the Royal Family was in town to catch the Jets game that weekend.
I finally parked, made my way through security and headed up to the sixth floor to the press box. After I found a seat and set my stuff down, I looked out the window at a bird’s eye view of the field where tiny figures dressed in either blue or red moved about.
Though it was technically a neutral site for the contest, the fact that the two end zones were painted blue with the word “Ithaca” boldly written in white and Ithaca’s PA announcer was in attendance seemed anything but impartial. (That being said, it was Ithaca’s year to host the game.)
The field itself was part of the experience. Walking through the dim tunnel and out the entrance, a warm slap of sunshine lashed across the field, a blinding welcome to those touring the field and players going through pre-game warmups. Of course, there were plenty of other pre-game warmups taking place outside the stadium as well.
My ears struggled to comprehend the blend of country rock and EDM that flowed throughout the parking lots. Tailgating was in full fledge as the smell of burning charcoal and the smell of sizzling patties, sausages and dogs filled the air.
The ground was littered with everything on tap that day – Bud Light, Modelo’s, Miller Light, Blue Moon. I was offered a cold one by a Cortland fan. As fun as it would have been to indulge my inner Hunter S. Thompson, I kindly declined the man’s offering and continued my venture.
Fans from both sides offered their typical greetings to one another when they crossed paths.
“Ithaca sucks,” one Cortland fan said to an Ithaca fan while walking by.
“Hey, you suck,” the Ithaca fan replied.
And with that battle of wits concluded, both parties went on their merry ways. A heavy-set man in a zebra camo bucket hat roused a nearby group of Cortland fans. Leading them in a cheer, the man began to chant, “Ithacaaaaaaa … Ithacaaaaaaa … Ithacaaaaaaa …,” followed by, “You can suck,” and, with a long pause, finished the sentiment with a directive that is biologically unfit to print. Most fans donned generic apparel supporting their home team, but there was one Cortland fan rocking a particularly unique T-shirt, apparently from the 2007 Jug game, that featured a “F--K ITHACA” message on its front. The words were accompanied by several images that, alas, were also unfit to print.
There were a few bald spots in the stands come gametime, but fans from both sides made up for those vacancies with their energy. The Bombers took the opening kickoff and drove the ball down the field for the first touchdown of the game on the legs of quarterback Joe Germinerio, the first of three on the ground for him that day, who muscled his way into the end zone from a yard out.
When kicker Nicholas Bahamonde lined up for the extra point attempt, one Cortland fan shouted, “Don’t choke, b––h!”
Bahamonde split the uprights as Ithaca led 7–0 in the opening quarter.
Some fans enjoyed chumming it up with the state troopers and security guards throughout the game.
When a pass interference call was issued to the Bombers during one of their drives, one Ithaca fan yelled at a trooper, “That’s illegal. You should arrest them.”
Even the stone-faced trooper couldn’t help but show a slight grin on that one.
Another Ithaca fan sporting a “F*CK CORTLAND” T-shirt jokingly asked a security guard how much the fine would be if he went streaking onto the field. (For those who are curious, it’s $5,000.)
The security guard chuckled, imploring the fan to go through with it.
“We’ll enjoy tackling you.”
If one had to illustrate a “momentum swing,” it would probably look like the moment when Ithaca defensive back Khiry Brown stripped the ball from Cortland wideout Cole Burgess near the end of the first half. Down 13–6 with the ball on its own 45 yard line, Cortland quarterback Brett Segala completed a 25-yard pass to Burgess on the right sideline to Ithaca’s 30, inciting a roar from the Cortland faithful.
In an instant, however, the pendulum of elation swung to the opposite side of the stands when Brown ripped the ball out of Burgess’s hands, as if it had a 75 percent markdown at a flea market, putting the kibosh on the Red Dragons’ drive.
Arguably the biggest play of the game came around the midway point of the fourth quarter. Once leading 26–6, the Bombers saw their 20-point lead evaporate to six points from a Red Dragon rally.
With the ball on Cortland’s 46-yard line, Ithaca desperately needed a response to the Red Dragon’s surge. On third and six, Germinerio faked the handoff to Donte Garcia, faked the reverse handoff to Austin Hedglen and then fired a strike to Andrew Vito near the right side of the end zone, who ran it in for the touchdown.
It was a ridiculous play call in more sense than one.
“I looked at our offense and told them, ‘This is what I want to call,’” Ithaca head coach Dan Swanstrom said. “I didn’t get a great response at all from it. I didn’t think anybody wanted to call it.”
When Ithaca took the final knee, Germinerio, who accumulated 410 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns, ran over to the east end zone where he chucked the ball into the stands and the rest of his teammates flooded the field in celebration.
“Winning in college football is hard,” Swanstrom said. “It’s really, really difficult, and we never take it for granted. All wins are great. And sometimes, some are a little sweeter than others.”