Saturday, September 09, 2006

Lehigh 31, Villanova 28, final

Wow!

Wow!

Hard to know where to begin. Oh, I know. Sedale? You're "The Total Package" now. Get used to it: Sedale "The Total Package" Threatt. I don't know the exact stats, but I think that he's responsible for 2,308 yards passing, 1,699 yards rushing and about 10 TDs, or so it seems.

Sophomore RB Matt McGowan - a huge run right to put the game away, with senior G Jim Petrucelli making the sealing block to get it done. (Thanks, CN8, for pointing that out postgame.) Great playcalling by the coaching staff to get it done, with a huge assist by senior RB Marques Thompson getting the monster gain down the left sideline.

The defense? Well, let's start with a huge goalline stand, down by 4 late in the 4th quarter, with the defense getting a huge 3-and-out. Two tough hits, one by senior FS Ernie Moore, and another big hit on Villanova's QB Marvin Burroughs by senior DT Royce Morgan (in his first game back against the team that injured him - talk about redempton). Then, Julian Ahye makes a huge defensive play on 3rd down. Then, the FG wide left!

Then, Sedale, Marques and Matt embark on the heroic drive, and we go up 31-28. Then, Villanova gets the ball back with 3 minutes to play. The Hawk defense shuts them down! On 4th down, it looks like Villanova's QB Burroughs is going to make yet another huge play to get a first down. Then. senior LB MicaDB Daynin "Sprint" Blake comes out of nowhere, barely gets Burroughs' legs and -- it's basically over? Despite an interesting final 15 seconds, it was a real heroes job by Lehigh all around - offense, defense, and special teams!

What a huge win. The whole Lehigh family needed this. After the misstep versus Albany, there were serious doubts about the year. I wasn't sure they could do it - I picked them to lose this week. I couldn't be happier to be proved wrong.

Last week, I said that a Lehigh win versus Villanova would not only erase the Albany loss from Lehigh fans' psyches, it would also mean that Lehigh would possess the best Patriot League win of the young season. It happened. We're not the champions yet. But I think we'll be looking back on this one all season as a moment which shows the mettle of this bunch of kids. A great, great win.

Princeton will not be easy. They are a very good Ivy team with some more big offensive and defensive lines to face. But tonight? We raise our Yuenglings high. It's a happy night in Bethlehem, and the night is young.

Lehigh 31, Villnova 28, 1:07 to play

WHAT A SACK!!! LEHIGH, 1ST AND 10, ON VILLANOVA'S 20!!!!!

Lehigh 31, Villanova 28, 3:00 to play

BOO-YA!

Villanova 28, Lehigh 24, under 5 to play

Wide Left! Under 5 minutes to play!

Villanova 28, Lehigh 24, under 4 minutes to go

A huge 3rd and goal by Villanova at the 6 yard line.

A stop here, limiting them to 3 points, would be huge.

Villanova 28, Lehigh 24, early 4th

Admittedly a nice drive by Villanova to go back ahead. Senior SS Julian Austin laid some awwsome hits on the drive, but on a broken play Villanova's QB Burroughs plowed in on the right side.

I have confidence Lehigh can get this done, however.

Lehigh 24, Villanova 21, end 3rd

Great quarter. Can we get a TD here to really heap on the pressure?

Lehigh 24, Villanova 21, 3:32 left, 3rdQ

First lead of the game for Lehigh. Awesome, awesome offense. Actually, it's been a great quarter so far as everything seems to be coming together.

For now. It's still way early to celebrate, but I'm elated by what I'm seeing.

Lehigh 21, Villanova 21, early 3rd

Wow! Awesome drive! Big shout-out to the offense!!!

Villanova 21, Lehigh 14, halftime

I keep wondering how the game would be had the troops not dropped three huge passes, one in the end one near the end of the half. The missed FG was a big disappointment after the offense did such a valiant job driving the length of the field and getting an opportunity to tie the game by halftime.

Lehigh is playing extremely well, and is unquestionably in this game. Play has improved immensely from last week to next, and Sedale has been spectacular. The "D" started tough but has faded in the second quarter. Of some concern was at the end of the quarter, the Wildcats were able to muscle it in with two runs with their senior RB Dicken.

Lehigh has proven it can hang with Villanova, and I am pulling hard for these guys to pull off the "upset" win. It's frustrating with a ton of questionable calls (one of the TDs, where the Villanova's FB went down at the 3 but he was credited with the TD, for one simple example).

We are looking lots better out there this week. I'd like cleaner play with fewer mistakes, but it is only week two. Vital will be getting a big drive at halftime and (hopefully) tying this at 21 early in the 3rd.

Villanova 14, Lehigh 14, mid-2nd

Quote the CN8 "C" Announcing team:

"Boy, Lehigh has 1st and the state of Pennsylvania to go!" [30]

"Down 14-0, Lehigh will either fight back or pack it in.

Um, whahppun? A great drive led by Threatt, and an awesome punt return for TD? And it's 14-14?

YEAH BABY! "New Game!" Thank you CN8 "C" Team!

Lehigh 0, Villanova 0, end 1st

Hopefully you're not listening to the idiotic call by the CN8 homers in favor of Villanova, where Villanova chop blocks are called "good blocking", every mistake is "bad execution by Lehigh" and Villanova's play are all as divine as Knute Rockne. In REALITY-WORLD, Lehigh has played very well, especially defensively.

Two missed opportunities by Lehigh are the key difference, a 4th-and-1 fumble by Threatt (followed by a phantom foul on sophomore RB Matt McGowan), and a heartbreaking drop by senior WR Lee Thomas on a flea-flicker.

This feels like a matchup between even teams. I'm getting a feeling this one will be close if it keeps up.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Friday Water Cooler: Lehigh/Villanova

The "Friday Water Cooler" returns with some more spirited discussion on the weekend ahead. There's lots of Patriot League, I-AA, and Lehigh/Villanova tailgating action that's not to be missed!

Broadcast Info
Aside from listening or watching the game over the internet through lehighsports.com (click on Yahoo! College broadcast), this week's 6:00PM start will be carried by Channel 69 Allentown and by CN8 (Comcast) through most of the northeast. (There, you can catch Holy Cross/Northeastern at 1PM, and then Lehigh/Villanova at 6PM.)

I am really regretting the fact that I simply cannot go to this game live - family comes first. But I will also be here at home by 6PM (hopefully) watching the game live, blogging about it as well. Unfortunately, my Yuenglings will have to be enjoyed at home rather than at Villanova.

For those alumni going to the game, don't miss the alumni tailgate at the Law Department Parking lot starting at 3:30PM. It sounds like it will be an all-afternoon affair not only for this tailgate, but for all the other folks going to the Main Line to check the game out as well. It will be great, I am sure! I'm just sad that I have to miss it.

I-AA versus I-A
I'm not the first to congratulate three great wins last week by I-AA teams over I-A teams, but I need to extend my hearty congratulations to Richmond, Montana State and Portland State last week. Richmond blanked Duke 13-0, Portland State shut down New Mexico 17-6, and (in the biggest shocker of the day) Montana State beat Colorado by MORE THAN A TOUCHDOWN, 19-10.

Richmond winning was not a surprise (heck, I picked it last week), even though a shutout is somewhat of a surprise. Portland State beating a bad New Mexico team was not out of the realm of possibility. But I-A Colorado's loss to Montana State is different without a doubt. Colorado has a history in D-I - chances at the national championship, classic games (the "hail mary" versus Michigan in the early '90s leaps to mind), and a dominant program through history. Last year they were in the Big 12 Championship game. To beat them - with a QB in his first collegiate start, no less - was nothing short of amazing.

Montana State is on everyone's lips in college football - D-I, D-I-AA, everywhere. This is a huge win for the Big Sky and I-AA. It will be interesting to see if it's one of those magical years for the Bobcats in 2006.

Last Week's Water Cooler Picks
16-2! Yes, you read right, 16-2! One game I missed was the game everyone else in America would have missed - Montana State's upset over I-A Colorado. I'd gladly exchange the 16-2 record for the other game I got wrong -- you guessed it, Lehigh/Albany.

Water Cooler Picks: Patriot League, Week 2
This will be quick.

Northeastern over Holy Cross. This should be a close, defensive game too, but give the edge to the A-10 here. N'Eastern 17, HC 14.

Fordham over Albany. In week two, NO team needs this win as much as Fordham. I think they avenge their 2004 loss to Albany, and avenge last week's loss to Monmouth, in dramatic fashion. Fordham 28, Albany 21.

Stony Brook over Georgetown. A close defensive game. Stony Brook 10, G'town 9.

Bucknell over #24 Lafayette. I smell a wee bit too much hubris in the Leopard camp. These are always close, and I think the 'Pards could absolutely be looking ahead. Bucknell 28, Lafayette 24.

Water Cooler Picks: I-AA Top 25, Week 2
I-A Northwestern over #1 New Hampshire. The wrong town, the wrong situation. N'Western 52, UNH 34.

#2 Northern Iowa over D-II North Dakota. A closer game than you probably think, but still too much for the Sioux. UNI 24, UND 14.

#3 Appalachian State over #11 James Madison. The Dukes have some questions to answer, and Kidd Brewer stadium is NOT the place to answer them. App St. 30, JMU 20.

#4 Cal Poly over Weber State. Gotta beleive the 'Stangs have what it takes. Cal Poly 35, Weber State 22.

#5 Montana over South Dakota State. Again, Washington-Grizzly is not a good place to be looking for answers. Montana 42, SDSU 3.

#6 Furman over D-II West Georgia. No comment. Furman 70, West Georgia 3.

#7 Youngstown State over Maine. Some think Maine will give the Penguins a good shot here, but Maine has struggled in recent years, and the Ice Castle is a difficult place to play. YSU 31, Maine 24.

#8 Illinois State over D-II Central Arkansas. The Redbirds should put a hurt on UCA this time. ISU 49, UCA 14.

#9 Montana State over NAIA Chadron State. Won't be a game. MSU 77, Chadron State 10.

I-A Navy over #10 UMass. Will be tight, but I wonder about QB Coen's chance to get a big drive in a big spot. Navy 24, UMass 19.

#14 Delaware over D-II West Chester. Take the points. Delaware 24, WCU 10.

#15 McNeese State over D-II West Virginia Tech. Don't take the points. McNeese 56, WV Tech 10.

#16 Georgia Southern over Central Connecticut State. [UPDATED] Still call your bookie, but I'm no longer picking CCSU after learning that I-AA legend Erk Russell died today suddenly in a car crash. GSU 35, CCSU 22.

#17 Hampton over Howard. Look for a letdown, but not that much of a letdown. Hampton 28, Howard 20.

I-A TCU over #18 UC-Davis. Doubt Davis will sneak up on anyone this time. But it should be a game. TCU 35, UC-D 21.

#19 Portland State over Northern Colorado. [UPDATED] Still my candidate for 'letdown game of the week', but with the star reciever out... PSU 14, NoCo 0.

Indiana State over #21 Eastern Illinois. [UPDATED] As if anyone really cares, it's Saturday Morning and I'm flip-flopping my pick. Someone in the Top 25 has to lose this week, and it's the best choice in a tough week to pick upsets. ISU 31, EIU 27.

I-A Nebraska over #22 Nicholls State. Don't take the points. Nebraska 49, NSU 10.

I-A Kentucky over #23 Texas State. The Wildcats are too mad to let Texas State take them. Kentucky 38, Texas State 13.

Western Kentucky over #25 Eastern Kentucky. The most underrated game this week, in a great rivalry battle. The Hilltoppers have had the Colonels' number, and I think that will continue here in a tight game. WKU 28, EKU 27.

Press Roundup
No mash-up this week since I'm running out of time. Instead, here's the link to the local press. (No local coverage for Nova, though, what iditots!) Enjoy!

Allentown Morning Call:
Frustrated Lehigh Looking For Redemption Versus 'Nova

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Remains Positive After Loss

Brown & White:
Loss Won't Deter 'Hawks Versus 'Cats

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lehigh/Villanova Preview

This week, Lehigh will be travelling down to the Main Line to take on Villanova in a battle that takes on new proportions with last week's disappointment against Albany.

Both Lehigh and Villanova enter this game at 0-1 and are looking to establish themselves in any title discussions in their respective leagues. Villanova last week lost 35-16 against a I-A school in Central Florida and will be just as eager as Lehigh to not start the season 0-2.

There are a lot of links between Lehigh, Villanova, coach Talley, and coach Coen in this game. Coach Coen faced Villanova quite recently in 2002, 2004 and 2005 as Penn's offensive coordinator. The last two games were nailbiting affairs going down to the final seconds that Penn barely lost (16-13 in 2004, 28-24 in 2005).

In 2004, Lehigh barely lost to Villanova by a 22-16 score. In that game, Lehigh lost a 16-0 lead. Further controversy surrounded that game as well. First of all, when Lehigh was up by more than a TD early in the second half, a Villanova player chop-blocked junior DT Royce Morgan and ended his season. (Obviously, after he left, Villanova rallied to win the game.) Second of all, Wildcat head coach Andy Talley said in his press conference that Villanova was stealing offensive signals from the sidelines - an accusation that then-coach Pete Lembo vehemently denied. Not exactly a love-fest - maybe even the starting point for a rivalry.

These would seem to point to a hard-fighting game this week, with some residual bad blood between these two schools. Ironically, Villanova may be facing Royce Morgan again in some capacity, since he's on the roster for this weekend's game. Had he not been injured in 2004, he would have exhausted his eligibility and wouldn't be playing today.

What's certain? Villanova would certainly have to answer some questions about their team this year if they lose to a Patriot League school (especially one that's not nationally ranked), after going 18-2 against them since the inception of the league (their only two losses were back in Holy Cross' heyday in the '80s; Lehigh is 0-1 against them since 1985.) And Lehigh would need to do some soul-searching as well if they go 0-2 for the first time since 1982. Although not a killer to the team's postseason chances, it sure would be a blow to the ego, and to the passionate fans. Lehigh fans are not known for their patience.

This game will be different that last year's A-10 battle, the Lehigh/Delaware game which the Hawks lost in OT on a missed extra point. There's clearly a lot more at stake. Emotion, a whole lot of pride, and the team's direction for 2006 are also on the line. A loss wouldn't be the end of the world for either team - but the road for the loser would be just that much harder.

Injury Report & Weather Report
OUT:
OL Ben Harden
OL Brendan Caffrey
DB Courtney Elder
DL Paul Bode

Questionable:
RB Marques Thompson

As WR Brannan Thomas makes his "official" return this week (actually, he returned kicks last week), we see senior RB Marques Thompson listed as questionable with a rib injury sustained in the Albany game. Fortunately, if he's unable to go, sophomore RB Matt McGowan will slide right in as the starting back, with junior RB Josh Pastore rotating in with him. For the first time in a while, our RB situation is quite settled, even in the backup position.

If Thompson plays, we're going to get the same starting twenty-two as last week. Interestingly, senior DT Royce Morgan is on the roster for this week, but not on the depth chart. His status is completely unknown. Is he even ready to play? I'm not sure, but if I were Royce and fit and able to play, I'd probably want to play every down against the team that ended my season in 2004.

The weather forecast couldn't be more different for Saturday evening - 80 degrees and clear during the day, 60ish at night. The alumni tailgate (starting at 3:30PM in the visitor's area of the Law School lot) should be a rousing success. It should be a nice long tailgate, so I'm thinking Mint Juleps for the ladies, and Martinis for the men.

A Few Words on Villanova
Before getting to football matters, a word on Villanova football fans. You may think that most fans are mostly basketball-crazed and only have a vague idea of a football team in their midst. Not so. Last year I went to a Villanova/Rutgers game, and there were lots of passionate fans there - I'd go as fa as to say they were good fans. Still, at times it must feel like being, say a fan of a big city's third most prominent sport. Kind of like being a Metrostars fan.

You'll hear a lot of words this week about Villanova's team concerning their last game versus I-A Central Florida. Mostly, they will involve statements like this: "They outgained the Knights in yardage, so they must be great!" But let's look a little closer a this.

Villanova had five drives in the first half. Two were 3-and-outs. One was a TD. The last two were decent drives that (importantly) stalled at the UCF 30 yard line. Were they able to move the ball? Sure. But were they able to move the ball in key situations? For the most part, I don't think so.

In the meantime, the Villanova defense faced five drives, four of which resulted in Knight TDs. In the second half the Wildcats played better defense, shutting them down for the most part - but, down by three scores for most of the game, were the dogs called off?

This week leading up to the game, the bad blood between Lehigh and Villanova is apparent. See if you can see the similarity between coach Talley and something John Calipari might say: "We have great respect for Coen, last year when Penn came out here, their QB didn't miss a pass." (Translation: I don't think you can do that again.) "Lehigh two years, ago, I don't think we got a first down in the first half." (Translation: Until we took out your best player.) "We are very concerned about Lehigh, we have a lot of bad memories from our last time up there, so we know this time around it will be a rough game." (Translation: You thought it was bad in 2004?)

Lehigh better be prepared for a Villanova team that will be playing *extremely* physical, and a team who will try to beat them up. The Hawks can't allow that to happen.

Offense
This could be the only time this year that Lehigh will be facing a "mirror match" on offense: an extremely talented QB, an offense with a variety of sets, some inexperienced wideouts, and a big, senior-laden offensive line. At least going against Sedale in practice should prepare Lehigh's defense for their task this Saturday.

The "big dog" to contain is senior QB Marvin Burroughs. Sidelined by a broken arm after the season opener last year, he's shown no sign of that injury in last week's game. He's mobile (the 18 yards rushing he got last week is misleading), and was very accurate in the short passing game last week (22-for-32 for 241 yards and 1 TD). Since he can kill you both ways, he's difficult to stop.

Villanova used their fullback extensively in their offense last year, and in 2006 it looks like they will do so again. Senior FB DeQueese May was the leading rusher last week getting 27 yards, while junior RB Matt Dicken only managed 10 net yards rushing. How much can be attributed to I-A Central Florida's rush defense? Hard to say, but it's safe to say that May is the feature back in this offense that will get carries and receptions out of the backfield, adding a different type of attack than the standard RB rushes. May between the tackles, and Burroughs and Dicken to the outside. It's possible that we could see one of a couple of highly-touted freshman running the ball at RB as well, so don't count that out either.

Talley also likes to spread the receptions around to a variety of talented receivers. Although there doesn't seem like one dominating receiver in the bunch, junior TE Matthew Sherry is a legitimate pass-catching threat and could easily be a killer underneath if you let him. Their receiving corps is solid and deep, but lacking a true burner: senior WR Chris Polite, junior WR Anton Ridley and sophomore WR Phil Atkinson are all solid underneath pass-catching threats. If there's a "speed guy", that's Atkinson - he needs to be watched. With this many targets, it will be tough to cover them all. Our secondary will be tested.

The "O" line features two 300-lb seniors in C Christian Gaddis and G Michael Costanzo, but also feature a true freshman and a sophomore. Overall, the line seems pretty balanced on both sides and deep - a prototypical "scholarship line".

Defense
Talley prefers a base 4-2-5 defense that may not be seen the rest of the year by Lehigh. The fifth DB actually doubles up as a linebacker in key situations in this interesting defense. It's another intriguing wrinkle to an already-challenging game for the Hawks.

The defensive line is extremely young, with four sophomores across. Their line is only marginally bigger than ours, with the highest-touted member being DE David Dallessandro. Last year he totalled 52 tackes and 2 1/2 sacks. They're smallish, so they may be some hay to be made here.

It would take a pretty darned good linebacker to put one of last year's starters, senior LB Bryan Adams, on the bench, but that's just what sophomore LB Michael Holland did. With his eight tackles and two sacks last week, he's now the starter and must not be overlooked - he looks like he could be a differencemaker on defense. Senior LB J. C. Cooper is steady and dependable on the other side, but smaller physically than Holland. Both are solid players - they need to be, in this formation.

The defensive backfield is loaded with talent and experience. Senior FS Allyn Bacchus is another defensive leader and is a hard-hitter that will blitz on occasion. With the 4-2-5, it will be very interesting to see how Coen handles it. Can they be burnt with sideline streaks with two senior corners? It will be interesting.

Special Teams
Sophomores and freshmen abound. Sophomore PK Joe Marcoux missed two FGs last week, but both were from more than 40 yards, so you know they have confidence in his leg. True frosh P Josh Ugarte had a so-so afternoon last week. Returning kicks are Atkinson and sophomore WR Salim Komora, who were unremarkable last week.

Keys To The Game
1. Defense On Your Toes. With all the threats coming from all directions offensively, it will be vitally important to tackle well and keep the "yards after the catch" to a minimum. They can be contained, but it will take concentration and good tackling, first and foremost.
2. Balance is the Key. Mixing the rushing and passing will be huge. I wouldn't be afraid to run in between the tackles, either, with that inexperienced front four. Once that's established, play action is your best friend.
3. Unforced Errors. Not much needs to be said here, but unforced errors need to be minimized. An A-10 team like Villanova will be brutally unforgiving.
4. Hit 'Em In The Mouth. It's going to be a grudge match - a physical game. Anyone who doesn't like contact need not apply. Winning this game will mean establishing a physical presence for the whole game.

Fearless Prediction
I think this game comes down to the one that wants it more. It's an "old saw", but I see this as a closely-fought match against two teams that could be looking in the mirror at each other. I could see this coming down to the last seconds, or even going to OT. But this Lehigh team hasn't proven yet that they can win this type of big game, and last week's loss doesn't help.

It is true that Villanova probably won't learn much from the Lehigh/Albany game tape, which probably works to our advantage. It is also true that Lehigh needs this win as much as Villanova. But it's simple - it comes down to the fact that Lehigh last year and this year haven't been able to make that big play.

I will be rooting for Lehigh as hard as ever, but I'm predicting a loss here.
Villanova 36, Lehigh 30 (OT)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Monday Morning QB: Lehigh/Albany

A day late from the holiday, but here we'll round up what the press thinks of last weekend's game, I'll add some comments, I'll make a shameless plug for my I-AA.org column, and you'll have your chance to comment on the weekend as well. Good deal, yes?

(Photo courtesy of the Morning Call.)

The Press
Allentown Morning Call:
Groller: Lehigh Defeated, Not Deflated
McGowan Comes Up Big

Upshot: "Lehigh's passionate fan base, which was never shy in expressing its displeasure with preceding coach Pete Lembo, will likely give Coen a pass on this one because of the bad weather. The honeymoon will not last much beyond next week's game at Villanova, however."

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh's Choices Backfire In Defeat
Fierro: Coen Can Blame This One On The Rain

Upshot: "Coen and all Lehigh fans have to know deep down that this one doesn't count. Maybe Albany wins this game in more pleasant conditions as well. But to make any kind of judgment on the strengths and/or weaknesses of the Hawks based on Saturday's contest would be ill-advised."

Brown & White (Lehigh Student Paper):
Great Danes Drown Hawks

Albany Times Union (who recently discovered that they have a Division I team in their midst):
UAlbany Narrows Gap With An Upset

Overall it looks like folks are willing to wait-and-see about the Lehigh season, in effect saying that this loss shouldn't doom everyone's hopes for the year. At the same time, there is a sense of incredulousness about the loss as well.

I don't blame the media for giving Coen a "pass". I don't think they pulled punches in their analysis of the actual game. But there's plenty of reason for hope this season.

Game Balls
No game balls this week. Although tempting to give one to a couple of standout players, it just doesn't seem right after such a loss. Hopefully next week the tradition will be renewed.

Monday Morning QB
I keep thinking back to 2000, in college basketball. Michigan State won the national championship that year over Florida. If you google "Michigan State 2000", you'll find a ton of press on their national championship, reams of copy on their march through the Tournament, their wins over Wisconsin and Florida. What you don't see, though, is "Wright State".

Wright State is the team that shocked the Spartans that year 53-49. The Spartans were ranked at the time, and the loss to a middling 3-8 team from the tiny Horizon League had the potential to kill their entire season. Yet, obviously, it didn't. Folks came back from injury, the team got better as the year went along, and they ended up winning the NCAA championship. Everyone remembers the championship. Few remember Wright State.

Part of the joy of college sports is watching a team build on itself during the year. You can look unsure and flat in September yet you can still compete for championships in November and December. Michigan State's basketball team in 2000 is a great example. That team in December could lose to anyone. The team in March was unstoppable.

Here's the bottom line going into this coming weekend. We don't know this team yet. What we saw was the Spartan team in December 2000, capable of losing to anyone. But you cannot say that all hope is gone from any of the goals of the year - most notably, a Patriot League title. Each week we're going to learn a lot about this team, and next Saturday night at 6:00PM versus Villanova we'll learn a bit more about how Lehigh responds. Will it have an ending like Michigan State in 2000? I have no idea, but I'm sticking around to find out.

That's not to say I'm happy with the (by my count) twelve unforced errors that changed the course of the game last week. But I am eager to see how Lehigh responds next week. I don't expect perfection in Week Two, but I do expect improvement. That's all we can ask for from our troops.

What we've done is make our case for an at-large playoff bid harder. But of course, if you win the Patriot League autobid, you don't have to worry about that.

Shameless I-AA Plug
This Thursday, I was at the Wagner/LaSalle game, but the article is not posted yet. When it is, trust me I'll let you know about it here. [UPDATE: It's now here. Please go read it now.]

Lafayette at #24
Lafayette makes its first appearance of the year in the Sports Network and Any Given Saturday polls at #24. With coach Tavani talking big about how polls mean nothing, you begin to wonder if the "little school in Easton" will be sneaking up on anybody anymore. Hopefully Lafayette will have to worry about the at-large I-AA playoff berth selection procedures this year, not Lehigh.

Press Mash-Up

"I think I split a blood vessel," said Albany coach Bob Ford, the second-winningest coach in Division I-AA with 211 career victories. "Back and forth, back and forth it went. The conditions weren't the best. But that's called football. Our kids played with spirit and just kept battling back. I thought they did a great job.”

"For myself and the seniors, this was incredibly gratifying," said junior linebacker Dan Barnes, one of the team captains. "We've taken a lot of lumps early in the season the past four years."

The Great Danes have won six of seven games since starting last season with five straight losses. They recovered from three straight losses at the start of the 2004 season to finish 4-7." Coach (Bob) Ford always talks about narrowing the gap between the Northeast Conference and the Patriot League," Barnes said. "We beat Fordham to end last season, and now we've beaten Lehigh."

Ryan Chrobak, another defensive captain, said the opening day win had special meaning. "This is the biggest win I've ever been a part of in my life playing football," Chrobak said. "People outside our program consider this playing up. Today we proved we're just as capable, we are just as good as these teams."

"The defense stepped up when it had to," Ford said. "We made three field goals on the special teams and the offense got a first down when it absolutely needed to have one."

Albany kicker Jason Fralicker was able to convert field goals of 37, 34 and 38 yards. “I went out at the beginning of the game, and it seemed like pretty good footing so I wasn’t thinking much about it out there,” Fralicker said. "I assumed it would be good
footing.”
...

Fierro: Coen roughed himself up afterward with some therapeutic self-analysis. "I'll take the hit because I was probably too conservative with my play calls with the weather and didn't let this guy [Threatt] play the game," Coen said.

Groller: For a team haunted for nearly 10 months by its failures against Lafayette, this one seemed too reminisicent of that one and the other 2005 collapses. It's true that Albany is not the same cupcake that was mashed by Lehigh 44-14 two years ago, but this was a loss — in bad conditions or not — that will stain the Mountain Hawks' resume later on.
...

The depressing scene is sure not how Andy Coen believed his first game as a head coach would be remembered. "I'm not discouraged," said Coen. "I'm not happy, (but) we did some things well today. We just didn't do some things that you need to do to win a football game, [but] they showed a degree of toughness there. And we're going to need that. It's a long road."

"[T]hat's what makes football such a great game. There's the ups and downs, and these kids will work hard, and the neat thing is we'll play another game next
week."

Despite Coen's approval of their play, the players were clearly disappointed with the outcome. “We have to execute the plays that coach gives us,” Threatt said. “We didn’t play our best today.”

And the resulting pain in the rain at Goodman Stadium made the Mountain Hawks wince in anguish.

Even more gallant was long snapper Erik Rakus, who was brought into the media room merely to explain why two of his snaps seemed better suited for Yao Ming to
handle rather than a 5-10 punter. Rakus also displayed class, refusing to use
the slippery ball as an excuse. He said Saturday was a piece of cake compared to
last October's Holy Cross mud bowl.

Threatt agreed. "Toward the latter part (of the game), I don't really think (the wet ball) was that much of a factor," Threatt claimed. "Like Holy Cross (last year). I remember Holy Cross week. We were dumping footballs inside a bucket to get ready for it, literally, to work on the quarterback exchange."

"You could say it didn't matter," Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt said in frustration. "But we lost."

Coen echoed his players’ sentiments. “You want to win,” he said. “We’ve got to fix
the mistakes for us to have a shot. Flat-out, we have to play better.”
...

"Some of the good things we did today in these conditions were because of the things we have been emphasizing," Coen said. "We did hand the ball off eight or nine times in a row and were able to move the football. That was encouraging, but I would have rather played on a nice day with dry conditions that allow some of our athletes to do some of the things they can do. You can't use [weather] as an excuse because when you play football in the Northeast part of the country, you play in [poor conditions] like this."

"Those guys [Matt, Josh Pastore] all work hard and they're really capable," Coen said. "They all pick each other up. We told Matt and Josh that it was on them because we didn't know if Marques was coming back and they did the job."

"The footing wasn't as bad as I expected; not as bad as it was for Holy Cross last year," [McGowan] said. ''I know how physical the game can be.''

And he showed he can be as physical as most defenders trying to bring him down.
"Matt competes," quarterback Sedale Threatt said. "You saw him out there. He can run."

Also, a nice drive to end the first half showed a tantalizing glimpse at Lehigh's offensive potential. “Coach was calling plays to get us down the field, and the guys in the huddle just started getting in a rhythm, and I just hopped on board,” Threatt said.
...

As for the unveiling of the new 3-4 defense, Coen said his group battled a large Albany offensive line well. "They were just out on the field too long, especially in
the first half, but they battled their [butts] off," he said.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

It's Not The End Of The World

I read my own harsh words on the Lehigh/Albany game from yesterday, and sad as the result was, contrary to any previous reports, it's not the end of the world. I can't say I'm particularly happy, but it's not the end of the world either.

First of all, looking at yesterday's scores, did any Patriot League teams look like world-beaters? Colgate played a great team in UMass of the A-10, but managed under 200 yards of offense in a 28-7 loss. Lafayette was trailing to Sacred Heart of the NEC at halftime, and needed late-game heroics to ice the victory - hardly a championship moment. Bucknell needed a last-gasp drive to squeak by non-scholarship Duquesne 31-28 in overtime. Holy Cross, predictably, had troubles scoring in a 26-13 win over Georgetown, and Fordham never really was in their game versus Monmouth of the NEC, losing 20-9.

Did any of these teams look like "the team to beat" in the Patriot? The scores betray the fact that every team seemed to need serious work, even Lafayette. There's plenty of time to right the ship, but it has to be soon. Last I checked, the Patriot League champion gets the autobid for the I-AA playoffs, and it doesn't get taken away for losing a bad game in September. As long as Lehigh corrects their problems with "unforced errors", they can still compete for championship rings.

Work still needs to be done, obviously. Fortunately, there's still lots of time to get it done with ten games left, and a chance to get an impressive win over an A-10 opponent. It will not be easy against a Villanova squad that will also be eager to avoid a 0-2 start, but if Lehigh pulls off the upset, the truth will be that they will own the best out-of-conference win in the Patriot League. It's a challenge, but not impossible.

In a way, I'm eager to see Lehigh play on a slop field one more time this year to prove that they can get the job done. From this game, Lehigh has to prove that it can win this type of bad-weather game after having lost the last two (Albany, last year's Holy Cross game). I know I'll be watching closely to see if Lehigh can play well in adverse conditions.

If we learn anything from this game, it's that Lehigh has to prove itself again. Gone are the days when wins were automatic, or when they were always the most talented guys on the field. Every week, Lehigh needs to prove itself. That can be a great thing.

Of course it's way too early to write coach Coen, the offense, the defense, and the special teams off after one game this season. Nobody should be writing the athletic department complaining that coach Coen should be run out of town on a rail. (Speaking of which, anybody notice that coach Lembo got his first win with Elon yesterday, downing nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina 23-20?)

The bottom line is it's one game in September that will be forgotten by November if Lehigh can right the ship. The key to this season will be how the Lehigh players and coaching staff responds to this game next week, and the game after that. And it only gets harder, and more is at stake, from here.

Football fans are funny - you can make them forget really easily by winning the next week. Every fumble or bad snap will be forgotten. We all want to forget it. Here's hoping, next Sunday, we will.
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