Countdown to Cortaca: The Road to MetLife Stadium Part 5

By Kerry C. Regan, July 5, 2019
Cortaca Bloodlines: Scalice brothers' Bomber bond is forged in excellence.

The 61st Cortaca Jug football game between Ithaca College and Cortland State University will be played on its biggest stage yet this fall — MetLife Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets. To shine a light on this historic matchup, we will run a multi-part series in this space leading up to game day on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. We’ll cover all things Cortaca — interviews with Cortaca Jug legends, plans for alumni gatherings around the nation, ways the game is being incorporated in academic programs and other topics. In this installment, we look at individuals who have played for both Ithaca and Cortland. Previous stories in the series can be found here.

If you played football at Ithaca College during the first decade of the new millennium, you were probably a teammate of one of the Scalice brothers. Offensive lineman Joe ‘06 and linebacker Matt ‘09 each served as co-captain, earned All-American honors, and led teams that, from 2002 to 2009 never lost more than three games in a season. Their careers overlapped for three games during 2005, Joe’s senior year before Matt, then in his first year, was injured and took a medical redshirt.

That decade was smack in the middle of one of the few instances of parity in the rivalry, and the games were typically marked by nail-biting finishes. Not only did the teams split the Scalice family’s eight Jug games 4-4, four of the games were decided by three points or less, while a fifth was decided in overtime.

Joe recalls the atmosphere of Cortaca as being unmatched. “All of a sudden it’s Cortaca Week,” he said. “The tickets are on sale, you hear the students talking about it, and you feel the excitement on campus, but from a football perspective it’s business as usual…until game day. Then, you come out of the locker room and the crowd’s roaring and you can’t hear anything, and you think to yourself, ‘This is what they were talking about.”

“I’d been to so many games to watch my brother, I didn’t even need to do a tour.”

Matt Scalice, on his decision to come to Ithaca College

The Scalice brothers grew up in North Tonawanda, N.Y. near Buffalo, and both had designs on playing for Division I programs. Joe was being looked at by schools such as Colgate and Bucknell, but he was on the Bombers’ radar as well.

Ithaca College’s Mark Raymond, now the head coach at Williams College, invited Joe to visit the campus if his Division 1 dreams didn’t come to fruition. When that came to pass, he took Raymond up on the offer.

Joe’s uncle, Fred Stringfellow ‘90 had attended Ithaca, so he already knew about the school’s strong academic reputation. And during his visit, he got hit with the other half of the equation: The chance to play for the Jug.

“[The coaches] had the Cortaca Jug out, and they talked about how special it was,” Joe said. “The fact that it was the last game of the year, the ‘biggest little game’ in the country, played in front of 8 to 12,000 fans. It  was fantastic. That’s something I wanted to be part of.”

Tickets and Merchandise

Tickets for the game are sold through Ticketmaster and at can be purchased at www.cortacajug.com.

Cortaca Jug 2019-branded T-shirts and other merchandise has arrived at the campus store and also is available on the website at: www.ithaca.edu/cortaca-shop.

Unfortunately for Joe, and the Bombers, he was injured for his freshman year Cortaca game, watching from the bench as Ithaca, down 16-12, got stopped on the goal line on fourth and one with a minute remaining,

“One of my strong suits was run blocking,” he said. “I often wonder if I’d been in the game, could I have been a difference maker?”

After another tough loss in 2003, Scalice proved to be a difference-maker during his junior year, as he was part of an offensive line that physically dominated the Red Dragons. The Bombers ran for 227—including a then Cortaca record 203 from Jamie Donovan ’07, in a 47-22 rout.

“When we came out after halftime, their half of the stadium was empty,” he said. “Their fans had left. That was my best memory.”

But while the 2004 Jug stood out among Cortaca memories, for Joe, it wasn’t the end of his IC memories. He had the honor of topping off his football career by representing the United States—and Ithaca College—in the Aztec Bowl, an all-star game matching U.S. Division III all-stars with a team from Mexico, played in Toluca, Mexico.  

And the memories extend beyond the gridiron. Not only did his degree in biology help him get a job as a high school science teacher, but he’s made lasting connections.

”The people I remain in contact with from Ithaca College are my best friends,” he said. “Going there was probably the best decision I made in my life.”

While Joe was making his mark as a Bomber, his parents were putting in some long hours. After watching Matt play quarterback and middle linebacker for North Tonawanda High School on Friday night, they would rise at the crack of dawn on Saturday and drive to wherever Ithaca was playing. Matt usually came too.

A top recruit, Matt was on the radar at schools like Penn State, Michigan State and Syracuse. But the Division I recruiting process was frustrating, so Matt looked for something else. “Joe was already at Ithaca, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I go here and have a chance to play four years and get a good education?’” he said. “I’d been to so many games to watch my brother, I didn’t even need to do a tour.”

Matt Scalice

In 2008, Matt followed in his brother's footsteps by earning first-team All-American honors. (Photo courtesy of Ithaca College athletics)

Matt coming to South Hill meant the brothers had a chance to play together, something they’d done briefly in the last few games of Joe’s senior season in high school, when Matt was called up to play quarterback for the varsity team as a freshman, being protected in the pocket by Joe.

Being on different sides of the ball in college changed that equation a bit: “A couple of times in camp, we hit each other,” Joe said.

Then in the third game of the 2005 season, Matt tore his ACL, ending his campaign. “That was the end of us playing together, but it was a great while it lasted,” Joe said. “It was really cool to share the field with my brother.”

Matt also appreciated the time shared. “My brother is a stand-up guy,” he said. “He’s my role model, and he was always in my corner. He’s very humble, modest, and well-rounded. He got more out of my success than his own.”

While Matt rehabbed his injury during the remainder of the 2005 season, Joe was earning All-American status for the Bombers as they clinched a berth in the NCAA playoffs—although they lost Cortaca in heartbreaking fashion, 37-30 in overtime.

That year, Matt got his first real taste of the rivalry. “It’s a big thing, a whole week experience,” he said. “You get total support from whole campus community. As a player we’re supposed to look at it just like any week, but, you could tell there’s something special about winning that game.

“At the games it was a total madhouse, like a concert-type atmosphere,” Matt continued. “And the environment at Butterfield is a little more old school and a little crazier than at Cortland.”

“Watching a game, having a family member playing, it’s almost like you’re in the game.”

Joe Scalice '06, on watching his brother Matt '09 play for the Bombers

Scalice helped lead the Bombers to a 40-17 win at Butterfield in 2007, registering a team-high 11 tackles and recovering a fumble  But the game he remembers best was his senior season, 2008, when Cortland was 9-0, ranked 7th in the country coming into the game. The Bombers were 8-1 and ranked 17th.

“That was probably the best Ithaca team I played on,” he said. “Cortland was very highly touted.”

The Bombers won in another rout, this time by the score of 35-13, with Matt chipping in eight tackles and defending a pass. And watching proudly from the stands the whole time was big brother Joe, who attended every game of Matt’s career, usually driving all the way from Baltimore.

“Watching a game, having a family member playing, it’s almost like you’re in the game,” Joe said.

Today Matt is an account manager with pavement repair supplier QPR, relocating this summer to Birmingham, Ala., from Baltimore. Since graduating, he has only attended one Ithaca game, Cortaca in 2010. “I hated being at that game,” he said. “Watching a team I played for was hard for me. I wanted to be out there.”

But both he and Joe plan to attend this year’s game, where they expect to connect with many former teammates. “The fact that they might be playing in front of 40,0000 people is just awesome,” Joe said.

Up Next

Our final Cortaca family includes a 2019 Bomber captain who is going to be bringing the family number to MetLife Stadium.