Saturday, November 25, 2006

UMass 35, Lafayette 14, final

You can read my writeup of the game on CSTV's website. Even though Lafayette kept this game close through the third quarter, for the third straight playoff trip Lafayette played a top team close for (nearly) three quarters, but being unable to pull things out in the end.

Lafayette acquitted themselves well in my opinion. UMass head coach Don Brown praised Lafayette saying that their staff "is the smartest I've coached against this year".

If you couldn't bring yourself to root for Lafayette, you got your with with the Leopard loss. But the Patriot League in a down year showed that they will still be heard from in years to come. All in all, not a bad deal for the Patriot League as 2006 has come to a close for everyone in the Patriot League.

I think I went 7-1 in my playoff picks this week... not bad.

UMass 21, Lafayette 14, halftime

Are you watching this game? UMass had this game under control until about 3 minutes in the second quarter, and then got an interception, converted for a TD. Then the Leopards forced a fumble off the return, and then converted THAT for a TD, making this a game.

It's on CN8. You really should be watching this.

Friday, November 24, 2006

10 Reasons To Root For Lafayette

Awaking from my turkey coma, it dawns on me that I forgot to do my promised blog posting on Lehigh and the All-Patriot League teams. It will have to wait probably until early next week. Why? The first round of the FCS playoffs is tomorrow, and you're simply going to have to do the unthinkable: root for Lafayette.

Yes, dear reader, I know. It's difficult to bring yourself to look yourself in the mirror and root for the team that kicked our ass last Saturday. But trust me when I say it's worth it. Just to help you out, here are 10 reasons to root for Lafayette.

1. Revenge for 1998. If it wasn't for that bogus pass interference call, Lehigh would have beaten UMass and won the I-AA championship.
2. You just know that the players are looking at Lafayette's 6-5 record and are thinking to themselves at some level, "cupcake".
3. As ugly as they are, Lafayette is the only member of our league, the Patriot League, playing in the playoffs.
4. UMass whined in 2003 about playing AT 11-0 Colgate, "only" a Patriot League school. Colgate then trounced them 19-7.
5. UMass fans whined about the game being played in a snowstorm, as if their precious all-stars couldn't actually be bothered to play in the stuff.
6. Lafayette gave us Pete Carril. UMass gave us John Calipari.
7. Lafayette has student-athletes like QB Brad Maurer, a neuroscience major that could get a job after college helping find cures for cancer. UMass has athletes like Marcus Camby, who takes cash from an attorney while at UMass and strikes his head coach on the Knicks.
8. Umassfan on the Any Given Saturday message board.
9. The stunned silence at McGuirk stadium would just be too awesome for words.
10. A good Lehigh fan may have a hard time with this, but we only face Lafayette in football one day a year. Lafayette's success is great for the entire league and gives us respect nationally. Having Lafayette win is good for the Patriot League and by extension is good for Lehigh. "Little Lafayette" winning at football is good for them and good for us.

It also makes it just that much sweeter when we destroy them next year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I-AA/FCS Playoff Predictions

It's a little hard to read, but to your left is the brackets for the I-AA (oops, I mean D-I Football Championship Subdivision) playoffs for 2006. As promised, I'm weighing in on my thoughts on the selections.

Like the NCAA basketball tournament, the bracket is broken down in a series of "seeds". You could call each section of the bracket the equivalent of an NCAA "regional", though it's not necessarily geographic in nature. The four seeds: #1 Appalachian State, #2 Montana, #3 UMass and #4 Youngstown State are guaranteed a home game through their "regional".

Let's break down the bracket.

The Appalchian State Regional
Coastal Carolina at #1 Appalachian State. "Congratulations Coastal, you've just gotten the first-ever invite to the playoffs. What are you going to do?" "We're going to Boone, NC!" was probably not the first thing they had in mind, but there we are. Hard to see the Mountaineers lose this game, but keep in mind: They could be on cruise control, having coasted through November having wrapped up the SoCon weeks ago. Still, they manhandled Western Carolina, another pass-happy team, last week and would seem to be able to pass the test here. Yosefs 31, Beach Chickens 21.

Montana State at Furman. First of all, should Montana State be in the field? At 7-4 with a loss to D-II Chadron State, they were marginal at best, and 7-4 Portland State or 7-4 Northern Iowa were probably more deserving. Furman, who could plausibly have entertained playing a home game, also have to feel stiffed with good reason. But something funny always seems to happen with "the last team in the field" and "the team that gets stiffed". The last team in the field wins the game. Bobkitties 31, Purple-With-Rage Paladins 28.

The Montana Regional
McNeese State at #2 Montana. Could the playoff committee have made the path any easier for the Griz? Throwing the Southland champion fresh from the Bayou up to Jon Tester's home state - a McNeese State team who lost to Texas State this year? With the winner of the Southern Illinois/Tennessee-Martin game on tap for them next? I don't beleive these Griz are the best team in the playoffs this year, but I think the committee has given them such an easy path that they coast through this round. Griz 38, McNeese 14.

Tennessee-Martin at Southern Illinois. The battle of the best nicknames (the Salukis and the Skyhawks), this is the most perplexing game to pick. How good is Southern Illinois, the team that beat I-A Indiana but lost to Western Kentucky? How good is Martin, who mostly took care of business in a light OVC schedule, beating Eastern Illinois, but losing to Eastern Kentucky? I'll have to give this one to the Salukis, who seem to be peaking at the right time. Surging Salukis 34, Carrier Pigeons 10.

The UMass Regional
Lafayette at #3 UMass. Lafayette's reward for beating Lehigh is a trip to balmy Amherst, MA for a first-round game against the A-10 champions. A daunting task for "little Lafayette" to say the least, getting yardage against a big UMass front seven and an all-Atlantic 10 safety, and also facing a possible Payton award candidate in RB Steve Baylark. QB Liam Coen is no slouch either. It's just hard to see Lafayette beat this simply awesome team. ZooMass 45, Loopers 7.

New Hampshire at Hampton. It's hard to see that Hampton deserved to host a first-round game after this year's 10-1 season against subpar teams, but they do get to face arguably the best QB-to-WR combo in FCS. Santos-to-Ball should give Hampton fits, and New Hampshire should exploit this to devstting effect. Wild-Gasp 44, Pirates of Penzance 30.

The Youngstown State Bracket
James Madison at #4 Youngstown State. A matchup of national-championship-caliber teams, putting James Madison on the road just doesn't seem right for the first school that won the I-AA championship playing four road games, but welcome to the wacky world of the selection committee. Could history repeat itself? Maybe, just maybe, it can, and it starts after this thrilling conclusion to the playoff day this Saturday. Daisy Dukes 38, Icepants 35, OT.

Illinois State at Eastern Illinois. The playoff committee gives a home-and-home to Illinois State and Eastern Illinois after the Redbirds trounced the Panthers 44-30 in Week 3. You may hear that it's difficult to beat the same team twice. Don't beleive the hype. Redbirdies 38, Punt-thers 3.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone... See You Friday about the Patriot League Postseason Awards

Monday, November 20, 2006

Worst Sports Weekend Ever?

I guess I haven't totally gotten "grace" yet, but I can't stop thinking about the flow of the weekend, sports-wise, that couldn't be described in any other way than "train wreck". (Apropos for a blog talking about Lehigh Enigneer... I mean, Mountain Hawk football.)

I wake up on Saturday, and it's a sunny day. Beautiful. And I couldn't have had a better feeling of karma driving up to Easton. It felt like the moon was in the seventh house, Jupiter aligned with Mars, and the sports world was aligned for me.

Let's recap what happened after that, shall we?

* The 142nd. Lehigh, of course, loses.
* Later that evening, I watch my wife's alma mater, Rutgers, get humiliated by Cincinnati 30-11. Their outside shot at a national championship is gone; their shot at a BCS bowl requires them to run the table.
* I wake up the next day greeted by the realization that the Flyers, unsurprisingly, got drilled 6-1 by the San Jose Sharks, cementing their league-worst 5-14-2 record.
* At noon, Lehigh's wrestlers lost to their third nationally-ranked squad of the season in Edinboro (PA) in the Pennsylvania Duals, adding to their defeats to Rider and Michigan. Lehigh is in danger of losing their Top 25 ranking for the first time since I can remember.
* The Eagles will surely get by the Titans. McNabb will lead them to victory. Right? Right?
* The team I grew up with, the New Orleans Saints, get embarassed by the Bengals 31-16, further proving that their great start was a total fluke.
* Lehigh's men's soccer team falls to Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament 3-0.
* Jimmie Johnson wins the Nextel Cup. I don't follow NASCAR at all, but anybody that reminds me of the former Cowboy head coach can't be a good person.
* Even the Cowboys wouldn't cooperate, upsetting the Colts 21-14 and ensuring that we haven't heard the last of annoying loudmouth T.O. and obnoxious Bill Parcells.
* Real Madrid forces David Beckham from pal Tom Cruise's wedding. Rather than sit around with wife "Posh Spice" in Yankee hats doing the "Electric Slide" with Tom & Katie, he was forced to join the team in a 3-1 defeat of Racing Santander instead. (That was part of the worst sports weekend ever simply because it was an actual news item.)

Seriously, could it have gotten any worse? Well, maybe if the Yankees came in and signed Matzusaka from the Red Sox by doubling their offer. But it's no wonder I feel like Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull right now.

Some I-AA playoff commentary tomorrow, and some I-AA playoff predictions coming Wednesday, so stay tuned.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday's Word: Grace

The long offseason of Lehigh's football team starts now, with the lingering image to my left being the lasting memory of the 2006 season.

Next week, we learned, Lafayette will have to play mighty UMass up in Amherst, MA, as a reward for beating us. I'm not sure if the Leopards will be able to compete with the strong defense and powerful running game of the Minutemen. But there's plenty of time to talk about that, predict the playoffs, and honor the seniors who did their best yesterday.

It's time to talk about "grace".

We're in that difficult situation right now where we need to find some "grace". Something inside us that puts the loss behind us, and allows us all to cheer for Lafayette next week. But these losses hurt, and you can't go through that much emotion without feeling some lingering bad feelings. I have them too. The view of the (thankfully few) drunk Lafayette students swearing and cursing out the Lehigh players as they left the playing field just fills me with loathing, but thankfully I know enough Lafayette fans to know that these bozos were only a very small minority. Unfortunately, with "The Rivalry" so raw right now, it's things like that which linger in my memory at the moment.

It's the risk of "The Rivalry". You win, and it's the sort of wind that puffs your sails for weeks afterwards. You look back at 1995 when WR Brian Klingerman made "The Catch" and you smile. It never goes away, either - if you were there for that catch and you were a Lehigh fan, you remembered it. But you put yourself at the precipice. When things don't work out, you're in this mire of thinking... what went wrong? How do we not let this happen again? God, those Lafayette fans were jerks.

Keep in mind that I am very aware the reverse is true as well. I'm certain many Lafayette fans have memories of "some Lehigh jerk" doing something stupid too, and someday they will be talking about RB Jonathan Hurt and QB Brad Maurer in hushed, revered tones the same way we talk about WR Brian Klingerman, QB Luke Cianello, or QB Phil Stambaugh. But when you're on the edges of "The Rivalry" - it's still so raw.

"Grace". It will come. The time will come to honor the seniors, to look back at the positive things that coach Coen has brought to this team and this program, and to scout out the I-AA playoffs. (Not to mention to try to figure out how Portland State was left out of the I-AA playoffs.)

But know this. Coach Coen's hiring was not meant to simply continue what was here before - he was here to build his own team and instill his philosophy here. It will take time for these seeds to take root, and I think that we will be reaping those benefits in the future.

In the meantime, the word is "grace".
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