Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lehigh 20, Harvard 13, final

Wow. Simply, wow.

Can you ever remember a Lehigh game that was won like that?

Start by mentioning that Lehigh won without scoring an offensive touchdown. When was the last time that ever happened, especially at Murray Goodman? I had to go back to 1996 for a 7-6 loss to Bucknell (in a rainstorm) to remember the last time that I could remember Lehigh not scoring an offensive touchdown, let alone winning that way.

For those of you that didnt come to Goodman on a simply perfect day for football, Lehigh's first TD came on senior CB Brannan Thomas catching the Harvard punt team napping and getting a nice burst through the punt coverage for a return for the touchdown. The final TD came from junior LB Tim Diamond stripping the ball from backup Crimson QB Chris Pizotti as they were driving with under a minute to play for the game-winning score, with junior DL Paul Bode picking it up and rumbling into the end zone to ice the game.

Has the Goodman magic come back? Is our home advantage here once again?

Coach Coen in the post-game press conference talked about how proud he was of his team. "All we talk about is competing. 'Fight Like Champions' is our motto this year, and I talked to the team last night about fighting for 60 minutes last night, and we obviously did that today."

Watching the game, it was a dogfight. Both teams averaged less than 3 yards rushing on the entire day. There were 16 punts in the game. Like I predicted, it was a defensive struggle, but Harvard seemed several times like they were going to deliver the knockout blow at any time. When Lehigh got the fumble and returned it, I couldn't believe it.

I think Lehigh turned a corner today. We won when the offense had a tough day against a great defense. And we won by fighting extremely hard on defense and special teams and never giving up. The defense was on the field for almost 40 minutes, and still managed to make the play of the game in the final minute. This Lehigh defense has guts.

You also can't neglect the effect of special teams on this win today, either. You may not beleive it, but punting by junior P/K Jason Leo had a huge impact on the day too. He punted 8 times for a 44.1 yard average, putting six of those inside the 20 and three of them within the 6. Each time we exchanged punts, we'd gain almost 10 yards of field position.

Of course, that doesn't completely excuse an offense that could not get much going, especially in the second half. The fumble when Lehigh was driving to Harvard's end zone would have been the story of the game if we didn't pull it out. 0-for-11 on 3rd down conversions is awful. And there were way, way too many dropped passes.

But we're 3-1, and we just pulled out a win in a game we could have easily lost. It was won with defensive grit and never giving up, even when it looked like Harvard was going to line up for the game-winning FG (blocked by sophomore LB Heath Brickner) or going to drive downfield for another shot.

How come I get the feeling that this sort of win is turning some sort of corner? That a very special season could - just could - be here this year?

Enjoy your Yuenglings tonight. I will!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week 5 (and Mash-Up)

Another impossible week of work, writing, and family stuff is finally done. Sometimes I wish I had 99 teammates at my side doing this - it can be grueling, more grueling than you could ever imagine. But tomorrow, I'll be heading over to Murray Goodman Stadium to see some friends, enjoy some food, and watch Lehigh play some football on what is shaping up to be a perfect afternoon for football.

If you can't make it to the stadium, it will be on Service Electric 2 in the Lehigh Valley and AM 1230/1320 in the Lehigh Valley. And if you can't get it there, it will be on Lehighsports.com for listening or viewing.

A while ago, I promised my "30 Year Lehigh Team", and I wanted to present my interpretation of that team now, the day before the 1977 Lehigh team that won the Division II National Championship is to be honored at halftime (on "Community Day" at Murray Goodman). Keep in mind that this team came about from myself and the suggestions of a lot of the Lehigh fan community, so it's as much yours as it is mine. So I present: the Lehigh Football Nation 30 year team:

OFFENSE:
QB: Phil Stambaugh ('00), Mike Rieker ('78)
RB: Rabih Abdullah ('97), Rod Gardner ('78)
FB: Brett Snyder ('00), Greg Fay ('06)
TE: Adam Bergen ('04), Mark LaFair ('94)
WR1: Rennie Benn ('86), Steve Kreider ('79), Deron Braswell ('99), Horace Hamm ('92)
WR2: Brian Klingerman ('96), Josh Snyder ('02), Dave Cecchini ('95), Mark Yeager ('81)
C: Jeff Santacroce ('03), Dave Whitehead ('86)
G: Joe Uliana (’87), Brian McDonald (’00), John Babb (’01), Jason Morrell (’04)
T: Dave Melone (‘79), Mark Orcutt (‘78), Oscar Guererro (’04), Ray Powers (’94)

DEFENSE:
DE: Nick Martucci (’99), Mike Gregorek (’04), Mike Crowe (’81), James Rovito (’86)
DT: Mike Kosko (’87), Wes Walton (’85), Eric Yaszemski (’80) Andy Kosko (’90)
OLB: Jim McCormick (’80), James “Bubba” Young (’01), Anthony Graziani (’05), Ian Eason (’00)
ILB: John Shigo (’84), Bryant Appling (’01), Tom McGeoy (’04), Bruce Rarig (’81)
DB: Matt Salvaterra ('03), Lawrence Williams (’04), Andrew Nelson ('06), Abdul Byron ('02), Jason Mack ('94), Kaloma Cardwell ('05), Neal Boozer-Gallman ('05), Sam Brinley ('99)

SPECIAL TEAMS:
P Kyle Keating ('03), Ben Talbott ('97)
K Erik Bird ('92), Jaron Taafe ('01)
RS: Ron Jean ('00), Gerran Walker ('06)

Patriot Predictions
These are cross posted at the College Sporting News, and in addition this week there's a huge development regarding the expansion of the FCS playoffs to 18 teams in 2007 - something you'll not want to miss.

No. 22 Yale over Holy Cross
Fitton Field hasn’t been the place for classic Crusader football games since the 1980s, but that will undoubtedly change this week as undefeated Yale take on a Holy Cross team that is uneasily wearing the crown of Patriot League frontrunner. Crusader quarterback is coming off a 300 yard performance in a complete domination of Georgetown 55-0, while runningback Mike McLeod was similarly dominant in a 51-13 drubbing of Cornell. Holy Cross does it through the air, and McLeod does it on the ground. If the Crusaders jump out to an early lead and force some turnovers, Holy Cross should win this game; but I really like how Yale matches up with Holy Cross’ defense, and that their veteran offense rarely makes big mistakes. As long as the Bulldogs don’t get killed in the battle of special teams, and are able to do what they do, they should manage to win this game.
Elated Elis 38, Irritated Inquisitors 35

Colgate over Fordham
Two enigmatic teams meet in Hamilton, NY in a game which will propel one team into the Patriot League title discussion and rack the losing side with questions. Fordham’s questions are easy: will the version of runningback Xavier Martin that showed up in the Columbia game (157 yards, 3 touchdowns) appear, or will the version that showed up last week (43 yards, 1 touchdown)? As for Colgate, they had one extra week to contemplate their miracle 28 point come-from-behind victory over Dartmouth, 31-28. Can either team get anything consistent going on either side of the ball? Give the edge to Colgate, who has the one consistent weapon on both teams: runningback Jordan Scott.
“Don’t Call Me Michael” Jordan’s Raiders 24, Xavier “Don’t Call Me Cugat” Martin’s Rams 7

Cornell over Georgetown
Personally, I don't see how the Hoyas recover gracefully from their 55-0 drubbing from Holy Cross last week. The Big Red, considered by some to be a contender for the Ivy League title (well, maybe now not so much after thier 51-13 pasting by Yale), are a pretty good team that - unfortunately - should be able to take care of the Hoyas.
Chewing Gum 35, Hoya Not So Saxa 16

Bucknell over Marist
Marist's "Theater Of Pain" tour continues, as Bucknell will right the ship this week.
Thundering Bison 45, Redd Foxes 7

Game Writeups
Morning Call: Fitzgerald Making Most Of Opportunity
Express-Times: Fitzgerald Is Key Target
Brown & White: Hawks Look To Continue Hot Streak
Lehighsports: Center Of Attention
Harvard Crimson: Crimson, Mountain Hawks Meet Again

Press Mash-Up
Those twisting, leaping, lunging grabs that would make anyone's highlight reel have become second nature for Mike Fitzgerald.

And while other receivers at Lehigh University have celebrated bigger plays, touchdown catches and crowd-pleasing tricks, Fitzgerald is quickly emerging as the steadiest pass catcher of them all.

"Any type of catch is just what I'm trying to make," said Fitzgerald. "When the ball's behind you, you don't really think about it too much. There's not really much to it when you're doing it. When I don't think about it and throw my hands up at the last second, I find it's kind of easier than a routine catch."


"It's a role you have to take on," Fitzgerald said of his increasing involvement in the offense. "It's an honor to be in the position I'm in."

"We tease him," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said, "he makes the harder catches look easy and the easier catches look hard.

"He's a guy I'm really happy to see having the success he's had. Mike was really coming into his own last year, had a really bad hamstring pull that basically ended his season. He's very shifty, he's got some big-play potential. He makes plays."


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“John Reese is a pretty quiet kid,” said Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen. “But he really works hard and is a fierce competitor, and I think he receives a lot of respect from his peers because of the way he holds himself. His teammates voted him as their captain because he comes to play every week and leads by example. They look up to him.”

Coen has done a lot to change the mentality of the Lehigh offensive line. “We’re still a work in progress,” he said. “But when I came here, I looked at the tape of our line and I realized the guys weren’t being taught how to run-block. They were used to a different philosophy of protecting the quarterback, and so we wanted to change that. Our linemen bought into that strategy from the beginning, and it’s starting to work for us. And since the leaders like John have stuck around and changed their play, we’re going to get even better as the season continues.”

Reese was thankful for the change. “As offensive linemen, we really enjoy going out and hitting somebody, especially when the run game is working,” he said. “It’s great to have Coach Coen here since he was a lineman, and he knows what we go through to get ready to play. Coach is a great competitor and he challenges us to be the best. He’s helping us become a better offensive line.”

Reese also stressed interaction. “We’re a really close unit to begin with,” he said. “We work extremely hard and take pride in our jobs. If we’re playing well, that means we’re meshing together, and all on the same page. It’s really a mental game, so if we can understand the defense as a unit and be able to adjust correctly, we’ll have a great game and a great season.”

“Last week was a great win for the team and it was good to win at home, but no one is resting on their laurels,” Reese said. “We have to put that game behind us and prepare for Harvard.”

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“I think we’re a solid team,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “On the plus side, we’re literally one play away from being 2-0 against two real solid teams. How much more than that? I think that’s what we find out down at Lehigh.”

“Sedale Threatt is a guy that we have to know where he is at all times,” he said. “Kind of like Ryan Fitzpatrick, a little bit like Liam O’Hagan, he’s a guy that if you don’t keep an eye on him, you don’t have him in your radar, then he’s going to improvise some plays that you can’t necessarily set up defenses for.”

“His strengths are his mobility and ability to get out of the pocket,” Harvard captain Brad Bagdis said. “He really excells on sprint motions and options. We’re trying to make sure we contain him and keep him in the pocket.”

"I think Harvard's defensive line will be the best we play all year," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. "Harvard is very big and there are some veteran kids there."

“They run a lot of offensive formations,” Weaver said. “They throw a lot of things at you and they come in a lot.”

On Liam O'Hagan, Harvard's starting QB: "He's a very athletic QB, we have to put some pressure on him and keep him in check." -- junior LB Tim Diamond

Reese said that the team’s defense must be ready for the Crimson as well.

“[The defense] has to prepare for Harvard as they do any other team,” Reese said, “by studying film to understand certain tendencies and build on what they’ve been doing well throughout the season.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Preview of Harvard/Lehigh

In preparing for writing this Harvard/Lehigh preview, I looked over my blog postings from last year’s Harvard game to try to get some perspective on this week’s game, and they pretty much summed up Lehigh’s out-of-conference frustrations as a whole that Lehigh and the Patriot League are trying to avoid in 2007. The ghosts of this game tell us a lot about what Lehigh needs to exorcise on Saturday.

Going into the game last year, Lehigh had a bye week after losing to Princeton, 14-10, after jumping out to a 10-0 lead and seeing Princeton get two early second-half TDs and make it hold up since Lehigh couldn’t come from behind. It was the third straight home loss by Lehigh: after losing 2005’s game to Lafayette (the 140th) in the final minute, we the struggled in coach Coen’s home opener to Albany, getting shocked by a 17-16 score before falling to Princeton. We were faced with a possible 1-3 start for the first time in recent memory. I asked the question on the blog: “Is Lehigh rebuilding, or reloading”?

Harvard seemed like a hungry team. Going 2-0 against Holy Cross and Brown, this team which was picked to compete for the Ivy League title was going to be a tough challenge. But Lehigh had taken the last three games in the series, the last one a dominating 49-24 performance in Cambridge in 2005 that was one of the better Mountain Hawk games of the season.

In last year’s game, Lehigh showed flashes of a team that could score at will. Rolling up to a 24-7 lead, defensive breakdowns allowed Harvard to close the gap. On a 4th-and-6 play, Harvard QB Chris Pizzotti converted a big pass play with scores of missed tackles allowed Harvard to cut the lead to 24-14, and later cut the lead to 24-21 by halftime on the back of a fake punt. All of a sudden, this was a game.

Harvard’s offense wouldn’t stop in the second half, converting two quick TDs to jump to a 35-24 lead, while Lehigh’s offense continued to sputter. QB Sedale Threatt would rally the team to a FG and a TD pass to Mike Fitzgerald with 4:00 left in the game– but a 2-point conversion pass that was rifled into the end zone too hard failed to be caught. And 35-33 ended up being the final score, cementing Lehigh’s fourth-straight home loss and a 1-3 September.

My postgame comments were sheer frustration. “It is incredibly frustrating to see us come so close, and show so many flashes of talent in every phase of the game, just to come up short. The problem here isn't finishing games. It's finding playmakers, especially on defense.”

Today, things are a little different. We’ve beaten a pretty good Princeton team at their house, 32-21. We dominated VMI as expected, 37-6. The Mountain Hawks are a better team this year that they were at this point last year. But some questions still remain. Do we have those playmakers on defense? Are these flashes of talent going to build into a more consistent offensive performance, especially in the second half? Are Lehigh’s woes at home a thing of the past?

Game Notes & Weather Report
After two games played in extreme heat and humidity, Saturday's game should be played in sunny, 74 degree weather at one of the most beautiful times of year, with the leaves changing in what should be a beautiful day at Murray Goodman stadium. I'll be going to this game, and with the weather being pristine my wife and son will be coming too to enjoy it as well. For "Community Day", Lehigh will be honoring the 1977 Division II national-championship team at halftime, showcasing the great winning tradition of Lehigh football. It's going to be awesome.

No real surprises in this week' game notes, which means it looks like the three freshmen that have been getting significant time -- freshman RB Kwesi Kankam, freshman RB Jaren Walker, and freshman OL William Rackley -- will continue to do so. No word if junior RB Matt McGowan or junior RB Josh Pastore will get back into the mix this week - if so, it's more likely that Pastore will get some reps rather than McGowan.

Drink Of The Week
It's early fall, and the air is still wonderfully warm with footballs flying in the air, short-sleeved shirts, and sizzling meat on the grill. I think the best possible drink for this day has to be something cool, and something that shows the average Lehigh fan that they can show these stiff Ivy Leaguers how to host a party. The answer? Bloody Mary Lobster Shooters. The easy way is to mix 1 inch of poached lobster pieces in your portable blender, add Bloody Mary Mix and vodka, blend and enjoy on the rocks with a celery stick as a stirrer, but if you're more ambitious you can try to make a real one following these guidelines. My preference, of course, would be one not from mix, but instead heavy on the celery, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice.

A Word On Harvard
The Crimson, sitting at 1-1, seem to be still be adjusting to life after their record-setting RB Clifton Dawson graduated last year, as well as some major cogs on defense. Having said that, this 1-1 team could easily have been 2-0 had they held on to a late lead against Holy Cross. After giving up a 40 yard TD pass with under a minute left, the Crimson found themselves upset 31-28 by the Crusaders.

This team has a reputation as being an offensive juggernaut, and clearly behind Dawson's record-breaking Ivy campaign they were (Dawson amassed an Ivy-record 4,841 yards and 60 TDs). They have great players on defense too, however, as evidenced by Harvard's 24-17 win over Brown last week. The defense had 3 sacks and 3 interceptions in the fourth quarter, as well as having one interception called back due to a penalty.

Harvard should always be a formidable opponent for Lehigh, no matter what the year. Even though Harvard recruits under similar Academic Index rules for their athletes, if kids are good enough to qualify to get into Harvard academically, they generally go there, frequently over FBS schools like Stanford of Duke, never mind Lehigh and Georgetown. And some clearly have talent for the next level: Dawson spent time with the Cincinnati Bengals this year, and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is currently on their roster.

Offense
It's too simplistic to call head coach Tim Murhpy's offense run-oriented or pass-oriented, although Harvard's passing attack seems to be rated the best year after year. Running largely the same offensive system since Dave Cecchini (Lehigh '91) came there as an assistant coach, it involves no-huddle, spread formations, and three wide receiver sets - but also has as a central component a quality runner out of the backfield.

This offense will be run this Saturday by the starting QB, senior QB Liam O'Hagan. Last week against Brown he created all the offensive touchdowns they needed, including two passing TDs and one rushing TD. He is an effective runner (61.5 yards/game) as well as passer (232 yards/game) -- but in his Crimson career, O'Hagan has been erratic. Murphy has shown no qualms in benching O'Hagan at the drop of a hat, meaning senior QB Chris Pizzotti may also see some time on Saturday. Pizzotti is more of a conventional drop-back passer, and more accurate than O'Hagan, but less mobile and can have the pocket collapse around him.

5'9, 175 lb sophomore RB Cheng Ho is the main running threat out of the backfield. Although not really expected to replace Dawson (who could?) he did show some great speed in a 47 yard TD run against Holy Cross. However, running between the tackles won't be his strength - it will be running to the outside hiding behind those big "O" linemen on sweeps. Senior FB Noah Van Niel will only get the occasional carry - at 6'0, 240, his biggest role is one as a blocker. However, both Van Niel and Ho can catch the ball out of the backfield, so they can't be ignored in the passing game.

Senior WR Corey Mazza isn't just a great receiving threat against Lehigh (last year, he nabbed 4 receptions for 118 yards and a TD against us), he's been a dominant receiver this year in two games, already posting 16 receptions for 235 yards and 2 TDs. Mazza is a deadly combination of height, hands, and speed, and must be contained somehow. Sophomore WR Matt Luft and junior WR Matt LaGlace are not bad receivers either, with one TD apiece. Luft is more of a hands/possession guy, while LaGlace is more of a pure speed receiver. All three are tough to stop. Junior TE Jason Miller will also slip in there and get the occasional reception. Coach Murphy will use all his options.

Harvard's "O" line is similar to Lehigh's in terms of experience: two seniors, including 6'6, 290 lb senior OL Andrew Brecher, and a mish-mash of talented juniors and underclassmen. Our defensive front seven's penetration against this unit could be the key to this game.

Defense
Like VMI, Harvard plays a base 4-3, but unlike VMI, the Crimson defense is an extremely solid unit. I happen to think that Harvard in 2007 will be a team that is driven by its defense rather than its offense for reasons that will be made clear.

Start with senior DE Brad Bagdis on the defensive line, who is the speedy pass-rusher who frequently disrupts a lot of quarterbacks. He already has two sacks, and this "D" line is big and solid. For perspective, this defense held Brown to 49 net rushing yards last Saturday.

The linebacking unit also doesn't exactly seem to show a lot of weakness either. Although all of the unit are juniors, junior LB Glenn Dorris already is shining, with two sacks and 12 tackles already to go with one interception. Junior LB Eric Shultz isn't bad either, with 12 tackles. If there's a knock on these guys, it's that they are a little small and possibly could be beat up, but their statistics already speak volumes for their talent. They're good, period.

Oh, yeah, did I forget senior CB Stephen Williams, whose two interceptions made him College Sporting News' Defensive Player of the week last week? Or senior CB Andrew Berry, who was a preseason CSN first-team all-American? This secondary could be one of the most talented in all of Division I. Don't believe me? In two games this year, Harvard is allowing only a 47% completion percentage to go with their 4 interceptions. Although Holy Cross beat them in a last-second TD pass, trust me when I say that this secondary is a great one.

Special Teams
Stephen Williams also returns kickoffs, where he ripped off a 47-yarder already this year. If possible, kicking away from him is a good idea. On punts, however, Williams isn't nearly as good, averaging only one yard per return, leading one to believe that there may be weakness on their punt coverage teams.

Senior P Matt Schindel is averaging 35 yards a punt, which is just about that, average. Sophomore K Patrick Long is largely unproven, going 1-for-3 on FGs, including a miss on a 45 yarder that might have tied it for the Crimson against Holy Cross. He's a perfect 7/7 on extra points.

Keys To The Game
1. Patience. Against this secondary, there will be chances to move the ball - if the offense is patient. I don't feel this game will be won on a gadget play or home-run ball: it will be picking away running and passing the ball in a balanced way, in the short to mid-range.
2. Pressure. Lehigh has to get consistent pressure on O'Hagan or Pizzotti to disrupt them from picking our defense apart. If we sit back and let either of them get time to throw, we'll be in trouble.
3. Possession. Holding onto the ball and getting sustained drives would help immensely in Lehigh's efforts to win this game. That means protecting the ball with two hands for the full sixty minutes.
4. Pounding. Lehigh needs to win this game in the trenches, with our "O" line making the Harvard defensive front seven pay every down. Wearing out defenses is something Lehigh hasn't done as effectively as I might like, but doing so this weekend could be the key to a big Lehigh victory.

Fearless Prediction
Most folks seem to think this will be a shootout. If you look at the history of the rivalry since 1989, it's easy to see how one might get that impression: the winning team scored 35 points in six of the seven meetings. But I think this game will mark a changing of the guard for both teams.

As Harvard has to learn to live without Clifton Dawson, Lehigh seems to have already learned to feed off of their defense. Senior QB Sedale Threatt is as accurate as ever, but these two wins have been driven by one thing on Lehigh's side: tough, aggressive hitting defense, with the ability to strip balls, and play disciplined. When Lehigh has been their best at this early stage (and admittedly, on defense it hasn't always been the case), the defense has fed the offense.

Similarly, Harvard's defense fed their win over Brown last week, and were expected to win the game for Harvard against Holy Cross - on 4th-and-short, Tim Murphy elected to punt and have his defense stop Holy Cross on their last drive. It's where coach Coen and coach Murphy wish their teams to be.

I don't know if this is a homer pick or not, but I just think that Lehigh is just a little bit further along than Harvard is at this point, giving our beloved Mountain Hawks a slight advantage in this game which should be a close one in any event. I sense something different in this team that I didn't sense last year or even the year before that: a quiet confidence in getting the job done on Saturday. It seemed to finally come out last week versus VMI, and that confidence will be a huge boost going into Saturday.

It shouldn't be the type of game we've come to expect from Lehigh and Harvard, but for Mountain Hawk fans, I'm predicting a result which ought to be a lot more familiar.

Lehigh 20, Harvard 10

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Players Of The Week, VMI/Lehigh

In what I am aiming to be the quickest Lehigh Football Nation post in history, here are the Players of the Week from the VMI game:

On defense, the winner is going to be junior DB Quadir Carter. Carter set the tone early in the VMI game, stuffing their first drive on a fourth down play with a big three yard tackle for loss. He would continue to have his best-ever day as a Mountain Hawk, amassing 8 tackles, adding a sack to end up with two tackles for loss on the day, and recovering a VMI fumble. His performance headlined a dominating perfomance on defense, where VMI only finally got on the scoreboard with under a minute to play in the game.

Special teams Hawk this week will be going to junior P/K Jason Leo, in a tough call with freshman KR John Kennedy. Ultimately, despite another missed extra point late in the day, Leo had a 22 yard field goal to go with his four extra points, to give him seven points on the day. Punting, he had another great day, averaging 44 yards per punt, including a 55 yarder. His punting statistics are among the nation's leaders, thanks to his leg primarily, with an assist going to the new method of executing punts where the punter grabs the snap and rolls a direction to get off a quick kick.

Player of the week this week as voted on by you, the fans? Narrowly edging out Sedale was the beneficiary of his passes (well two of them anyway), junior WR Nick Johnson. He made the most of his three receptions, taking a Threatt pass 52 yards in his first grab, going for a touchdown. Then, on a trick pass from senior WR Pete Donchez, Johnson saw the ball sail perfectly into his numbers for a 66 yard TD pass for his second TD on the day. Add to that a late 22 yard pass from Threatt later in the day, and you have a nifty 3 reception, 140 yard day for 2 TDs and a first down - and Player of the Week honors.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Around The Horn, 9/25/2007

Through the "magic" of the internet, my wonderful "Around The Horn" that I had been working on for (let's just say) far too long got eaten alive by a the dreaded "Microsoft Internet Explorer Has Encountered An Error And Has To Close". After cursing Bill Gates one more time and resolving never to use 1) the underpowered laptop in our family's care, 2) Internet Explorer and 3) any software written by Microsoft (good luck with that one), I decided to try to give this one more go.

Like my experiences with posting this "Around The Horn, this week was a bit frustrating for the Patriot League with a 1-3 week including a loss to Princeton by Lafayette (putting them at an incredible 4-37-3 lifetime against the Tigers) and a loss by Fordham to non-scholarship Dayton of the Pioneer Football League. Both games could have gone either way.

Unfortunately junior WR Nick Johnson couldn't be nominated Patriot League Player of the week this week, despite his career-best receiving performance, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

  • Holy Cross put in a simply awesome performance in a 55-0 rout of the Hoyas. After looking at the statistics, it's not a surprise who the Player of the Week would be: junior QB Dominic Randolph, with a 22-for-33 day, 302 yards passing, and 3 TDs. Overall, they racked up 614 offensive yards and totally dominated the Hoyas on the few drives they did have. This team is playing with a lot of confidence: coach Tom Gilmore said of his offense, “They believe they can do this to anyone. When we’re on, we’re on.” With Yale coming in next week, they'll have an opportunity to show how "on" they can be.
  • Speaking of Yale, the Elis also did great in a 51-13 bulldozing of Cornell. Hard to expand on what Cornell head coach Jim Knowles said about the Bulldogs: We got physically dominated in all aspects of the game - offense, defense, special teams. They were a much more physical ballclub. Yale does what they do. They just come right at you." Behind that physical pounding, junior RB Mike McLeod also had another great day: 31 carries for 151 yards and 3 TDs. This game up in Worcester this weekend should be one whale of a game.
  • From the Georgetown side, those stats were awfully grim. 2 first downs. 2! Less than 20 minutes of possession time. And they have to turn around, head home to face Cornell and answer some serious questions, like: will they win a game this year?
  • Richmond's star RB Tim Hightower ran all over Bucknell in a 45-14 romp. The fact that the Spiders won the game wasn't all that unexpected, but Hightower showcased himself to be a phenomenal back with an incredible 295 yards rushing and 4 TDs, each one over 30 yards. "We couldn't tackle him," said Bucknell coach Tim Landis. "Those long runs against Northeastern [in a 49-14 win] broke Northeastern's back. Coming in, we knew we couldn't allow that to happen. It seems like when he runs that zone play and when he bounces outside and your corners over-commit, you're in trouble." Bucknell should have an easier time this week, when they play Marist of the MAAC in the final leg of their "Theater of Pain" tour - the fifth straight road game for this 0-4 squad.
  • Lafayette was beaten by the "ghosts" of Princeton in a 20-14 defeat in Easton. No, really, how else to describe it? An ankle sprain to junior RB Maurice White in the first drive of the game - and a holding call to negate an early TD? A slew of injuries, notable to senior DB Marcel Quarterman, slowing down the Leopard's impressive defense? A questionable block-in-the-back call on 4th down with 4 minutes to go, helping stymie a Leopard drive? That's not to take anything away from Princeton, who looked night-and-day different than when they played Lehigh, playing with lots of confidence in execution and playcalling. Interestingly, they called option plays to devastating effect against the Leopards with their speedy senior QB Bill Foran. Still, Lafayette heads into the bye week at a good time, and as of now look like those injuries by White, Quarterman & others will have a chance to heal.
  • Dayton upset Fordham 31-24, making the Rams the official enigma of the Patriot League. Down 24-3, the Rams stormed back with three 4th-quarter TDs set up by Flyer turnovers, but they let wideout Nick Ruhe slip past the defense and score the game-winner with 5:44 left. Turnovers were the name of this game: three early ones by Fordham allowed Dayton to jump to a 21-0 lead, while turnovers also got Fordham back into the game. After Dayton jumped ahead, a fumbled punt and an interception by sophomore QB John Skelton iced it for the Flyers. If they turn over the ball like that against Colgate next week who is fresh off a week of rest, they won't stand a chance.
  • Lehigh's next opponent, Harvard, beat Brown 24-17 in the first-ever night game at 105 year-old Harvard Stadium. More than 18,000 showed up for the historic game, which was a happy one for the home team due to three interceptions by their secondary in the 4th quarter, including two by senior CB Stephen Williams. Paired with senior CB Andrew Berry, a preseason all-American, Lehigh this week might be facing the best secondary in the nation.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Press Mash-Up And Lehigh Gets More Votes

Somehow, I don't think the photo to my left is of freshman QB J.B. Clark, although he and senior LB Justin Weaver share the same number. (Photo courtesy of Demetra Stamus, Morning Call.) Aside from the missed photo credit, the press seemed pretty rosy about Lehigh this week after their 37-6 drubbing of VMI.

In the Sports Network Poll, Lafayette squeezed a few more votes than Lehigh and Holy Cross as the Mountain Hawks and Crusaders continued their slow climb to the rankings. It's still a bit of a way to #25, but only a handful of votes separate Lafayette (37), Lehigh (31), and Holy Cross (30).

How did I forget that at halftime the 50th anniversary of the 1957 Lambert Cup team was going to be honored? I should have mentioned that. This weekend, the 1977 Division II Championship team is going to be honored at halftime. I thought I'd mention this now, just in case I forget.

Here's the links and mash-up.

Allentown Morning Call: Lehigh Starts Fast, Puts VMI Away Early
Allentown Morning Call: Lehigh Exudes Confidence
Easton Express-Times: Donchez Shows Off His Arm
Brown & White: First Half Success Keys Win
Dave Coulson, Sports Network: Another Quick Start for Lehigh

Fifty years ago, VMI came to Lehigh and played what some consider to be one of the best games in Taylor Stadium history.

VMI won a battle of the unbeatens that day, 12-7, giving the Engineers their lone blemish in an 8-1, Lambert Cup-winning season.

That '57 team was honored at halftime Saturday at Goodman Stadium.

And, perhaps those guys gained a measure of satisfaction from the 37-6 pounding the current Lehigh team administered to the 2007 Keydets.

"We talked all week about not coming out flat," said Lehigh coach Andy Coen. "In the second half we got a little conservative, but when we got back to doing the things we did in the first half, we drove right down the field."

"When you play against that style of attack, staying disciplined is the key," Coen said. "We did a real good job of tackling. They had just a few broken tackles all day. We looked back on the Villanova game [a 30-20 Week 1 loss] and thought we needed to be more aggressive, more emotional on defense. We want to fly around to the ball, but at the same time you can't lose that discipline."

"Defensively, we played lights-out the whole game," Coen said. "This is a very emotional group of guys playing right now."

"We're satisfied today, but I've already told these guys we've got a very good team coming in here and we're going to have to execute better and play a very good game to have a chance," Coen said.

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

Even wide receiver and Bethlehem Catholic grad Pete Donchez joined the first-half fun with a 66-yard option pass to Johnson for a score.

"We practiced that play a lot this week and it was a little rocky at practice," said Donchez, who was one seven different pass-catchers, but the only receiver to throw a pass. “The whole week we were talking about catching the ball and selling the fake. I kind of had to rush the throw.

"It ended up working out really well. That was my first shot at being a quarterback and I enjoyed it."

"He's got the best quarterback rating in the country," Lehigh coach Andy Coen joked.

What made the play most impressive was Donchez -- more accustomed to being on the receiving end of such big throws -- unloaded one under duress, releasing the touchdown bomb just before taking a shot.

"I could see the defender coming out of the corner of my eye," Donchez said. "Nick made a great play on the outside to sell the block and get open, so, it wasn't that hard to hit him in the numbers."

"It was very catchable," praised Johnson. "I just had to sell the safety a little bit. My eyes got a little wide."

"We've got more like that," said coach Coen.


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

TE Troy Healion, a junior, has stepped in and more than adequately filled in for senior Joe Sutherland at tight end.

"Joe getting hurt in the first game gave me an opportunity,"Healion said. "He's getting better now and he's the better blocker. I just want to maintain a part in the offense.

“In the red zone all we want to do is take the attention off the outside guys and make plays,” Healion said. “The opposing teams don’t have one particular player to single out on our offense. We can all make plays and that makes the offense work well. We need to continue to dominate and not settle for field goals.”

WR Nick Johnson, too, has given the offense a different dimension.

"The coaches put me in a great position to make plays and I just feel it's my duty to come on the field and make them," said the junior from Lusby, Md. “It is a lot of fun to go out there and know you’re going to get opportunities to make a play. Every person on the offense has the potential to make a big play.”

"My first two years here were definitely a building block. I was behind some guys with more seniority and more savvy and now I'm getting my chance."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday's Word: Nabob

Yes, I know. How come I have such an obsession about terms made by tragicomic political figures (in this case, Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice president who resigned in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate affair)? One can only wonder what terms I'll be coming up with in the future in these Sunday Words, such as "Henny Penny The Sky Is Falling", or "It depends on what your definition of 'Is' Is".

In any event, I don't think it's any secret that I'm referring to Mr. Agnew's reference to the nattering 'nabobs' of negativism.

Looking objectively, this Saturday's win against VMI was Lehigh's largest margin of victory against an out-of-conference opponent since the Mountain Hawks waxed Central Connecticut State 58-10 on September 29th, 2001 (to what then was essentially a non-scholarship team). For a win against a "scholarship" team of the same magnitude, you need to go back to 1984 when Lehigh throttled Delaware 46-6. (And that was with a team that ended the year 5-6.) With Lehigh at 2-1, with wins over tough Princeton, last year's Ivy League co-champions (and recent victors over Lafayette) and now scholarship VMI, you'd think there would be dancing in the streets.

But here come the "nabobs". The comments I got on my "victory" post yesterday numbered two: one criticizing the "new" way junior P/K John Leo is punting the football, and one lambasting me for neglecting to mention senior WR Pete Donchez' big day on offense in my wrapup last night.

You have to think something is going right in Lehigh Nation when the worst thing folks have to complain about is 1) the punting game, and 2) me choosing the *wrong* players to honor on offense since there were *so many*.

Where's the postings about a great win? The thoroughness that Lehigh played, especially defensively? The fact that we finally had a big blowout victory and had a game where the outcome was not in doubt midway through the second quarter? Wouldn't just a tiny bit of rah-rah be OK?

No doubt, this game was easier than the Harvard game will be next week. VMI was not the next coming in the Big South of Coastal Carolina, circa 2006: this was a less-than-stellar team we whooped on. But would it kill fans to have something positive to say, for once? Have we all gotten so gunshy after losing three straight to "the team in Easton" that even in a blowout victory it's still gloom and doom?

This week's game against Harvard will be big. I think Lehigh fans are still sitting around wondering, "Are we really back?" Rather than being thrilled at another victory, we're complaining about punting. I think the bandwagon will be revving up for these "nabobs" if we can manage a victory - even a slim one will do - against the Crimson.
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