Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lehigh 45, Fordham 14, final

You couldn't ask for a better game to go into next week's Lehigh/Lafayette game.

A playoff game. Lehigh/Lafayette next week will be for all the marbles - the I-AA playoff bid is on the line. The winner will definitely be in; the loser will definitely be out.

With Colgate's surprising win over Holy Cross up in Hamilton, the Lehigh/Lafayette game once again will be for all the marbles next week. Like 2004, Lehigh has already clinched a share of the Patriot League title by thrashing Fordham today, but have to beat Lafayette to gain sole possession of the title and a I-AA playoff bid.

For sure, a game like today is how you want to go into the biggest game of the year. RB Marques "Mud" Thompson had 3 TDs, while QB Sedale Threatt added 3 passing TDs of his own. Over 400 yards of total offense, and CB Brannan Thomas added two interceptions to make the outcome not in doubt.

In a way, it was a nice "blast from the past" to see Lehigh manhandle an opponent and win by more than 30 points, especially at Murray Goodman to add a little bit of "home field mystique" back to the Mountain Hawks. A very pleasant win...

... that will quickly be forgotten. You could feel the eclipse of the "Lehigh/Lafayette" rivalry coming across the landscape when Lehigh was up 38-7 in the 3rd quarter, and after the Colgate upset of Holy Cross became a reality, the realization that "The Rivalry" will be for the playoff berth. It's always a huge week of hype before "The Rivalry", and the "winner-takes-all" aspect of it simply makes it that much bigger.

Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we talk about rivalries and huge games.

Lehigh 38, Fordham 7, late 3rd

The rout is on. It is looking like Lehigh/Lafayette is going to be for all the marbles next weekend, although technically we have clinched a share of the Patriot League title this weekend. I anticipate backup QB Mike Probst to come in soon and get the rest of the seniors some playing time. G Pete Morelli will also probably get some throw before all is said and done - as a TE.

I'll check in later. As this gme is out of reach from the Rams, I'm going to take care of some things. In other games, Lafayette is handling Georgetown, while Holy Cross has just went up 21-8. Correction: Colgate just got a TD to cut the deficit to 21-15 with 6:15 left in the 3rd.

Lehigh 24, Fordham 7, halftime

Not perfect, but certainly perfect enough so far.

CB Brannan Thomas, with two huge interceptions (one which directly led to a FG), is playing like a senior on senior day with a fantastic game, when RB Marques Thompson executed perfectly on a little option pitch (along with some great blocking) to punch it in for a 24-7 lead.

At the end of the half, Fordham converted two 4th down conversions and drove inside Lehigh's 10, but with no timeouts and a bad snap, time ran out on them before the half. A lucky break for Lehigh, but it shouldn't overshadow a great half in a lot of other ways.

I'm feeling good about Lehigh/Lafayette next week being for all the marbles.

Lehigh 14, Fordham 7, end 1st

Lehigh looks good. Aside from a couple plays in the first half (and a flukey TD pass that hit two Lehigh defenders, and bounced into the receiver's hands), Lehigh has been dominating on offense, defense, and special teams so far.

The two TD drives were brutally effective, mixing both the run and the pass. One TD came off the option, as Threatt pitched to RB Marques "Mud" Thompson as he scooted into the endzone, and the other was a play-action toss to FB Greg Fay for a nice TD.

Lehigh's defense, aside from the opening drive for the TD, has been great, getting two 3-and-outs.

Looking good early.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Water Cooler: Fordham/Lehigh

I know about 99% of the time I only talk about I-AA football, but what do you think these two people would be talking about in college today? Somehow I think it wouldn't be the LaSalle/St. Peter's game last night, but the shocking upset of #3 Louisville by #15 Rutgers. I watched the game with a proud Rutgers alum - that would be my wife - and it was without a doubt the best I-A game I've ever seen.

You couldn't make it up. Falling behind 25-7 in the first half, giving up free points on "Hey, they're Rutgers" sort of errors that would deep-six games before they even begun, and staying about one TD away from watching HGTV or Grey's Anatomy. But the Scarlet Knights simply wouldn't quit "chopping wood", getting a quick strike before halftime. It was remarkable to watch: Louisville's QB Brohm slowly, methodically, melting down, while Rutgers working, and slowly beleiving, that they could do it, getting a TD, a 2-point conversion, and then a 46 (!) yard FG to tie. The raucous crowd that stood the entire second half. The "do over" game-winnig FG kick when Louisville blew it by jumping offsides - clearly the correct call from the officials. You simply couldn't be human (or perhaps just from Kentucky) if you weren't rooting for Rutgers here to win this game.

My wife and I went to a Rutgers game last year, hoping to see Villanova pull off the upset. Before that game, I pictured Rutgers to really be only a few steps removed from (say) Lafayette's Fisher field, but we were really impressed with not only "The Shoe" but with Rutgers fans and the support in general for a team that had gone 4-7 the year before. I am a little surprised (and happy) that they're 9-0, but to imagine that they'd be competing for the bowl championship after last night... that's just insane. But so good for Rutgers and football in our area in general. (Not the national championship - the only truly national champion is the winner of the I-AA playoffs. I'm talking about that non-official other championship, the BC$.)

If there's a gray lining to this sunny day, it's the constant refrain of "there has been no major college football played in this area since the '40s" and the dismissive tone of schools like Columbia, Fordham, Hofstra, Princeton and others. Last I checked, ESPN, they were Division I football teams, several who were in the I-AA playoffs not that long ago. And why bust on them? It's gratuitous.

Last Minute Notes on Fordham/Lehigh
First of all, props to the LU Alumni Clubs office for sending out a great email regarding this week's game. A great picture, followed by the tagline: "Saturday promises to be a beautiful, sunny day with a high of 65. Why not spend it in Goodman Stadium? Tickets are still available and can be purchased on game day!" Even though the current forecast is for some partly cloudy skies, the point is well taken - a 65-degree day tailgating at Murray Goodman, watching the seniors play what could be their last home game, is more than worth it!

The 12:30PM start will be on Service Electric 2 in the Lehigh Valley, AM 1230/1320 in the Lehigh Valley, and (where I'll be tuning in) streaming live on lehighsports.com.

One More Serious Note
If you're not going to "Senior Day" (where, in honor of veteran's day, veterans get in for half price), there is still time to register for the ALS Philadelphia Walk to D'Feet event at Valley Forge Military Academy. I'm not sure if you can register through the Lehigh Alumni Club of Philadelphia anymore, but I think you can still sponsor walkers through the Walk to D'Feet website.

At last week's Lehigh game, there was an ALS booth set up, and I imagine that it will be set up again this week for the final regular-season game at Goodman. Your contributions are surely appreciated.

What's Chuck Been Doing?
I've been hanging out at Murray Goodman witnessing last week's Lehigh/Colgate game. I wrote a I-AA Diary about it at I-AA.org for your enjoyment - perhaps you saw me eating tailgate food, hanging out on the sidelines, touching the "sideline bell" for good luck, or possibly getting wiped out by QB Sedale Threatt on his way to his second TD on the day. In addition to the article, there's a gallery with pictures here.

What's Chuck Going To Be Doing?
This weekend, it's a live blogging weekend about the Fordham/Lehigh game as I get all our chores done before next weekend's game. In addition, this Sunday I'm scheduled to appear on AM 1230/1320 on the "Morning Call Sports Wave" radio program, hosted by Keith Groller. I'll be talking about the I-AA playoff landscape and what could be in store for the Patriot League champion in the playoffs, among other topics. Tune in on AM 1230/1320 at 10:00AM Sunday!

Friday Water Cooler Picks: Patriot League, Week 11
Lafayette over Georgetown. With everything to play for, it's hard to see Lafayette choking against the Hoyas as they watch and wait for the other scores. Laughing Leopards 28, Honked-off Hoyas 10.

Holy Cross over Colgate. The game everybody will be following this weekend in the Patriot League. On paper, this matchup would seem to point to a tough battle, especially up in Hamilton, with Colgate's strengths (running with RB Jordan Scott, pass defense) matching up perfectly against Holy Cross' weaknesses (rushing defense, a pass-first-then-run philosophy). But after this week's loss to Lehigh, I see Colgate having more questions than answers, especially on the offensive line. Add to that, Holy Cross has a decent chance to get to the playoffs either as league champions or even as an at-large team. I think Holy Cross gets it done. Crusaders 28, Raiders 21.

Friday Water Cooler Picks: I-AA Top 25, Week 11
#1 Appalachian State over Western Carolina. I think the "Mountain Jug" stays in Boone -- but at home with nothing to lose, take the Catamounts and the points. Yosefs 35, Catamounts 21.

#2 Montana over Northern Colorado. The bright side for the Bears is that this could be a sellout, with Greeley, CO overrun by Griz fans. Aside from that, though... Griz 38, NoSco 0.

#3 UMass over #23 Maine. UMass has plenty to play for, while Maine's gimmicky option attack, while better, shouldn't be enough to win this game. ZooMass 24, "The Black Hole" 14.

Villanova over #4 James Madison. Upset special. Villanova has played better and will make a definite game of this one at home, while it just feels like the Dukes could go into cruise control and get surprised. Playing a hunch. (Though, with last week me going 0-5 on hunches in Atlantic 10 games, take it with a grain of salt.) 'Cats 27, Dogs 24.

#5 North Dakota State over #9 Cal Poly. There are many many more Bison fans this week from all over the country. If the Mustangs lose this battle for the Great West title, they're out of the I-AA playoff hunt. The Bison have lots to prove. They want the Great West title, even though they can't play in the I-AA playoffs as a transitional school from D-II, while Cal Poly is stinging from a close loss to Montana last week. I think the key is that the Bison are at home, playing for their highest level of championship, and get the job done in a thriller. Big Bison 31, Horse-Whipped 28.

#6 Youngstown State over Western Kentucky. Another game watched by many around I-AA, a Hilltopper win in their last-ever I-AA regular-season game would make the Gateway race a toss-up and give Northern Iowa a breath of air to qualify for the playoffs. But I just don't see Youngstown State, who is trying to get that autobid and maybe clinch a home games in the I-AA playoffs, stumbling here. The Hilltoppers' time in I-AA ends with a loss. Icebirds 38, "New Orleans Bowl in 2015" 21.

#7 Illinois State over Indiana State. Tuneup #1 for the Redbirds on their way to the playoffs. Redbirds 60, Trees 12.

Eastern Kentucky over #8 Tennessee-Martin. Really, I don't want to pick this upset, picking the Skyhawks to lose and to put the OVC title potentially in a "coin-flip" situation to determine the I-AA autobid. But the Colonels are that dangerous sort of team that have showed signs of getting things together and want to end the season on a high note. Even at home, a largely untested Martin squad is vulnerable, and I think there is "danger" written all over this game. Kentucky Fried Team 30, Kentucky Fried Pigeons 20.

#10 Furman over Georgia Southern. My heart wanted to pick this upset in this rivalry game, but my brain thought better. Furman is one of the more overrated teams in this I-AA world right now in my opinion, but the Eagles just don't seem to be able to get this one done. Although there are many new Eagles fans right now hoping for an upset to put their I-AA bubble team in the playoffs, give this one to Furman. Paladins 30, Eagles 13.

#15 Southern Illinois over #11 Northern Iowa. Two maddening teams that can look like world-beaters one week and then pathetic the next, give me the home team here. It doesn't seem like the Salukis should be favored here, but if they lose, they're gone. My feeling is RB Arkee Whitlock will be running rampant. Salukis 34, Panthers 25.

#12 New Hampshire over Rhode Island. Danger, Will Robinson! Rhode Island isn't that bad. I know I'll regret this, but I just can't picture Santos and Ball not making the playoffs. I just can't. Wildcats 28, Rhody 18.

Florida A&M over #13 Hampton. I really didn't pay much attention to FAMU this year so far, but something smells like it could be up down in Florida. A Hampton team that has failed to impress most of the year, with the Rattlers playing at home? In effect, this is a playoff game for both teams, with the winner definitely (Hampton) or probably (FAMU) making the playoffs. I get the feeling QB Albert Chester II (he sounds like the long-lost son of Prince Charles, doesn't he?) wins this one for the Rattlers. Snake Charmers 31, Snake Bitten 21.

#14 Harvard over Penn. There is simply too much to play for here to pick against the Crimson. They want Harvard/Yale to mean something. It will, and they won't have to go to overtime to do it. Crimson Looking Ahead 35, Quackers 15.

Yale over #17 Princeton. It pains me to pick against my favorite Ivy team, but like Harvard they are looking ahead to "The Game" and should not disappoint against a team they have owned in recent memory. At home, the Elis win a squeaker. Elis Looking Ahead 26, Tamed Tigers 23.

#18 Coastal Carolina over Gardner-Webb. As much as I-AA playoff teams want to see Coastal lose, I don't see this upset happening. Beach Chickens 34, Runnin' Bulldogs 21.

#19 San Diego over Dayton. San Diego will try to trounce Dayton, looking to impress the I-AA Playoff committee. It won't impress them, but they will trounce them anyway. Beach Bums 42, Flexible Flyers 20.

Southern Utah over #20 South Dakota State. Playing another hunch, I don't know why I think the best 3-6 team in the nation will win this game. Maybe it's because the Thunderbirds are at home and are due in one of the most brutal schedules in I-AA. Or maybe the Jacks could be looking ahead to the "Dakota Marker" game next week. Whatever the case, I smell the upset. Thunderchickens 27, Rabbit Stew 17.

#21 Portland State over Sacramento State. Not sure I beleive that the Vikings are in the hunt for the playoffs, but I do know this game in Sacramento will be closer than you think with the Hornets better than advertised. Still, hard to see the Vikings lose this key game. Vendi Vidi Vikings 28, Humbled Hornets 21.

#22 Eastern Illinois over Tennessee Tech. The Panthers keep their (pretty good, in my opinion) playoff hopes alive. Panthers 35, Golden Eagles 10.

Liberty over #24 Charleston Southern. I think this is the game that finally ends talk of the Buccaneers getting to the playoffs in a classic look-ahead game on the road. Falwells 30, Chuck Gone South 27.

#25 Richmond over Towson. I'm picking Richmond, so if you're smart you'll be putting the farm on Towson winning this game. At home, I'm taking the Spiders. Webcrawlers 31, "Sean Schaefer and 10 Guys named Joe" 29.

Press Roundup
Allentown Morning Call:
Mountain Hawks Seniors Say Goodbye To Goodman
Upshot: ''It's a very young team with a lot of freshmen who have no idea of Lehigh's tradition, or how tough it's supposed to be at Goodman Stadium,'' Coen said. ''So, they'll come in here loose. They know if they beat us, it'll be like winning the championship for them. It would jump-start their whole program. It's scary in that respect, but our guys understand what's at stake and they know they'll have to come out and play a great football game.''

''We love the game of football, all of the seniors do, that's why we're still here,'' said senior tight end Landon Maggs. ''We started out with 41 of us. I know my emotions will be riding high. This is my last home game and I'm going to take it all in. If I could have another season, another game here in the Hawks' Nest, I'd take it in a heart beat. But this is the last one and I'll treat it with respect and treasure it.''

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Has Title In View
Upshot: "We finally do have a sense that this is our home, our house," Mountain Hawks senior tight end Landon Maggs said. "This is your house. You want to be dominant at home." "We're right where we need to be," Mountain Hawks rookie head coach Andy Coen said, "with an opportunity to have a great season. I told them to come out and act like we're playing the Pittsburgh Steelers this week."

Brown & White:
Trap Game Up Next For 'Hawks
Upshot: “Fordham will give us a run for our money; we cannot afford to pay attention to their record,” said Head Coach Andy Coen. “They are very athletic, and their new quarterback has been playing well.” “Just like every other game, this is a big game for us,” said senior linebacker Micah Greene. “We just got to be ready to go to battle.”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Preview of Fordham/Lehigh

Are we really in November already?

It feels like just weeks ago that Lehigh had lost to Yale, losing 26-20 in OT, giving the Mountain Hawks their fourth regular-season loss on the year (the first time that's happened since 1997). Frustration had built up to a boiling level - we were beat every which way statistically in that game, and for the fourth time we fell-from-ahead to lose. It was an open question as to whether this Lehigh team had what it took to win the league.

Since then, with two weeks to go in this season, Lehigh has successfully survived every test put before them. Bucknell? Survived. Holy Cross? Survived. Colgate? Survived. Each week we've gotten better and we're feeling the Lehigh pride swelling up again. You can sense this isn't the same team that suited up versus Yale. This is a hard-working team that is coming together.

Right now we're headed to the top of the world. We're in control of our own destiny, and every cliche in the world applies. One game at a time; Two more huge survival games remain. Being a Lehigh fan, it's what we're used to - success. It feels good to be back.

This week what's standing in our way to the Patriot League title is Fordham on what will probably be the last home game for this year's senior class. Like last week's game, it's a must-win. In all our minds, there should be only one big game, and it's being played at Murray Goodman. Win this game, and we'll be in control for the Patriot League title next week.

It won't be easy. Fordham last week proved that they're quite serious about winning their last few games by giving "that school in Easton" quite a scare in a 31-24 game that was close late into the 4th quarter.

In the end, it doesn't matter how, it doesn't matter when, all that matters is that you do it. Lehigh is doing it. Maybe it's in a way we're not used to, but as long as they do it, Lehigh fans should rejoice.

It's time to put any reservations about this year's Mountain Hawks in your back pocket, and hop on the bandwagon. There's plenty of room.

Injury & Weather Report
OUT:
OL Ben Harden
DB Jarvis Lewis
DB Courtney Elder
LB Al Pierce


Once again, the "official" injury list is pretty much the same it's been all year, though there are rumors of some dinged-up players that aren't listed. There is a chance that some of the seniors - OL Andrew Plummer leaps to mind - may find their way into the lineup today since it is likely the last time the seniors will be suiting up at Murray Goodman. I'd think senior DT Royce Morgan will be playing an awful lot as well, even though sophomore DT Brian Jackson is listed above him on the depth chart.

The forecast is for a cloudy morning, followed by some late showers, but a beautiful 60 degree day and a very warm morning for tailgating before the 12:30PM start. Since Lehigh is honoring veterans this week (Vets get in for half price), I'd say a popular drink from the 1940s seems to be in order. The "Screwdriver" - vodka and orange juice for the uninitiated - has to be this week's choice.

A Word about Fordham
I actually have seen Fordham play already this year. I witnessed their 37-7 drubbing at the hands of Columbia in early September, and last time I saw coach Masella I saw a frustrated man. "We have a bye week next week - thank God" was a typical quote from the postgame press conference. Coach Masella knew he had a lot of work to do, and this year he has been coaching with an eye towards 2007.

Coach Masella has had success building Central Connecticut State of the NEC into a force in that conference. He came there from Wagner College as an assistant coach, where he played for former Lafayette head coach Bill Russo, so his links to the Lafayette side of the Patriot League run pretty deep (as do a lot of Patriot League & Ivy coaches). Coach Coen I don't beleive has ever faced a Masella-coached team, even when Masella coached at Wagner, Boston University (before they dropped football), UMass, UConn and CCSU.

Lehigh has only lost to Fordham once in their history - in 1997, and I was at that game. We had a young team that gave up two late TDs to allow the Rams to tie and then go ahead in OT. Once we lost that game, our season didn't have a chance and we limped to a 4-7 record after some preseason hopes to challenge for the Patriot League title. Since then, three of the past four Lehigh/Fordham games have been close - with the deficit being a touchdown or less - but Lehigh has always prevailed. But they haven't always been easy.

Offense
Fordham has, charitably, struggled on offense this season. A team built around the running game, last week was the first week coach Masella had the same group of starters from the week before, and their offense has only scored 10 TDs on the year. Add to that some key injuries and inexperience, and you have a unit that has continued to struggle to find itself.

It starts with the current starting QB, the Texan freshman John Skelton. Anointed the starter after week 6, he is as raw as they come, has struggled with accuracy, but has some mobility and can take off with the ball. He looks a little like Colgate's Alex Relph from last week, and just as green. He was highly recruited out of Texas, however, and he is clearly the best option for them at QB at the moment. I'm actually surprised Masella didn't go with him from the beginning.

A huge loss for Fordham was losing "Mr. Everything" out of their backfield, senior RB James Prydatko, to injury. Their backup, junior RB Jonte Coven, is a 5'7 scatback that hasn't been able to fill the large void left by Prydatko. In reality Fordham will rotate their other back as well, big freshman RB Larry Dortch, in an effort to generate offense. FB Bo Marchand is primary used as a blocker, and all three have "granite hands" - not a good combination. It seems like Masella is still trying to experiment and find out what works.

The receiver doesn't look much better. Sophomore WR Rich Rayborn and junior WR Sylvester Clarke are the key go-to guys. Both have good speed and have 5 TDs between the two of them, but neither are "hands" guys to get that big 3rd down conversion. Freshman WR Asa Lucas is also on the depth chart and is probably their best "hands" guy in this green receiving corps. Senior TE Ty Hogan is mostly used as a blocker.

The "O" line only has one senior: G Anthony Silvestro. The line has been banged up and is very small around the outside - the tackles average 245 lbs! Still, their interior line looks solid and could open up some nice rushing lanes in the middle the same way Colgate did last weekend.

Defense
Similar to the offense, this base 3-4 defense has struggled with injuries all year, butthe difference is they have some potential all-league players that have kept the Rams in games this year. Albany, who beat us 17-16 this year, only got a TD against this unit in a surprise 9-7 win for the Rams. If the Rams are going to win, it will come from a smothering performance from this experienced unit.

Three seniors anchor the front "D" line: DE Cory Terzis, NG Eduardo Boza, and DT Jay Edwards. Edwards is probably the best guy on this line with 4 sacks. This line is pretty beefy as well, so interior running might be a challenge.

Senior LB Marcus Taylor is in the running for the Patriot League defensive player of the year, no mean feat on a 2-7 team. A quiet leader, he's a force on almost every play, amassing 97 tackles on the season to go with 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. Last week he returned a fumble for a TD against that school from Easton. He's the type of player that has to be accounted for on every play. The other LBs are not slouches either - juniors Earl Hudnell (a converted safety) and Ryan Kleve leap to mind, though Masella seems to rotate them in and out - but Taylor is the class of the bunch.

6'0 Junior CB Sam Orah is the class of the secondary - you can pencil him in every week. The rest of the secondary are comprised of three freshmen, however, all clocking in at under 6 feet. With that lack of height and lack of experience, these guys have been picked on this year, frequently taking gambles back there - and losing.

Special Teams
Fordham's kicking game is excellent. Senior PK Micah Culkey has a 45 yard FG to his credit this year and is always one of the best kickers in the Patriot League. Joining him this year is junior P Benjamin Dato who is probably the best punter in the Patriot this year with a 44 yard average. You could consider this unit to be the class of the Patriot.

Returning kicks is also a very solid unit. Freshman CB Isiejah Allen and junior RB Jonte Coven have excellent averages returning kicks, and Coven already has a 100 yard kickoff return to his credit for a TD. Keeping these guys under wraps will be important.

Keys To The Game
1.Snappy Nicknames. Our defense is crying out for a snappy nickname. "60 Minutes of Hell?" Not easy, but our "60 Minutes of Hell" defense will have to pressure Skelton into mistakes and frustrate their ability to generate any offense. (Have I really dropped the ball on nicknames this year?)
2.Rollouts and Counter Treys. That interior defensive line, not to mention Taylor, is tough. I'd try to stretch the outside to get those important rushing yards.
3.Penalties. In these last two games, I want to see better execution in the form of fewer penalties. Championship teams do that sort of thing, and we're not a championship team - yet.
4.Big Plays. A significant amount of Fordham's scoring has come from big plays - kickoff returns for TDs, fumble recoveries for TDs. If we can prevent those types of scores, I really like our chances.

Fearless Prediction
I think the seniors come out of this weekend winners in what's likely to be their last home game at Goodman stadium. I think they honestly are focused on beating Fordham this week in order to put themselves in postition to win the Patriot League title next weekend. I really don't see a sloppy effort, especially at home in front of the senior day crowd. I see a good, solid win.

Lehigh 35, Fordham 9

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Press Roundup: Colgate/Lehigh

I'm sitting here looking at this Morning Call photo and wondering: Was this shot against a green screen? Seriously, it's a nice action shot of Sedale, and I just wish I had the same photo editing program that they did.

Today or tomorrow my I-AA.org piece should be released, complete with pictures and the full deal on the game. But I will do my press roundup and give out my game balls before I do that.

On offense, the game ball is going to the guy in the picture, junior QB Sedale Threatt. He may give himself a tough time for a few missed passes, but I sure won't with a 10-for-17 day with 185 yards passing, 75 yards rushing and 2 TDs. Like last year versus Colgate, Threatt got the job done and gave their defense fits. Sedale, you got a well-deserved game ball.

You look at the defensive statistics and see senior NT Erik Rakus, who is this week's defensive game ball winner for the second straight week. Four tackles? Granted, he had two tackles for loss and an interception that bounced off the lineman. But the statistician ought to take a look at the game films again. "Big Daddy" Rakus hurried both Colgate QBs incessantly all game, had his body flying into the Colgate backfield all day, and even caused Colgate's coach Dick Biddle to rotate his line in the middle of the game in order to contain him. If you had a statistic called "Play Disruptions", Erik "Big Daddy" Rakus would top the list this week, and he also gets another well-deserved game ball.

Special teams sees two game balls this week. Sophomore PK Jason Leo is the obvious choice with 2 punts averaging 40 yards, and 3-for-4 on FGs, including a 41 yarder that was vital in keeping the game out of reach. But senior FB Greg "Grandpa" Fay is also getting the game ball for making that heads-up play on Colgate's onsides kick. Seeing the onsides kick sail in the air 15 yards, he alertly called for a fair catch while Colgate barrelled into him and recovered the ball. His heads-up play kept possession in Lehigh's hands while we drove to get a crucial FG to keep the game out of reach. Sometimes, it's one play that gets you the game ball, and that momentum-changing heads-up play can be the difference between winning and losing.

Congratulations to all!

Press Roundup:
Allentown Morning Call:
Threatt's Game Is Back On Track
Upshot: ''[Jason] Leo kicked too many field goals for me,'' Threatt said, referring to the three field goals from the Lehigh placekicker that accounted for all of the team's scoring in the second half. ''I was a little upset about that. I only want him out there for extra points and kickoffs. I blame myself for [us not scoring more touchdowns]. I had Frank [Trovato] open one time and I had Marques [Thompson] and other guys open and I have to step up and make the throw.''

Groller: Lehigh's Turnaround Couldn't have Been Timed Any Better
Upshot: ''The only people who didn't have confidence were you guys,'' said smiling nose tackle Eric Rakus, referring to the media. ''Everybody on the team had confidence in coach Coen. They would run through a wall for him.''Confidence is such a big thing. A lot of the game is upstairs mentally. You need anything to get an edge. We were not a team that was lacking in confidence. We just weren't a team that was making the big plays when we needed to. We needed to find a way to get it done. Now, we're finding those ways.''

Brown & White:
Football Team Remains Perfect In Patriot League
Upshot: Biddle admitted that Rakus gave the Raiders problems. “We moved our starting center to guard and our freshman to the center,” Biddle said. “Then he was having problems sometimes with their nose [guard Rakus], so we put our most experienced guy in.”

Utica Observer-Dispatch:
Raiders Fall 23-15 to Lehigh
Upshot: With the loss, Colgate falls to 3-6 — which means the Raiders will finish with a losing record for the first time in head coach Dick Biddle's 11-year career in Hamilton.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Some Playoff Speculation

Lehigh ain't won anything yet, but as we're coming down to the wire in this 2006 I-AA season, I thought it best to tell you, dear Reader, a little about the I-AA playoffs, how they work, and who's got the inside track for playoff bids. Every year it's confusing, but after you read this tidbit the smoke should clear to some extent.

First, who gets in? On November 19th, the NCAA will announce the playoff field for the playoffs. Sixteen teams will be in the field - eight of whom will be automatic conference qualifiers (the Patriot League, Gateway, Atlantic 10, Southern Conference, Southland, Big Sky, Ohio Valley, and Mid-Eastern Athletic).

The other eight will be at-large selection determined by the NCAA I-AA football committee, comprised of athletic directors of I-AA member schools. All schools are eligible for selection as an at-large team, as long as:

1. Their conference allows postseason play (the Ivy League does not).
2. That the team does not have scheduling conflicts or another postseason championship game (the SWAC divisional champions, Alabama State, Grambling State, and Southern all choose not to participate).
3. You cannot be "in transition" to I-AA, meaning, recently reclassified to I-AA in the past four years. (This eliminates teams like North Dakota State and Central Arkansas, two teams who have been in the Top 25 this year.
4. That teams that do not get the magic number of seven Division I wins (which eliminates most other teams).

For example, if you go 11-0 but play five Division II or lower teams, you cannot qualify for the postseason. If you go 8-3, but two of those wins were against D-II or lower teams, you cannot qualify (since only 6 of those wins are "D-I" wins.).

Not easy, is it? In any event, in the Patriot League this year only Holy Cross has the potential to be seriously considered as an at-large team if they beat Colgate next weekend. They would finish at 8-3 and meet all the criteria. Lehigh or Lafayette can only make the playoffs by winning the Patriot League autobid. If Lehigh wins against Forhdam and the following weekend, they are in the playoffs.

Clear as Mud, isn't it?
Now that that's out of the way, let's handicap the playoff spots right now. First, let's peek at the autobids as they stand right now.

Atlantic 10: The two teams in the drivers' seat would be 8-1 UMass and 8-1 James Madison. Both are undefeated in their respective divisions, but if they both win out UMass would win the autobid since their only loss is to I-A Army. Right now, it's UMass.

Gateway: Any one of four teams could still take this thing, and it's a dogfight for the autobid or autobid spots. But the fact remains that if 8-2 Youngstown State beats Western Kentucky this weekend, they'll basically lock up the autobid. If they falter, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, or Southern Illinois could pick up the pieces.

SoCon: 9-1 Applachian State (the defending national champions) have already punched their ticket for the playoffs by beating The Citadel this weekend.

Big Sky: It will come down to the "Brawl of the Wild" as it does every year, but 8-1 Montana is in the driver's seat. If they beat 7-3 Montana State, they will get the autobid and the Bobcats will sit at home. I should know better, but give me Montana right now.

Ohio Valley: The spunky 8-1 Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks are in the driver's seat, though if they stumble 6-4 Eastern Illinois or 5-4 Tennessee State could nab this autobid. Right now though, the odds-on favorites are the Skyhawks.

MEAC: It seems like every year 9-1 Hampton is in the driver's seat, and this year is no exception. If they lose to Florida A&M next weekend and 7-2 Delaware State wins out, the Hornets will get the crown, but I wouldn't bet against the Pirates here.

Patriot: It will come down to Lehigh, Lafayette or Holy Cross. If Lehigh wins their last two games they will get the autobid. If Holy Cross loses and Lafayette wins their last two games, they will get the autobid. If Holy Cross wins, Lehigh beats Fordham, Lafayette beats Georgetown and Lafayette beats Lehigh, it will come down to a vote of the athletic directors of Colgate, Fordham, Georgetown and Bucknell. Hopefully it won't come to that.

Southland: Another mess, the two most likely teams to emerge from the fog is McNeese State or Sam Houston State. McNeese has the edge since they beat Sam Houston State already, but nothing feels like a done deal here yet. If McNeese and Sam Houston both lose, it will be very, very, very ugly as to who wins.

After the autobids comes the chances at the at-large bids. Here's the odds as to who will be the at-large teams.

#1: The second-placed team in the A-10. Odds: 1:100,000. Both UMass and James Madison already have enough wins, so even if they both lose a couple games they are in.

#2: The second-placed team in the Gateway. Odds: 1:100,000. Sure, 7-2 Illinois State could lose to Indiana State and Northern Iowa, but I wouldn't put any money on that. Even if Youngstown falters, Illinois State appears to be in first or second with just one win, and even the "worst case scenario" somebody gets it, probably Youngstown State.

#3: The second-placed team in the OVC. Odds: 3-1. Even if Tennessee-Martin falters, they seem like a lock for an at-large bid if they win just one of their last two games. But the interesting case comes in if there is a tie for the OVC crown and Eastern Illinois or Tennessee State win the autobid because of a... coin toss. Even if Tenn-Martin wins the toss, the committee may reward an 8-4 Eastern Illinois team with an at-large bid with eight D-I wins. I like these odds.

#4: Furman. Odds: 6-1. At 7-3, all they need to do is beat struggling Georgia Southern to clinch a spot, but since this is a big rivalry game, this is no gimme.

#5: The third-placed team in the Gateway. Odds: 6-1. This looks strong since Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa play each other and both are fighting for 8-3 records. What could be a stumbling point, though is if UNI wins out and is looking for an at-large but but have a D-II loss to North Dakota to explain to the committee. That uncertainty brings these odds down.

#6: The third-placed team in the A-10. Odds: 8-1. If 6-3 New Hampshire beats Rhode Island and 6-3 Maine upsets UMass, the third-placed team will definitely be in since they play each other in two weeks. 6-3 Towson could get this spot too, but they'd have to beat Richmond AND James Madison to do it. Some slim odds, but a lot of possibilities exists where a third team gets in, and only one scenario has to come true.

#7: Montana. Odds: 8-1. They would lose an autobid only if Montana State beats them the last week of the season (or lose to Northern Colorado, but that's unlikely to happen). Knowing this rivalry, this absolutely could happen, which is why this sits at 8-1.

#8: Cal Poly. Odds: 8-1. At 6-3, they need to beat #4 ranked North Dakota State and Savannah State to win the Great West conference and make the playoffs, no mean feat. I really don't know if they'll be able to pull it off. The Bison are really tough and want that Great West title.

#9: Coastal Carolina. Odds: 9-1. At 7-2, they have to win their last two games versus 6-3 Gardner-Webb and 9-0 Charleston Southern, neither one a gimme, to have a shot at winning the Big South conference and an at-large bid. A 9-2 Coastal team with wins against Wofford and Furman are a pretty good at-large resume. An 8-3 record with a loss to G-W or Chuck South probably wouldn't be enough.

#10: Delaware State. Odds: 10-1. Although the Hornets will have a good 9-2 schedule like Coastal, they won't have a quality win to show the committee. Still, they may be rewarded for a schedule with 8 D-I wins and only losses to Hampton and Northwestern State.

#11: Holy Cross. Odds: 12-1. With a win next week over Colgate, they are in the mix at 8-3 if they win and do some of hoping. Like Delaware State, they wouldn't have a quality win to show the committee, but they will have 8 D-I wins and no embarassing losses. A little pandemomium, and they could find themselves in.

#12: Monmouth. Odds: 12-1. At 9-1 the Hawks would have to beat Albany next week and hope just like Holy Cross. They would have 10 D-I wins, but their lone quality win versus Northeast Conference league-mate Albany could be nullified by weak out-of-conference wins versus Colgate, Fordham and Morgan State. Another factor: they could host the Gridiron Classic against the Pioneer Football League representative should they not make the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if a NEC team will be picked for the first time in their history.

#13: San Diego. Odds: 14-1. They are expected to win out and end the season with a 10-0 record in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, but could be punished for playing a weak D-I schedule (with only 8 D-I opponents), and letting transitional UC-Davis twist in the wind to try to accomodate playoff dreams (they tenatively scheduled a game with them during the first week of the playoffs). Still, they beat Yale (who might win the Ivy League title) and are ranked highly in the Top 25. Furthermore, if they get in the playoffs with this schedule, they would be the first-ever Pioneer League school to make the field and open up a huge can of worms for future years. I think the cons outweigh the pros, and this brings them way down my list.

#14: Charleston Southern. Odds: 20-1. They would have to run the table to get consideration, and even with a Big South title and a win over nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina, to me it's basically out of the question that a school that scheduled four sub-D-I schools will get invited. I seriously doubt it.

#15: The #4 team in the Atlantic 10. Odds: 25-1. Stranger things have happened, but Towson would have to run the table while Maine/New Hampshire take the #3 spot. I don't think this is happening.

#16: The #4 team in the Gateway. Odds: 30-1. This involves the "thermonuclear" option in the Gateway with UNI winning the autobid and Youngstown State, Southern Illinois and Illinois State all sitting at 8-3. Unlikely, but nonetheless still possible.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday's Word: Finishing

We did end up winning this week's game versus Colgate 23-15. But we came dastardly close to not "finishing" an opponent. It was enough against Colgate, but it was troubling enough to make it this Sunday's word.

I suppose I should be focusing on all the positives of the game instead. Holding sophomore RB sensation Jordan Scott to 83 yards of total offense, for example. Two more great interceptions - and winning the turnover battle. Winning the battle of special teams. NT Erik Rakus making life absolutely miserable for Colgate. QB Sedale Threatt, rushing for 75 yards and 2 TDs. Getting 4.3 yards per carry rushing. And, most importantly, staying up by two scores or more during most of the game. These things are all fine achievements, including the most important one - we won the game.

But on offense and defense, we clearly let Colgate hang around far too long. We didn't "finish" them. Up 14-0 at half, we let Kenny Parker get free and nearly get a TD - fortunately, they settled on a FG. Up 20-3 early in the 4th quarter, we let up a drive to Colgate where Colgate QB Mike Saraceno goes 4-for-6 and gets a key TD to put them back in the game. In a game where the QBs were unable to get anything going before, this "soft" TD made it a heck of a lot more interesting. In my humble view of the game, I didn't all of a sudden see Colgate kick in another gear. I saw our defense look an awful lot like the team that struggled against Yale, Princeton, and Harvard.

It didn't get any less interesting after that. The offense struggled to get back into PK John Leo's range to make it 23-9, and then the defense still gave up massive chunks of yards to Colgate for another soft TD. Then the offense finally shut it down and won the game by holding onto the ball for the final 5 minutes to seal the win. But it wasn't dominating by any stretch. No fewer than 3 third-downs featured, not to mention a 4th down conversion. For good measure, on 3rd-and-1 we got flagged for an illegal shift. No way should it have been THAT interesting.

We were lucky to get away with the win. Colgate is too good to fall asleep against, and it appeared that some folks didn't realize that. We didn't "finish". We got lucky.

Look, I don't feel this team is filled with stiffs. I realize that this team is only a few points from being undefeated. It's because the team is so talented that it's so maddening to see them let teams back in the game rather than step on their throats like they did versus Holy Cross. You can't do it versus Colgate, Fordham, or anybody. Especially versus Colgate. I don't care what their record is - they are a huge rival, and you can't give them any oxygen to mount a comeback.

To be fair, I was also impressed by Lehigh's ability to bounce back from mistakes. Even though we had seven penalties (and some were hair-pulling, like 12 men on the field and illegal procedure penalties), we did bounce back really well and get the job done, and when the history books are written that's what will really be seen. Lehigh 23, Colgate 15, final.

But against Fordham we're going to have to "finish". Their barn-burner last week versus Lafayette shows that the Rams are not just packing it in for the season - they are playing hard and could be a dangerous opponent. They will be playing loose and looking to get our pelts to make their season a success. A win next week for them would be their "Super Bowl".

We can't afford to look ahead to playing a certain school in Easton yet. We need to "finish" business at home versus Fordham first. I have confidence that this team can get the job done - I've seen them be able to do it. I know they can "finish". If they "finish" next week in a win over Fordham, I'll feel a lot better about our chances the following week. I think so will the rest of Lehigh Nation.
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