Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lehigh 19, Lafayette 23, final

Game of tears.

It really hasn't totally sunk in yet, but I can't think of a Lehigh loss that has devastated me more. Seriously. I don't think we were outplayed or outcoached. I think we lost because our team gave away 7 points on a messed-up punt attempt, and because senior QB Pat Davis on Lafayette managed to barely get the ball away and junior RB Jonathan Hurt somehow got open on a completely busted play. Contrary to what the legions of nay-sayers will be spouting in the off-season, no amount of coaching would have changed anything on those plays. There is no gameplan that could have fixed them.

Before that play, I thought the story of the game was how Lehigh's defense did such a great job shutting Lafayette down, especially in the passing game. Senior CB Drew Nelson and junior CB Brannan Thomas were batting away ball after ball, forcing tons of third and fourth downs.

It is with great pain that I say that I feel like Lehigh's season was lost on two broken plays, which I witnessed firsthand at Goodman. Holy Cross' senior WR Sean Gruber making what an Any Given Saturday poster called "the immaculate reception" - senior CB Drew Nelson slipping while Gruber somehow held onto the ball. And now, the 4th-and-10 reception by Hurt on an eerily similar broken play. It makes me want to curse. It makes me want to take the plays back. The plays hurt. BAD. And it's nobody's damn fault! No amount of coaching would have made it better! If the Philadelphia Eagles were out there, the same thing would have happened!

It almost seems like it's my fault. What if I had stood in a different place on the field? What if I had sat in the bleachers? On the grass? What if I didn't pick up that penny that was tails-up in the parking lot on Friday? What if I didn't even show up to the game, and flown to Montana to see the Montana/Montana St. game instead? Would Davis had been sacked instead on that same play, and I'd instead be blogging about the fact we should be hosting a playoff game? Would being in a different state have helped?

I know it sounds crazy, and despite the last pragraph I just wrote, I am a rational college-educated guy. But it was one damn play. Couldn't luck have had something to do with it?

Last years' 24-10 loss to Lafayette was also devasating, but some comfort was to be had by the fact that there was a co-Patriot League championship and a chance at a I-AA playoff bid. We got the bid, we played valiantly against the eventual I-AA champions, and it was easier to call the season a great success.

But this year is different. This year's loss cost us a co-Patriot League title. It cost us the automatic I-AA playoff berth, which now goes to Colgate. And it's likely to have cost us an at-large I-AA playoff berth as well. Definitely? No. Probably? Yes.

Both Lehigh and Lafayette will now be in the at-large playoff discussion, along with Georgia Southern, Furman, Cal Poly, Southern Illinois, Montana, Youngstown St., Richmond, Texas St. South Carolina St., and Coastal Carolina. Here's what my at-large board looks like:

Montana
Georgia Southern
Furman
Texas St.
Southern Illinois
Youngstown St.
Richmond
Cal Poly

If Cal Poly doesn't make it because they played too many provisional teams (which I think would be totally wrong - I think Cal Poly deserves to make the playoff field), then the next teams in my mind would be Lehigh and Lafayette. Lehigh's GPI going into the Lafayette game would be higher, and they're nationally-ranked, but Lafayette beat Lehigh head-to-head and has a win against playoff-cound Richmond. Lehigh beat Colgate at home, and Lafayette lost to Colgate on the road. I could see the I-AA playoff committee making a choice of either team.

Another possibility is Youngstown State not making the field with a D-II win and some wins over lowly Northeastern, Liberty, and Indiana St. Again, I think they make the field over both Lehigh and Lafayette, mostly because they are one of the top teams in terms of attendance.

Another possibility is Richmond, but again, I think they're in over Lehigh or Lafayette since they're 8-3 and have won their last 6 or 7 in a row. Lafayette beat them early in the year, though.

The selection will be tomorrow, but I think the I-AA playoff committee will take Cal Poly, Youngstown St., and Richmond.

Tune in tomorrow. I'll say something.

Watch Lehigh Today!; Other Fearless Predictions

If you're not going to the game, here's where you can score the broadcasts of "The Game":

WFMZ-TV Channel 69 live (Lehigh Valley Area)
Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh live (select markets)
Fox College Sports Atlantic live
DirecTV channel 657 live
DISH Network channel 448 live
Lehighsports.com streaming video live

Oh yeah, I forgot. There are other games being played today. Let me go ahead and pick them, shall I?

Patriot League:
Albany at Fordham. I think the Rams will play better than last week, and will be eager to put this season behind them on a winning note. Fordham 27, Albany 3.

Holy Cross at Bucknell.
Senior RB Steve Silva's final game? He's going to make it one Crusader fans will never forget. HC 49, Bucknell 10.

Georgetown at Colgate. If Georgetown's ends can get to Saraceno, it could be a really interesting day, but with a possible I-AA playoff berth, I think Colgate wins handily. Colgate 21, Gerogetown 0.

I-AA Top 25:
Maine at #1 New Hampshire. No need to worry about this game at Cowell. UNH 45, Maine 10.

#2 Montana at #22 Montana St. Why is it that every time Montana has to play in the "Brawl of the Wild" with something to prove, they never do? MSU 29, Griz 28.

#3 Appalachian St. at Elon. The Mountaineers, on the other hand, don't need to prove anything against the hapless Phoenix. App St. 30, Elon 3.

Savannah St. at #4 Hampton. The Pirates, on the way to a home playoff game, will be playing their second string in the second half. Hampton 38, Savannah St. 7.

#5 Furman at UT-Chattanooga. Although the Paladins are not in jeopardy of losing a playoff bid, a loss might lose them a home playoff game, so they will be motivated to put the Mocs to bed. Furman 41, UT-C 28.

Sam Houston St. at #6 Texas St. Don't be fooled - this is a must-win game for the Bobcats against their hated rival. Hard to see the Bobcats losing this at home. Texas St. 49, SHSU 17.

#7 UMass at Hofstra. Joe Gardi's last game coaching the Pride. Bye, UMass. Hofstra 49, UMass 14.

Northern Arizona at #9 Northern Iowa. The Panthers have their I-AA playoff ticket already punched, so this will be a chance to rest injuries and get a tune-up. They'll win, but they won't risk injury to do it. UNI 30, NAU 20.

Idaho St. at #10 Cal Poly. Firmly on the bubble, the 'Stangs need a dominating win, and should get it. Cal Poly 48, ISU 21.

#16 North Dakota St. at #12 Southern Illinois. The Bison are playing to cap an amazing year, though they are ineligible for the I-AA playoffs since they are still transitioning from D-II. Southern Illinois, however, needs the quality win to prove they are not a bubble team. This will be a good game, and one with national attention. I'll give it to the Bison. NDSU 21, SIU 20.

#13 Coastal Carolina at Charleston Southern. The tea leaves say Coastal is quite possibly in the I-AA playoffs with a win here. "Chuck South" will make it interesting, but I think the Chants just manage the win. CCU 29, CSU 24.

William & Mary at #14 Richmond. "The Oldest Footbal Rivalry In The South" couldn't be bigger for surprising Richmond - win, and they're in. But the Tribe would delight in preventing that from happening, and I think they will. W&M 30, Richmond 27.

UC-Davis at #17 Eastern Washington. Meaningless in the I-AA playoff race, the Eagles are completely dependent on the "Brawl of the Wild" result. I think a Bobcat victory will put more than enough wind in the Eagles' wings to soar into the playoffs. EWU 38, UCD 20.

#18 Brown at Columbia. All that stands in the way of Brown's first Ivy title since 1999 is hapless Columbia, and it doesn't look like much of a game. Brown 56, Columbia 0.

#19 Eastern Illinois at Jacksonville St. If the Panthers win, they're in. If the Gamecocks win... then it's a mess that could end up with the "OVC Lotto-3" drawing. I'm thinking, anarchy. JSU 44, EIU 10.

#21 South Carolina St. at North Carolina A&T. Hoping for some at-large love, they'll whomp on the Aggies hoping for an at-large bid that will never come. SCSU 50, NCA&T 13.

McNeese St. at #23 Nicholls St. The Colonels win, and they're in - it's that simple, though the Cowboys have a real shot if they can spring the upset. But, on the road? No way. NSU 33, MSU 10.

#25 Western Kentucky at Florida International (I-A). It simply doesn't matter. Give me the crappy I-A. Actually, that sounds pretty cool. ("Give me the head of that crappy I-A!"). FIU 28, WKU 24.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Press Mash-up; Link from Alumni Website

One more picture from the Morning Call's collection, this one from my first Lehigh/Lafayette game in 1988. Even though we lost, this game will always have a special place in my heart since it was my first. (By the way, I very much prefer today's players' uniforms to these from yesteryear.)

I want to give a big shout out to eveyone who is linking to me here from the official Lehigh Alumni website. I wanted to tell you all who are floating over here that this blog is not an official part of the University website system and is not endorsed by Lehigh Athletics (as you'll no doubt figure out from all the grammatical and spelling errors), but it is the labor of love from a passionate (some might say rabid, others might say crazy) Lehigh football fan. I've been blogging about our beloved Mountain Hawk football squad since the 2003 season, and it's an honor to be recognized by the official Alumni website as the source for everything about "The Game". Glad you could stop by - grab a Yuengling or an Irish coffee, and stay a while!

Today I'm going to post the remaining links from all the online press regarding this year's Lehigh/Lafayette game, the 141st meeting. Then I'm going to take the highlights of all of them (including those pieces I posted yesterday) and mash them up into one easy-to-read primer, suitable for printing and framing.

(And after that, I'll get my stuff ready for tailgating tomorrow.)

Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Could Win If They Use the Revenge Factor - In Moderation
Lafayette Could Win If They Bring It Early, Then Bring the House

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh: Almost Perfect
Lafayette: Almost Perfect

Brown & White:
141st Meeting To Determine League Title
A Tale of Two Coaches
Leopard QB Hungry For A Championship
Threatt Prepared For First Lafayette Match

Lafayette’s Head Coach Frank Tavani, now in his sixth season at the helm, knows how special this game is.

“It’s the most-played rivalry in the country and has been garnering more and more national attention,” Tavani said. “Obviously, it is a big game and has lasting, positive effects for both institutions. It’s a match-up of two quality academic schools and two historic football programs, and when you combine this with the proximity of the two schools, it creates a tremendous rivalry.”

“The upperclassmen understand the importance of the rivalry, but I don’t think the freshmen do their first time around,” Tavani said. “Once they get their first experience of Lafayette-Lehigh, they’ll learn how important it is for both sides.”

“For one, we have to win the game to make the playoffs,” [senior CB Brannan] Thomas said. “Of course it’s the Lafayette rivalry, so there is nothing like this game. I’m from Florida, so when I first got here, at first when I got here I didn’t know what to expect with it, but it is amazing.”

"You just can't put into one word or one sentence what this game means," said Rath, a former Express-Times Player of the Year while at Pius X. "This is probably my best opportunity to get to a place where I want to be and this team wants to be."

“If the players don’t realize the magnitude of this rivalry before the game, they do when they walk into the stadium and feel the electricity charging through the entire place,” Maurer said. “I’m very excited to play in front of the crowd at Goodman. Playing on the road in front of a raucous crowd is difficult at times, but it is always fun. It brings something out of you.”

"This is a fun week," said Lafayette junior quarterback Brad Maurer, the MVP of last year's 24-10 win over Lehigh at Fisher Field. "I didn't even play in the game as a freshman and I was going crazy on the sideline."

...

The mere mention of last year's game at Fisher Field draws a "How dare you bring that up?" look from Lehigh players and coaches.

It hurt. A lot. Still does.

It had been a long time since the Mountain Hawks had been dominated to that degree by any I-AA foe, and the fact that the domination occurred on College Hill made it all the more frustrating.

"Obviously, the end result was disappointing," coach Pete Lembo said at Lehigh's media luncheon at Starters Pub earlier this week. "But even more disappointing than losing by the 24-10 score was that we didn't play Lehigh football.

"So, there's a sense of pride about it. We want to show that we can play to our potential, to our ability. We want to do things right. It's not something we talked about every day this year. But in a subtle way, in the back of our minds, we feel as though we have something to prove in this game for this group and everybody in the Lehigh community."

"That's the first time I can honestly say I walked off the field as a football player and I personally felt like I cost us the game," said [senior RB Eric] Rath, a former All-State running back at Pius X High School who's become the driving force in Lehigh's backfield.

"After that game, I was emotional. It was the worst loss of my life."

“As you saw in last year’s game, they can exploit any mistakes we make,” Thomas said. “Everyone needs to bring their A game. I know we are going to have our work cut out for us.”

"Try to rectify my mistakes," Rath proclaimed. "Twenty-four to 10 has been in my mind a full year. When I needed to motivate myself, all I needed to do was think back to 24-10."

...

"Our team showed a lot of maturity in handling the Delaware loss, coming here and losing a tough game to Holy Cross," Cardwell said. "No one panicked. But now we're in a situation to accomplish the goals we came into the season with."

"I don't think you can cry over spilled milk," coach Pete Lembo said. "You can't kick the extra point at Delaware again, you can't play Holy Cross on a dry day. What I'm proud of is how we've overcome adversity. I'm pretty pleased with how they have responded with their backs up against the wall the past five weeks."

...


"I think early in the season," safety and second-year captain Kaloma Cardwell said, "if you would've told us we're going to lose the preseason offensive player of the league, we would have worries."

“We’ve both battled adversity this season with injuries,” Tavani said. “Although we haven’t had any major season ending injuries like the one that happened to Mark Borda, we’ve had many injuries throughout the season. In fact, our top two receivers have barely played together because of it.”

QB Sedale Threatt: "The most important thing that I’ve learned from Mark is to keep going, or how to maintain my perseverance. Mark’s first start last year wasn’t his best, but I remember him telling me that all of that doesn’t matter. There’s the next play, the next series, next quarter, next game to worry about. And at this position, one needs a short memory and the will to keep fighting. And that’s exactly what Mark did even on his final play against Yale."

"I want this championship for the seniors," he said. "This is their last shot. I want this for Mark Borda, who worked his tail off for four years and sacrificed his body and broke his leg for me. My teammates have rallied around me, gave me confidence, Now, I want to go out and win for them."

...


"I will not put the ball on the ground again," Rath said with conviction.

"He's really helped us as a strong leader on this team," coach Pete Lembo said. "He really stepped up and shared his feelings about the job that needs to be done and how it needs to be done."

Call it senior experience.

"It does come from a sense of urgency," Rath said. "When you realize things are closing down, and the tunnel's getting narrow, you try to step up and make sure people are doing the right things."

There are a bunch of reasons why Rath will be fired up Saturday, starting with the Patriot League championship that's at stake in what could be his final performance at Goodman Stadium.

"Patriot League championship, a shot at the playoffs, my career, another game, another week with my (football) buddies," Rath said, running down his list of what Saturday means to him.

...


“The situation is eerily similar to that of last season,” Maurer said. “At least a piece of the league championship could be on the line. I don’t think that adds any pressure though. Players usually understand that once the game starts, all the talk about playoffs, [and] rankings doesn’t win you the football game. Whichever team can handle the environment and execute better will come out on top. I’m looking forward to a great game against an excellent team.”

“We’ll prepare the same way we do every week, emphasizing the priorities based on the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent,” Lembo said.

“In a rivalry game, the emotions run high, and I expect a hard fought game by both teams,” Tavani said. “Turnovers and momentum will undoubtedly be keys to the game.”

"If we win at Lehigh, we'll be the champion; it's as simple as that," senior linebacker Blake Costanzo said.

"I don't see Lehigh stopping," Threatt said. "We're going to keep this thing rolling."

Action Item: Friday

ESPN.com is ranking the best college football rivalries on its website. Listed in their 21 rivalries is Lehigh/Lafayette (as it should be). The DOPES over at ESPN.com, however, not only have said that "The Game" started in 1897 (it didn't; it started in 1884), but they also have put in a picture of Louisiana-Lafayette representing "The Game". Rather than put in senior RB Eric Rath, or senior LB Maurice Bennett, they took some moronic stock footage from one of La-Laf's dopey meaningless I-A games and put it in the graphic representing "The Game", the most-played, the best rivalry in all of sports!

I mean, how much Google time would it take to fact-check THAT? Five, maybe ten, seconds?

Your two action items on the night:

1) Click here to Vote and make sure Lehigh/Lafayette is not LAST (where it currently resides). Suggested voting: 1) Lehigh/Lafayette; 2) Harvard/Yale; 3) Amherst/Williams; 4) Army/Navy; 5) the Egg Bowl.

2) Write these dopes at ESPN.com and tell them about their mistake. Feel free to point out my blog as a source of plenty of public domain, free pictures that they use instead. Hit "Report A Bug".

The regularly-schedule Press Roundup will be occuring later tonight. Be there!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Partial Press Roundup Before Lehigh/Lafayette

God, I love this pic from the Morning Call from the classic days of the Lehigh/Lafayette rivalry. Fisher Field features in this picture, which dates the picture to the late 1920s or early 1930s. The Morning Call has a great photo gallery of Lehigh/Lafayette through the years - I'd strongly suggest you go check it out. (Incidentally, the outcome of the game in the picture was almost certainly a Lehigh loss - Lehigh's first win at Fisher Field didn't come until 1934.)

I'm going to round up as much as the press that I can scrounge up for Lehigh/Lafayette this week, in anticipation of the onslaught of stories that we're bound to get tomorrow. Not sure if I'll get a press mash-up together tomorrow, but I'll try.

Allentown Morning Call:
The Name of the Father - But Little Else - For Sedale Threatt

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh's Rath Has Personal Agenda

Lehighsports.com:
Gerran Walker: A Fast Learner

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Preview of the 141st meeting: Lafayette/Lehigh

Remember when? November 20th, 2004? The 140th meeting?

Were you huddled in Fisher Field's stands, watching this guy, Lafayette's junior QB Brad Maurer, create 232 yards of offense for the Leopards?

Did you see LB Maurice Bennett punish Lehigh's offense with 11 tackles? Did you see LB Justin Stovall force two key fumbles, leading to Lafayette's 24-10 win?

Did you stick around to see him collect his Lehigh/Lafayette MVP trophy?

Did you stick around to see Lafayette carry their Patriot League championship trophy around Fisher field?

Did you see Lafayette fans storm the field to celebrate?

Did you have that sick feeling after the game that Lehigh's wonderful season was now laying in tatters? Did you have a restless night wondering if Lehigh will be selected to the I-AA playoffs as an at-large team?

I did. And I bet everyone involved in the Lehigh program did as well.

Well, it's nearly been a year since this game. The rest of the regular season has been played, and Lehigh and Lafayette once again are alive for the Patriot League title. Lehigh's mantra is really simple - win, and they clinch a co-Patriot League championship and a I-AA playoff berth - but truth be known, the loss on November 20, 2004 has been burning for an entire year. Even if Lehigh were 0-10 going into this game, Lehigh would be wishing to extract a pound of Leopard flesh.

Lafayette still has a dream of a Patriot League co-championship and a I-AA playoff berth. They will be out to try to capture that on Saturday, and they will be ready. This will be Lehigh's toughest challenge of the year in a season of tough challenges. The Delaware, Harvard, Holy Cross, and Colgate games were great challenges, but the final challege of beating Lafayette awaits.

And, Lehigh Nation hopes, avenging 2004.

Lehigh Injury Report
Senior QB Mark Borda (Ankle, Out)
Sophomore OL Mike Dodson (Groin, Questionable)
Junior FS Courtney Elder (Shoulder, Out)
Sophomore DB Ernie Moore (Knee, Doubtful)
Junior DB Calvin LaMont (Groin, Questionable)
Junior DE Matt Mohler (Ankle, Questionable)

So much for playing games with the injury report! The biggest injury worries (carrying over from last week) on Lehigh concern the starting defensive line, with senior DE Owen Breininger and junior DE Matt Mohler. Against Fordham, there were plenty of other linemen who stepped up their games - notably junior DE Paul Fabre, senior DT Chris Zambrano, and junior DT Josh Cooney - but it will be very interesting to see who is going to be starting on the "D" Line. Other than that, it looks like we'll be entering "The Game" reasonably healthy.

A Little About Lafayette
Lafayette is an excellent team with lots of talent. There's a reason why they are 7-3 and still in the hunt for a Patriot League title. They have a powerful defense - 10 of 11 Leopard starters return from last year's squad that held Lehigh to 10 points. Their offense has struggled at times this year, but last week they lit up Holy Cross for 41 points and seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. Of course nobody's going to overlook Lafayette, but it's important to consider how close they've come to being squarely in control of the Patriot League race.

They have been in every game this year, even in their three losses. Against 6-3 Princeton, had they been able to hold the Tigers once, they would have had an excellent chance to get in position for a game-winning FG. Against 6-3 Harvard, they were stopped on 4th down inside the 20 driving for the game-tying TD. Against 7-3 Colgate, the game-tying FG fell just short.

Should Lafayette lose on Saturday, the storyline for thier 2005 season will be that they could not reverse the tide of history by losing to Princeton (4-34-3 lifetime), Harvard (2-7 lifetime), Colgate (9-35-4 lifetime), and Lehigh (1-7 lifetime at Goodman Stadium).

Offensive Breakdown
Lafayette has struggled at times on offense this year as they've sturggled to get a good offensive rhythm. Against Holy Cross, they appear to have righted the ship, and head coach Frank Tavani is not afraid to hammer at a perceived weakness to get what he wants.

Junior QB Brad Maurer has started every game for the Leopards this year. However, Lafayette really has a two-headed QB. For five games this year, senior QB Pat Davis has come in to spell Maurer, so when you prepare for the Leopards you're really preparing against both QBs. Don't be surprised to see both on Saturday - we may even see Davis start. After a tough start to the year where he was playing hurt, Maurer has emerged again as a multidimensional threat running the ball and passing the ball. Davis has a stronger arm and is more of a pocket passer, but both are excellent players. QB is a strength no matter who's back there.

With the season-ending injury to senior RB Alfred Belton, junior RB Jonathan Hurt was thrust into the primary rushing role. A bruising back, he's the meat grinder to Maurer's outside running, but can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Last week he had 125 yards rushing and 2 TDs against Holy Cross, so again he's hitting his stride at the right time. Sophomore RB Anthony D'Urso is another bruiser and spells Hurt occasionally. Senior FB David Nelson is the lead blocker that helps grind out their yardage, and although he doesn't have his number called often while rushing, he's a very good blocker and also has good hands catching the ball.

A pair of senior wideouts - Joe Ort and Brandon Stanford - return as the top pass catching threats on the Leopards, though the passing game is spread pretty evenly between Ort, Stanford, senior WR Archie Fisher and freshman WR Shaun Adair. Add to this mix senior TEs Chad Walker and Brandon Hall - both whom can also catch the ball out of the backfield - and you have a passing attack that's not centered on one guy. When it's clicking, like it did last year in the 140th meeting, you have a team that will eat you alive.

The Lafayette "O" line has been shuffled around a lot this year due to injury, but with a pair of 300 lb players in seniors Joel Miner and Drew Buettner, they are still one of the beefiest lines in the Patriot League. They have not gelled as well as last year's squad, having fewer rushing yards and allowing more sacks than last year.

Defensive Breakdown
The Lafayette defense is one of the best in I-AA, period. They're allowing an average of 15.1 points per game. It's not just one strong player - it's a veteran defense that has been playing great all year. Playing a base 4-3, they have a bruising pass rush, a knack of stopping people on 3rd down (32%), and an opportunistic defense (15 takeaways on the year).

Senior DE Andrew Brown is the best tackler on a surprisingly smallish line with 59 tackles. The front four are smallish in the defensive tackles, but with their fantastic linebackers, it's debatable if you want to test that all the time. Senior MLB Maurice Bennett is a Buck Buchanan award finalist, and that's no fluke with his 117 tackles and 7 sacks on the year. He could very well be an NFL draft pick next year.

As great as Bennett is, you'd be foolish to overlook the outside linebackers in seniors Blake Costanzo and Dion Witherspoon, great tacklers in their own right. Combined they have 157 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks. With Costanzo's 2 INTs on the year as well, they are also good in pass defense as well. Overall, the Leopard linebacking unit is the best in the Patriot, bar none.

The defensive backfield is also real strong, especially on the corners with seniors Larry Johnson and Tye Murphy. Juniors Trey Martell and Torian Johnson are no slouches, either. They're only giving up 162 yards passing per game.

This will be the best defense that Lehigh, and sophomore QB Sedale Threatt, has faced all year.

Special Teams Breakdown
Brandon Stanford and Larry Johnson return kicks, and are near the top of I-AA in both categories, so that has to be a huge concern. Junior K Rich Ziska is holding down the kicking duties, while sophomore P David Yankovich holds the punting duties. Both have struggled with accuracy and leg.

Keys To The Game
1.Winning the turnover battle. This is important every week, but more so in this huge rivalry game. You have to expect a close game, and turnovers can be the difference in the game. Win the turnover battle, win the game.
2.Defensive looks. Keeping Maurer and Davis on their heels with different defensive looks could keep them on their heels and break their offensive rhythm.
3.Time of possession. Hanging onto the ball and tiring out the defense can be a huge boost to Lehigh's prospects for the "W". Execution in this game is critical.
4.Big Plays. It seems like these games always come down to big plays. If Lehigh can get more big plays than Lafayette, I think we may be sleeping soundly with visions of I-AA success in our heads.

Fearless Prediction
I really liked what I saw last week from Lehigh... and, unfortunately, Lafayette. There will be electricity in the air. Sparks will fly on the field, with 16,000 anxious fans looking on. And I see this game as a super-tight affair. I see this one as a back-and-forth affair. There's just too much emotion on the field for it to be a blowout one way or another, and too much skill to make it a runaway for either team.

There will be big plays, and I feel it will be going down to the 4th quarter this year. For Lafayette, one more time this year, the Leopards come out just barely short.

Lehigh 34, Lafayette 27

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Poll; A Historical Rivalry; My Lehigh/Lafayette Memories

The picture above is of a Lehigh/Lafayette game at around the turn of the 19th century. The source year is not given (courtesy of Yale Digital Images, Walter Camp collection), but my guess would sometime between 1907 and 1911, a stretch where Lafayette won four of five games, including two shutouts.

It's easy to focus on the modern rivalry, with Patriot League titles on the line and I-AA playoff berths, but it's worthwhile to go over the great history of the rivalry on the run-up to Saturday.

Lehigh/Lafayette Through the Years
In 1884, football coaches Theodore L. Welles of Lafayette and Richard Harding Davis of Lehigh organized the first-ever match between the two teams. Lehigh and Lafayette, both being young colleges playing the newfangled "sport" of American football, seemed a natural to play each other since their campuses were a mere 21 miles apart. Football back then scarcely resembled the game of today. Back then, it was more of a mixture of rugby and soccer, and the rules were constantly changing. Lafayette's bigger and more experienced team had three seasons under their belts, while this would be Lehigh's first-ever football season.

They arranged for one game in Bethlehem that year, and one game in Easton. The inexperienced Lehigh team got crushed both times, by a combined score of 84-4. It's that year where Lehigh players and students must have started their visceral dislike for all things Leopard.

Lehigh finally was able to turn the tables in 1887 by a score of 10-4. After the game, Lehigh freshmen set fire to their own decrepit stands because it "was an eyesore and a disgrace to the Athletic Grounds". It's great that nowadays, we can fire off a stern email to the Athletic Department if we're unhappy with our facilities, but it shows you that even back then, Lehigh fans were psychotically fanatical about their football team.

Overall, Lehigh is 62-73-5 against the Leopards. The longest Lehigh losing streak was from 1937-1949, where the Engineers went 0-11-1 against hated Lafayette during that span. The longest consecutive Lehigh winning streak? Fast forward to 1995-2001, where Lehigh had won seven straight against the Leopards.

"The Game" has thrilled Lehigh and Lafayette fans alike with great individual performances, classic games, and strange stories. In 1977 "Rieker-to-Kreider" led the way to a 35-17 victory over Lafayette on the way to Lehigh's Division II championship. In 1987, the last-ever game was played at Taylor Stadium as the fans started tearing up old Taylor Stadium early in the 4th quarter. (Lehigh would win, 17-10).

In 1988, Lafayette beat Lehigh 52-45 in a shootout featuring Lafayette QB Frank Baur. 1994 was Lafayette RB Erik Marsh's swan song as he rewrote the Leopard record books as they crushed Lehigh 54-20. In 1995, Lehigh fans at Goodman saw a thrilling 37-30 OT victory with WR Brian Klingerman catching the game-winning pass with one hand in the corner of the end zone. There's also 2003, where Lehigh RB Jermaine Pugh had 265 all-purpose yards, including a big punt return for a TD, in a 30-10 victory.

My Experiences With "The Game"
My first "Game" was back in 1988, my Freshman year. Back then, not having the I-AA playoffs to play for, the goal of the game was twofold: 1) for Lehigh to win, and 2) to storm the field to get souvenirs from the game, such as the end zone markers and bits of the goalposts. This postgame riot was considered a "tradition" of Lehigh/Lafayette. In anticipation of the amount of people who would be storming the field, security had been beefed up, and the metal goalposts were replaced by wooden ones to make for easier tearing-down. Even though security was tightened, there were always fights between fans, and ultimately there were scores of arrests.

That day, it seemed like every time the offense touched the ball either Lafayette or Lehigh scored. Ultimately Lafayette prevailed 52-45, although Lehigh never really took the lead as much as they kept the game close. Lafayette won the Patriot championship that year, and after storming the field with my buddies, I managed to get one of the end-zone markers. (Which was stolen from me by some girl, but that's a story for another time.)

Back in my college time, to most fans the "Game" was not as important as tailgating and storming the field. Most fans didn't bother studying Mark McGowan's passing statistics or Bryant Appling's tackles for the year (like me) - they were there because, well, you just had to be there. Fraternities scored large chunks of the goalposts, and hung them proudly in their living quarters. Large amounts of "liquid refreshment" were consumed by all. Stories on the way home involved how many Lafayette fans were punched out, and how you managed to grab that elusive piece of the goalpost, and - oh yeah, we'll get 'em next year. All of us generally froze our tails off in an all-day and all-night party. It was exhilirating.

In 1990, I hitched a ride to Fisher Field with a few friends in a VW Bus. Yes, a VW Bus. I don't know at this time how we got to the game alive and in one piece, but we got to the game early, sang the song "Magic Bus", loaded up on other people's hotdogs and hamburgers, had lots of "Natty Bo's" (National Bohemian, the cheapest brew on the market at that time), and saw Lehigh dominate the Leopards 35-14. This game was my first Lehigh victory, and during the postgame melee I got a "piece" of the goalpost. I say "piece", for my goalpost shard couldn't have been more than 3 inches long - as 2 fraternities were fighting over a huge piece, a little shard came off in my hands. Triumphantly, I headed back to campus on a much safer bus, my souvenir tucked away in my coat pocket.

"The Game" unites Lehigh and Lafayette fans of all ages, coming back to experience the release of a semester's worth of pent-up frustrations. Back then, the postgame riot, rightly or wrongly, was the way to express that release. Now, a lusty "Lafayette Sucks!" in the stands would do the trick nicely - and much more safely, too.

The Lehigh/Lafayette game during my senior year in 1991 could be considered the final days of this "riot" era. In that game, in defiance of the "traditions" of the wooden goalposts, Lehigh erected metal goalposts, and got the local authorities involved in keeping order. (No Patriot League title was on the line since Holy Cross had the championship wrapped up.) Even though students and fans were repeatedly warned not to storm the field (in which Lehigh dominated, 36-18), many fans still did storm the field (me and my friends not being among them). The fans on the field, frustrated at not being able to rip down the goalposts, picked up hunks of turf and started to throw them at the cops trying to restore order on the field. Not surprisingly, the cops went out and beat up a lot of the "fans" on the field that day, in front of many horrified students and alumni. Not a banner day for the Rivalry.

In the years that followed, my friends and I all got jobs or went to graduate school. But every year, we would have our yearly reunion to see Lehigh play Lafayette. Slowly the game stopped being about beer, riots, and a release of pent-up energy. Instead, it was about elaborate tailgates, meeting old friends, announcing engagements, and collecting in the spirit of beating the hated Leopards. Yankee fans stand side-by-side with Red Sox fans. Giant fans and Eagle fans stand toe to toe. Republicans and Democrats cheer in unison, united for one day only in fandom.
The tailgates have gone from hockey-puck burgers and charred hot dogs to gourmet buffalo wings, chips, dips, cakes and desserts. Ultimately they would also involve news of marriage, divorce, children, and catching up with friends. With the craziness of kids fighting in Iraq, the unsettling news of White House indictments, fears about job security, and the uncertainties of daily family life, on this day Lehigh/Lafayette takes on more importance. It's a comforting distraction to life's tidal wave. Politics and life's challenges can wait. It's Lehigh/Lafayette.

This year, it's going to be early to Goodman, and my 2 year old son will be at his first Lehigh/Lafayette tailgate. I couldn't be more excited.

My Best and Worst Lehigh/Lafayette games
Worst game: Last year, Lafayette beating Lehigh 24-10 and snatching a Patriot League co-championship and I-AA playoff berth out of the deal. I thought Lehigh had lost it all that day - a beautiful season brought to a quick, premature halt. Fortunately, we were picked - to everyone's surprise - to host James Madison in the first round of the I-AA playoffs the following week.

Second worst game: 1994 at Fisher Field, where Erik Marsh ran roughshod over the Lehigh defense and blew the Engineers out for the Leopards' third Patriot League title. It's the only game where I felt physically ill afterwards (and no, it's not because of the beer).

Best game: Easily 1995, where Lehigh won the Patriot title, 37-30 in overtime (the first overtime Lehigh/Lafayette game). Brian Klingerman caught a one-handed grab just after night fell in Murray Goodman to give Lehigh the win, after Lehigh came back from a 16 point fourth-quarter deficit. It seemed like if a third overtime period were needed, it was debatable if there would have been enough light to play the game! (Murray Goodman doesn't have lights.)

Second Best: 1993, Lehigh dominating the Leopards, 35-19, for their first-ever Patriot championship, on a bitter cold day. It also was the end of the Hank Small era at Lehigh.

What's yours?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Press Mashup; Game Balls; More Lehigh/Lafayette Hype

I can't seem to get senior RB Eric "TNT" Rath out of these photos (this photo courtesy of the Morning Call)!

The game balls were difficult to pass out this week, which is probably a good thing - it indicates that it was a very good team effort. Dear reader, I did however manage to honor those that are most deserving this week.

On offense, I'm going to honor the entire "O" Line once again: sophomore T Jimmy Kehs, senior T Tom Toth, junior G Jim Petrucelli, sophomore G Mike Dodson, and junior C John Reese. With only 1 meaningless sack allowed, and 517 yards of total offense on a great offensive team effort, it's clear that the foundation of that is great "O" line play - and without one of their regulars to boot.

Sophomore QB Sedale Threatt made some great progress from last week and is also getting a game ball for his 349 yards of total offense and 4 TDs. He hasn't earned the nickname yet, though he did earn this must-read ariticle about his background from the Easton Express-Times. I think a legendary Lehigh/Lafayette performance could do the trick for me.

Finaly, senior WR Gerran "G" Walker and senior WR Winfred Porter picked a great day to have a great performance and gets the last offensive game balls. No TDs, but both combined for 7 receptions for 142 yards, 2 kickoff returns for 22 yards, and (for good measure) a 16 yard pass to senior WR Adam Kovacs. The dynamic duo obviously had Fordham's defensive coordinator tied up in knots. Congratulations to all!

On defense, it's no contest who will be getting game balls. The first four are definitely going to four defensive linemen: senior DT Josh Cooney, senior DE Chris Zambrano, senior DT Will Mitchell, and junior DE Paul Fabre. It's not just the 7 1/2 sacks these warriors piled up - it's holding the Ram rushing game to an eye-popping 65 net rushing yads, averaging 1.7 yards per rush. When Fordham had to pass, not only did senior LB Matt Purdy stuff them on fourth down, he broke up three passes, earning him the final game ball on the defense.

On special teams, it's going to be freshman RB Matt McGowan who gets the nod with two special teams tackles. Congratulations to all the winners!

I'm going give you, dear reader, the press mash-up now in order to get to even more stuff to pump you up to Lehigh/Lafayette this weekend.

For those of you tuning in late to the Lehigh football season, for Lehigh the mission is clear - win the game, we win at worst a co-championship with Colgate, and we are definitely in the I-AA playoffs. Not to mention we get to avenge last year's 24-10 loss to the Leopards - a loss that still stings to all diehard Lehigh fans.

Lehigh is completely in control of their own destiny. Win, and Lehigh sleeps well with another Patriot League championship and finds out on Sunday who they will be playing next Saturday. Lose, and it's a sleepless night of hoping for upsets and kind I-AA playoff committees. Every Lehigh player went through that last year. They won't want to go through that again.

Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Wins To Set The Stage
Lembo: The Victors Often Get Spoiled
Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh's Focus Is on Lafayette
Brown & White:
Football Team Rolls Over Fordham, Prepares For Lafayette

Head Coach Pete Lembo said he was pleased with his team's triumph over Fordham.

“It was a very solid effort overall," he said. "We were very focused throughout the week of practice, and I think it showed in our performance today, particularly the first half. Our defense held them to under 150 yards of total offense, so that’s an outstanding effort across the board.”

“We just came out, played hard, and we had to put everything together because this was a must-win game,” [junior RB Marques] Thompson said. “I think the effort was there and we came out with a win.”

"I guess I really just wanted to get after it at the start," [sophomore QB Sedale] Threatt said. "My execution was bad last week. I wanted to execute today."

"They say a quarterback has to have a short memory," Threatt said after leading Lehigh to its fourth straight 40-point performance. "Last week I didn't play my best, but that was out the window. Coach [Lembo] stresses every day that it's a one-week season. So, I just wanted to come out focused and execute. Our offensive line played great and the wide receivers made plays.

"When you have talent like these guys have, they'll go up and they'll go get the ball," said Threatt, who spread the wealth around by connecting at least twice with six different receivers. "I'm throwing up ducks and my wide receivers are going up after it."

"At every single position, the ball can come your way at any time," [senior WR Winfred] Porter said. "We knew the ball was going to be distributed evenly, even in spring ball."

"I like him," Porter -- who caught four passes for 81 yards -- said of Threatt. "He's exciting, fun to play with."

"This was our most consistent defensive effort of the season," Lembo said. "The score indicates that, but also, with the exception of that one long run [a 48-yarder by Jonte Coven] we didn't give up any big plays.

"We played the ball well in the air when they took shots down the field and we got a good pass rush all afternoon and controlled the line of scrimmage."

“The defense played pretty well," junior running back Marques Thompson said. "The offense came out in the first half and played one of our best halves all season, but second half we let up a little.”

"We started the season with a couple of new coaches and putting some new stuff in here and there, but it's coming together and we're playing our best defense of the season," [senior DL Josh] Cooney said. "We're peaking just before the last game of the regular season and that's exactly what you want to do."

"We're just starting to gel together," said Cooney, who spearheaded an effort that held Fordham to 128 total yards and one field goal despite missing starting defensive ends Owen Breininger and Matt Mohler with injuries. "Hopefully, we'll play real well in this next game, and go on after that."

...

"We're really spoiled," he said. "We lose a great quarterback in Mark Borda and we're going with a backup [Sedale Threatt] who basically hadn't played at all before and we've won four straight games with him as our starter."

"We won our sixth game two weeks ago and I got one e-mail from an alum who said 'congratulations on a winning season,' and it reminded me that to a lot of people a winning season is a big deal, but here we're spoiled," Lembo said. "We're spoiled in a good way, but also a bad way.

"We have had a season with a lot of major injuries and yet I don't know if from the outside looking in, or even among our own people, if too much is taken for granted. This team has done a great job of overcoming adversity.

"We're really blessed and I certainly don't take it for granted even if some people do," he said. "An awful lot of people who are close to the program and know the details of what this team has gone through, have an appreciation of what has been accomplished so far.

"It's nice to know another championship is right within our grasp. We have to go at things this week the same way that we've gotten after it the last several weeks."

...

The bitter memory of what happened that dreary day in Easton last November has been embedded in Lehigh minds for a year, but needed to be cast aside for 10 games.

Now, even Mr. One-Game-At-A-Time himself, coach Pete Lembo, can bring up Lafayette without chastising himself.

"They won big today, right?" Lembo asked before getting confirmation of the Leopards' 41-21 rout of Holy Cross. "They scored a lot of points, their most since their Marist win. Obviously, they're playing very well, too."

"Very happy," Cooney said. "It's coming down to a championship in the last game of the season against Lafayette. Couldn't ask for anything better than that."

"Obviously they're playing very well right now," coach Pete Lembo said of his team's nemesis. "We put ourselves in bad position early in the year. I'm proud of the kids. They fought for this and put themselves in this situation.

“We’ve got to have a great week of preparation. This will be
our toughest game of the season, I’m sure.

"Our players know that if they come out and execute against Lafayette, they'll get to play another game. If they don't, then we'll be sitting up in the middle of the night waiting and hoping certain people lose and all of that stuff you don't want to worry about.

"If we win, even by one point next week, we'll know for sure we'll be playing somewhere on Thanksgiving weekend."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Getting ready for Lehigh/Lafayette

Every year, my personal tagline for this game is, "Harvard/Yale is that OTHER game; Lehigh/Lafayette is THE Game". It's not too early to start talking about the 141st meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette the most-played college football rivalry. Yeah, I know, it's not time to forget the great play of the Lehigh defensive line from last Saturday - 8 sacks, helping force 3 turnovers. But Lehigh/Lafayette week starts now, and there's an army of students, alumni, and fans that are solidifying their tailgating plans right now.

To the uninformed, the dull, and the most of the national college football media circuit, many folks think that Harvard/Yale is to be considered "The Game". Ha! Lehigh/Lafayette has more on the line (especially this year), is more historic, and has a longer and richer history than that "other" game. Witness the statistics:

Number of meetings:
Harvard/Yale: 121 (through 2004)
Lehigh/Lafayette: 140 (through 2004)

Streak of consecutive years with at least 1 game played:
Harvard/Yale: 1945-2004
Lehigh/Lafayette: 1897-2004

I-AA Playoff implications:
Harvard/Yale: none
Lehigh/Lafayette: Lehigh is in if they win; Lafayette has a chance if they win

Also worthy of mention is: No two schools' rivalry has as long an unbroken yearly streak as Lehigh/Lafayette. Also, no two schools' rivalry has played as many games as Lehigh/Lafayette.

So, what's to debate? Lehigh/Lafayette's "The Game". Harvard/Yale is clearly "the other game".

I'll be writing more about the gameday traditions and my own personal Lehigh/Lafayette experiences later this week. If you want to brush up on more of the history of the game, two excellent sources are "The Lehigh/Lafayette Legacy", a PBS documentary on the rivalry (which may be replayed sometume this week in the Lehigh Valley), and the terrific book "Legends of Lehigh-Lafayette: College Football’s Most Played Rivalry,” written by Todd Davidson and Bob Donchez.
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