Saturday, September 30, 2006

Harvard 35, Lehigh 33, final

It's another game where Lehigh looks like world-beaters in the first half just to get chucked around in the third quarter for another loss. We fought back valiantly in the 4th, but just couldn't get the shot for the kicker at the end, or convert the 2 point conversion that could have tied the game.

Actually, it was the soft TDs we gave up at the end of the first half that really were the difference in the game. Harvard's QB Chris Pizzotti (who was a surprise starter) found the soft spots of the zone perfectly, but the real killer was when we were up 24-7 and Pizzotti converted on a 4th-and-6 in the soft part of the zone. Then, Lehigh's defense couldn't bring him down and then the game was 24-14.

That first TD was the first of four unanswered TDs that effectively put the game away for the Crimson. I'm not sure if RB Clifton Dawson got 100 yards, but he did get 3 TDs when they got to the goal line, which was good enough.

The loss will seem depressingly familiar. Early lead (not only that, a big one). Then, we can't bring the hammer down and the opponents surge back for a lead with a flat 3rd quarter defensively for Lehigh. Then, we can't get any late-game heroics to pull out the victory.

I think my biggest concern for this team today was defensively. FS Ernie Moore came up big, but the linebacking unit in this 3-4 does not have that Anthony "Graz" Graziani that will step up and make big plays, especially in the passing game. Now, having said that the LBs did get some good isolated plays. Also, throw out the flukey TD at the end of the half for the Crimson. But there were a lot of underneath passes that Harvard got in the soft part of the zone for big gains. Now, I realize you have to put linebackers in the box to stop Dawson, but I think it's telling that I can't point to a single pass getting defensed by the linebacking unit. That's where Harvard killed us repeatedly.

You can say that we lost to three pretty good teams. And, you can say that the Patriot League is down this year, so it's anybody's league. But it is incredibly frustrating to see us come so close, and show so many flashes of talent in every phase of the game, just to come up short.

The problem here isn't finishing games. It's finding playmakers, especially on defense. I put them in my "keys of the game" this week, and on defense we only have one, senior FS Ernie Moore. We are in desperate need of more of them before we enter our Patriot League schedule at Georgetown next week.

Harvard 35, Lehigh 33, about 4:00 to play

TD Threatt to WR Fitzgerald over the middle!

2-pt conversion failed. We need another stop. I think we have 2 timeouts left. This will be an awfully interesting series by Harvard.

Again, the key here will be: Playmakers, especially on defense. What we have is some momentum.

Go Lehigh!

Harvard 35, Lehigh 27, mid-4th

A horrible turn of events; a bad hold be FB Fay, and two coverage sacks. We're forced to punt... again, we must stop them here to have a shot.

Harvard 35, Lehigh 27, early 4th

Big INT by FS Moore! Hope!

Lehigh 35, Lehigh 27, early 4th

A long drive, with a big 4th-down conversion, but we can only get a FG out of it. Two rushes on 1st and 2nd downs? 3rd down should have been a catch, but TE Maggs just misses a twisting catch.

It's an 8 point game. Next up, we NEED a big stop. Harvard scores here, it's over.

Harvard 35, Lehigh 24, 5:00 minutes left 3rd Q

Disappointed. Harvard's defense made mincemeat of our defense to go ahead, and then our offense, as has been the story so far this year, has gone to sleep. Harvard then made a huge strip after a fine completion to (not sure... WR Fitzgerald?) and then just drove the hammer down.

Not over yet.. but we HAVE to score a TD here.

Lehigh 24, Harvard 21, halftime

What looked like it could become a laugher for Lehigh has now become a game due to breakdowns in the secondary and a flukey trick play on an underthrown ball that worked to perfection for Harvard.

However, Lehigh's offense has to get a lot of credit here. They have moved the ball extremely well, not turned over the ball, and even punched in a 4th-and-goal against the best rushing "D" in Division I. The ball has been spread around, and we've also got some clutch running from Thompson, Pastore, and "Grandpa" Fay.

But, as coach Coen said to the TV crew, we "failed to put the hammer down". We gave up some easy plays in the secondary, on a 4th down conversion no less. To be fair, we are concentrating on containing Clifton Dawson (which has been a rousing success so far).

And as great as PR/WR Frank "Playmaker" Trovato is playing, we were totally fooled by a fake punt at the end of the half that indirectly led to their last 7 points. As well as we played, this looks poised to be a dogfight.

Second half: the key is defense. The playmakers are showing up on offense and special teams, but our defense still needs that guy who will take over the game and, as coach Coen said, "put the hammer down".

Should be a good second half.

(Note: Great shots of the Lehigh fans with the hardhats! Love that hat! It's the sort of thing I wish I'd thought of ten years ago.)

Go Lehigh!

Lehigh 14, Harvard 7, end 1st

Looks like we've got the same team that came to play for the Villanova game early on - offense, defense, and special teams seem focused.

Coen, Sedale and the offense have done a great job keeping Harvard off balance. The first strike was a blown coverage, and WR Pete Donchez took it to the house. After Harvard scored on an effecient drive, two 3-and-outs led to a huge punt return by PR/WR Frank Trovato, setting up 1st and goal.

We punched it in from the 5 to go up 14-7 in what may be a Coen-defining drive. All the yards came from Thompson and Fay, getting the 1 foot against the toughest rushing defense in all of I-AA! This was a great job by the "O" line.

Lehigh driving again. This bodes well.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Friday Water Cooler: Harvard/Lehigh

If you see the graphic with the "guy who looks like John Kerry", that must mean it's time for... the Friday Water Cooler. This week we'll feature "what Chuck does on a bye week", last minute Harvard/Lehigh observations, and (why not) Terrell Owens.

T.O. Has B.O.
Something smells down in Dallas, and it's not the oil refinery. Having lived through the "T.O era" up here in Philadelphia (a two-year stretch that feels like an entire decade), it's hard not to snicker at T.O.'s antics a little. Yet, strangely, something more sinister seems afoot with T.O.'s publicist contradicting a police report and the crazy Wednesday press conference.

I think this is a bizarre plea for sympathy and a big "look at me" moment for T.O. It's happened so often in his career, it's hard not to look at this and say, "They're trying to game the (insert name of team here) and the media... again." It's got to be. Right?

Last Minute Harvard/Lehigh Notes
The weather is promising to be another wonderful day of football with highs in the mid-60s and sunny. Check out the press links and mash-up below my I-AA picks below.

I wanted to go this game (as a "civilian", not for I-AA.org) but as of right now my family and I are not slated to go since I have a commitment to be at the New Hampshire/Delaware game this weekend to chase the possibility that Wildcat WR David Ball breaks Jerry Rice's all-time TD record in the college ranks. If not, I will be following the game via LehighSports.Com, live on CN8 (which is available up and down the East Coast on Comcast Cable) or AM 1230 and AM 1320 in the Lehigh Valley. I will most likely be blogging sporadically on the game one way or another, so be sure to browse here tomorrow.

The Self-Promotion Corner
What does Chuck do on the bye week? Well, when he's not guessing right on Monmouth beating Colgate or Princeton being a good team, he's double dipping I-AA games with his editor and publisher on I-AA.org, Ralph Wallace. (I hear folks puking across the country after this statement.) There are also picture galleries of Hampton/Morgan State and Lafayette/Princeton available there too, with many photots taken by Ralph and myself.

I also got way more than my fair share of props for my picks last week on the 9/26 I-AA Waves from Ralph and Matt Dougherty. Worth a listen, as Ralph talks about our double-dip as well.

Water Cooler Picks: Patriot League, Week 5
Bucknell over Marist. The plucky Bison are improving week to week, and Marist won't pose much of a threat to a Bison squad that is playing much better than in 2005. Bucknell 31, Marist 0.

Lafayette over Yale. Lafayette's 0-2 versus the Ivy, after losing against two upper-echelon Ivy teams in Penn and Princeton. Yale is 1-1 with a victory over lowly Cornell, but it's hard to see the Leopards lose this game they have to have in order to reverse a two-game slide. Lafayette 31, Yale 10.

Holy Cross over Fordham. As long as the Crusaders can get a quick lead on the Rams, I have little confidence that Fordham will be able to come from behind to win this. Holy Cross goes 2-0 in the PL. HC 29, Fordham 6.

Colgate over Georgetown. My fearless prediction here is that it's going to be closer than you think. But I think that Colgate manages to hang on in a "bend but don't break" defensive battle. Colgate 19, G'town 14.

Water Cooler Picks: Top 25, Week 5
#1 New Hampshire over #21 Delaware. Something tells me that Delaware's not simply going to roll over against the Wildcats, but ultimately, WR David Ball will break the Division I record for career TDs in a UNH win. I'll be there to, hopefully, get the picture of a lifetime. UNH 35, Delaware 25.

#2 Appalachian State over Elon. Methinks Lembo's Elon squad will be better than expected against the powerful Mountaineers, but ultimately will fall. App. St. 35, Elon 23.

#3 Montana over #13 Portland State. I think this is the week where the Vikings are finally exposed, but they won't go down quietly. I wonder if PGE park will have more Montana fans than PSU fans.... Montana 21, PSU 17.

#4 Furman over Wofford. OK, I'm now a believer in Jerome "Don't Call Me Felton Spencer" Felton after his 7 TD performance against Western Carolina. Although Wofford is a tougher team than you might think, I'm thinking a comfortable double-digit victory for the Paladins. Furman 28, Woofy 14.

#6 Cal Poly over Southern Utah. I know it's boring to pick favorites all the time, and I did eye this as a possible upset... until I saw this was being played at San Luis Obispo, home of the 'Stangs. Cal Poly 24, SUU 10.

#7 Youngstown State over Missouri State. I used to like Mizzou State as a potential dark horse in the Gateway, but two losses against Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas have instead shown me they could be in the cellar all year. Unfortunately, red-hot Y-town now visits. Not a good recipe for turning things around. Y-Town 38, Mizzou St. 14.

# 8 Richmond over Northeastern. It's almost not fair. Richmond 35, N'Eastern 12.

#9 North Dakota State over Stephen F. Austin. Normally you'd think "letdown" here after the huge win over I-A Ball State, but 0-4 SFA is in complete disarray and won't allow the Bison to let down. NDSU 24, SFA 0.

#11 Southern Illinois over Indiana State. Another 0-4 team facing a powerhouse that upset a I-A. This will be ugly, but the Sycamores have too good an offense to be shut out. Take the points. SIU 44, Indiana State 14.

#12 Hampton over Delaware State. A huge game for the Hornets; if Hampton has an offensive day like they did against Morgan State last week, they could lose. However, I think the Pirates should get back on track in a close win. Hampton 34, Delaware State 24.

I-A Iowa State over #13 Northern Iowa. This grudge match will be closer than you might think, but I get the feeling that the Cyclones will prevail in a tighter-than-expected match. Iowa St. 34, UNI 31.

#15 James Madison over VMI. This week, it's VMI on the "Theater of Pain" tour. JMU 41, VMI 7.

#16 McNeese State over South Dakota State. We still just don't know how good the Cowboys are, but we know that Jackrabbits will be giving them a game. I know I'm going to regret this, but I think the Cowboys will get the job done at home. McNeese 31, Jacks 24.

I-A Hawaii over #18 Eastern Illinois. Kudos for the Panther AD for getting this game done, but don't expect Eastern Illinois to make this competitive. Hawaii 49, EIU 15.

#22 Albany over Cornell. In March, this might have been seen as a tune-up game for the Big Red before going into the meat of their Ivy schedule. Now, it looks like a ranked opponent could be pounding on a team that hasn't yet scored a TD this year, and Albany's LB Colin Disch aims to keep it that way. If I were a betting man, I'd take Albany hands-down. Albany 28, Cornell 3.

Western Kentucky over #23 Western Illinois. The mystery here is not picking the "upset", but rather how on this Good Green Earth Western Illinois is nationally-ranked after three nothing wins and a bad loss to Wisconsin. This could get ugly. Leathernecks, meet the well-rested Hilltoppers. WKU 49, WIU 13.

#24 Northern Arizona over Montana State. The Bobcats are in serious disarray after losing to Eastern Washington, and the Lumberjacks look poised to continue the Bobcat's hurt. NAU 37, MSU 14.

#25 Western Carolina over Georgia Southern. My question is, will Eagle fans let coach Van Gorder stick around for the whole season? WCU 38, GSU 21.

Press Roundup
No roundup from the Boston Globe, but you can tell the contempt those folks have for Lehigh at the moment; not a single reporter picked Lehigh to defeat Harvard on their staff. Clearly, they all think they can take us.

Lehighsports.com:
"Grandpa" Fay: On The Move

Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Out To Stem Growing Discontent

Easton Express-Times:
Hawks Go Back To Basics

Brown & White:
Trovato Shines in Final Season

Harvard Crimson:
With Irvin At Helm, Squad Seeks Revenge

Press Mash-Up

"I wish we would have actually played a game last Saturday and gotten right back to work,'' Coen said. ''And then we wouldn't have had to think so long about what happened in the Princeton game.

"We just made too many mistakes in our overall execution. The kids gave great effort. If you look at all three of our games, each one has come down to one last drive at the end of the game. The message that sends to our football team is that nothing's easy."

“Sedale will be the first to tell you he did not play his best game last [game],” Coen said. “He just has to play within himself and execute plays when they are there and
not try to do too much.”

"We've hurt ourselves and held ourselves back," [senior OL Jason] Russell said. "I don't think our offense has struggled. We're moving the ball offensively, we're not finishing drives. We're settling for field goals, and sometimes we're not making the field goals. All 11 guys take their turn making a mental mistake. We need to get rid of those."

"It's important to win at home," Mountain Hawks coach Andy Coen said. "We need to make playing at Goodman Stadium an uncomfortable thing for our opposition."
...

Although this weekend is not a league game, Lehigh has been the Crimson’s toughest competition over the past few years. In the 2005 edition, Harvard fell to the Hawks, 49-24. This year, the squad hopes not only to avenge that loss, but to improve its record to 3-0.

“We’re motivated to win our third game,” Murphy said. “Our philosophy is zero down, one to go, one down, one to go. Now we’re two down, one to go. One game at a time. We’re motivated on our end.”

“[Sedale is] probably the most athletic quarterback we’ll see this year,” Murphy said. “He’s a threat to take off with the ball every time he touches it, and that’s always a huge concern.”

This week will feature junior Richard Irvin starting behind the center, the third quarterback in as many games in 2006. Last weekend’s starter, sophomore Jeff Witt, is out two weeks with a separated shoulder.

“I’ve never been remotely through a situation like that,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “I’ve never even, in twenty years of head coaching, had to go to my number three guy. So, it’s a brand new ball game, but Irvin can do it.”

[Note to coach Murphy: That would be your FOURTH string guy, if you count O'Hagan.]
...

"It's a great challenge, but I'm excited that we're playing an outstanding football team," Coen said. "It's a team, I believe, that is the most talented we've played to tis point. But I'm glad we have this type of challenge, because it gets our guys' attention and they know we have to come out and play very well on Saturday."

"We will need to tackle very well on Saturday to have any chance of winning," Coen said. "We worked on it quite a bit in practice last week. [Dawson] breaks a lot of tackles and if we don't tackle him, we'll be in for a long day."

“He’s obviously a very fast player,” Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. “But if you watch him, he has a lot of yards after tackles, and we just have to make sure when we contact him [that we] put him on the ground.”

Senior WR Frank Trovato said. “Now that I am getting more playing time this year, I want my teammates to know that every Saturday I can be counted on to make big plays.”

...
"We've got to keep doing the things I've been talking about," Coen said, insisting his focus has been on trying to correct what his 1-2 team's been doing wrong rather then worrying about what 2-0 Harvard has done right.

"We've got to get better every day. I like our football team. I think they're trying to do the things we need to do to be more successful."

"I've been talking to the kids about making plays and being tough," Coen said, hoping such decisions will bring payoffs down the road. "That was my chance to practice that I've been preaching."

"It was really back to the fundamentals," senior offensive tackle Jason Russell said. "I really don't think we've had trouble adjusting to [the changes]... The only thing I see is that we don't pass as much, but to me, that's a good thing, because we get to run it more with some great running backs. We're doing fine."

And Russell has no doubt that Lehigh can still make a championship run once league play begins. "We've lost two games, but they were very close games," he said. "We've shown we can be a dominant team. We need to stop the little mistakes."

“I want this team to keep fighting,” Trovato said. “We are off to a slow start, but our coaches put us in the position we need to be in to win games. If we play well, then we should win the Patriot League championship, beat Lafayette on their home field and head to the national playoffs to contend for a national championship,” Trovato said.



Go Lehigh!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lehigh/Harvard Preview

Just in case you thought Harvard wasn't going to take their battle against the Mountain Hawks seriously, I go over to the Harvard website and see the "Battle In The Valley" prominently on the front page. I know they're pumped by their 2-0 start and their emphatic wins against Holy Cross and Brown, but the extra production being made of this game makes me think one thing: They think they can beat us.

And why not? Officially, the whole Patriot League looks like they're down and out, with every team looking for some sort of identity. All you need to do is point to out out-of-conference record against out academic brothers, the Ivies - an awful 2-7. As we pull into Week 5 of this young 2006 football season, we’re finding the Patriot League’s reputation under assault from all quarters.

As a Lehigh fan, I don't know what to expect so far this year. Rebuilding, or reloading? I think we need to see our team right now as a work-in-progress, something we as Lehigh fans are not used to doing. We're used to upsetting I-A schools and beating A-10 teams, not taking time to find an identity and go-to players.

Having a nationally-ranked, and hungry, opponent in Harvard coming to town isn't exactly a recipe for an easy go on Saturday, especially after sitting on the Princeton loss for two weeks and suffering our third straight home defeat.

But I remember last year's Harvard game up in Cambridge. In that game, LB Anthony "Graz" Graziani, QB Mark Borda and WR Kevin Zebluim stepped up to be the go-to guys on the team, making big plays that made a battle of nationally-ranked teams in to a 49-24 laugher. Sometimes, a big performance (broadcast all along the East Coast on CN8) can get things kickstarted in a big way.

But it won't be easy. If the first two games are any indication, Harvard will be their usual dominating selves on offense and will be a difficult team to contain.

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

Questionable:
DL Paul Bode
OL Pete Morelli

The injury list this week is identical to the one two weeks ago. Not much to mention here except that big sophomore OL Kevin Bayani will be starting this week once again, giving him invaluable starting “O” line experience. In a minor change, senior DT Kyle Adams will be starting over senior DT Royce Morgan, but expect to see both a lot in the defensive line.

Luckily, Lehigh has been pretty healthy so far on both sides of the ball. Especially offensively, this should be an advantage as the team starts to gel further.

The weather in Bethlehem on Saturday is promising to be a gorgeous day, sunny with highs in the low 60s. With CN8 in the house televising the football game, should the weather hold this game could be a great advertisement for Lehigh football. I think the tailgate drinks of the week should be something with a bit of a rougher edge that the buttoned-up Ivy League – why not Long Island Iced Teas, and Hennessey on the rocks?

A Few Words on Harvard
You'd think we were talking about Auburn or Oklahoma when we talk about offseason problems in college football, but the offseason problems of the Crimson could rival those two football factories in 2006.

This spring, Harvard looked like nobody in the Ivy would even be near their zip code. But when LB Matt Thomas was kicked off the team with an alleged sexual assault charge, the defense lost their captain. Later in the summer, starting QB Liam O'Hagan would be suspended for half the season, ostensibly for his role in the affair as well - thus depriving them of TWO team captains in the fall.

For most I-AA programs, that could spell a long season. However, Harvard is not just any I-AA program. In their first two games against resurgent Holy Cross and last year's Ivy champion Brown, the games weren't even close as they demolished both teams. Clearly Harvard, year in and year out, is a deep team that can handle adversity.

[UPDATE: Another member, senior WR Keegan Toci, recently was also kicked off the team for exercising "poor judgement" merely two weeks ago. Unconfirmed reports claim he made jokes referring to the Ivy's postseason ban in some type of "skit". If Harvard can get a 10-0 season out of all the offseason foibles of this team, head coach Tim Murphy deserves some sort of award... or perhaps deserves to be Univeristy of Miami's head coach next year.]

Offense
Wunderkind and Lehigh Alum Dave Cecchini ('91) may be gone, but his legacy remains with Tim Murphy's Harvard team. In their first two games this year, the Crimson have scored over 30 points.

What makes this even more remarkable is that this was done with two different starting QBs - both of whom are not in the two-deep for Saturday. Could it be we're seeing the junior QB Richard Irvin - ostensibly the 4th-string guy last spring - starting against us? Not much in the scouting report to say, although he started last year's opener and his has a live arm. But this could be a huge break for our Hawks.

"The Man", though, in this offense is senior RB (and Payton Award candidate) Dawson. When Lehigh faced him last year, he was playing hurt and it showed. This year, in two games he's averged 175 yards rushing and 3 TDs a game. At our level he can do it all, although he's a better speedy outside runner and pass receiver than a bruiser. He must be accounted for at all times. The FB, junior Noah Van Niel, is primarily a blocker and a decoy running and passing, which is just as well considering Dawson's role in the running game.

Harvard's "O" Line is always solid, and this year is no exception. A big, experienced line, anchored by seniors Nik Sobic and Frank Fernandez, will again be a challenge for our front seven to run stuffing or putting pressure on Irvin. They were only credited with one sack so far this year - and even that was caused by a slip on the turf, not a breakdown in protection. These guys are good.

This year, coach Murphy has gone to a variety of targets through the air, not allowing any secondary to key on one guy. The best of the bunch is tall, sure-handed senior WR Corey Mazza, who was injured before last year's Lehigh game. He's big and makes small DBs pay big-time. Other than Mazza, sophomore WR Alex Breaux, junior WR Matt LaGlace and senior TE Matt Farbotko all get equal time catching the ball. Any one could be Irvin's target on the day.

Defense
Murphy prefers a base 4-3 defense that, like all the upper echelon Ivy teams, features superlative tackling and amazing run-stuffing. As a unit they're only averaging 37.5 yard rushing a game, so coach Coen's "Iso's" will be sorely tested against this "D".

Senior NT Michael Berg leads a smallish "D" line, but don't be fooled. Junior DE Brad Bagdis has been a standout player so far, and freshman DT Matt Curtis is a Royce Morgan-like presence so far with 4 sacks to his credit.

The prospects don't look much better at linebacker. Senior LB Ryan Tully by default leads this defense, but sophomore LB Eric Schultz has been a wrecking crew underneath so far with 15 tackles already. Like Princeton, they are a solid tackling unit that are great at closing running gaps.

The secondary has some good run support in senior FS Daniel Tanner, but perhaps some hay could be made on the small junior CB Stephen Willams or the inexperienced sophomore CB Andrew Berry.

Special Teams
Junior Matt Schindel is the punter and kicker for the Crimson. Although not tested very much kicking FGs, his punt average is on the weaker side. Clifton Dawson returning kicks is obviously a threat to score always, but Berry and senior DB Neil Sherlock have not been terribly effective in returning the ball so far.

Keys To The Game
1. Go-To Guys. We need to find the guys that want to get the ball or make the big hit with the game on the line. Last year "Graz", Borda, and Zebluim came forward. To win this game, we'll need the same thing to happen here.
2. Stretch the defense. We won't win this game by running "Iso" every play. The defense will need to be stretched to both sidelines and to the end zone. That could mean more passing.
3. Special Teams Advantage. These special teams need to come out special to make the battle of field position something genuinely important today. To win a close game against a nationally-ranked opponent, it will be crucial.
4. Stop Dawson. Easier said than done, but that was the key last year. I don't care how, but if we hold Dawson to under 100 yards rushing we will win this game. If we let him get his average of 175 yards and 3 TDs, we'll be in trouble.

Fearless Prediction
I've gotta believe that Lehigh will come out and play Mountain Hawk football this week. A win this week would set the rest of the Patriot League on notice who the big dog still is in the division. A win would also send notice to all of I-AA to not bury Lehigh, or the Patriot League, just yet. I think the differences between Lehigh and Harvard are slight, and it will reflect itself in a thrilling game. I'm hoping that in the last two minutes, we'll discover who our go-to guys are this year.

Lehigh 33, Harvard 30
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