Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lehigh 17, Lafayette 21, final

Today's word may as well be "playmaker".

A frustrating season comes to a close with another loss to Lafayette, as this senior class becomes the first class since 1949 to not enjoy a win against the Leopards.

What strikes me the most is that this was a winnable game. Lehigh was leading most of of the way. And there were a lot of things that went right. Senior QB Sedale Threatt played his guts out, as did senior DB Ernest Moore, junior DB Brendan VanAckeren, junior LB Tim Diamond, and others. Offensively, the first half was great for a team that hadn't had a lot of success all year. Lehigh didn't turn over the ball one time. The defense hit hard and never let up on the physical punishment.

Yet after watching this match the old football chestnut is very clear: the game comes down to making plays. And Lafayette made plays and Lehigh didn't down the stretch. The fourth quarter was a microcosm of Lehigh's inability to make the big plays to win football games all year.

Fairly deep in Lafayette territory, up by 3 points, we run the ball three straight times and the Leopards stuffed all three runs up the middle. Lafayette's senior DT Kyle Sprenkle (who I am very glad to see graduate) made plays, stuffing the interior each and every down each time - and we didn't make plays, gaining two yards.

We had a chance to force Lafayette to score a touchdown to beat us. Instead, junior K Jason Leo pushed a FG attempt wide left. Our kicker didn't make a play. A cynic may say "hey, it's only 3 points", but the truth is that three points would have changed the whole dynamic of the game and would have forced a kickoff situation and also forced Lafayette to get a touchdown.

Then Lafayette went on their game-winning drive. The defense made some big hits, and some big plays. But sophomore QB Rob Curley, junior QR Shaun Adair and senior WR Kyle Roeder made the plays that counted. The Lafayette coaching staff put their Leopards in a position to make the plays, and ultimately, they made it on a designed play that was executed to perfection, with Roeder coming from the far side and slanting inwards, using senior WR James Dixon as a smokescreen to draw a cover guy and to slow down Roeder's cover guy - and Dixon and Roeder made a play. Our secondary didn't.

With 3:23 left, there was a chance for Lehigh to make a play to win the game. Countless teams have this year with less time on the clock. But our offense couldn't make the plays necessary to win this type of game. 3rd-and-3. Threatt has some running room, but junior LB Andy Romans fights through his blocker and makes the tackle. Romans? Made the play. The blocker? Didn't. 4th down. Sedale rolls out, and the line gives him no room to run. All he can really do is throw it. The Lafayette "D" line? Made a play. The offense? Didn't.

Four chances to make plays: on offense, defense, and special teams. And all four times our team came up short. And quite simply, that's how you lose football games. That's not only the story of "The Rivalry", it's the story of the 2007 season.

We have a lot of players with individual talent. And this team didn't lose due to one injury, one glaring weakness or one particular breakdown. This team lost from paper cut after paper cut, and by the end of games bleeding to death.

You'll notice that a three of the key playmakers of Lafayette in the game this weekend wee one sophomore and two juniors. They have their playmakers. Fordham? Their playmakers are both sophomores and will be playing next year as well. Colgate? Try junior RB Jordan Scott. Holy Cross? Junior QB Dominic Randolph.

Another long offseason awaits while we figure out how to catch up to these teams.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Press Links for the 143rd

The next time you'll be hearing from me, the 143rd will (incredibly) be over and I'll be talking about it here on the blog. For my Patriot League picks, mosey on over to the College Sporting News where you can get picks of the other Patriot League games for tomorrow (umm, there are other games?).

Morning Call: Hawks/Pards Get Plenty Of Coverage
Morning Call: Lehigh Picturing Different Outcome
Morning Call: Victory over Bucknell Gives Lehigh Momentum
Morning Call: Lehigh's First Lambert Cup
Express-Times: Moore A Genuine Lafayette Hater
Express-Times: History On Lehigh's Side
Brown & White: Special "The Rivalry" Section

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Preview of "The Rivalry"

It's JUST about beating Lafayette.

Kinda like saying, it's JUST about breathing.

Sure, you can say that the 143rd meeting isn't about a Patriot League championship. You could also say it's about a winning season or positive momentum going into next year, and it is those things as well.

But when you cut out the history, "the Hate", and everything else. you're left with the simple truth: it's JUST about beating Lafayette.

It's about giving the seniors their first-ever taste of a win over the Leopards.

It's about finally not having to hear it from that friend or co-worker that Lafayette is better.

2005.

The feeling of a win over the Leopards that will mean 364 days of thinking that we are better.

Let's get it on.

Game Notes & Weather Report
The first order of business is the depth chart at runningback, our M*A*S*H unit. The starters listed are freshman RB Jaren Walker and freshman RB Kwesi Kankam, although junior RB Josh Pastore is rumored to be able to play. What about junior RB Matt McGowan, the perennial enigma? No word as of yet...

Other than that, the same situation seems to be in play as last week versus Bucknell. Senior "slash" Sedale Threatt and sophomore QB Chris Bokosky will split time under center, and there don't appear to be any other changes. Sophomore LB Heath Brickner will be back at outside linebacker for the second straight week.

Will it rain? That's the million-dollar question tomorrow. An ever-changing forecast seems to put the rain coming through at night after the game is through - nice for all you that plan to tailgate after the game. Other than that, it's planned to be just about as good as one could expect for a November in the Lehigh Valley - although a bit cold, high of 47 and partly sunny.

Offense
Lafayette isn't fancy: they want to win the ball game with a big, physical presence, running the ball, and pinpoint passing to keep the defense off balance. Last year in the 49-27 game, tehy did so nearly flawlessly. This year, the personnel is different but they will aim to do the same thing.

Since the departure of Brad Maurer last year, the Leopards have struggled to find consistency at quarterback. The starter they have found is sophomore QB Robert Curley, who is a mobile quarterback in the Maurer mold who is accurate (62% completion percentage) and can take off with the ball (119 yards, 1 TD). Still, he is pretty green and obviously hasn't played in a game of this magnitude, and the Leopard offense has struggled to adjust all year to life without Maurer, and we could expect to see the team continue to adjust tomorrow.

Like Lehigh, Lafayette's backfield has been a M*A*S*H unit as well. No fewer than eight tailbacks have carried the rock for the Leopards this year, as injuries have caused Lafayette to reach deep down the depth chart. This week, the starting FB/RB tandem is sophomore RB Tyrell Coon and sophomore FB Joe Russo. Russo, a good straight-ahead runner and excellent pass-catcher, has been more involved with the running game due to injury, while Coon is more of a speed guy who erupted for a rushing touchdown (and picked up a blocked punt and brought it in for a TD) last week. Don't be at all surprised if sophomore RB Matt Ferber, a converted fullback himself, gets a lot of carries either in their tailback-by-committee approach, especially if they're up late in the game.

When Curley does pass, he'll be lofting the ball to one of the best combinations of hands and speed in the Patriot League in junior WR Shaun Adair. He needs to be accounted for at all times, while senior WR Duaeno Dorsey (when healthy) has also been a good possession receiver. After those two, however, there hasn't been a lot of consistency of a passing threats in sophomore TE Adam Gill or senior WR Kyle Roeder. The opportunity exists to shut down this passing attack.

Big 310 lb senior OL Jesse Padilla anchors a big, physical line that nevertheless hasn't been as dominating as the "O" lines of years past. Having given up 16 sacks, one would hope blitzes to put lots of pressure on young Curley is a key part of the gameplan.

Defense
This base 4-3 is one fearsome unit. Most of the year they had been listed in the Top 20 defenses in the country in terms of scoring. They are a team that mixes up their blitzes well and always brings the heat. With a Lehigh team that has struggled on offense all year, we could be in for a long day if we can't figure out how to attack this unit.

Anchoring the "D" line is the guy that's been haunting my nightmares for a year now, senior DT Kyle Sprenkle. At 6'3 270 lbs, he's a behemoth to block with 38 tackles and 5 1/2 tackles for loss. Senior DE Keith Bloom is another guy that brings heat with 36 tackles and 6 tackles for loss. Simply, this is the best front four we've faced all year.

The linebackers don't provide much relief, with junior LB Andy Romans also proving to be a terror tackler underneath. The numbers are staggering: 103 tackles. 11 tackles for loss. 3 forced fumbles. Picking him up in blitz situations is going to be crucial. Sophomore LB Mark Leggiero is also a pretty good tackler, with 73 including 5 1/2 tackles for loss.

Senior FS Marcel Quarterman leads a defensive backfield which has 11 interceptions on the year, paced by two from Quarterman and three from senior CB Adrian Lawson's three. Overall, there's not many places to hide when facing this "D".

Special Teams
Freshman K Davis Rodriguez has proven to be a clutch kicker this year, getting key kicks versus Holy Cross and in the infamous 8-7 game at Penn. On the year, he's 8-for-13 with an excellent leg, with 28 for 30 on extra points. On kickoffs, sophomore K Chris Cosgrove does those duties.

Senior P David Yankovich is another great punter in the Patriot League, with a 41.7 yard average with 14 landing inside the 20. Junior WR Shaun Adair is a very dangerous return man, with 556 yard returning punts and kicks with 1 touchdown.

Keys To The Game
1.Turnovers. The Mountain Hawks cannot afford to turn over the ball often. Handing the lead to the Leopards and having to come from behind on that defense is something I would rather not have to consider.
2.Smashing.Lafayette's offense is young and can be dominated by a hard-hitting defense that smashes them early and often. Having the bodies fly around early in this game would go a long way towards a victory.
3.Trickery.If there was ever time for trickery, it would be right here, right now against this defense. One play to get am esay six points could be the difference.
4.Take and make your points. If you can only get 3's, take 3's and make them. With two defensive teams, points are at a premium and those 3's could be the difference between winning and losing Saturday.

Fearless Prediction
If you're going into this game expecting a lot of scoring, chances are you'll be disappointed. All signs is that this game will be a defensive struggle, with every point a battle. Both teams are more alike than anyone would care to admit: both Lafayette and Lehigh were picked to finish 1 and 2 in the league respectively, both are sitting just above Bucknell in the league standings, and both are defensive teams that seemed to find all the answers on offense the week before "The Rivalry".

Here is a prediction that is made in the most fearless of ways. Lehigh will win this game; and that the player that was much-maligned by the "fans" this year in Sedale Threatt will figure somehow, some way, in the play to make them winners. All of Frank Tavani's motivational speeches won't help reverse the fact that they are the hunted; Lehigh is the team that will show that outpouring of emotion; and they have the best offensive athlete on the day in Sedale.

Lehigh 20, Lafayette 17

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"The Hate"

(Photo Credit: Brown & White)

The picture to the left certainly isn't politically correct. It's raw. It's irreverent. And it sums up the feelings between these two schools perfectly. Oddly enough, this tails into a tradition at Lehigh and Lafayette where fraternities and houses hang banners celebrating the game to come.

Why is it that we hate what we most resemble? It's not unique to Lehigh and "that school from Easton": Harvard and Yale are both schools with global academic brands that are more similar than different. Army and Navy detest each other, but both share in that armed forces life and face the same challenges as institutions.

Demographically, Lehigh and "that school from Easton" are very similar: most of their students come from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They are schools that are known for their hard-studying, hard-partying attitudes - and have had rocky relationships with the towns that host them in Bethlehem and Easton.

Yet there are differences. Lafayette is a college, focusing on a liberal arts education. Lehigh is a university, with a top Engineering department and business school. Lehigh has traditionally been male-dominated; Lafayette's ratio of men to women is close to 1:1. Lehigh's enrollment is almost 5,000: Lafayette's is just over 2,400.

It's the similarity - but also the different -that characterizes the craziness that centers around "The Rivalry".

History of "The Hate"
There are lots of great sources for all the crazy traditions of "The Rivalry". PBS produced an excellent documentary called "The Lehigh/Lafayette Legacy," produced in 2003, and the book "Legends of Lehigh/Lafayette", written by Todd Davidson and Bob Donchez in 1995. Both are extremely hard to find collector's items, and are priced accordingly, and both talk a little bit about the "tradition of excess", to put it mildly, around "The Rivalry".

What happens on the Bethlehem and Easton campuses the week before the game? In 2004, the Brown & White's Nora Mattern in this article described it as "the energy across campus has intensified." That's the best way to describe a lot of this excess around the rivalry: a buildup of energy.

For players, especially the seniors, it's a cumulation of their football playing careers and will almost certainly be the top of their competitive lives in football. For passionate alumni, it's the last throes of the year and the one chance a year many alumni get to see many of their own outside their busy lives.

And for students, this could mean the nearing of the end of a semester of tough classes, which all comes together with an outpouring of directed energy that leads to things like the banner above. It is a way to deal with the stresses of being away from home, being away from the nest, and to be individuals. It's the one thing that unites everyone who is or has been Brown or Maroon. It's unadulterated school spirit, frequently tinged with alcohol, inundated with emotion and coming of age all at once in a common direction. It's Hunter Thompson meets The Beach Boys meets "Animal House".

Traditions
Some of the original traditions involved pep rallies called "smokers". For two all-male schools, you couldn't get much more macho: smokers involved wrestling matches, boxing matches, coaches' and players' speeches, and lots and lots of tobacco products being consumed (hence the name "smoker"). They were present on both campuses: in the New York Times in 1913, a smoker was described at Lafayette: "All week long there have been daily demonstrations. To-night there was a smoker, at which the building literally rocked with the vehemence of the cheers."

Today there are still pep rallies, but the most famous is the one organized by the South Side Boosters prior to Thursday's Bonfire from 6:30PM-9:00PM.

Another common aspect of "The Rivalry" which continued well into the 1960's was the idea of raiding the other campus, frequently starting riots. Over the years, these campus raids were a right of passage at the all-male schools, complete with the occasional fistfight. On the Lehigh side, those demonstrations involved storming the Easton campus to vandalize statues, notably Lafayette's Leopard or the statue of the Marquis De Lafayette near the opening of Fisher Field. The New York Times reported that "since 1933, the statue of the general has been minus a sword when a student riot on campus preceded the game". One year, recounted Al Pedrick '43, the statue was painted purple. “Anyone who was caught got dismissed from school for three days,” Pedrick said. “I know that for a fact because my brother got caught.”

Bonfires
For Lehigh, the bonfire is linked to Lehigh's first-ever win in "The Rivalry", a 16-0 win in 1887. To quote Legends of Lehigh/Lafayette, to celebrate the victory freshmen set fire to the grandstand that were seen as “an eyesore and a disgrace to the athletic grounds.”

Soon after that, the bonfire became a Thursday or Friday tradition before the big game. And Lehigh and Lafayette students would frequently try to sneak to the other campus to "light the fire before its time". Freshmen were assigned to guard the fire to keep opposing students out. A typical early-year bonfire from 1919 was retold in this photo album.

The tradition was banned in 1968, a year with lots of campus unrest across the nation, but was resurrected in 1998. It continues this Thursday at Goodman Campus, featuring live music, a step band, the LU dance team, pep band, and the director of athletics and head football coach Andy Coen.

Parades
Linked to the Bonfire was the also Lehigh's "Marching 97". All throughout "The Rivalry" the Brown & White marching band has been involved with parades on campus and in Bethlehem for over 100 years.

Traditionally, the band would make their first appearance in a "pajama parade" after the bonfire was lit. Band members, dressed in pajamas, marched over the Lehigh river using the "Penny Bridge" to serenade the ladies of Moravian College (then an all-female school). The "Penny Bridge" was now in the site where the Fahy bridge is today, and cost a penny to cross; the band would play the song "We Pay No Tolls Tonight" as they crossed.

Nowadays, the "Marching '97" still parades around campus the Friday before "The Rivalry", famously stopping first at the legendary 8:00AM "Eco 1" class that nearly every Lehigh student attends.

Bed Races
This week, the class of 2010 revived an old Lehigh tradition from Greek Week: the bed race. Traditionally down "fraternity row", it was cancelled years ago due to safety concerns, but has been resurrected as a brand-new tradition centered around the game. It doesn't go around the deathly curves around fraterniyy row anymore, however: it starts on the lower part of the Mountain.

Another new tradition on campus involves the "brown-out", meaning on Friday students, faculty and alumni are supposed to wear their Brown with pride, as I will definitely be here at my place of employment.

Turkey Trot
Another rite of passage on the Lehigh side is the "Turkey Trot", an intramural run which involves a run up and down South Mountain. It's been around at least since the 1970's, and is a great way to stay in shape. Hard to believe the winner last year ran the course in 14:46! That's about the time it would take me to get halfway up South Mountain. If I could do it in an hour and a half I'd be pushing it.

Before the drinking age laws were strictly enforced, fraternities used to hand out beers to contestants going up and down the mountain.

Drinking
No article on the history of "The Rivalry" would be complete without the mention of drinking. Whether we adults like to think about it or not, somewhere along the line drinking to excess became one of the rites of passage of the week. "The Lehigh/Lafayette tradition has extended way beyond football over the years," said the Brown & White's Alexis Novick ('00) in 1999. "I’m not saying it’s right, but this weekend has become a tradition to most students to get wasted beyond belief."

Stories abound of sunrise cocktails, shots, and other dangerous drinking activities that could take them near death take place on this weekend, more so than other weekends. Even students who have no intention of going to "The Rivalry" use it as an excuse to get plastered and become "rebels without a cause" for one week.

This extends to tailgating. The students, in the mosh pit that is their tailgate area (complete with Guns N' Roses blaring, even in 2007) celebrate the pregame under the watchful eye of Bethlehem's finest, while on the other side Lehigh alumni enjoy their elaborate tailgates, complete with deep-fried turkey - and their own assortment of mixed drinks, from Yuenglings to fine wine to Boilermakers. The only thing really separating the students and alumni is a sense of moderation.

NOTE: I am a great proponent of "drinking responsibly" and do not condone people drinking to the point of self-poisoning and generally making an ass of themselves.

Goalposts & Postgame Riots
In the past, a postgame tradition was to tear down the goalposts after the game - the caveat being "after the game" was generally optional. Some years, they came down at halftime.

Since at least 1943 the postgame riot and tearing down of the goalposts was a violent rite of passage. Lehigh and Lafayette students (and others) stormed the field to secure parts of the goalposts, specially constructed of easily-torn down wood. Fistfights were commonplace in the anarchy that ensued. Some years, the riot was the big story of the day, the competition on the gridiron coming a distant second place to the action on the sidelines.

In the late 1980s, I caught the tail end of this tradition. In a 52-45 marathon won by Lafayette, I nabbed one of the end-zone markers which I proudly brought back to my freshman dorm.. and had it sweet-talked away from me by some girl. In 1991, in which would turn out to be the last year for the postgame riots and goalpost grab, I ended up with a sliver which couldn't have been more than four inches long. Proudly, I put my piece of goalpost in my pocket and got my ride home - amidst other fraternities fighting each other for pieces of the post that just a bit longer.

In the 1991 game, Lehigh erected metal goalposts, and got the local authorities involved in keeping order. Even though students and fans were repeatedly warned not to storm the field (in a game which Lehigh dominated, 36-18), many fans still did storm the field (me and my friends not being among them). The fans on the field, frustrated at not being able to rip down the goalposts, picked up hunks of turf and started to throw them at the cops trying to restore order on the field. Not surprisingly, the cops went out, pepper sprayed and beat up a lot of the "fans" on the field that day, in front of many horrified students and alumni. Not a banner day for "the Rivalry" when the president of Lehigh at that time, Peter Likins, got a whiff of pepper spray.

Energy. It spreads out in all directions from "The Rivalry": some of it good, some of it bad. All of it unforgettable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"The Rivalry"

"The Rivalry" is more than just a Lehigh Valley game that is sold out.

For those of you that are going to be attending one of the telecast parties from all around the country, those of you who are going to be catching "The Rivalry" on Channel 69 or on LehighSports.Com, those of you who will be seeing it for the first time in person, or those of you who are grizzled veterans approaching the coveted "50 Game Club", before trying to tackle the emotional side of things it's helpful to get your mind around the numbers of times Lehigh and "that school from Easton" have played each other over the years.

The raw numbers about "The Rivalry" are only a Wikipedia click away.

No two football teams have faced each other as often as Lehigh and Lafayette have. They've met each other 142 times, with the 143rd meeting occurring in a sold-out Murray Goodman stadium this Saturday. Other rivalries pale in comparison: Harvard/Yale (a mere 123 meetings), Army/Navy (a paltry 107 meetings), Montana State/Montana (merely 106 "Brawls"), Richmond/William & Mary (only 116 scuffles), or even Ohio State/Michigan (the baby of the bunch with 103 tussles).

Lehigh and Lafayette started their rivalry in 1884. To give some perspective, the president at that time was an ailing Chester Arthur, who was ending his term as the 21 president of the United States as he was suffering from Bright's Disease, a kidney disease. A couple of weeks before the first-ever meeting of Lehigh and Lafayette, Grover Cleveland defeated James Blaine in a presidential campaign that was filled with mud-slinging.

The first game occurred only one year after football rules were standardized, and was won 50 to 0 by Lafayette over a team that had been playing for three years while Lehigh had formed their first football team that year for the expressed reason of playing Lafayette. (That year, they would go 0-4, losing twice to Lafayette.) The New York Times described the game: "The first inning was very interesting, as Lehigh frequently got the ball dangerously near Lafayette's goal line, but each time was beaten back, the point being made by the home team." A hundred games later, in the New York Times, it was recounted that t Lehigh fan wrote: "We did not win... but we did give Lafayette the worst lickin' she ever had and many, many a sore head went back to Easton that night."

Lehigh and Lafayette have faced each other every year since 1896. That year, Lehigh refused to play Lafayette over a dispute about the eligibility of their best player, Charles "Babe" Rinehart. Rinehart was a hall-of-fame lineman on Lafayette's national-champion 1896 team, while the team also featured halfback George "Rose" Barclay, who is widely credited for inventing the football helmet so teams like Lehigh wouldn't make his ears look like cauliflowers.

Since 1902, Lehigh and Lafayette started the tradition of playing only one game per year, only a year before the Wright Brothers took their historic flight at Kitty Hawk and six years before the first Model "T" would come off the assembly lines in Detroit, Michigan. The teams and fans used to travel by train from Bethlehem to Easton to play and watch the games, making their proximity a big bonus.

"The Rivalry" has thrilled Lehigh and Lafayette fans alike with great individual performances, classic games, and strange stories. The 1961 game featured a Lambert Cup-winning Lehigh team who had a game-winning field goal in the final minute booted by Andy Larko's first successful FG attempt (that hit the crossbar AND the post) in a thrilling 17-14 victory. In 1977, "Rieker-to-Kreider" led the way to a 35-17 victory over Lafayette on the way to Lehigh's Division II championship. In 1987, the last-ever game was played at Taylor Stadium as the fans started tearing up old Taylor Stadium early in the 4th quarter. (Lehigh would win, 17-10, in one of the coldest days in Bethlehem history).

In 1988, Lafayette beat Lehigh 52-45 in a shootout featuring Lafayette QB Frank Baur (who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's national college preview that year). 1994 was Lafayette RB Erik Marsh's swan song as he rewrote the Leopard record books as they crushed Lehigh 54-20. In 1995, Lehigh fans at Goodman saw a thrilling 37-30 OT victory with WR Brian Klingerman catching the game-winning pass with one hand in the corner of the end zone.

1997 saw RB Rabih Abdullah's 4 touchdowns, 2 rushing and 2 receiving, for a 43-31 come-from-behind victory over the Leopards that set the tone for the big undefeated regular season in 1998. (Lehigh would crush Lafayette that year 31-7.) There's also 2003, where Lehigh RB Jermaine Pugh had 265 all-purpose yards, including a big punt return for a TD, in a 30-10 victory. It's the last time Lehigh has ended the regular season with a victory, and the last win by Lehigh in "The Rivalry".

Overall, Lafayette leads Lehigh 75-62-5, and most importantly for Lehigh fans the hated Leopards have won the last three meetings in the series: 2004, 2005, and 2006. If Lehigh falls to Lafayette in this game, it will be the first time since 1950 that a graduating class hasn't enjoyed a win over Lafayette.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Players of the Game, Lehigh/Bucknell, Press Links

(Photo Credit: Pete Shaheen, Morning Call)

It's "Rivalry Week", where the buildup for Lehigh/Lafayette starts to build to a fever pitch. It also gives Lehigh fans a chance to think about past wrongs in "The Rivalry" (for example, in this picture to the right, how was a facemask penalty not called?). But there is unfinished business that needs to be taken care of in terms of closing out the Bucknell game and going "around the horn", sort of, one more time.

Around The Horn
As one at-large team for the FCS playoffs (realistically) fades from view, another emerges. Colgate's 45-12 win over Georgetown puts the Raiders at 7-3 and, quite possibly, in lone for a possible at-large playoff berth if they beat Holy Cross this weekend and get some help. Junior RB Jordan Scott had over 100 yards rushing, and sophomore WR Pat Simonds and senior WR Erik Burke both had 100 yards receiving. Senior RB J.J. Bennett was taken off the field in a stretcher as the game was called with 1:17 to play, but (thankfully) the word is that he is OK with only a mild concussion. It will be an interesting subplot on Saturday to follow Colgate's game against Holy Cross and see if they can become one of those elusive 8-win teams. With Scott running the ball, they certainly have the capability to do it.

The Hoyas closed their season at 1-10 with plenty more questions to answer concerning how to get to a winning record while competing in the Patriot League. On a happier note, though, their closing-day loss had an announced attendance of 2,718. In a stadium which holds 2,400 fans supporting a 1-10 team, that's great news for the Hoyas for next year.

Holy Cross, in a 31-21 loss to Lafayette, completed a two-game skid that saw them fall from the drivers' seat for a playoff bid to 7-4 and no practice on Thanksgiving. How did Lafayette do it? By "bringing heat," as junior QB Dominic Randolph said in the post-game press conference. In addition, a long drive at the beginning of the third quarter wasn't able to be stopped by the Crusaders to allow them to take a 21-14 lead. “Scoring right after halftime was big for them,” head coach Tom Gilmore said. “And it wasn’t just scoring. It was the way they did it, churning it out on a long drive. We just couldn’t seem to stop them.” The Crusaders now have to settle for playing the role of spoiler versus Colgate.

As to where Lafayette's brains are this week, that's real easy. The master motivator started by having his whole team take a knee after the Holy Cross win, and saying, "they always remember November". The way they took it to Holy Cross physically is what had them win this game, and with their performances in November to draw on, this is a hot team going into the 143rd versus Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks had better come prepared to get beat up.

Players of the Week, Bucknell
It's an early end to the "Player of the Week" voting but it's necessary to get to all the Lehigh/Lafayette craziness. So without further ado, let's get to the winners.

On defense, junior LB Tim Diamond gets another defensive game ball with his 5 tackle, 1 sack performance - but it's his 58 yard touchdown fumble recovery which kickstarted the scoring for Lehigh that he's getting the nod this week.

With not much in the way of special teams return yards, the winner this week was junior P/K Jason Leo for Special Teams Hawk of the week with a 33 yard FG and a nice 5/5 on extra points. He only had one punt, but it was a good one for 40 yards.

And I happily give this weeks' player of the week honors to senior "slash" Sedale Threatt, with his 78 yards rushing, 2 receptions for 6 yards, but most importantly his 3 touchdown runs. In a tough year where Threatt has been injured and pretty much everything else has happened to him, it's great to see him get a good game under his belt, especially before "The Rivalry".

Press Links
Morning Call: Second Half Sinks Bucknell
Morning Call: Hawks Still Have Questions To Answer
Express-Times: Lehigh Turns Its Focus To Lafayette
Daily Item: Lehigh Dominate Second Half

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday's Word: 1997

If you're coming to this site, you're probably already aware that next weekend is going to be the 143rd meeting of the most-played rivalry in all of football. Whatever you call it, "The Rivalry", "The Game", "Lehigh/Lafayette", "Lafayette/Lehigh" - it's a huge deal.

It's also the last game of the season, and in a year when Patriot League titles and possible playoff bids are not on the line, it's a day to honor the seniors who gave their body parts up for the honor of playing some football at Lehigh. Having them come out with a win - especially for the long-suffering seniors of this year who have not enjoyed the taste of a win over "that school in Easton" - would be very sweet.

But as a Lehigh fan, I also look at next year as well. Getting a win over Lafayette would end up being a salve on what could be considered a tumultuous season. It's been a season filled with some intrigue, a nightmarish run of injuries, and a dizzying number of freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

Kind of like "1997".

Going into that season, the team led by third-year coach Kevin Higgins was thought to have a chance to compete for the title. But a 42-35 loss to Fordham in the Bronx effectively made Lehigh's chances at a Patriot League title (which, for the first time, would allow the winner to compete in the I-AA playoffs) difficult at best.

It got worse. Starting quarterback Seka Edwards, a senior who had seen some success in 1996, suffered a season-ending injury versus Harvard in a 35-30 loss. (The Crimson would go 9-1 and win the Ivy League.) The answer to the questions about a possible Patriot League title were answered in Week 4, as Ryan Vena and the Colgate Raiders pasted Lehigh 61-28 in their worst loss in recent memory.

To replace him, offensive coordinator Andy Coen worked with sophomore QB Phil Stambaugh as he slowly but surely improved as the season wore on. The young team took some lumps, but did see improvements even if it wasn't in the win column. Some good wins (24-7 over Penn and 46-26 over 8-2 Dartmouth, the Ivy League runner-up) were interspersed with tough losses while playing a brutal schedule. This team kept most of the games close, playing No. 3 ranked Delaware to a close 24-19 defeat at Murray Goodman stadium and losing a 45-38 shootout to 9-2 Hofstra (who played as an at-large team in the I-AA playoffs).

By "The Rivalry", senior RB Rabih Abdullah didn't have any illusions of the postseason or titles, despite the fact he was an all-American candidate and was the top rusher in the league. He did, however, have a very interesting core of players that would pave the way for the future - players like Stambaugh, sophomore FB Brett Snyder, WR Kody Fedorcha, freshman LB James "Bubba" Young, sophomore LB Ian Eason. Along with a very talented junior in DB Sam Brinley, there was a sense of disappointment about this team, but also a thought that the future could be bright.

"The Rivalry" on November 22nd ended up being a blend of the young players and the offensive star in his last game teaming up to give Lehigh fans a taste of victory going into the offseason. But like a lot of Lehigh games that season, it didn't start out well. Lafayette surged to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter behind Todd Stahlnecker's short touchdown runs, and the Leopards took advantage of three Phil Stambaugh interceptions.

But Stambaugh and Abdullah would not be denied. The Brown & White would score 22 fourth-quarter points to secure a wild 43-31 victory, behind Abdullah's incredible sendoff game: 2 receiving touchdowns from Stambaugh, and two late rushing touchdowns to seal the game for the Mountain Hawks.

Despite the losing record - the 4-7 record that would be the last losing record Lehigh has had since - there were a lot of happy endings after this cornerstone win. Higgins would win three consecutive Patriot League championships. Abdullah would go on to play in the NFL, eventually finding a place on special teams and getting a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots. And the young guns would ride the momentum from that game into 1998 to a perfect 11-0 regular season and carry that into the Patriot League's first I-AA playoff win since 1979 with a shock 24-23 win over Richmond on a last-second field goal. Their only blemish that year would be a narrow loss to UMass, the eventual national champions, getting denied the end zone with 2 minutes to play in a 26-21 defeat.

But it all started with a team with an injured quarterback, a brutal loss to a conference foe, a team filled with youngsters in key positions, and a 21-0 deficit with a team that had struggled to score most of the year.

A win against Lafayette might look a lot like "1997". And that wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
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