Saturday, October 15, 2005

Lehigh 28, Yale 21 - OT

Want to know what Lehigh is made of? Check this game out.

Lehigh down 21-6, a little more than 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Yale has the ball after a couple of punts. How many of you were starting to jump off the bandwagon then? A Yale punt to the 18, aided further by a penalty driving us back to the 9. Thinking of packing it in?

Not these guys. 3rd and 10 - at the 9! - senior QB Mark Borda completes a 35 yard pass to senior WR Kevin Zebluim and we're on our way. Borda then moved the chains, getting into scoring position after Yale had stymied us all day. Borda then rifled a 12 yard pass to that junior WR Lee Thomas had the presence to come down with the ball. 21-13.

Lehigh's "D" then holds Yale to their 42. They punt, and Borda basically motors us down the field yet again. At 4th and 3 at the Yale 25, a pass to Zeblium falls incomplete. How many of you were thinking at that moment, just short, yet again... we're so close, yet again, just didn't have enough heart, couldn't execute well enough?

"D" forces a 3-and-out. Borda, who at this point is completely on fire, fires off 2 more completions and takes off on a running play to the 17... where he falls. His right leg is put in an air cast, and sophomore QB Sedale Threatt comes in instead. How many of you were thinking, an unproven QB can't come in and win us this game... how can he replace Borda?

One rush and two huge completions later, senior FB Greg Fay catches the biggest pass of the season. 21-19. But surely Threatt can't get the 2-point conversion?

Rollout... junior TE Pete Morelli... BAM. 21-21, tie game, and momentum.

You know what happens next. Threatt and senior RB Eric Rath simply tke over and barrel into the end zone. 28-21, Yale's turn, 4th and goal on the 7, and sophomore Julian Ahye stops junior Yale RB Jordan Spence.

You believed all along, didn't you?

Lehigh, wih their backs against the wall, got the job done. 22 unanswered points. Nobody gave up. When the chips were down, the Mountain Hawks got the job done on offense and defense. Big stops, great plays - there's a lot of great stuff to build on if you're a Lehigh fan.

I think there will be multiple game ball giveaways tomorrow. Tune in then!

Lehigh 28, Yale 21, F-OT

WHEW!!!!!!

Great win for Lehigh!

I'll weigh in later with more analysis - boy, am I happy!!!!!!

Lehigh 21, Yale 21, OT

Nervewracked. Yale QB Mroz is rattled, and our QB Threatt is unproven in a big spot. I hope this comes down to a FG attempt.

Nervous. Go Lehigh!

Lehigh 21, Yale 21, 4:42 to play

Tie game! YES!!!!!

Mark Borda is hurt... sophomore QB Sedalle Threatt got the big TD pass, and then got the big 2-pt conversion.

Momentum (and the wind) are on Lehigh's side.

Make a statement. Win the game, 'Hawks!

Lehigh 6, Yale 14, half

The Mountain Hawks are taking years off my life.

I could have lived with a 7-6 deficit at half, but that turnover that led to a Yale TD... what a deflator. Yes, Lehigh does have another half of football to go, but it's clear that Lehigh hasn't made a statement so far in this game.

The announcers have said Yale is dropping eight into coverage - well, that's adjustable. Here's hoping the coaching staff gets it together.

Got to take care of business in the second half. We got to.

Predictions of other games

Sunny! Hope the sunny, dry weather equals a big day at the Lehigh game - and, of course, the "W". And here are my other predictions for today's other games:

Patriot League:
Villanova at Bucknell.
The Wildcats, winless on the road in 2005, re smarting after a 38-20 spanking at the hands of Richmond, while Bucknell got drummed by Penn last week 53-7. With the Bison so banged up, it's hard to give them much of a chance. Villanova 27, Bucknell 7.

Gerogetown at Cornell. Cornell, fresh off their win at Harvard, should continue their roll. Cornell 31, G'town 9.

Fordham at Colgate.
The Raiders start their home campaign after getting a great 16-10 win against Princeton last week. The Rams embark on their incredible fifth road game in 6 games this week, and their nightmare looks to continue. Colgate 38, Fordham 7.

Harvard at Lafayette. Harvard went from getting first-place votes to being an afterthought this week, where they play a tough Lafayette squad who ripped up their field real good in a 14-7 mudfest. It will be a defensive struggle, but if Harvard turns over the ball like they did against Lehigh, the Leopards will make them play. Lafayette 19, Harvard 7.

Dartmouth at Holy Cross. It's called a lot of things. A letdown game; a look-ahead game; a "tweener" game. Eh, no way. With the Big Green grounded in the passing game, they don't have the goods to challenge Holy Cross here. HC 10, Dartmouth 7.

I-AA Top 25:
Missouri St. at #1 Western Kentucky. If this were at Missouri St. I would be sorely tempted to tke the upset. However, it's hard to give it to the Bears on the road. Call it a Hilltopper win, but with trouble. WKU 31, Missouri St. 30.

#2 James Madison at #13 UMass. The A-10 showdown of the week against two possible playoff teams. Both go in with 4-1 records with surprising upsets on their schedule. Could UMass, with their ferocious defense, win a huge game at home? My hunch is the defending champs will manage to pull this out in this case. JMU 21, UMass 17.

#9 Eastern Washington at #3 Montana. Although it's always tough to beat the Griz at home, if any team can do it, it's the Eagles. I think the Eagles are the best team in the Big Sky, and they prove it in front of 22,000 hostile fans. EWU 34, Montana 30.

Illinois St. at #4 Southern Illinois. Poor Illinois St. So close to being 4-1 and in the Gateway's driver seat, but back-to-back Gateway losses appear to have sealed their fate. Make it their third-straight, oh-so-close loss. SIU 28, ISU 21.

#5 Furman at The Citadel. The Bulldogs used up their one upset this year. Furman 49, The Citadel 13.

Rhode Island at #7 New Hampshire. Nah. UNH 51, URI 10.

#8 Montana St. at Portland St. Every week I hear about how good Portland St. is... and how Bobcat QB Lulay is due for an off week... which of course means, blowout city. MSU 34, PSU 17.

#10 Hampton at Norfolk St. If Hampton is going to lose this year, it will be to their nearby rival. Norfolk St. 19. Hampton 18.

Panhandle St. (D-II) at #11 Texas St. Hard to take a university like "Panhandle State" seriously, even if it wasn't D-II. TSU 70, Teacup... I mean Panhandle St. 0.

#12 William & Mary at Northeastern. The Tribe are good this year; the Huskies are not. W&M 49, N'Eastern 22.

Indiana St. at #14 Northern Iowa. A mad Panther team against a bad Sycamore team? Don't even give me the points. NIU 44, ISU 10.

#18 Georgia Southern at #15 Appalachian St. Likely a playoff game between two hated rivals in ths SoCon. We'll be hearing a lot from the winner about the I-AA playoffs, and nothing from the loser. This year... we're going to hear it from App. St., who is the better team and playing at home. Period. App. St. 37, GSU 10.

Western Illinois at #16 Youngstown St. The Leathernecks can't beat anyone; and they certainly won't beat the Penguins at the Ice Palace. YSU 24, WIU 3.

Southeast Louisiana at #19 Northwestern St. After the Demons made a mockery of my "the home team in the Southland always wins" rule, I will take the home team here... but in a close one. NSU 14, Sela 13.

Gardner-Webb at #20 Coastal Carolina. Did I mention that the Big South, with VMI and Coastal, are a very underrated conference this year? CCU 41, GWU 17.

#22 Delaware at Richmond. A must-win for Delaware, and I think they get it here. Lose, and they're done. The Spiders at 2-3 are basically done anyway, and although they would love nothing better that humiliating the Hens, I don't see it coming. Delaware 17, Richmond 14.

Stephen F. Austin at #23 McNeese St (Lafayette, LA). Watch out for the "home team" Cowboys. They are a solid team that may just win the Southland. MSU 35, SFA 21.

Maine at #24 Hofstra. The Pride need to get by this trap game on their way to an A-10 title shot or the I-AA playoffs. They should. Hofstra 38, Maine 7.

Florida A&M at #25 South Carolina St. The Bulldogs are overrated and should drop out of the Top 25. Plus, I have picked precious few upsets this week. So, why not pick the Rattlers? FAMU 38, SCSU 35.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Press Roundup; Field Condiitons

Word is from Goodman that the field will be soft, but it won't be the chewed-up mess that some fields around the Northeast will be dealing with. At Lafayette, Delaware, UMass and undoubtedly other venues around I-AA, there have been questions as to the conditions at their fields and stadiums.

Delaware had to cancel a home date with Richmond, while UMass's game versus James Madison came very close to cancelling theirs. Lafayette's field was also pretty ripped up, and may be in bad shape for the Harvard game. However, Lehigh's muddy field from last week has been "rolled out", worked over and will be in decent shape (all things considered) this weekend.

Gametime tomorrow may even dry out a bit, should Bethlehem get some sunny weather and some wind. That's the current forecast for the Lehigh Valley - now, let's keep our collective fingers crossed that it holds.

Here's your press roundup for tomorrow.

Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Trying To Look Ahead
Easton Express-Times:
Mountain Hawks Ready To Take On All Elements
New Haven Register:
Yale's Stingy Defense Garnering Rave Reviews

"This is a really, really good Yale team," Mountain Hawks coach Pete Lembo said. "They're a handful of plays away from being undefeated."

Just like Lehigh.

"I’ve watched a lot of film [on the Yale defensive front] and remember many of them from last year. They have a very physical front seven and very physical defense overall. They’re very big, very strong and run to the ball well. Certainly their results are very good."

"So far we’ve done what we thought we could do," Yale coach Jack Siedlecki said. "The two defensive ends (senior Brandon Dyches and junior Brendan Sponheimer) are very active and have made several plays for losses. I think people really have to spend a lot of time developing schemes for them to determine how they are going to stop them."

Dyches, who was referred to as "scary" by Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens prior to last week’s game, leads the team with six tackles for losses and five sacks. He is third with 26 tackles.

"This is a fun defense to play in," said Sponheimer, who has the option to apply for a medical redshirt year. "We really try to hide who is going to drop back and who’s going to rush. It really allows you to play aggressive."

"Brandt is really a guy as active as they are, so if they double up on Brandt, you’re going to get someone free on the edge," Siedlecki said. "If they double up on the edge, Brandt will be free in the middle."

"One of the first things you notice is that the running back is not making it past the first or second level," Yale senior cornerback Matthew Baker said. "That means you don’t have your safeties and corners coming down to make a lot of tackles, or at least not having to make the tackles on their own, which means they’re a little bit more fresh going into the third and fourth quarters.

"We don’t have to worry so much about running backs bouncing off to the outside. "When you don’t have to blitz to get pressure on the quarterback, it makes it a lot easier on coverage because you can drop more people back into coverage."

...

"Our goal going into the season was to make the national playoffs," Graziani said. "If we would go 9-2, we'd have the hope for an at-large (NCAA) bid. We don't think our chance of winning the league is gone at all. Last week is over with. We have six games left. Those games are more important than any of the games we've played this season. We know our backs are up against the wall now."

"I'm not going to lie, I think about it a lot," senior cocaptain and linebacker Anthony Graziani of Pen Argyl said. "We feel we're one of the best teams. Our record doesn't show that. We're 3-2. With four or five (more) plays, we would be 5-0."

"Going back to the Delaware game, there were four or five plays in the fourth quarter where if we would have made just one of those we would have won the game," said Graziani, the squad's leading tackler and a returning All-Patriot League player. "Against Holy Cross, we didn't seal the deal. Two plays lost us the game."

Coach Lembo said, "It is what it is... You can't change it. You can't go back and play the game again. You can't say 'What if we were on a dry field?' and all those kinds of things. Just as I said last week after we beat Harvard, you can't dwell on a game like this. You have to move on."

"Our defense, by far, played its best game of the year[against Holy Cross]," he said. "We tackled better and ran to the ball really well. We shut down the run against a team that has run the ball well all season. We held them to half of what they've rushed for all year.

"On offense, we ran the ball twice as well as we've been averaging all year and we did it without [fullback] Greg Fay playing [back injury]. Our tailbacks [Eric Rath and Marques Thompson] had their best games of the year. It's important to build on some of the good things and continue to do them well."

"We definitely don't have room for another loss," said Porter, whose 91-yard touchdown catch at Harvard two weeks ago was the second-longest pass play in Lehigh history and had the Mountain Hawks flying high at the time. "If we want to get a national bid, our fate is in our hands."

"I think we're definitely suited for any type of weather," Porter said. "In due time, we'll prove that."

...

Lembo, concerning Mark Borda's health: "He'll start. I don't think he'll be 100 percent," Lembo said of Borda, by far the league's leading passer while averaging more than 258 yards a game. "He took a real good shot. He had a good day of practice (Tuesday)."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Preview of Lehigh/Yale

With last week's loss to Holy Cross, this week's game versus Yale has taken on a new importance for the 2005 Mountain Hawks. Certainly my eyes and ears will be focused on seeing how the team comes out and plays against a quality Yale team that is looking seriously at an Ivy League championship this year. I'd imagine that the rest of the I-AA world will be interested as well in Lehigh's reaction to last week's loss. Will the Mountain Hawks fold up the tent, or will Lehigh be a team that nobody in I-AA wants to face the rest of the year?

Yale is a bit of an enigma this year. At 2-2 with convincing wins against Dartmouth and Cornell, they have lost to Holy Cross and mid-major San Diego. They seem like a team that could be extremely dangerous should they put everything all together, but as of this point have not completely. Having said that, they are 2-0 in Ivy play and would like nothing better to return home with a win over Lehigh to make a statement that they're the top dog in the Ivy race.

The TV feed for this game will only be available on Service Electric 2 TV in the Lehigh Valley, or on the radio on ESPN 1230 and 1320 in the Lehigh Valley. My plan is to follow the audio or video feeds on Yahoo! Sports.

Lehigh Injury Report
Senior FB Greg Fay (Back, Questionable)
Junior FS Courtney Elder (Shoulder, Out)
Freshman DB Jarvis Lewis (Groin, Questionable)

In my opinion, Fay's absence was deeply felt last week, but it looks like senior RB Eric Rath will continue to play in the FB position should Fay not be able to go, with sophomore FB John Piascik spelling him. Sophomore DB Ernie Moore takes Elder's backup position again, while taking Lewis' place on special teams may be freshman WR Sekou Yansane.

A Little About Yale
Yale holds a 12-4 lead in this rivalry; however, starting in 1994, Lehigh has taken the last 4 games. Lehigh has never beaten Yale by more than 11 points, so even the four victories were never dominating affairs. Last year, Borda had a breakout game against Yale, but the biggest impact was not on the stat sheet. It was the game where he unquestionably became the leader of the Lehigh offense, by not committing a single turnover, and running the ball in for a couple of key TDs.

A lot of the key players on that Yale team were lost to graduation, most notably QB Alvin Cowan and RB/KR David Carr. However, the defense returns quite a few starters from last year who played against Lehigh last year, and are the top-rated defense in the Ivy at the moment.

Offensive Breakdown
QB Jeff Mroz takes over where Cowan left off. He's not incredibly elusive, but so far he has done a good job passing the ball with 10 TD passes and just about 1,000 yards passing. However, he does have 7 INTs, so he has been known to make mistakes. Last week against Dartmouth he threw 2 picks, and he has at least one INT in every game this year.

On the ground, it's junior RB Jordan Spence or freshman RB Mike McLeod sharing the rushing duties. McLeod is the one to watch out for especially, averaging 4.0 yards per rush with 361 yards rushing and 2 TDs. Last week in the slop, McLeod 83 yards to Spence's 41. Junior FB Taylor Craig up to this point hasn't been a huge offensive threat.

In the first three games, Mroz' biggest targets have been junior WR Ashley Wright and senior WR Todd Feiereisen, with a combined 600+ yards and 6 TDs. They both have good speed and good hands. Last week against Dartmouth, however, saw the return of 5th year senior TE Alex Faherty, which gives the Bulldogs another dangerous passing option. Last week he caught 4 balls in the rain, for 72 yards and a TD. It's Faherty which worries me the most here.

The "O" line is young, huge and talented. They boast 2 300 lb bookend tackles, one of whom is junior LT Ed McCarthy. Averaging only 1 sack a game allowed, these guys are doing a great job protecting Mroz.

Defensive Breakdown
Not only is the defense coming off their first shutout since 2000, they held Dartmouth to 110 net yards last week. I don't care if your'e playing in slop or in Southern California - that's outstanding. These guys are going to be a challenge to contain. Playing a base 5-2-4, they should be difficult to get up-the-middle yards against. They haven't forced a lot of turnovers this year, however.

Senior DE Brandon Dyches is the shining star on the line. With 5 sacks on the year, he also got his first blocked punt of the year last week. The rest of the line is a mix of experience and youth, with 2 sophomores, a junior and another senior in DT Andrew Ralph.

Two juniors hold the two linebacking positions. LB Lee Driftmeier has an INT and is probably the standout at that position.

The secondary is loaded with experience with 3 seniors, and a standout junior in FS Nick Solakian. He has 2 INTs on the year already. The safeties are fairly tall, while the speedsters on the corners are fairly short at 5'10 and 5'11 respectively.

Special Teams Breakdown
Yale's special teams have had their share of problems this year. The Bulldogs gave up an important kickoff return for a TD against Holy Cross that cost them the game. When their starting punter went down to injury, junior WR Ashley Wright had to take over punting duties to mixed results. Finally, sophomore PK Alan Kimball hasn't made a FG attempt over 30 yards this year.

On the brighter side, freshman RB Mike McLeod does have a 43 yard return to his credit. He's the biggest returning threat.

Keys to the Game
1.Special Teams Goal. If there was ever a team where Lehigh could take advantage of special teams depth, it's against Yale. Let's get that punt of kickoff return this week for a score!
2.Stretch the field. Whenever I see a 2 linebacker set, I think immediately to work them with outside runs and effective short passing. Making it a long game outside the hashes could make it a long day for the Bulldogs.
3.Don't lose Faherty! You have to respect TE Faherty underneath. Even though it's hard to ignore Wright and Feiereisen, Faherty offers that extra dimension that could be difficult to stop. It's tempting to have a LB spy him.
4.The "O" trench battle. Lehigh has seen some huge "O" lines the past few weeks, and Yale's line is yet another great one. Another week like last week, where the front seven dominated Holy Cross' "O" line most of the game, would really help make a statement to the rest of the league that we mean business.

Fearless Prediction
Saturday is supposed to be mostly sunny, with highs in the 70s, breaking up a week of rain. And that should suit us Engineers just fine. Yale will play a spirited game, but I see a focused Lehigh team sending a message to the world that we're not just going to go away quietly in the I-AA playoff race.

Lehigh 37, Yale 16

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Polls and Polls; My Lousy Picks

New poll on your right; and we're #21 in the Any Given Saturday and #20 in the Sports Network polls. This could be a very good thing should Lehigh run the table the rest of the way. You know that some of the teams above them in the polls will fall when all is said and done. Lehigh should have an opportunity, no matter what happens with Holy Cross, to be able to qualify for the playoffs, as long as they win games.

I think we re going to see what Lehigh is made of next Saturday. I think we're going to see a mad, dangerous team that will be playing at their best. I think when the Mountain Hawks play at their best, they can beat anyone in the country. The only question is, will they play their best for 6 more games this season? The Yale game will be the answer to that question.

My Lousy Picks
4-2 Patriot, combined with a horrible 8-12 in the rest of the Top 25, equals a 12-14 record. Incredibly lousy. Good thing I don't do this for a living (contrary what you might believe).

Really Right: UMass 27, N'Eastern 0. One of my few bright spots was predicting a UMass shutout. Sure, mine was 16-0, but I'll take it however I can this week.
Should Have Been Right: Western Kentucky 37, Illinois St. 34. The Redbirds couldn't hold the Hilltoppers for 50 freakin' seconds, then they lose it in OT? I knew it would be close - I had ISU 21, WKU 17 - but I thought Illinois St. could get it done when it counted. Obviously not.
Was I Ever Wrong!: Hampton 52, Gardner-Webb 21. You could have picked any number of my picks for this dubious honor this week, but my big mistake was thinking any Big South team had any business being in the same league as Hampton. This blowout was never close. Note to self: Hampton is nationally-ranked for a reason.

Monday, October 10, 2005

No Game Balls Today; Press Roundup

To reiterate from yesterday's post, my customary game balls this weekend are not going to be given out. There also won't be a press digest of the game. Instead I'd strongly suggest you mosey on over to I-AA.org to read my comprehensive writeup of the game. You're looking for the link? Why, I'll be happy to provide it below, along with all the other links to the online press.

Well, OK, I lied a little bit. I will cut-and-paste from Keith Groller's Monday Morning Call piece, which to me is required reading for Lehigh fans after Saturday's game. There is some good stuff there, as always:

Coach Pete Lembo emphasizes each week that his team can't get distracted by stadium locations, mid-term exams, injuries, or even the worst playing conditions for a Lehigh home game in years.

''No way,'' bristled quarterback Mark Borda when asked if the rain was to blame.... ''We have a sign in our locker room that [lists] controllables and uncontrollables. We can't control the weather, but we still had to come to play. Even if it started snowing, we have to stick to our game plan and play. We needed to put more points on the board, and we didn't.''

Lehigh had 206 rushing yards on 54 carries — 108 yards above their average. Eric Rath, amazingly, splashed through the water for 141 yards and Marques Thompson ran for 86 more.

Those yards should have translated into more points, but the fumbles and penalties (nine for 73 yards) kept Holy Cross within two plays of victory and they got those two plays in the fourth quarter with a punt return and a 34-yard TD pass.



Finally, coach Gilmore said something that's been mentioned in several the press clippings that I don't believe to be true:

Of the TD reception, Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said in the press conference “I told my kids the team that wins will be the one that wants it more, and on that play [WR Sean Gruber] wanted it more.”


I-AA.org:
I-AA Diary: Lehigh/Holy Cross: This Ain't Fiction
Allentown Morning Call:
Holy Cross Slides By Lehigh In Opener
Keith Groller: Mountain Hawks Unaccustomed to Losing Games At Goodman
Easton Express-Times:
Crusaders, Elements Put Lehigh On Edge
Brown & White:
Football Loses Patriot League Opener
Boston Globe:
Gripping Victory For Holy Cross (reg'n required)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Holy Cross 13, Lehigh 10

(edit to fix: Drew Nelson defending the pass, and further clarification)

I'm up way too late writing this (after taking care of my I-AA.org piece), but this loss really hurts.

I give Holy Cross full credit in never giving up and finding a way to pull this one out. Lehigh did make some mistakes, but really didn't make any key mistakes on the specific plays that resulted in Crusader TDs. On the TD pass, senior CB Drew Nelson had the correct position on WR Sean Gruber, and once the ball was underthrown he had the ball in his hands. No mistake there - Nelson played the ball perfectly, and on 2nd down, personally I would have wanted him in a position to make the pick there, not try to bat the ball down.

On RB Steve Silva's punt return for a TD, freshman P John Leo punted the ball over Silva's head. He ran back to get the ball, caught a couple of blocks, and got the TD. No mistakes there - it was a very good booming punt in the rain, and the punt coverage unit didn't overcommit or anything. It felt to me like a busted play.

You can fault Lehigh for bad execution during the game, but you can't fault those two plays at all. Obviously 11 fumbles and 3 turnovers are unacceptable. Key penalties negating two important punts in the second half also weren't representative of what Lehigh football should be. On a day when focus and good execution were vital towards the win, the troops showed that at this point they were not where they needed to be when it came right down to winning important games.

However, I feel the season is far from over, and there is time to make this season special once again. There are now six must-win games on the schedule, starting with Yale next week. The Yale game needs to be a crisp "message game" which will illustrate to the rest of the league what sort of team they will be facing the rest of the way. A focused, disciplined team playing at their best, showing what Lehigh football can be, is the only way to go forward from this point.

There were too many lapses to give out any game balls this week. Press roundup tomorrow, including my I-AA.org piece.
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