Saturday, October 06, 2007

Lehigh 18, Fordham 28, final

I'll admit it: I was hoping to make the trip to the Bronx this weekend to record this game for posterity, since it's one of two games this year that Lehigh plays that is not televised. After coming back from the game and thinking about it, perhaps the game was better off remaining unrecorded in any way, if you're a Lehigh fan.

First of all, though, congratulations to Fordham and head coach Tom Masella, who played a great game and never made me feel comfortable that Lehigh was going to pull out the game at any point. Although their offense did stall a little bit in the second half, they stayed away from making mistakes. Their trenches got great push against our lines, and that defensive front seven is for real - they got to our quarterback, got a bunch of tackles for loss, and played a whale of a game. And the sophomore QB John Skelton is a very good quarterback for the Rams, who was very effective passing the ball - and with no interceptions that have plagued him in other games.

If you had to sum the game in a nutshell, Lehigh made too many mistakes, and Fordham made only one, and that's why they won. And the mistake they made - a fumbled punt that led to great field position - did not turn into points for Lehigh.

The stat that jumped out was that Lehigh was 2-6 in the "red zone". If you get into the red zone six times in a league game, you have to convert at least four of those into points. Period. I don't care if they're FGs - at least get something. Fordham only got into the red zone twice, but came away with touchdowns. If Lehigh had a 100% "red zone conversion rate", we'd be having a Yuengling right now taking about another Lehigh/Fordham laugher and whether Lehigh is Top 25 material. Now, Fordham fans are starting to whisper that.

What was frustrating was that Lehigh's mistakes came in every phase of the game. Down 7-3, Fordham WR Richard Rayborn gets behind the defender and moonwalks into the end zone, putting Lehigh behind 14-3. Down 14-10 and in the red zone, a fumbled snap on a FG attempt meant our holder had to attempt a rollout TD pass - that the receiver had in his hands and bobbled and dropped. Still down 14-10, Lehigh gets in the red zone again - and promptly gets picked off. Those aren't all the mental errors - I'm not so cruel as to list them all here. But trust me that there were plenty. There were plenty of chances for someone on Lehigh to make a play to win the game, or at least go ahead - and it's not just one player - and nobody did.

For sure, RB Josh Pastore came down with an injury in the first half and did not return, which seemed to play a huge factor. But more aggravating me me was some of the things I mentioned in these "Keys Of the Game" that were not executed - especially the one about "Pride in Special Teams". Three bad snaps in three FG situations, two of which led to those "fake" attempts. If we make just one of those, this is a completely different game.

So, here we are again. 0-1 in the League, just like two years ago when Holy Cross upset us 13-10 in the rainstorm at Goodman. Fordham has beaten Colgate and Lehigh already, and has Georgetown this week, so assuming the Hoyas don't pull of a mega-upset, they look to be 3-0 going into their tough games versus Holy Cross, Bucknell and Lafayette. It's not impossible to catch them - after all, the past three years have seen teams with one loss win the Patriot League title. But it will mean that they have to run the table in the Patriot League, and can't afford any more games with these excruciating sort of mental errors.

It can be done. But the question I have after watching this game is: Will it?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week 6 (and Mash-Up)

In a way, we're really spoiled as Lehigh fans, a fact which I was reminded of when researching the Fordham game this weekend. Not only do you, the Lehigh fan, have this blog to keep you informed about Lehigh, but you also have *two* local papers covering Lehigh, the occasional blog comment from Keith Groller and columnist rants at the Express-Times.

Fordham? Their own school paper can't even stay updated on their own team, with the latest story on the Liberty Cup three weeks ago! And the daily newspapers are hopeless: a check of the New York Times showed that after the Liberty Cup, Fordham may as well not even exist as a football school. Same with the New York Post, and the Daily News is simply hopeless on all college football news, while New York Newsday covers the Long Island teams of Hofstra and Stony Brook. Four major newspapers, and not a peep about Lehigh coming to town!

On the bright side, it means that my job is extremely easy in doing the mash-up.

Patriot Predictions
I seem to be making a habit of going 4-1, as I missed Fordham's upset of Colgate last week. Here's my attempt to make things right - and don't forget to see my full array of picks on College Sporting News as well.

Holy Cross over Brown
Although I'm sure the Bears coaches looked at the Yale game film as to how to beat the Crusaders, I'm thinking Holy Cross rebounds in a big way to show that they're a team to be reckoned with in this Patriot League race. It can't hurt that Brown lost a 2 overtime "Governor's Cup" to Rhode Island last week, either.
Purple Eaters of Bear 42, Cuddly Crusader Magnets 14

Penn over Georgetown
If there were ever a time when Georgetown could uphold the honor of the League, why not this weekend against the 0-3 Quakers? I'll tell you why: Georgetown can't score and can't exploit Penn's weaknesses in their passing game. The cold, black season for the Hoyas continues.
Quackers 21, Poor Georgetown 7

Colgate over Bucknell
Going for the "desperate team" here: if Colgate loses, they'll be guaranteed to be already looking towards next season, and frankly I can't comprehend that. This Raider team has a lot of talent - how come all of a sudden have things gone south? It will be close, but I think Colgate finds a way to win it.
Raging Raiders 30, Buckled Bison 27

Lafayette over Columbia
With RB Maurice White injured for the Leopards, you'd think this is a possible upset opportunity for the Lions, who aren't a bad team at all. But the Leopards' running backs are all pretty solid, and if this game is going to be won in the trenches, give me the team that has proven to have the trenches that win.
The Cheetos Leopards 17, Lippy the Lions 14

Press Links
Morning Call: Coen Will Get Lehigh Back In The Running
Express-Times: Pastore Gets The Hard Yards
Brown & White: Hawks Hope For '06 Repeat Against Rams

Press Mash-Up
"I usually feel better about things after I watch the game film on Sunday," coach Andy Coen said. "But this time, I didn't feel better.

"We need to run the ball to be a good offense and I got away from that," Coen said on Wednesday after the team's weekly media luncheon at Starters Pub. "I didn't know we were 0-for-11 on third downs, but I knew we were having trouble sustaining drives.

"So, what happened is that I began to look for a big play. You take a shot and don't get it and it's second-and-long. Then you worry about getting 5 or 6 yards by running it on second down, so you throw again and then you wind up in a third-and-long hole."

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

"I was very pleased with what Josh did on Saturday," said Coen, whose team won its third straight game to improve to 3-1. "I'm excited to see him stay healthy and do those things every week."

"Josh was the best guy to do what we needed done against Harvard," Coen said. "He's a little more physical, a little better in pass-protection than the other guys. He just had a lack of opportunities because of the way the game played out and my play-calling. But he'll start against Fordham and Kwesi's going to see a lot of time, too."

"That's why I'm probably hurt as much as I am," Pastore said, "because I play as reckless as I do. It's a brutal sport. I always felt if you worry about being hurt on the field, you will be hurt. I try to lead by example."

"You have such great expectations going into the season and you kind of get set back," RB Josh Pastore said. "Staying positive was the key."

"I felt amazing at the start of the game, but I missed practice for two weeks and you lose some of that conditioning. Game speed is different than practice speed.

"Sometimes you have to put your head down," Pastore said. "When it's third-and-three, that's what you have to do sometimes. I'm not going to say I'm a power back. But if you've got to put your head down, I'm not going to be shy about it."

"But, also, there just wasn't a lot of opportunities to run the ball because we were in third-and-long situations. When it's third-and-eight, you can't run a power play for 5 yards."

Coen's task is to keep his stable of tailbacks happy.

He'll go by who's got the hot hand and who is best in certain situations.

"Jaren Walker may have been disappointed that he didn't get more carries last week, but there just weren't a lot of carries to go around," Coen said. "We've got a good group and they're all going to get their opportunities. We just have to become a more consistent team on offense. I mean I've never been in a game when we didn't convert a third down before."

*******

"It's going to be a real horse race here," he said. "To control your own destiny, you've got to win them all and ever since I was first here as an assistant coach with Kevin [Higgins], our approach has been to treat each league game like a championship game. There's not going to be a lot of margin for error in these games. You're going to see a lot of close ones."

"This is not the same team we beat 45-14 late last season," he said. "Hamilton, New York, is usually a tough place to play and they went up there and beat a good football team. Fordham played a lot of young kids last year and they got some experience and now they're flying around and playing very aggressively."

Fordham coach Tom Masella said the win at Colgate was a reward for his players' hard work.

"We tell them that if they keep working hard the whole game, good things will happen," Masella said. "We haven't beaten Colgate in a while and a win like that tells our kids that we're going in the right direction."

“They are a young team and have some very good skilled players,” defensive coordinatot Donnie Roberts said. “I guess sometimes when you are young, you go out and lay it on the line. We have to find the ways to play physical and fast against them. We need to get control of the game, to be able to play a full 60 minutes.”

“Obviously it feels good to win,” senior CB Brannan Thomas said. “But we approach everything like a one week season. After that game is over it’s over. There is nothing more important than what we have to do this week.”

“You just got to be relentless,” senior OL Brendan Caffrey said. “You can’t build up a big lead and then shoot yourself in the foot. Basically our coach has been stressing the same [thing] every week — you have to go out for the second half as strong as you come in the first.”

“I think we just have to play together and stick to the scheme of our offense,” junior defensive back Quadir Carter said. “If we play tough like we did last week, then we definitely will win this weekend.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Preview of Lehigh/Fordham

League games are always more important than non-league games, but the team Lehigh is facing this year couldn't be more different than the one they faced last year.

Last year, Fordham lost to Lehigh 45-14 the week before Lehigh/Lafayette on "Senior Day", and the Mountain Hawks played what was probably their best game of the year. All phases of the game were clicking. Over 400 yards of offense, senior CB Brannan Thomas had a couple of interceptions, and RB Marques Thompson had 3 TDs. Fordham started with some fight, but ultimately fell in a blowout.

But this year, despite coach Tom Masella's downplaying of his troops a little bit in the pregame press conference, this one will be a huge benchmark for the Rams and a dangerous game for the Mountain hawks. A win here could propel Fordham at 2-0 in league play, with two of their hardest games behind them, and establish the Rams as a team that could very well be talking Patriot League title and autobids. A loss by Lehigh could put Lehigh behind the 8-ball for the rest of the season as well.

So far this season, young Ram team has been very inconsistent. Last week, Fordham outlasted Colgate 34-31 and moved the ball well on the Raiders, while their 21-0 burst in the third quarter sealed the win for them. Yet this team also struggled in a loss to non-scholarship Dayton the week before, 31-24, where five turnovers doomed Fordham.

It's Patriot League play, so there's no time for letdowns. And Fordham has demonstrated the ability to be a very dangerous team. Trips to the Bronx haven't always been hard for the Mountain Hawks, but this one may prove to be.

Game Notes & Weather Report
The big news is that junior RB Josh Pastore has been moved back up to the #1 back this week, so it looks like Josh is 100% healthy and will get the start in an effort to get back into the swing of things, though I'm sure freshman RB Kwesi Kankam will be getting some time as well (who is listed as the #2 back despite not getting a single carry last week). There are some dinged-up seniors not on the depth chart of note: senior TE Joe Sutherland (replaced on the depth chart by freshman TE Alex Wojdowski) and senior LB Travis Stinson (replaced by sophomore LB Al Pierce). Senior LB Rusty Campion is finally healthy as well, so he'll get some time in the linebacking unit this weekend.

No word if senior WR Pete Donchez is back this week after being spotted on the sidelines not totally suited up last week. He is, however, listed on the depth chart behind junior WR Mike Fitzgerald.

The weather this year has been nothing short of unbelievable. This weekend in the Bronx, the weather is supposed to be 87 degrees and sunny. I couldn't think of anything better than to take the short 2 1/2 hour trip to the Bronx (actually from where I live, it's a little less than two hours) to watch this key football game. And if you go and have small kids (like I do), it's important to know they have a "Little Rams Fun Park" to help entertain the youngsters with a bouncer and other inflatable fun. They even have face painting available for them (even Lehigh colors).

Drink Of The Week
After sweating what to suggest for hearty tailgaters to drink before the Lehigh/Fordham game, Google saves the day. After crossing "Manhattan" and "Long Island Iced Tea" off the list, a simple Google search gives me a recipe for a Bronx Cocktail that would be perfect for this game. Manhattan and Queens have their own drinks: who knew the Bronx also had their own? 3 parts Gin, 1 part Sweet Vermouth, 1 part Dry Vermouth, and 4 parts orange juice. (The linked recipe also includes a dash of Angostura Bitters, but honestly I have no idea what that is. Just replace with another orange slice, and a lot of ice, and I think you'll be good.)

A Word On Fordham
In analyzing Fordham, it's useful to look at the last two Liberty Cup games against Columbia to see where the Rams were last year and where they stand this year.

Last year, in a 37-7 win by Columbia, coach Masella tried to win the battle at the line of scrimmage - one time going for it on 4th down and inches at his own 20 - and failed, which contributed to Fordham's loss. This year, the Rams pounded Columbia 27-10 largely due to the fact that they controlled that line of scrimmage and had two 100 yard rushers.

In the battle of turnovers, last year Fordham fumbled the ball in the end zone in a key play of the game, which was recovered by the Lions to give Columbia a 10-0 lead. This year, the Rams took care of the ball much better and parlayed two Columbia interceptions into six points, meaning that winning the turnover battle was a big reason they dominated the game as much as they did.

Going by this opponent, the difference is night and day.

Although football head coach Tom Masella will be the first to tell you that his teams is young and needs to play better to "win some games", this team has been winning some games in order to get to their 3-2 record so far this year. The wins are impressive, too: over the CAA's Rhode Island, over rival Columbia of the Ivy League in the "Liberty Cup", and over Colgate in Hamilton. By no stretch of the imagination were these three wins over easy teams.

Offense
Earlier in the year, Fordham's offense was described as a "run-and-shoot" sort of offense. It is that in the sense that there is no tight end (instead there is a "Y" receiver, but effectively is a tight end), but not so much in that as a type of "spread' offense (like Appalachian State runs) which spreads the offense and allows the offense to do what they want to do, either run or pass. As a result, you really don't know what this offense will throw at you. This is the same basic scheme from last year, but with a year to absorb the system, the Rams have much different production than the anemic offense we saw last year - averaging 26.4 points per game this far, compared to the 14.4 from last year.

Part of the reason is that sophomore QB Josh Skelton is becoming more familiar with Masella's system. Last week, his comfort level paid big dividends as his 217 yards passing and 3 TDs were enough for Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week. This young Texan is mobile in the pocket as well, with 143 yards rushing on the year, so Lehigh will have to contain him and tackle well on the outside on runs. With only barely a 50% completion percentage and seven interceptions on the year, it is possible that Skelton may be able to be rushed to make "sophomore mistakes" which could work to Lehigh's advantage.

In the single-back backfield, senior RB Jonte Coven and freshman RB Xavier Martin have been splitting time with varied results. Both had 100 yards apiece against Columbia, but the duo combined for only 98 yards against Colgate's defense last week. Both are small, speedy backs in the Ron Jean mold, and their strength is mostly speed to the corners - neither is a real bruising sort of back. Coven has caught a few passes out of the backfield, but neither has proven to be major pass-catching threats.

The receiving unit has basically five receiver slots, but the "Y/Tight End" in Fordham's case is filled by junior WR Cody Kritzer, who has exactly one reception on the year so far. The other four receivers split the receiving yards: junior WR Richard Rayborn, sophomore WR Asa Lucas, sophomore WR Jason Caldwell, and sophomore WR Michael Shorter. This unit - with Rayborn and Lucas the tall receivers, and Caldwell and Shorter as the "smurfs" - has combined for 9 receiving TDs and 652 yards receiving. All are speedy, with Rayborn and Lucas in particular being the biggest receiving threats in this talented receiving corps.

One of the criteria for the "run-n-shoot" is having big linemen to offset not having a tight end, and the beefy Ram "O" line is one of the biggest we'll face this year, with three 300 lb linemen and the captain of the unit, senior C Mike Breznicky, pushing 295.

Defense
Fordham plays a base 3-4 defense that has gotten an amazing push by the defensive front seven. They already have 46 tackles for loss by that front seven, while they also boast a strong secondary as well.

Leading the "D" line is junior DT Greg DeMarco with 19 tackles and 1 1/2 tackles for loss. Junior DE Fonzie Culver joins him this year on the line, a converted linebacker, with 12 tackles and 3 tackles for loss. Their "D" line is a bit smaller than Lehigh's.

Senior LB Earl Hudnell leads this front seven, though, with 23 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and two interceptions, showing that you need to watch for him inside both rushing the passer and sitting back in pass coverage. That's not all you need to worry about in this linebacking unit, though: senior LB Dominique Owens on the inside and sophomore LB James Crockett on the outside have also been standout performers, with a combined 76 tackles and 8 1/2 tackles for loss as well. Lehigh's "O" line will have a challenging time containing them all.

The secondary also has some real great athletes. Junior FS Matt Loucks (pictured) is the leading tackler on the team with 43 (of which 27 came in a 23-20 loss to Albany) and one key interception last week. Senior CB Sam Orah is a great player too, but doesn't have any interceptions basically since teams throw away from him. People seem to be picking on the short strong safety, 5'11 sophomore SS Tommy Martin, and 5'11 freshman CB Jamal Haruna. Hopefully, it will mean big day for our slot receivers if we can exploit it. Worthy of mention is what the Rams lack in experience they make up in speed: this is one speedy bunch.

Special Teams
The Rams take special pride in their special teams - as a matter of fact, if you're an aspiring punter you may want to catch this game since two of the top 10 punters in the nation will be playing in this game. Senior P Ben Dato is second in the nation with a 44.6 punt average - and we very well could be seeing him play on Sundays next fall. Fortunately Lehigh has his equal on our side with the best punting net average in all of Division I (44.76 average), so his booming kicks hopefully won't be the factor they normally would be.

Junior K Adam Danko hasn't been tested under pressure, but has struggled a little going 3/4 on FGs (longest: 32 yards) and 15/18 on extra points.

The Ram return team boasts a couple very speedy returners that the Mountain Hawks really need to keep their eyes on. Sophomore CB Isiejah Allen is a speedster who returns punts and already has ripped a 29 yard return, while on kickoffs freshman RB Xavier Martin already has amassed 145 yards in kickoff returns, good enough for a 20.7 yard average. Be very wary.

Keys To The Game
1. But Can You Handle.... Pressure? In the "run-n-shoot", a huge key is to get pressure on the quarterback, and I'm hoping coach Kotulski has some creative blitzing to keep Skelton on his back most of the afternoon. Since it's hard to go up the middle, I'm hoping outside blitzes could be used to devastating effect.
2. Smart Special Teams Play. For the first time this year, we have our equals in special teams coverage. I'm hoping that Lehigh sees this as an opportunity to show the world that they have some of the best special teams in the nation, and shutting down Fordham's return game would go a long way towards proving this.
3. Deep Outs. With that talented logjam at linebacker, I'd be tempted to test some nice, long passes to Yansane or Fitzgerald on "deep outs". For sure fans are expecting better than last week's 0-for-11 on 3rd down, but big plays could be a key for Lehigh here.
4. The 3rd Quarter. What doomed Colgate last week was a 3rd quarter where the Rams posted 21 quick points and the Raiders were unable to recover. This Lehigh team, who has not performed especially well in the 3rd quarter by being outscored 21-9, will need to guard against another 3rd quarter letdown. A bad 3rd quarter could mean Lehigh loses this game.

Fearless Prediction
This game, on the road in their first league game, is frought with danger for Lehigh. I'm reminded of the Villanova game we won in 2006 31-28, only to let down the following week against Princeton 14-10, where there was a serious letdown effect. A letdown this week could be a recipe for an 0-1 start in the league.

The key will be to start the game riding the high on defense and special teams last week, and hoping the offense feeds off that energy and puts together a better performance this week. This clearly could happen - but I am deathly afraid of some sort of letdown this week. It will be important for the players to realize the importance of this game, and the challenge of the team they're facing. Fordham is good, they're dangerous, and they're playing at home.

I think Lehigh will play a close game. I do not think by any stretch they will run away with this. This week, I'm giving the Mountain Hawks the benefit of the doubt in that they will continue to improve, win the game and not slide back. I just hope my nervous feelings this week are misplaced.

Lehigh 24, Fordham 21

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Players Of The Week, Harvard/Lehigh

In what was an incredibly tight vote, we have a winner for player of the week.

In a bad day for the offense, offensive player of the week will be going to junior RB Josh Pastore.
Despite a key fumble, he did get 80 all-purpose yards, including 42 rushing yards and 28 receiving yards. I thought seriously about not giving one out, but in the end Pastore did have a decent day (minus the fumble, of course.) So he does get it.

Special teams will go to two players, one which was Special Teams Player of the Week, and the other who has been an unsung hero on this team Junior P/K Jason Leo averaged more than 44 yards per punt, keeping Lehigh ahead significantly in the field position battle. He got six punts inside the 20, and three punts inside the 6, and added 2/3 FGs and 2/2 XPs. But senior CB Brannan Thomas got the party started by squirting through the punt coverage and getting a big early 57 yard punt return for a touchdown.

Just edging out Leo for player of the week is junior LB Tim Diamond. In what was billed a shootout going into Saturday’s contest in Bethlehem, Diamond instead spearheaded an incredible defensive effort in Lehigh’s 20-13 victory over the Harvard Crimson. Despite Harvard’s offense remaining on the field for 40 minutes of the game, Diamond and the Lehigh defense forced eight Harvard punts as the Ringwood, NJ native amassed 22 tackles on the day, including 11 solo tackles. Five of his tackles came in the last eight minutes of the game, including a sack and a forced fumble (which was returned for a Lehigh touchdown) as Harvard was driving for the game-winning score. Tim also fell onto Harvard’s fumble in the closing seconds of the game to seal the victory.

Congratulations to all the winners, especially Leo and Diamond on their league and national awards as well as these awards. Now, on to Fordham.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Around The Horn, 10/2/2007

  • Poor Hoyas. The grim 45-7 loss to the Big Red of Cornell once again left awfully few positives for Georgetown as the Hoyas got pummeled on both lines. The season statistics don't tell the whole story, but it's pretty telling: in five games, they've only gotten into the red zone ten times, converting eight of those tries. Defensively, they've only gotten two sacks. Against Cornell, a sad, familiar script: 15 carries for 11 yards in the first quarter, en route to a 21-0 halftime lead. And traveling to Penn this weekend may not be much help: after an excruciating 21-13 loss to Dartmouth in Hanover, NH, you've got to believe that they are going to be looking to put a major hurt on somebody, and the Hoyas seem like that team.
  • Holy Cross, who had been crowing about their offense that can score whenever it wants to, met their match in Yale as junior RB Mike McLeod ran over the Crusaders 38-17. McLeod, aside from getting College Sporting News Player of the Week honors, tied or broke three Yale records: 256 yards rushing in a game (breaking the record set in 2002 by Robert Carr), 5 rushing TDs in a game (tying the record set in 1931 by Joe Crowley) and shattering Yale's touchdown record (set by John Pagliaro in 1987). As many accolades as McLeod justifiably got, just as much credit has to go to the Eli "O" line who physically manhandled the three-man Holy Cross front who was already stuggling with their starting nose tackle being hurt. Yale showed their future opponents exactly why they need to fear the "Y" this year, while also showing future opponents how to stop junior QB Dominic Randolph and the Crusader offense: namely, keep them off the field. By dominating time of possession 38 minutes to 21, Holy Cross never really could get back in it.
  • Bucknell head coach Tim Landis, on the other extreme, seemed relieved to have an easy win over Marist, 38-7. "Heading into our six league games, this is what we needed," Bucknell coach Tim Landis said. "If we would have lost, it would have been hard to get our confidence level up." Nothing says confidence like sophomore QB Marcelo Trigg and senior QB Terence Wilson combining for 5 TDs and 140 yards rushing, cumulating on 362 yards rushing on the day for the team. Trigg got the short runs at the end of drives, while Wilson's TD came on a 42 yard scamper from midfield. Coach Landis' hope is that "the league can be crazy, just like last year, with some of the scores. It goes to show that anything can happen." With a good level of confidence going into Hamilton, NY, they have more than a chance.
  • That's because puzzling Colgate got upset in a huge league game, losing to Fordham 34-31 in a game which was narrowly "won" statisitcally by the Raiders. The Colgate defense only netted 160 total rushing yards to the Rams, while junior RB Jordan Scott had another great day with 174 rushing yards and 2 TDs. But down 24-13 at the break, the Rams refused to follow the script: after the defense held Colgate to two first downs, and get a key interception by junior FS Matt Loucks to set up a big pass completion by sophomore QB John Skelton to sophomore WR Asa Lucas in the second of three unanswered TDs by Fordham. Colgate's last-gasp attempt to tie the game was a 37-yard FG attempt after the Fordham defense stuffed the Colgate offense on two straight plays. But to kick was blocked by senior CB Sam Orah to wrap things up. An unusually talkative Dick Biddle, Colgate's head coach, said he was "very uneasy" at halftime since Fordham was moving the ball against them, while Fordham skipper Tom Masella said he "has some weapons on offense and they're still learning." Colgate now faces a must-win next week to stay relevant in the title race, while Fordham, unfortunately, should we riding a wave of confidence. This week in the Bronx will be a huge test for both the Rams and Mountain Hawks.
  • One more note about attendance in the Patriot League this year. There have been no excuses about the weather this year, with every game in the are being played in mid-summer, cloudless conditions (including this weekend's 74 degree, abundant sunshine day). But attendances are still not great. 9,103 watched the Harvard/Lehigh game, compared to 10,680 who watched Lehigh lose to Harvard last year. Other games's attendance: Marist/Bucknell, 2,465; Cornell/Georgetown: 3,184; and Fordham/Colgate: 3,231. The saving grace came from the Yale/Holy Cross game, where a good contingent of Yale fans packed Fitton Field: 11,826. Some of this has to do with teams not having bases that travel well, while Yale is nationally-ranked and does have one of the best fan bases in FCS. But it's hard to believe that confidence is so low in Hamilton, NY that only 3,231 showed up for a key conference game.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Press Mash-Up And Home Cooking

It's not a situation Lehigh fans are familiar with. A Lehigh team that is 3-1 in September, whose main engine is special teams and defense. The Lehigh defense is getting in the face of opposing quarterbacks, and getting things done. When has this ever been the case? Yet here we are, which you'll see in the mash-up.

The win over Harvard impressed votes in the Sports Network Poll, too: jumping in front of Furman and just behind Georgia Southern in the "Others Receiving Votes" category. Five spots above "that school in Easton", Lehigh is 29th in the poll, and should we get a win over Fordham next week, we could possibly be poised to rejoin the Top 25 for the first time this year.

And the first recipients for Patriot League players of the Week (aside from freshman RB Kwesi Kankam's two "Rookie of the Week" awards) were on defense and special teams: junior LB Tim Diamond's 22 tackles, forced fumble and fumble recovery, and junior P/K Jason Leo's eight punts for a 44.1 yard average, including six within the 20 yard line, and three within the 6 yard line. Diamond was not forgotten at College Sporting News either, earning national defensive player of the week honors.

I could get used to winning at Goodman again. Everyone prefers home cooking.

Press Links
Morning Call: Lehigh Turns Tide On Red-Faced Crimson
Morning Call: Leo and Lehigh Feeling Very Special
Express-Times: Defense, Diamond Blindside Harvard
Brown & White: 4th Quarter Fumble Return Gives Hawks Win
Boston Globe: Mountain Hawks Get Drop On Crimson
Harvard Crimson: Harvard Suffers Last-Minute Loss At Lehigh

Press Mash-Up
Defensive tackle Paul Bode's 27-yard run with a fumble with 30 seconds left gave Coen's Mountain Hawks an improbable victory on a day in which it was largely outplayed.

Consider these numbers:

Harvard outgained Lehigh 465 to 232; 334-141 after halftime.

Harvard ran 97 plays, Lehigh ran 52.

Harvard had the ball for nearly 17 minutes more.

Harvard converted on third down 13 of 26 times (and was 1-for-1 on fourth down), while Lehigh was 0-for-11.

Lehigh's total number of offensive touchdowns: Zero.

But thanks to special teams and the late takeaway, Lehigh won its third straight game entering next week's Patriot League opener at Fordham.

"There's no such thing as a bad win in football," head coach Andy Coen said. "It's very surprising to win a game where you don't score an offensive touchdown or convert one time on third down. It doesn't happen very often. But it happened today."

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."

"We did everything right but finish the game," said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. "Our defense played heroically."

“To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t get more gut-wrenching than that. We’re two plays away from being 3-0, and I’ve never been through that at an early stage of the game in 20 years as a head coach.

“To come out of there with a 38 minute possession time, 13 third-down conversions to zero, you say to yourself, ‘What do you have to do to win the game?’ That’s why, in the end, it’s not about statistics.”
“It was a blitz through the middle, and I was just trying to throw the ball away, but the kid came and stripped it from me,” Crimson QB Chris Pizzotti said. “I was trying to throw the ball away, but the referee said it came out.”

Murphy was quick to come to his quarterback’s defense after the game.

“I feel bad for Chris because he played really well, and he did everything he could to help us win the football game,” he said. “It’s very frustrating for it to have to come down to a play like that.”

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

"We struggled on offense, but that's why defense and the kicking game are important and special teams were huge," Coen said.

Linebacker Tim Diamond, a hero with 22 tackles, including the one that caused the game-winning fumble return by Paul Bode, put it perfectly.

"That's why football is the ultimate team game," he said. "When one side of the ball is not doing the job, it's up to the other side to step up. Everyone kept their cool and kept playing to the last minute."

"Coach [Dave] Kotulski [Lehigh's defensive coordinator] made a great call, a gutsy call, sending in the blitz [on the game-winning strip]," Diamond said. ''I was just looking to get the ball out, make a play."

Diamond got to Pizzotti as he was about to throw, and the ball came loose.

"I was just trying to get the ball out, make a play. It was pretty close to being a forward pass and I was hoping all the time that the ball was on the ground that the refs wouldn't blow the whistle and call it an incomplete pass," Diamond said.

Bode didn't hesitate. He grabbed it and ran.

"It was a great feeling," Bode said. "When I saw [Pizzotti] run at me, I knew it was pretty serious. "I didn't want to fall on it at that point. The game was too precious. I actually scored another touchdown as a freshman at Fordham. But this was the biggest of my career."

Before the Mountain Hawks could celebrate, they needed one more big play.

Harvard advanced to the 50 and tried a hook-and-lateral play that nearly worked.

However, the Crimson's Mike Cook tried one too many pitches, forcing an ill-advised errant toss that, fittingly, Diamond fell on at Lehigh's 28 with four seconds remaining.

"It's good for the offense," said Diamond. "They know the defense has their back."

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

Back in August, Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt said one of his goals for 2007 was to keep Jason Leo off the field as much as possible.

It was nothing personal.

It was just that if Threatt and the Mountain Hawks' offense were clicking, it meant touchdowns and less opportunities for Leo to either kick field goals, or, even worse, punt the ball.

"Jason has done a great job for us; he did it all last year when he was the MVP of the league for special teams," Lehigh "coach Andy Coen said. "In a game like this, field position is going to be a key factor and we count on Jason to get the job done and he did.''

Leo enjoyed his role.

"Coaches were preaching it all week that special teams were going to play a huge part," he said. "So, we buckled down; made sure everything was where it needed to be."

Leo has been using an intriguing and effective rollout, or rugby-style punt, in which he takes the snap and then runs to his right for about five yards before tilting slightly and launching into the ball.

"It's something that [special teams] Coach [Adam] Scheier and Coach Coen came up with," Leo said. "It frees up guys to get down the field and cover the kick. It has been working out awesome.

"It has been good for me personally because last year I'd go from kicking field goals one way and then punting the ball with an entirely different motion. This is sort of in between and it has been coming off my foot great and we've been real successful."

Harvard didn't return a single punt on Saturday and opponents have returned just three punts all season for a total of 20 yards.

Leo said that he is still getting comfortable with the new kick-in-motion style.

"It takes some getting used to. It just takes a lot of practice."

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

When handing out accolades, Coen couldn't ignore at least one offensive player.

Junior tailback Josh Pastore, thanks in part to an injury to freshman Kwesi Kankam, got his first significant action since Game 1 and responded with 42 yards on nine carries. He also caught three passes for 28 additional yards.

"Josh didn't play well against Villanova and hasn't been at full strength for awhile, so he needed to step up and he played very well [Saturday]," Coen said. "He had one fumble near the goal line when he was trying to get extra yards down there and sometimes those things happen. But it was good to see him back in there."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday's Word: Miracle

I really don't like using this word in terms of the Lehigh victory this weekend. Sure, it was some win. It sure seemed several times like Harvard was going to pull it out, and it was amazing how the defense won. But the word "miracle" feels, well, too strong. I'd prefer to use a word like "guts", "grit", or maybe even just "lucky".

But my week, and the week in Philadelphia sports in general, just seems to tail into the word "Miracle".

It starts, oddly enough, with an unknown Netflix movie my wife's mother lent my wife and I before it was to be sent back. We got the movie, and planned to watch it Thursday night, with the explanation that it had Kurt Russell in it, and it had something to do with (I swear this is true) "Angels". I racked my brain - what on Earth could it be? Big Trouble in Little China? The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes? It turned out - yes - that the movie was Miracle, the story of the 1980 US Men's Hockey team winning the gold medal in the Lake Placid Olympics. It's one that was, to this wannabe movie critic, not bad.

Like the choice of the word "Miracle" this week, the comparison between the movie and what happened this weekend for Lehigh is imperfect. Harvard is a talented team, but they weren't the dominant team that the USSR was in the realm of men's hockey. (Maybe the only simplarity is that they just wear red.) But Kurt Russell, the head coach, preached the entire movie about focus, continuing to battle for the whole game and being disciplined. I had no way to know it at the time, but it sure resonates now as a theme that coach Coen talked about in the press conference about "battling for 60 minutes".

What is more of a "miracle" is the way that the Phillies came back from seven games down in mid-September to somehow, against every odd known to man, overcome the imploding Mets earlier today, to take the NL East and will be hosting a western team this Wednesday.

Like the developments at Murray Goodman this Saturday, I'd never seen anything like it. The Phillies, playing so well down the stretch when it mattered the most? Winning with pitching? Beleiving they still could catch the Mets, even down 7 games?

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see where I'm going with this. Lehigh, winning with punting and defense? Making the biggest plays of the day afer being on the field for 40 minutes? Believing in themselves, even when a great many of the fans in attendance maybe did now?

There's one more "miracle" that happened this weekend, also of a personal nature. My father, a Dartmouth man, called me from Hanover, NH during the Lehigh game to tell me about what a great time they were having on homecoming weekend - and how the Big Green held on for a 21-13 win against the Penn Quakers. It was Dartmouth's first win over Penn since 1997 - which was the last time Dartmouth actually had a winning record.

The win for the Big Green was the opposite of a "miracle" finish for Penn. Down 21-6, they blocked a punt to set up a touchdown to get to 21-13. The Quakers then recovered an onside kick and drove to the Dartmouth 6 yard line, only to see their fourth-down pass attempt fall incomplete. It's more accurate to say Dartmouth survived.

Which comes to the final realization about the word "miracle". It's that the difference between a "miracle" and an excruciating loss like the Penn game is sometimes razor-thin. You realize how close the defeat really was.

But "miracles" in football are also something to build on. They have a way of defining seasons, showing teams what they're made of, and making teams better. It shows the team who they are, the importance of execution, and the value of battling for 60 minutes, even when it seems like it's over, and in believing in yourself.

I like what this Lehigh team seems to be made of.
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