Saturday, November 27, 2004

Heads Held High

Lehigh lost in the first round 14-13 to a tough, physical JMU squad that came ready to play. It was a defensive battle for 60 minutes, and the defense and offense came up with a great game that unfortunately fell short.

But the Mountain Hawks have every reason to hold their heads high this year, with a co-championship with Lafayette, a I-AA playoff berth, and a final game which the entire team can be proud of. Lehigh went toe-to-toe with a team that had more skill and more acclaim than Lehigh, coming from the toughest I-AA conference in 2004 - and was in a position to win at the end of the game.

Watch for game balls, season wrapups, All-Patriot, and more, tomorrow and in the next few days. Though I may just want ot forget about my playoff picks tomorrow, I'll probably go over them tomorrow too (though, I'd like to know anyone who picked New Hampshire to upset Georgia Southern *and* Eastern Washington to upset Southern Illinois.)

Still, 3-5. Yuck.

More tomorrow.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Playoff Press Roundup; Editorial; Playoff Predictions

No in-game commentary
Since I'll be covering the game one more time for I-AA.org, there won't be any in-game commentary this weekend. You'll be able to read my diary of the game on I-AA.org on Sunday.
For those of you who won't be able to catch the game live, there will be a few different ways:

Video
WFMZ-TV (channel 69 in the Lehigh Valley) live
Radio:
ESPN Radio 1230 and 1320 AM

On the internet, there is your regular audio broadcast... but... you can also get the video broadcast of the game as well! Not a joke:
Link to Yahoo! Broadcast ($$ required)

Also, VCR alert: for those of you with CSTV, you'll be able to see the Lafayette/Delaware game. Worth a shot to watch that game (see my predictions later for details).

Playoff Press Roundup
Just wanted to add 3 more pieces to my media roundup for the "Redemption Match at Murray Goodman". (I think the Easton Express-Times guys were paid by the word this week):

Easton Express-Times:
Borda Has Arrived As Lehigh Ace
Hawks Looking Forward To Shot At Postseason Redemption
Roanoke Times:
Cobbs Beefs Up JMU Line

Quotes:
"This is a better football team than Villanova," Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said. "I think our kids will have to play our best football of the year to win."

"It gives us a chance to hopefully redeem ourselves in some way," Lembo said, "and put together a performance that's well-representative of what we've done all year in the Patriot League. This is a big, big challenge."

"The team has a great deal to prove," Rath said. "We want to go out there and we want to play our best. We want to go out knowing we gave everything we had."

"This one's for the seniors," Lehigh running back Eric Rath vowed.


"Our goals are still within reach for us to attain," energetic Hawks quarterback Mark Borda said.

"If you've followed us throughout the season, you know last week was a big letdown for us," Kovacs said.... "To have ended the season on that note would have been a horrible thing.
We felt like we were truly given a second life."


[Someone sounds like they've been reading this blog... LOL.]

"I feel some sense of urgency," Kovacs said. "We've been proud of the senior class, for what we accomplished. Last week was not a reflection of our character and how we play. We don't want to be remembered for how we did last week. We're excited to get this chance to redeem ourselves."

"[Frank] Cobbs, listed at 6 foot 1 and 205 pounds when he signed with the Dukes in 2001, will tip the scale at close to 250 pounds when he takes the field for JMU in its first-round Division I-AA playoff game at Lehigh. Cobbs, now a defensive tackle, started eight straight games for the Dukes (9-2) before he suffered a sprained ankle before JMU played host to William and Mary. Held out of last week's game at Towson as something of a precaution, Cobbs has returned to practice and should start."

I mention this last point since all indication is that Frank Cobbs will be back and healthy on Saturday, which will make an already-tough defensive line even tougher.

Editorial
We're now on the eve of another big, meaningful game.

After Saturday, no one thought we should be here. The same old arguments were raised - the Patriot League is too weak, there's no way they belong in the same ballpark as all these other full-scholarship schools. Didn't they almost lose to Yale?

Almost to a man columnists are crying, "Playoff Robbery". Cal Poly played in a tougher conference - beat Montana St. on the road, don't you know. Lehigh doesn't belong here. Cal Poly does.

I-AA columnists are saying that we have "no chance in hell" to win the national championship. That we're some egghead school, somehow on the same par as Columbia football-wise.

Well, isn't that just where we want to be now?

That's where we were in 1998, being sent to Richmond. We won that gave over the A-10 champs 24-23.

That's where we were in 2000, being sent to Macomb, Illinois, where we throttled Western Illinois in front of a few popcorn vendors and their closest friends, 37-7.

In 2001, Hofstra was indignant about going on the road to play us. The A-10 auto bid - on the road? After they went up 14-0, the Hofstra coach was thinking blowout. Well, who ended up winning 27-24 in OT? Lehigh.

Not bad for a bunch of eggheads, eh?

It's now 2004. An A-10 co-champion is now indignant about coming up to Lehigh to play a game. Lehigh doesn't get any respect from the rest of I-AA nation. Sound familiar?

Sounds like a good recipie for a victory to me.

Playoff Predictions
Eastern Washington at Southern Illinois. I am going to go with the #1 team in the nation here. But just. I think the Eagles of Eastern Washington light up their secondary and put a massive scare into the Salukis. But I think the Salukis find a way to win it, maybe with one last bruising run in OT. SIU 44, EWU 38, OT.

Western Kentucky at Sam Houston St. If there is anything I have learned in following the I-AA playoffs, unless the game is at Delaware and the Blue Hens are suiting up Missouri's "B" Team, take the team with the chip on their shoulders. The Hilltoppers take out a Southland team who has struggled with consistency. WKU 37, SHS 14.

Northwestern St. at Montana. Another Southland team that has struggled with consistency, the Demons are rewarded with a trip to Missoula for their first-round game. Look at the weather for a sense of where this one is going to go. In Missoula: Snow showers, high of 31, low of 21. That doesn't sound like Natchitoches weather to me. And that score sounds about right. Montana 31, NW St. 21.

New Hampshire at Georgia Southern. "You've beaten defending I-AA champion Delaware, and beat I-A Rutgers from a BCS conference. What do you get for your efforts?" "We're going to Statesboro, Georgia!" The Wildcats are given a near-impossible task. A chip on UNH's shoulder will not be enough to dethrone the Golden Eagles. Georgia Southern racks up another first-round win at home. GSU 49, UNH 23.

Hampton at William & Mary. An intriguing matchup, involving arguably the best player in I-AA (the Tribe's Lang Campbell) , and the opportunistic offense and defense of Hampton. Two inexperienced playoff teams going at it. As long as the Tribe take care of the ball, I think they win this one, but it's no blowout. W&M 34, Hampton 28.

Lafayette at Delaware. If Hens QB Sonny Riccio has a breakout day against the Leopard secondary, they will win this one going away. But will he? He's only had one breakout game all year against Maine. Delaware has the talent to blow away Lafayette. But I think that Lafayette is not an easy team to coach against, and I think they have the stuff to send seismic shockwaves through I-AA Nation. The Hens don't get the offense going, a Lafayette "O" Line (pumped up to the max by all the mocking press out there) wears out the Hen defense, keeps it close in the 4th quarter, and escapes with a win. You heard it here first. Lafayette 17, Delaware 14.

Jacksonville St. at Furman. Rush-happy Jacksonville St. runs into a buzzsaw at Furman, argualbly the best team in I-AA right now. They don't have the horses to keep this game close. The Paladins in the biggest first-round win. Furman 44, JSU 17.

Just to finalize my final playoff picks:

Pre-playoff predictions Round 2:
Furman over Lehigh
William & Mary over Lafayette

Georgia Southern over Montana
Western Kentucky over Southern Illinois

Semi-final predicitons:
Furman over William & Mary
Georgia Southern over Western Kentucky

National Champs: Georgia Southern

That's it. Next thing you'll hear from me is writing about a win, or wrapping up the season.

GO LEHIGH!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Lehigh/James Madison Preview

Lehigh/James Madison Preview
Here is what you've been waiting for.. the special Lehigh Football Nation preview of Lehigh and James Madison. The Dukes will be, at this point, the best team Lehigh has faced all year.

They are a team, like Lafayette, that runs the ball to make their offense work with a multi-faceted rushing attack. Although they don't have one player that will kill you consistently, their team has solid scholarship talent across the board and features strong team play. The Mountain Hawks will have their work cut out against this squad.

Before jumping in the pool...
I wanted to feature some press on the upcoming game. Both the Easton Express-Times and Allentown Morning Call have been writing so many pieces it's almost impossible to keep up.

Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Happy To Be Home
Dukes Surprised, But Happy, To Be on Road
Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Not Only Gets In, It Gets To Play At Home
Mountain Hawks Ready For Another Gridiron Battle
Richmond Times-Dispatch:
JMU Reaches I-AA Playoffs

Quotes:
''We feel very humble, very blessed to have an opportunity to continue our season,'' Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said... It was not a good reflection of the kind of season we've had. There's nothing we can do it about it now except learn from the mistakes we made. We just feel fortunate to be in the field of 16 and can hopefully redeem ourselves in some way with a performance that is more representative of the Lehigh football program.''

"If we were deserving of a home game then obviously Lafayette is," Lembo said. "I certainly hope Lafayette goes down there and represents the Patriot League well. I know they will."

''I talked to Mickey Matthews and he was somewhat surprised to be going on the road,'' Lembo said. ''He mentioned that perhaps the large number of Atlantic 10 teams in the tournament may have influenced the committee not to give every single one of them a home game... I don't know why Delaware hosts over us.''

''It was definitely a surprise,'' JMU coach Mickey Matthews said Monday. ''We had every indication we'd be given a home game. Our home attendance is in the top two or three in the nation [12,790 average] and our venue has greatly improved. Our facilities are among the best in the nation. So, yes, it was a surprise to us.''

''You look at what we've done against ranked teams and you'd think we'd be seeded fairly high,'' he said. ''But the committee evidently saw things differently. No matter where we play the game, our kids will be anxious to play it and we know we're going against a great program in a real nice place.''

But while Matthews may use having to make the trip to Bethlehem as a motivational tool, he actually doesn't mind the ride north on I-81 all that much for the 12:30 p.m. game at Goodman Stadium... He is a friend of Lehigh coach Pete Lembo. The two have worked together on the I-AA Coaches Executive Committee and Matthews visited the Goodman Campus during Eagles' training camp last summer.

"Matthews' relationship with Mountain Hawks defensive coordinator Shannon Morrison goes back to the early 1990s when they were coach and player at Marshall and won a national title in 1992.Matthews chokes up when Morrison's name is mentioned... ''He's like a son to me, to be honest with you,'' he said. ''I really don't like competing against him. Shannon is the most competitive player I've ever coached. Few players have meant more to me because of how hard he competed. It will be great to see him. We're still close and several of his former teammates are on my coaching staff.''

"Matthews, like Lembo, is a past Eddie Robinson Award recipient as the nation's top I-AA coach. He won the award in 1999, his first year, when he led JMU to the I-AA playoffs.

''They play in one of the best I-AA conferences in the country and are one of the most physical teams in I-AA football,'' Lembo said. ''We'll have to be at our best... After seeing the looks in their faces after watching that television (NCAA selection) show," Lembo said, "I really believe they will be focused and give us everything we've got."

"The team has a great deal to prove," said former Pius X star Eric Rath, Lehigh's normally sure-handed rushing leader whose first two career fumbles came at critical times in the loss to Lafayette. "We want to go out there, we want to play our best. We want to go out knowing we gave everything we have."


Some interesting storylines here on the Lehigh side. As if you needed any more reasons to tune in on Saturday.

Lehigh Injury Report
TE Steve Burant (OUT)
OL John Reese (OUT)
FS Kaloma Cardwell (OUT)
DT Royce Morgan (OUT)
LB Randy Rovesti (OUT)
MLB Owen Breninger (Doubtful)
FB Greg Fay (Questionable)
OL Rob Sandie (Questionable)
WR Gerran Walker (Questionable)
CB Neal Boozer-Gallman (Questionable)
OLB Jason Murray (Questionable)

Jon Guynes, afer being out last week, is now listed as 'Probable'. He should slide right into Owen Breninger's spot, who's now listed as 'Doubtful'. That's a big sigh of relief for Lehigh, who might have been exposed there had both Breninger and Guynes been out or doubtful.

Aside from that, there are some bang-ups, especially on defense. But this is the playoffs - I think the 'Questionable-s' may end up being 'Probable-s'. We'll see.

Scouting James Madison
The Dukes, unranked and picked to finish fourth in the A-10 South, find themselves co-champions and (undeservedly, in the minds of coaches and fans) on the road at Lehigh in the first round. They should be fired up out of perceived "disrespect".

They enter this weekend at 9-2 after tying for the Atlantic 10 championship. They beat Delaware at home, and Villanova on the road (Lehigh lost to Villanova, 22-16, in September). JMU's only losses were to I-A West Virginia, and to A-10 co-champion William & Mary on a last-second 48 yard field goal.

They don't have one player that beats you, but instead play effectively together as a team in all three phases of the game. They have no playoff experience with this group, but this full-scholarship program is packed with great athletes who have got the job done all year. Let's break it down.

Offense
The offense is led by sophomore QB Justin Rascati. The starter all year, he is a QB that can throw the ball and tuck the ball underneath his arm and run just as easily. On first glance, he seems similar to QB Brad Maurer of Lafayette last week - and we all know how that turned out.

Following the analogy, the back who could be doing their best Joe McCourt impression will be junior HB Raymond Hines (assuming back Maurice Fenner won't be available). However, unlike McCourt, he doesn't catch the ball out of the backfield often, with only 4 receptions on the year. In his last 2 games, he has averaged 170 yards per game with 3 TDs. Obviously, he or Fenner will be a guy who we will need to key on against the run. Against Towson, Hines ran a lot up the middle - it will be intersting to see if they try the same thing against Lehigh.

FB and TE feature a pair of seniors - FB Chris Iorio and TE Tom Ridley. Both are mostly featured as blockers rather than rushers or receivers, but they get the occasional call.

The right side of the line is big and filled with seniors, with RT Jermaine Crowder weighing in at 300 lbs. On the left tackle is a 340 lb sophomore, George Burns, which should be an indication on what the defensive line is up against. They like to run the ball, and have been effective at it all year.

At receiver is an inexperienced trio, which may explain why the Dukes tend to run about twice as often as they pass. Sophomore WR D.D. Boxley is the best of the bunch, with 420 yards and 4 TDs.

Defense
James Madison's goal is: run the ball, and stop the run on defense. To that effect, the Dukes have done extremely well, only giving up 87 yards of rushing game against scholarship competition. They have played a lot of close games this year, and defense has been a huge part of this. Like Lehigh, they thrive on forcing turnovers, and have a great turnover ratio.

Frequently the Dukes play an eight-man front to stop the run. Playing that way consistently allows a team to get a lot of passing yards in the process. They average about 2 sacks a game.

The defensive line is similar to Lehigh's is size and weight. Senior DT Brandon Beach anchors the line.

At linebacker, senior Kwynn Walton is the man in the middle who more often than not gets the tackle in the front eight. None of the linebackers are particularly big or dominating, but all eight get the job done.

In the backfield, redshirt freshman FS Tony LeZotte is the A-10 rookie of the year and could be the most talented member of the entire defense. He's a ball-hawk and big tackler. Senior CB Cortez Thompson is also a speedy cover guy.

Special Teams
Cortez Thompson and receiver L.C. Baker are fast and very dangerous return men. Thompson is the more deadly of the two with a 30 yard kickoff average and 1 TD. Punting could be a weakness, with only a 37.4 yard average for Nick Engleheart

Keys To The Game
1.Passing. The Dukes have shown themselves to be susceptible to the pass. Getting to Bergen, or another reciever, underneath for a big day may be crucial for Lehigh winning the game.
2.Turnovers. Winning the turnover battle will be crucial. Rath is eager to prove to I-AA nation that he won't lose the ball again, and that will be important. Giving up the ball and letting JMU's tackles pound the defensive line repeatedly could be devastting.
3.Jump out to an early lead. Getting up by 2 scores, and forcing Rascati to beat us with his arm, is something I'd really like to see.
4.Special teams. Work on this unit will be imperative. Week after week JMU has made key special teams plays that have made the difference between winning and losing. Tackles on runbacks could be huge.

Fearless Prediction
I've said this to a lot of people - I like the way we match up against JMU. Although at first glance they seem like a clone of Lafayette, I don't think this one will go the same way. On the road this might be a different story, but at home, I like Lehigh to pull this one out. Borda gets a 300+ yard day, a well-rested defense intercepts a big JMU pass at the end of the game, and next week we're talking about the weather down in South Carolina.

Lehigh 28, JMU 24

Bulletin Board Material

Print this... and put it on the Bulletin Board for Saturday
I am in the middle of working on my Lehigh/JMU Preview, and I read more bulletin board material than I've ever read in years covering Lehigh. I have to pass it on here.

[Scott, babe, I drop your name in my I-AA diary last week, and this is the thanks I get?]

Scott Garner, I-AA.org

"Let’s break down all 16 teams in the field, shall we, as only the High Priest can.

No chance in hell

If any of these teams win the national title, then we’re talking about Revelations-level events here. Fire and brimstone, cats and dogs living together, you know, real Wrath-of-God type stuff.

Colgate was a nice story a year ago, but the Patriot League has had its moment in the sun, and I’m not even done casting aspersions on every egghead school in I-AA (you’re coming up soon, Lehigh).

Cal Poly, oops, I mean Lehigh
Odds of winning the title: Same as the odds that Gilligan has of hooking up with Ginger.
What they’ve got going for them: the good nature of the NCAA selection committee and home game that NASA scientists are still working overtime to explain.
What they’ve got going against them: James Madison, a team that was out-gained 466-166 in total offense yet still managed to beat the defending national champions (i.e., they have a contract with Satan).
Telling statistic: Lehigh only played one team in the I-AA playoff field and lost. That team was Lafayette. They lost. Not good."

Got all that? I-AA Nation thinks:
* you're an egghead school
* you have no chance to beat big, bad, mighty, JMU, let alone a national championship.

What more, really, needs to be said?

Oh yeah, Matt Dougherty of the Sports Network was a tad kinder in his predictions, but he still has us losing too, 20-17.

So, nobody has any confidence that Lehigh can win.

Just remember that.

Press Update

Press Update
Tune in for my Lehigh/JMU update later tonight. However, more importantly, I'm being featured in a USA Today piece about "SuperSpectators", in regards to my Lehigh blog:

USAToday:
SuperSpectators

You can click on my "baseball card" to get interesting facts about me and the blog.

I believe it's also part of the print edition - check your local newsstand! I'll be buying a couple dozen copies myself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Lehigh/Lafayette Wrap; Game Balls; Last week's picks; Playoff Stuff

Lehigh/Lafayette Wrap
With the I-AA playoff selection on Sunday (where Lehigh drew a home game against James Madison), and my I-AA diary on I-AA.org, I didn't have time to do a press roundup. For a blow-by-blow summary of the game, click the link to read my piece.

Before going to the press of Lehigh/Lafayette, doing the game ball thing, and putting this game to rest, I'd like to add my commentary on Lehigh's play last Saturday. As I implied in my I-AA.org piece, I felt that the game hinged on Lehigh's turnovers and miscues. Not just Eric Rath's fumbles, but muffed snaps and Borda's dropped balls as well. Simply, Lafayette is a good team who will kill you if you turn over the ball. We did, and they did.

That's not an excuse. But I feel that had Lehigh been able to execute their offensive gameplan effectively, we would have seen a different game. As it stood, the defense was on the field for effectively 4 straight drives at the beginning of the second half. I don't care if you're Lehigh, Delaware, or Southern Illinois - you do that against Lafayette, and you're going to put yourself in a position to lose.

An encouraging sign for all the Lehigh fans out there should be this piece from the Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Set to Unleash Its Rath in Playoffs

Check out these quotes:
"Personally, it was a dagger in the heart," said Rath... "I probably played the worst game of my football career, since I was 5 years old. It's horrible to put the ball on the ground and let your teammates down. I fumbled three times in my whole life. Two of them were in that Lafayette game."

"It's my first time at the college level making the playoffs," Rath said. "That's the reason I'm here, to play in the big games. Personally, I had the worst game of my career. That's something I definitely want to make up for."

"I can't stand fumbles," Rath said. "This week in practice, I'm going to have the defense and the scout defense going after the ball and ripping it. There's going to be a lot of Eric Rath fans and a lot of Lehigh fans that I have a lot to prove to this week."

We'll be watching Saturday.

Quickie Press Roundup
Allentown Morning Call:
Lafayette Rolls Over Lehigh
Easton Express-Times:
'Black' Day For Leopards Leads to Brighter Tomorrow

No quotes. We all know what happened.

Game Balls:
Somber Game Balls go to:
Offense:
Senior TE Adam Bergen (5 receptions, 65 yards)
Junior WR Keven Zebluim (3 catches, 30 yards)
Defense:
Senior OLB Anthony Graziani (14 tackles)
Senior DT Tristan Lawrence (8 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks)
Sophomore DB Courtney Elder (7 tackles, INT at end of 1st half)
Special Teams
Senior P Kyle Keating (43.3 yard average punting)

Congratulations to all.

Last Week's Picks
I had a very poor week, going 9-6. I got Bucknell, Holy Cross, Harvard, Delaware, James Madison, William & Mary, South Carolina St., Montana, and Sam Houston St. right. I missed "The Game", Colgate, New Hampshire, Cal Poly, Northwestern St., and Western Kentucky.

I wasn't "really right" or "really wrong" with any of them. Guess I should just be happy with a winning record.

Playoff Stuff
I'm suspecting most of you readers scrolled right down to this area, the "Playoff Stuff", skimming over everything else.

Tomorrow I'll be breaking down the James Madison Dukes, but for today I'll be talking about the reactions around I-AA Nation to Lehigh's inclusion to the playoffs, and hosting a I-AA playoff game.

I won't quote anybody here, but most, if not all, national I-AA columnists were united in feeling that Lehigh got in for one reason only: that they were stiffed last year. (Just click on over to the unquestioned leader in I-AA news, information, and Lehigh game summaries written by yours truly, I-AA.org.) There are many, many folks around I-AA that feel like Lehigh doesn't deserve to even be here, and that Cal Poly, with a 9-2 record and a road win against Montana St., deserved to go instead.

In addition, James Madison coaches fans are upset at the fact that Lehigh got a home game. It's hard to judge if they're more upset at Lehigh hosting a game after barely making it into the field, or Delaware hosting a game when they have a worse record than Delaware (and beat them head-to-head).

Quotes from JMU coach Mickey Matthews:
"I was just surprised who we were playing and where we were playing," said JMU coach Mickey Matthews, before diplomatically adding, "We're just glad to be there..."

"How they select home teams is like the [secret] formula for Coke. We can't figure it out. If you can figure that out, you're smarter than I am," Matthews said.

To be fair, they also felt like they were squeezed out in a numbers game - they felt like the I-AA playoff committee didn't want to have 3 A-10 teams as home teams. And Delaware, who can almost guarantee a sellout, was going to be that team.

This year, JMU claims they averaged about 3,000 more fans per game than Lehigh. But, if you look at last year's numbers, Lehigh was ahead JMU in average attendance. That, and the fact that Lehigh successfully hosted a playoff game in 2001, may have given the nod to Lehigh in the end.

Now, I may be the biggest Lehigh rah-rah guy our there that everybody knows. I did not go into the 1:00PM announcement on Sunday thinking that Lehigh was a shoo-in for the playoffs. I don't think anyone in Lehigh Football Nation was. We all knew it would be really close, and we thought that Lehigh deserved to be in there over teams that had played Division II schools. We were rooting for Stephen F. Austin on Saturday just like everybody else.

I think it's fair to say that we were all surprised, however, that we got a home game - especially since the I-AA playoff committee has not been kind to us in years past. We've only had 1 home playoff game since joining I-AA, and that was against Hofstra in 2001 when Lehigh went 11-0.

Ironically, for Lehigh, losing to Lafayette was the best possible scenario for I-AA playoff seeding. Had Lehigh won, we probably would have been playing Delaware at Newark in the first round. But since we lost, through a numbers game involving the A-10, Lehigh hosts the "third-placed" Atlantic 10 team, and "second-placed" Delaware hosts Lafayette. Furthermore, when the history books are written, it will go down that Lehigh and Lafayette were co-champions of the Patriot League, and both qualified for the I-AA playoffs.

I will say, for the record, that I think it was wrong for JMU to not have a home game over Delaware. The reason for that is: JMU had a better record than Delaware; JMU beat Delaware head-to-head; and Delaware lost to 2 A-10 teams this year (though, through a scheduling quirk, only one of those losses count as a 'league loss').

To the Lehigh coaches and players, all I can really say is, it's clear that most people around I-AA nation don't think you're good enough to be in the playoffs. They think Cal Poly is better. They think James Madison is better - they think all the A-10 teams are better.

They don't think you belong here.

Tomorrow: Lehigh/JMU, Round 1 of the I-AA Playoffs - Preview

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Agony to Ecstasy, Part II

Part II
As I was entering the post-game press conferences, I mingled with some of the beat writers and national I-AA sports writers. We had just seen Lafayette beat Lehigh 24-10 to grab a co-championship of the Patriot League with Lehigh, and win the automatic playoff berth.

The discussion was Lehigh's playoff chances. Could it happen? Would it happen? Would we need some help from around I-AA nation? How much? Should we be rooting for Stephen F. Austin and Sacramento State? How far away is William & Mary? What was the weather like in Statesboro, Georgia in December?

The mood was decidedly "undecided". But I don't think anyone there was thinking, "home playoff game".

As the Saturday results came in, it didn't look like Lehigh was getting a lot of help. My friends said outright, "I don't think it's going to happen." But I was defiant. I thought it was still possible to get into the playoffs. We were 9-2 and had played some tough teams. Ultimately, I feel Lehigh was deserving of the final playoff bid.

And then it happened. Lehigh has a home playoff game the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Murray Goodman stadium. Those of you that thought a hard-fought loss to Lafayette would preclude Lehigh getting to the I-AA playoff party were deeply mistaken.

I would have paid to see the expression on the Lehigh players', students', and coaches' faces when they found out that Lehigh's playing at home.

I am really proud that all the Lehigh players, especially the seniors, will now have a chance to show the nation how good they really are. My feeling is, you play all year for this shot at the I-AA playoffs, and Lehigh got it. It doesn't matter how you got there. You're in, you're in.

I am also really happy that Lehigh students and fans will have a chance to show I-AA nation their support for the team by coming out in droves to the stadium. It's our time as fans to show the I-AA world how well Lehigh fans support their team, and what a great gameday atmosphere there is at Murray Goodman.

I am confident that Lehigh will play a great game against the James Madison Dukes.

Tomorrow I'll sum up the postgame press of Lehigh/Lafayette, game balls, fearless predictions, etc.

But one last factoid: Lehigh is 1-0 all-time against James Madison, beating them 31-14 at old Taylor Stadium in Bethlehem in 1980.

Let's make that 2-0!

PS. You can order your tickets from LehighSports.Com online by following this link.

AGONY TO ECSTASY

We're hosting a playoff game.

I-AA Playoff Field

James Madison is coming to play us. James Madison! Coming to play us! At Murray Goodman! WOW!

This isn't a typo. This isn't some cruel joke. This is the real deal. The seniors have another meaningful game to play.

I am incredibly happy for the seniors. They have at least one more chance to wear the Lehigh football uniform. At home too!

More information later! What a weekend - from the depths of despair to - a chance at redemption.

As we wait for the announcement...

As we wait, please read my I-AA diary on Lehigh/Lafayette I wrote for I-AA.org.

Diary of an I-AA Weekend: Lehigh/Lafayette

For my optimistic playoff speculation, read my previous post.

Fingers crossed.
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