Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lehigh 37, VMI 6, final

Lehigh did what they had to do today, pouncing on VMI early to the tune of a 31-0 halftime lead and ultimately cruising to an easy 37-6 drubbing of the Keydets. Refreshingly, this game was over early after senior QB Sedale Threatt connected with junior TE Troy Healion for a 15 yard TD to make it 7-0, and it was all downhill from there. With Healion's 2 TDs, and junior WR Nick Johnson's two bombs, it's going to be awfully challenging figuring out an offensive player of the week. (What a pleasant problem to have.)

Not only was it great to see Lehigh return to their dominating ways at home (which I very much hope to be a trend), it was great to see the offense and defense get a good chance to click and continue to work things out. I get the feeling this team is getting stronger, and this is a morale-building win to bring the Mountain Hawks to 2-1.

Having said that, it's not like it was perfect - 10 penalties for 71 yards leaps to mind. There were some drives in the first half that didn't result in points that could have. Yet overall, the offense and defense really seemed to click, and coach Coen in the postgame press conference had nothing but good things to say about the defense and how they completely shut down VMI. William & Mary and James Madison of the CAA did let up more than 10 points to the Keydets in both of their games: out starters completely shut them out, and even our backups held them to 6 points.

The easy home win for Lehigh this September is now done. And it's not too late to alreayd look ahead to next week, when Harvard will offer a much sterner test. But tonight, the Yuenglings taste extra-sweet. Lehigh's 2-1, getting better each week, and have a home winning streak to defend next week. Life is good tonight.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week 4 (and Mash-Up)

I've got to hand it to the executive director of FCS at the Sports Network (and longtime friend from I-AA.org and College Sporting News) Dave Coulson, he really knows how to get in good with me (and a lot of other Lehigh fans). In his FCS column this week he mentions that he will be in attendance in this week's VMI/Lehigh clash at Murray Goodman stadium. That means for the 1:07PM kickoff he'll be able to see all the inflatables for the kids, since it's "Kids' Day" at the stadium with lots of activities for the young Hawks in the opening hour. Normally I'd come up for "Kid's Day" with my son, but since I have other things to attend to this weekend, I'll be watching the game over the internet and blogging about my impressions.

I sat next to Dave at Princeton last week for Lehigh's win over the Tigers, 32-21, which I wrote about extensively on College Sporting News in a FCS diary entry along with a photo album. With Dave filing a report this weekend from Murray Goodman (or at least at the spacious Sports Network offices, anyway), that means Lehigh will be getting national press for three straight weeks: the Princeton game, the VMI game, and the Harvard game next week which I will be attending live for the College Sporting News. (Not bad for a team that was 6-5 last year. Delaware, eat your heart out!)

It seems like now's a good a time as any to mention the different ways you can catch the Lehigh game this week if you're not on the road or close to a computer: AM 1230 and 1320 in the Lehigh Valley (the same stations that give you The Andy Coen Report, a live call-in radio show at 6:00PM on Mondays), and Service Electric 2. On the radio, the broadcast team is generally Matt Kerr and hall-of-fame Lehigh quarterback Glenn Kempa... oops, I meant Marty Horn ('87). (Just kidding, Marty), however this week stepping in for Marty is another former Lehigh great in Kody Fedorcha ('00) and Mark Markus. The TV crew is Mike Zambelli and former Lehigh linebacker Mike Yadush, and as this report also notes, he also is a high school defensive coordinator and wrestling coach at Whitehall. And I thought I had a busy schedule!

Patriot League Picks
As always, some of these picks are cross posted on the national column at the College Sporting News. This week, there is a nice writeup about the amount of FCS polls there are. The column is co-written by myself and Ralph Wallace, and he deserves all the credit for the great piece about all the different polls.

Princeton over No. 22 Lafayette. This pick has nothing to do with Lafayette winning a big 8-7 game last week, nor does it have anything to do with Roger Hughes steaming in the Postgame press conference after his Tigers lost a sloppy 32-21 game to Lehigh last week. It has everything to do with history and numbers. It’s just one of those things: simply, Lafayette cannot beat Princeton. They are 4-36-3 against the Tigers; and it doesn’t matter if it’s the “flying wedge” era or the modern day: they’ve only beat them three times since 1982. I simply can’t pick against history like that, no matter how Princeton quarterback Bill Foran looked last week or how good Lafayette’s defense is, led by defensive tackle Kyle Sprenkle. After the game, you’ll be saying, “How on Earth did Lafayette lose that game?”
Dick Kazmaiers 29, Rose Barclays 28

Holy Cross over Georgetown. Can the Hoyas do this? Pull off a monumental upset in this “Holy War” between Jesuit schools? Holy Cross managed an incredible come-from-behind win over Harvard last week 31-28 after quarterback Dominc Randolph’s 40 yard bomb to wideout Thomas Harrison with 19 seconds left, while Gerogetown fought bravely against Yale at home 28-14 against an offensive line that was about50 pounds heavier than their defensive line. I don’t think the Hoyas pull off the upset, but I think they give the Crusaders indigestion in a classic “trap game”.
Purple People Eaters 31, Hopeful Hoyas 21

Richmond over Bucknell. Another CAA team that folks have forgetten about, the Spiders should have no issues manhandling the overmatched Bison here, but the real question is: will runningback Tim Hightower and the rest of the Spiders be sniffing the Top 25 again with another dominating win? Stay tuned…
Spider-Men 56, Venomous Bison 10

Fordham over Dayton. Before anyone gets tempted to take 3-0 Dayton here, it's worthy of note the following: that two wins were blowouts over sub-D-I schools, and their 23-12 victory over Robert Morris was aided immesurably by three turnovers, including one that was returned for a TD. On the road against an increasingly assertive Fordham team, I think the Rams keep their roll going.
Stout Rams 42, Flexible Flyers 10

Game Writeups
Morning Call: Lehigh Hopes To Cook Up More Home Wins
Groller's Corner: Hot One At Goodman
Express-Times: Lehigh Notes
Express-Times: Defense Becomes Ball Hawks
Brown & White: Hawks Hope to Keep Momentum Going
Lehighsports.Com: Brannan Thomas: Covering All Corners
Richmond Times-Dispatch: FCS Notes (VMI)

Press Mash-Up

“Brannan provides the coaches and players with a lot of stability in the defensive backfield,” said Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen. “He’s probably the best cover corner in the Patriot League this season and because of that, he allows us to be more aggressive on defense.”

“The coaches told me during my freshman year that I’d have more of a chance to get on the field playing defensive back than wide receiver, and so I chose corner,” senior CB Brannan Thomas said. “I love to play, and if this was the way I was going to get out there, I was going to do it. Nobody wants to sit on the bench and watch, especially me.”

Coen believes that Thomas can make a big impact in the return game again this season. “We’re going to put him back there because we know we can count on him,” Coen said. “He’s fearless, and he’s able to catch the ball in traffic after playing corner for so long. Those are two things that you need to have in a punt returner, trust and fearlessness.”

**********************************************

“It was very important to get a win last week against Princeton so we can start to get some of our confidence back,” junior defensive back Quadir Carter said.

Other players also stressed the importance of their first victory.

“It’s always important to get the first win of the season,” junior offensive lineman Kevin Bayani said. “This win at Princeton was even more important because of the fact that they beat us last year. We expect to keep the ball rolling and pick up another win this week against VMI.”

“The defense stepped up big time in the first half, creating four turnovers which was huge,” senior offensive lineman Jimmy Kehs said. “The offense executed better in the first half than we did against Villanova, which enabled us to get out to an early lead.”

“The offense needs to finish drives,” Kehs said. “We had a lot of missed chances against Princeton in the second half. We need to capitalize on all opportunities that the defense gives us.”

“We lost focus and gave up some big plays on defense,” Coen said. “Offensively, we dropped too many passes and didn’t execute well at times. We will work on our concentration and continue to emphasize the importance of finishing things.”

+“We are focusing on minimizing our mental errors and finishing the game,” Carter said. “We need to learn how to knock teams out when they are hanging on the ropes. I think we struggled with that the last couple of games as well as last season.”

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Bad weather, bad field conditions, bad luck and good teams have had a lot to do with Lehigh's recent home struggles.

But second-year coach Andy Coen, who has gone 3-4 at home so far, thinks other factors may be at work.

"Maybe we all just put a little too much pressure on ourselves when we're at home, and we're a little too uptight," Coen said at the team's weekly luncheon on Wednesday at Starters Pub. "I talked about it all last year, I talked about it in Week 1 and I'll talk about it again this week about how important it is to win at home. You want to create an atmosphere that makes it tough for people to come in here.

"But, at the same time, kids can get a little too uptight. The message this week is that we want to play well at home, we want people to fear coming in here, but the most important thing is to play the same way whether we're at home, at Princeton or in the middle of Interstate 78 somewhere."

For whatever reason, the team doesn't play with the same focus at home as it does on the road. Maybe the players are too tight because they usually are playing in front of bigger crowds at Goodman and they're trying too hard to impress extra family and friends. Even more demanding are the long-time fans and alums who can't get to road games and expect excellence from the guys in the home brown.

And, when things don't go well early, the crowd gets testier and more vocal and that only leads to more pressure. And more mistakes.

"With Kevin [Higgins] in 1998, we started to get it going here with some really good football teams," Coen said. "Before that, maybe the talent level wasn't quite the same and we lost as many home games as we won. We created a mentality that it's tough to play here, just by winning, and we want to get the ball rolling again and make it tough for teams to come in here and beat us."

************************

Keith Groller: This is one game where Lehigh needs to revert to its old self, jump out with some big plays on both sides of the ball and put their collective foot down on VMI. The Mountain Hawks could have and should have done that at Princeton last week, but let up and nearly let the Tigers make a game of it.

"We just need to come out and play," Coen said. "For this program, right now, it's very big to get to 2-1. We were never 2-1 last year. We were constantly playing catch-up. This gives us a chance to get out front a little bit.

“We are preparing to play a physical team and will be concentrating on stopping their option attack. On defense they are a 4-3 team which is new for us this year. We will be concentrating on attacking that style of defense.

“This week we need to play with the same intensity we did last week. They run the option, so our defense must be very disciplined. Offensively we must continue to run the ball better and must be more efficient throwing it.”

"[VMI's] very similar to Bucknell, with the options and the Wing-T that they run," [senior DB Daynin] Blake said. "It's going to be a challenge for us to stay disciplined and not get lost. It can be difficult, trying to find the ball.

"Defense always wants to do its part, whether it's stopping them on third or fourth down or putting the ball in the end zone."

“VMI is a tough team,” [junior OL Kevin] Bayani said. “They’ve lost to two very good teams and they’re not just going to lay down for us. It’s going to be a good game but like Coach Cohen always says, it doesn’t have to be close. I’m expecting to walk out of Goodman Stadium a 2-1 football team.”

[VMI RB] Joey Robinson played some quarterback, some slotback and some tailback Saturday in VMI's 45-17 loss at James Madison. It appears that role will continue for the sophomore from Gaithersburg, Md.

Running back Nat Jackson suffered an injury that caused Robinson's varied duty, which [VMI head coach Jim] Reid said will continue. Robinson has rushed for 141 yards and passed for 116. When he isn't taking snaps, sophomore Keith Hughes is.

"Defensively, we have to slow them down, stay disciplined," Coen said. "We have to put them in long-yardage situations, so they have to play a little left-handed, so to speak.

"Plus, seeing a different scheme defensively after seeing a lot of 3-4's will also be a challenge. And it will be hot, so our level of conditioning needs to be a premium."

“We need to stay focused and get the job done,” Kehs said. “We cannot look past VMI just because it’s not a league game. They have gotten blown out the past two weeks but they played pretty good teams so it doesn’t mean anything. We need to come out ready for them to play hard against us.”

"We've got to hold on to some redshirts [not play true freshmen] to establish the program," second-year VMI coach Jim Reid said. "When we get guys bumped up, we try to spread everybody out the best that we can."

**************************************************


Starting tailback Matt McGowan and his backup Josh Pastore both attempted to practice this week after missing the Princeton win, but that doesn't mean either one will be on the field Saturday. "Neither one of them's 100 percent," Coen said. "If they're not 100 percent, they're probably not going to play."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Preview of VMI/Lehigh

Some of you reading this preview will not be aware of who VMI is. You might know that they're the Keydets and they compete in the Big South conference, or that they're 1-2 on the year with a win over D-II Lock Haven and two blowout losses against William & Mary (63-16) and nationally-ranked James Madison (45-17), or that their school mascot is (inexplicably) a kangaroo.

All you need to remember if you're a Lehigh fan, though, is the following score: Lehigh 28, VMI 26.

That was the score in 2005 when a nationally-ranked Lehigh team went down to Lexington, VA hoping for a cakewalk victory, but instead found themselves in a battle with a team that simply wouldn't give up. Once Lehigh woke up, they found VMI with the ball driving for the game-winning FG with under a minute left.

SS Julian Austin ended up intercepting a pass on this drive, and allowed us to escape with the win. And escape is the right word, even though VMI would end up with a 3-8 record that year.

Lehigh very nearly fell into the trap. The kids weren't really prepared for an opponent that never stops fighting, "either up 14 or down 14," as head coach Pete Lembo said at the time. "I've been telling our guys for two weeks that whether you're playing Army, Navy, Air Force, the Merchant Marine Academy, Coast Guard or any of the service academics, it's different. What these guys do from 3 to 6 daily at practice or from 1 to 4 on Saturday game days may seem like vacation to them. It's the easy part of their day."

Add to this some interesting facts about the game this weekend. For the second straight game at Goodman, it's supposed to be a hot day, meaning conditioning may be a factor. One thing you can count on is that the athletes on the VMI sidelines are going to be conditioned, especially for the heat, since it's an integral part of their military education.

And add to this a dose of the fact that Lehigh has been a bit too hospitable to guests in the past few games, and all of a sudden you have an opponent you need to watch out for. "I talked about it all last year, I talked about it in Week 1 and I'll talk about it again this week about how important it is to win at home, said coach Coen at the weekly press conference. "You want to create an atmosphere that makes it tough for people to come in here. ''But, at the same time, kids can get a little too uptight. The message this week is that we want to play well at home, we want people to fear coming in here, but the most important thing is to play the same way whether we're at home, at Princeton or in the middle of Interstate 78 somewhere.''

It's an old saw, but VMI is the most important game this week. And if I'm coach Coen, I'd be writing Lehigh 28, VMI 26 somewhere on the bulletin board this week. Forget those blowouts by William & Mary and James Madison. Taking care of business against a hard-working team at home needs to be the top priority.

Game Notes & Weather Report
The game notes show that we have some players returning from injury, like senior LB Rashaun Gasaway, but it looks like for the third straight week we won't be seeing junior RB Matt McGowan or junior RB Josh Pastore, so the fab freshmen, namely, freshman RB Kwesi Kankam and freshman RB Jaren Walker should once again be getting the big carries. Even if Rashaun isn't ready to go, sophomore LB Al Pierce, stuck at a logjam at linebacker, shined last week with seven tackles, so there's plenty of depth there, not to mention last week's starter at linebacker junior LB Bradley Thomas.

The weather report is calling for another hot day at Goodman, with plenty of sun with a high of 84. Another day to water up, and another day where conditioning could play into the final outcome.

Drink Of The Week
Heavy on the ice, but I think a refreshing drink for Goodman when playing a Virginia school is a nice Lynchburg Lemonade on the rocks, especially on a hot, Virginia-like day. 1 part of your favorite whiskey, 1 part triple sec, 1 part sweet & sour mix, and one part lemon/lime drink (though I prefer lime squeezed in seltzer for that part). By the way, did I mention that sponsorship opportunities are available at Lehigh Football Nation? That way, I can actually name my favorite brand of whiskey here.

A Word On VMI
The Keydets embody the military school team in that they will play hard no matter what the final score is, they will play disciplined, and they will not kill themselves with penalties. These things are a source of pride for the Keydets, win or lose.

Their near-win against Lehigh two years ago nonwithstanding, VMI has struggled mightily in the past two years, going 3-8 in 2005 (after which legendary head football coach Cal McCombs was terminated and 1-10 in 2006 (under new head coach Jim Reid). Reid has focused on player retention - a huge issue at military schools in general, as a certain number of players cannot cope with the rigorous military schedule on top of football training - and installing a brand-new offense and defense than what Lehigh saw in 2005.

VMI is also an extremely young team, with over half of the team comprised of either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Although the Keydets can and do redshirt (unlike Lehigh, who can only redshirt for medical reasons), a number of true freshmen are among the starters for VMI.

VMI has been bandied about, on occasion, as a possible all-sport member in the Patriot League, which would give the league Army, Navy and VMI as military schools in all sports except football, and would give the Patriot League 50% of the "Military Classic of the South", as they have a long and storied rivalry with The Citadel (now coached by former Lehigh head football coach Kevin Higgins). They're a public school with good academics, but also include military training for those that choose a life of service in the Armed Forces, so they're a good fit in that way too (since they're like Army and Navy without the required service commitment). However, since they are so deep in Virginia, some folks wonder if they are too far south to be practically integrated into the league. The debate will rage on.

Offense
Redshirt sophomore QB Joey Robinson leads the Keydets in VMI's triple-option attack. Originally an emergency QB last year, he took all the snaps at QB in the spring and has been anointed the starer. He's primarily a runner (48 rushes for 141 yards) rather than a passer (12-19, 116 yards), and VMI has no TDs passing yet this year. Last year, he was a speedy slotback who scored two long TD runs.

Of course, that means that the slotbacks and fullback is where all the action is, and senior RB Nat Jackson, sophomore RB Tim Maypray, and sophomore RB Howard Ebegesah shoulder the rushing load. Ebegesah is the biggest of the bunch and could almost be considered a fullback, while Maypray also has the potential for speed (at 5'8, 150 lbs). Maypray is also the team's leading receiver, so it's worthwhile to put a spy on him every once in a while too. As with other versions of the triple-option attack, no one guy shoulders more of the load than any other.

With a run-heavy offense, the receivers haven't gotten much work this year. Junior WR Rick Goodwin doesn't have a reception yet, and freshman WR Bryan Barnson has a whopping two receptions for 30 yards. It's unclear whether they have any speed to burn. Junior TE Travis Ludden adds one reception for 11 yards, but it's clear he's mostly there as an extra blocker.

Senior OL Robert Brown, at 6'6 300 lbs, is the best lineman on an extremely green "O" line featuring two true freshmen. Across the line they average 6'3 and 268, which is smallish compared to Lehigh's "O" line, for example. There has been some shuffling on the line to try to find the best combination.

Defense
Senior DE Tommy Lloyd anchors this 4-3 defense, the first 4-3 Lehigh will have faced all year. He is by far their best lineman, with 6 tackles for loss already this year and 20 tackles. He's the main guy in a smallish "D" line that features two redshirt freshmen and three linemen who played for the first time this year. Of the defense's 17 tackles for loss, six are from Lloyd.

In VMI's 4-3, they will mix up a lot of different looks. Redshirt sophomore Patrick McKinney is the leader in the linebacking corps, surveying the middle with 26 tackles. Tellingly, there are no interceptions or defended passes coming from this group.

Sophomore SS Levi Swindell is the leading tackler on the team with 32 tackles, but he headlines a secondary that hasn't gotten a single interception on the year. Senior CB Marcus Brown is the "old man" of the secondary, is speedy and also has added 20 tackles, so he's the best cover guy.

Special Teams
Freshman kicker Patrick Sweeney is a good kicker with a nice leg, which he demonstrated with a 46 yard FG last week against James Madison. On kickoffs, he's been a little bit short, however, averaging 53.1 yards per kickoff. Sophomore P Kyle Hughes is only averaging 35.5 yards per punt.

Tim Maypray, as well as playing slotback, also returns kicks and punts, and needs to be watched as he returned a kickoff for a TD last week against James Madison. Kick away from him and you will be getting sophomore KR Michael Rainey-Wiles, who is averaging 20 yards per return.

Keys To The Game
1. Flying. In the Princeton game, Lehigh flew around the ball, forced two quick turnovers and the game was in hand. It underscores the importance: the Mountain Hawks need to do that every week. I'd love to see a trend where we force an early turnover all the time. (Of course, who wouldn't?)
2. Contain Maypray on the Outside. Maypray is their biggest threat running or in kick returns. The outside linebacking tandem will need to do a great job containing him and not allowing him to break outside for big rushing gains. As they will try to grind out the ball on the ground, proper conditioning will be crucial.
3. Picking Things Apart. A balanced rushing and passing attack will keep VMI's defense off balance and could, if everything goes right, allow Lehigh to pick apart the Keydets' young defense. Sedale's throws will need to be short and in the right spot to pick these guys apart.
4. Heads-up on Special Teams. As Maypray showed last week, down 35 or up 10, VMI will come after you the entire game. Sleep, and you'll find yourself giving up touchdowns on sepcial teams or on defense. Good special teams play will mean that we won't be in a 28-26 situation on Saturday.

Fearless Prediction
I sense a lot of relief in this team after the Princeton win. I can't tell you right now if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but the win over the Tigers last weekend avoided an 0-2 hole and allowed Lehigh to showcase that they are a good team and will be heard from in this Patriot League title race. The question is, will they have the focus to put away VMI? They didn't in 2005, and they almost lost the game. After the big Villanova win last year, they didn't have it and lost to Princeton, 14-10.

Yet this team feels different. For some reason, I don't think this team will let down this week, because last week's win wasn't a feat of perfect execution. There seems to be the feeling that this team needs to chop wood in order to win. I think more wood will get chopped this weekend, and like last week it won't be a perfect game, but I do think that we'll take a big step in the right direction with a big win. Sedale has a big day, and home feels like home again for at least one week.

Lehigh 38, VMI 13

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Players Of The Week, Lehigh/Princeton

This week's vote for "Player Of The Week" was awfully close, but ultimately it was taken by a defender who probably also should have been Patriot League Player of the week.

On offense, I'm going to give it to both of the fab freshmen backs who played in this game: freshmen Kwesi Kankam and Jaren Walker. Kankam got 73 hard-earned rushing yards and an early touchdown to give Lehigh a lead they would never relinquish, not to mention a huge 3rd-and-15 on the game-icing drive off a screen pass that was crucial. Walker netted 59 rushing yards, got a big 4th-down conversion to help keep a drive alive at the end of the first half to score a touchdown, and got the tough yards between the tackles to power a the game-clinching touchdown for himself in the 4th quarter - in his first appearance as a Mountain Hawk.

There are a lot of special teamers that need recognition for some great stuff that was happening against Princeton: a blocked punt that ended up being a safety, heads-up play on kickoff coverage to recover a muffed kickoff, and heads-up play to recover a muffed punt. The two I will single out for this week are freshman DB Jarard Cribbs and sophomore DB Jesse Sanchez. Cribbs, in addition to an assisted tackle on special teams, alertly pounced on the ball after a muffed Princeton punt to give the offense another shot at the end zone, while Sanchez' only contribution on the stat sheet was a huge one: a blocked punt which went out of the end zone that put Lehigh up by four scores, 25-0.

After honoring four underclassmen, it's time to honor the defensive player that was voted by the fans as Player of the Week: senior DB Brannan Thomas. Not only did he lead the team in tackles on the night with seven, his forcing of two turnovers on Princeton's first two possessions of the game forced the Tigers to get out of their offensive gameplan right off the bat and put us out to daunting 13-0 lead. The first was a flying strip of Princeton RB R.C. Lagomarsino that was recovered by Lehigh, which resulted in the Mountain Hawks' first touchdown. The very next series, he would intercept Tiger QB Bill Foran to set up the second score - forcing two turnovers in Princeton's first four offensive plays. It's a dominating defensive performance that is more than deserving for Player of the Week.

Congratulations to all the winners! Tomorrow, look for the VMI/Lehigh game preview.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Around The Horn, 9/18/2007

Here's this week's version of "Around The Horn" after a happy week for the Patriot League after they went an impressive 5-2 against the Ivy League in what could be called the "Ivy/Patriot Challenge". Start out by saying that the five wins eclipsed the grand total of *four* from all of last year, which has seemed to be a huge gust of wind in the sails of the entire League.

Even more gratifying was the fact that three of those wins came against three of the teams picked in the preseason to be competing for the Ivy League title: Penn, Harvard, and Princeton - whom the League didn't beat at all last year. Two of these games, however, didn't get decided until the final minute of play - which shows more that the Ivies and Patriot League are more even rather than one league being miles better than the other.

The only thing I really didn't understand is how Brannan Thomas didn't win Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week. Maybe being at the game made the difference for me: I saw how Thomas' two turnovers that were punched in for points was such a backbreaker for Princeton, and a day where a player is lead tackler AND creates three turnovers I thought was a lock. But instead Mike Gallihugh won the award.

  • Why, oh why, did Penn coach Al Bagnoli of Penn choose to take an intentional safety punting from his own 1 yard line with 5:39 left in the game ahead 7-3? It's days later and I still don't understand it. You never give a team free points, the ball and a chance to win - and to protect what? The chance the punt is blocked? Even if it was, he would have an opportunity to tie or win the game.... In any case, his gamble that his defense would be able to contain Lafayette one more time blew up in his face after senior QB Mike DiPaola engineered a drive to put the Leopards into field goal range for freshman K Davis Rodriguez to boot a 27 yard FG to escape Franklin field with an improbable 8-7 win. In this not-so-humble reporters' opinion, coach Bagnoli couldn't have scripted it better for coach Tavani. Right before the game-winning kick, coach Tavani used the safety as a motivational tool for Rodriguez, saying to him "that decision was made for one reason: they don't think you can make the field goal,' and I said 'we're going to change that' and he did." You simply don't give Lafayette something like that.
  • Speaking of Ivy League teams blowing chances to put away Patriot League teams, dangerous Dartmouth missed four different opportunities to do so in a 31-28 win for Colgate. The Raiders rallied from a 28-0 deficit to improbably tie the game late in the 4th quarter, behind junior RB Jordan Scott's 211 rushing yards and three second-half TDs. Up 28-6, the Big Green turn over the ball on downs on Colgate's 39. TD Colgate. Up 28-13, they drive to the Colgate 22... and missed a 39 yard FG. TD Colgate. Some fumbles, and Scott gets his third rushing TD and ties the game at 28. Then Darmouth drives to Colgate's 5 yard line with a minute left, and Dartmouth's runningback fumbles the ball. Can you say, "escapes Hanover with a win"? By any measure, though, a huge, emotional win as well for the Raiders - never mind that Dartmouth was picked to finish last in the Ivy League. What notable quotables might head coach Dick Biddle have to offer after such a game? Maybe heaping praise on senior LB Mike Gallihugh, with 17 tackles, or Scott? "I don't want to give anybody any bulletin board material. Let's just say [Scott's] a pretty good back." Um, no worries, coach.
  • Another Patriot League game, another nailbiter: this one is Holy Cross' near-miraculous 31-28 victory with the go-ahead TD scored with 19 seconds left. In a seesaw game, Harvard went up 28-24 on sophomore RB Cheng Ho's 47 yard scamper early in the 4th quarter. Harvard's "D" then did a pretty good job in shutting down the Crusader offense, with the Crimson's junior LB Glenn Dorris intercepting Holy Cross on one drive, forcing a punt the next, and causing the Holy Cross offense to turn over the ball on downs with 1:49 left after a big 10 yard sack by Dorris. Coach Tom Gilmore had no choice but to burn his timeouts, and Harvard on 4th-and-inches with 1:28.... decides to punt instead of going for the jugular. After a 19 yard punt, junior QB Dominic Randolph went to work, and completed four straight passes for the win, including the 40 yard home-run ball to senior WR Thomas Harrison for the clincher. Harrison called it the biggest reception of his college football career; perhaps he could send Harvard head coach Tim Murphy a Christmas card for not going for it on 4th-and-1.
  • Fordham rode freshman RB Xavier Martin in his first-ever game to three TDs and 157 yards rushing as the Rams coasted over Columbia in the "Liberty Cup", 27-10. Due to "paperwork issues with the NCAA clearinghouse" (what it could have been I have no idea), the "X" man wasn't allowed to suit up and play in the Rams' first two games, but with a performance like this against a Columbia team with a halfway-decent defense deserves special attention - and fills an interesting gap in this team that was lacking in the first two weeks. In their win against Rhode Island and their loss against Albany, they got manhandled in the time-of-possession department. In this game versus Columbia, they held onto the ball 38 minutes, thanks to rushers like the "X" man and senior RB Jonte Coven. This Fordham team looks like one to really, really watch out for.
  • One game where the Patriot League didn't win out was Bucknell's obliteration in a 38-14 manhandling by Cornell. The Bison scored on a 3 yard TD run from senior RB Corin Erby to cut the lead to 14-7 and then saw the Big Red score 17 unanswered points to put the game out of reach. More worryingly for Bucknell, they were stuffed for only 152 net rushing yards in their triple-option attack and sophomore RB A.J. Kizekai, their leading rusher, was only held to 50 yards on the day. It's looking like a long season already for the Bison, whose fans may not be aware there are sporting events anyway until "midnight madness".
  • In front on a (yes) sellout crowd in Multi-Sport Field, Georgetown, heavy underdogs as ever, played Yale tough in a very close 28-14 defeat to Yale. The Elis, picked by many (including yours truly) to repeat as Ivy League champions this year, were facing the end of the first half clinging to a 14-7 lead and the Hoyas driving for the tying score, but an incompletion with time left on the clock (0.3 seconds) in the end zone was called the "end of the half" by the officials instead of giving the Hoyas one more shot at a FG or TD. The Hoyas may not consider this a detested "moral victory", but I sure do. Yale should go on and prove to everyone they are the real deal - behind senior RB Mike McLeod's running, who scored all four TDs for the Hoyas on the day to go with 159 rushing yards - while these Hoyas look to have some real fight in them. Could they be finally pointed in the right direction? Senior QB Matt Bassuener had a pretty good day for the Hoyas, going 27-for-37 passing with 181 yards passing, 2 TDs, and adding 35 rushing yards.
  • VMI head coach Jim Reid said he was "out-athleted at almost every position" in a 45-17 drubbing by #7 rated James Madison. After starting 1-2, with a win against D-II Lock Haven 20-0 and a 63-16 smashing at the hands of WIlliam & Mary, coach Reid looked at his positives as good special teams play (they returned a kickoff for a TD) and a good offense led by sophomore QB/RB Joey Robinson. But coach Reid has no illusions about his team: "We need to finish our drives offensively, because that’s the strength of our ballclub right now. We need to tighten up defensively. It’s sad out there to watch us getting pushed back, which we knew might happen and we just have to keep working at it.”
  • I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that VMI's arch-rival, The Citadel, played a whale of a game against #7 rated Wisconsin but ended up falling bravely 45-31. Former Lehigh head coach Kevin Higgins had the Badgers right where he wanted them at halftime tied at 21, and having everyone in Madison white with fear that they were facing "another Appalachian State". Senior QB Duran Lawson had a great day for the Bulldogs, going 23 for 35 with 254 yards passing and 4 TDs.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Press Mash-Up and Some Patriot League Love

With Jaren Walker (left) revitalizing the Lehigh rushing game (here converting a key 4th down in the second quarter) and the Patriot League standing tall all over the Northeast, the Patriot League is starting to show up in the national polls once again as the Sports Network Poll has Lafayette at #22 and Holy Cross and Lehigh are starting to show up in the "Others Receiving Votes" list.

Look for me to talk more at length at the game on College Sporting News in a special "Diary" (complete with photo album). In the meantime, here's a very quick "Press Mash-Up" since I'm extremely pressed for time.

Sports Network: Lehigh Surges Past Princeton
Morning Call: Young Backfield Leads Lehigh Over Princeton
Morning Call: Freshmen Give Lehigh Unexpected Lift
Groller: Late Night With Lehigh
Express-Times: Lehigh Cashes In On Five Turnovers
Trenton Times: Too Little Too Late for Princeton

"We're obviously pleased to get the win," Coen said. "We started out playing the way we wanted to defensively, creating a couple of turnovers, and our offense took advantage. And then we kind of sputtered offensively. I am not pleased with the overall execution, but I was pleased we were able to finish things off late when we had the chance."

But the time-chewing fourth-quarter drive, featuring the hard running of Kankam and Walker, finally sent most of the Tiger fans in the crowd of 8,640 to the exits.

Kankam converted a big 3rd-and-15 on the drive off an impressive run off a screen pass. "Screens, I like screens," Kankam said. "I saw the open field, and I just started going. I saw a good cutback lane, and I think some guy had me at first and tore me back. That drive was a huge motivational boost for our team, that drive."

Walker carried five straight times for 14 yards to finish off the drive and Princeton.

"It's just a lot of hard work," said Kankam, who finished with 73 rushing yards on 25 carries. "

"Coach told me all week to be ready and I was prepared mentally," Walker said. "I'm just happy that I was able to perform and help our team get a victory. I kept going over the plays. Being a freshman, it's hard to pick up the new schemes. So, I studied my playbook, tried to stay calm and avoid making mistakes."

"I definitely was not expecting to play as a freshman," Walker said. "In the back of my mind, I was ready if the opportunity came. But I didn't think I was going to play because Matt and Josh are very good running backs."

******

Saturday night's game at Princeton featured 161 total plays, 76 passes (47 of which were incomplete), five turnovers, 10 different scores and six lengthy officials meetings in which the guys in the stripes seemed to be in deep discussion over the controversial ending of The Sopranos rather than making up their minds up about a particular call.

"You look at the final stats and they ran 92 plays," said [Princeton head coach Roger] Hughes. "I don't want to make excuses for our defense, but we got worn out.

"We're going to start ribbing our other two tailbacks, telling them they'd better get back because Kwesi and Jaren are doing a great job," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. "We had a number of freshmen out there playing again tonight. I can't ever remember using as many young players as we are right now, but they're getting the job done."

One of the team's two turnovers was a Kankam fumble.

"That's something he can learn from," Coen said. "It's always better to make mistakes when you score 32 points and beat a good team."

***


"You can't expect to spot a team like Lehigh 23 points and expect to win," said Princeton head football coach Roger Hughes.

"We had a short field," Coen added. "Our defense did a great job and our special teams put us in good position."

"We were trying to stay disciplined, but also fly around to the ball and make big plays on defense," said Thomas, a fifth-year senior with a forced fumble and interception which led to Lehigh's first two touchdowns. "We definitely can play better than we did. We made some mistakes, but we played as a team and flew around to the ball."

***

"I love this team and what we have," Walker said. "It's just a big family. They're all my brothers. They accepted me and Kwesi and all of the freshmen right away."

"Kwesi is like my best friend, my right-hand man," Walker said. "I'm always waiting for an opportunity and so is Kwesi. Whenever the team calls on us and needs us, we'll be ready to go."

****

"As a coach, you're always looking for that 'finish it' mentality and that 13-play drive late was good to see,'' Coen said. "The offensive line did a very nice job for us. We ran the ball pretty effectively, more effectively than we did against Villanova. Probably the best thing they did was on the 13-play drive. The freshman on the line [Will Rackley] played very well, and we need the whole line to do the job like that every week."

''We talk about our team getting better every day and making improvements. We lost a game last week we had an opportunity to win because we came out flat. I'm glad we we reversed that tonight."

It was far from perfect and there was plenty of stuff on both sides of the ball for Lehigh fans and media to nit-pick, but it was a win, and Lehigh and the Patriot League needed one on Saturday night.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday's Word: Greenery

This weekend, taking a look out at the "greenery" outside my window in Bucks county has been great. After a win, everything smells better, tastes better, and feels better. A perfect day today involved walking in the "greenery" around my house with my family, much more at ease. It almost doesn't matter how it was done. Just the win, getting off the schneid, feels good.

Lehigh fans are, to put it mildly, a demanding lot. Sometimes it seems like no win is impressive enough, and every mistake is magnified. I can only imagine the "greenery" on this Lehigh team: like our super duo of freshmen tailbacks in freshman RB Kwesi Kankam and freshman RB Jaren Walker. Here they are, in their first-ever college level win, and rather than that being the story of the game, Lehigh fans are talking about how it should have been more, how we let Princeton back into the game, how it was an "ugly" game. "Welcome to Division I football, Jaren, with your first-ever carries and first-ever touchdown. So, tell us how your offense couldn't convert on those short fields in the first half?"

I really thought Princeton would come out and lay the hammer on this team filled with "greenery". Look at our starting offense for Saturday. Three seniors only. Look at our starting defense. Five seniors. That's eight of twenty-two spots taken up by underclassmen: including two starting spots taken by freshmen and three by sophomores. This team is very, very green.

And to their credit, they played like upperclassmen for the most part. Kankam did fumble late in the game, but the outcome really wasn't in doubt at that point (32-14) and he had also converted a huge 3rd-and-15 screen pass where a Princeton player had him but he barreled forward to convert the play, helping the offense finish the game. Walker, in his first collegiate rushing action, converted huge 4th downs like a senior and made no big mistakes, and put in that touchdown to get the score to 32-14.

This Princeton team is a good team that got of the gate on the wrong foot. They spotted us 23 points on turnovers, but it's important to remember that this Tiger defense is very, very solid, especially at linebacker. I would have been astonished if our offense, loaded with "greenery", had been able to move the ball at will against this defense, even if senior QB Sedale Threatt was at 100% (and it seemed like he had bruised ribs and may very well not be fully healthy).

With Sedale leading our team, we as fans have a tendency to ask him to make him the superstar of the team. And Sedale seems to want to be that superstar. But I understand that Sedale cannot be a superstar if the "greenery" around him does not improve every single week. Green football teams make mistakes and learn from them every week; they take a few more hits; and most importantly, they get stronger and tougher and tougher to beat.

That we beat such a fundamentally sound defense like Princeton with "greenery" needs to be something to celebrate. That senior CB Brannan Thomas had an incredible game while creating three turnovers needs to be something to emphasize. That doesn't mean we say that everything was perfect last week - hardly. There's a lot of work that the "greenery" needs to do to become a championship team yet - that's very clear from watching the game last week. But this green team needs to be cut some slack. They're no going to come out of the gates looking like a team that will shut out UMass. This is very much a work-in-progress.
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