Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lehigh 24, Harvard 27, final

Normally, I love being right with my score predictions.

But I would have gladly taken back my prediction had it allowed Lehigh to come away with the win here.

And it was firmly within Lehigh's grasp today. Though Lehigh was down the entire game, they battled and battled and seemed on the verge of a stunning comeback, setting up on Harvard's doorstep with just about a minute to play. In a physical, bruising battle, it looked like maybe Lehigh's penchant for fourth-quarter nailbiters might actually be to the Mountain Hawks' advantage.

It looked for all practical purposes that this game would be over early, after a miscommunication in the first quarter resulted in a fumble and recovery by Harvard DE Matthew Hanson. Lehigh's gift was quickly converted into points with Harvard QB Chris Pizzotti connecting with WR Matt Luft (two Harvard players that could very well find themselves playing on Sundays) with a beautiful 26 yard fade pattern in the left corner of the end zone. The NESN announcers said that it was the first time Lehigh had given up first-quarter points all year.

After an exchange of field goals early in the second quarter, sophomore QB J.B. Clark rifled a pass over the middle that was tipped in the air and somehow found the hands of Harvard LB Glenn Dorris, who quickly ran down the right side for a touchdown.

Down 17-3, some teams might have gotten way down on themselves - but not Lehigh.

After starting the game 2-for-10 passing with the tipped interception, Clark then led Lehigh on a 80 yard drive, with key hits to senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane, and finishing with a 21 yard touchdown strike to senior WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald to cut the lead to 17-10.

In that drive, Lehigh said that they weren't going away against a big, tough, talented and physical Harvard team.

There were a lot of Mountain Hawks that had to be helped off the turf today. Senior DL Paul Bode limped off the field and wouldn't return. Junior LB Al Pierce exited the game. Sophmore DB/RS John "Fear Itself" Kennedy would be shaken up, but would return. So would sophomore OL William Rackley. Cris Carter, I mean Fitzgerald, took a massive hit as well but would return.

But in the second half, the defense, led by heroic efforts from senior SS Quadir Carter, and junior LB Matt Cohen, would hold the Crimson offense to only 3 points. Sacks by Cohen, senior LB Tim Diamond and junior LB Troy Taylor all came in the second half, driving Harvard back and giving Lehigh's offense a chance to win this thing.

Senior RB Matt McGowan kept Lehigh alive by doing what no back has done against Harvard in 31 tries: have a running back gain 100 yards against them. "Stunt Man" Yansane catches a 7 yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 7. Harvard ekes out a field goal, and after a missed 44 yard field goal attempt, it looked all but over when Harvard had the ball inside the red zone - but sophomore DB Caey Eldemire came up with a big-time interception - against Luft, Harvard's best receiver. After a 28 yard return by Eldemire and 15 yards tacked onto in, Clark finally found Cris Carter, I mean Fitzgerald, for another TD pass- this one a 9 yard strike - to cut the deficit to three.

After a fantastic defensive stand and a poor punt, Lehigh had momentum and were driving for the winning score.

But Harvard had two punches left in them, and connected to Lehigh's midsection on both of them.

Clark found "Stunt Man" Yansane in the left corner of the end zone, threw the perfect pass, and Yansane had his hands on it.. but Harvard DB Drew Berry somehow worked his hand in, wrenched the ball out of Yansane's hands, and at the same time drove him into the turf, ringing his bell and forcing him out of the play. It was the game-winning touchdown - but instead was an incomplete pass.

Then, disaster. On what looked like a designed run, Clark tried to tuck the ball but a Harvard defender made one last punch at the ball as he ran - and knocking it loose from Clark into the hands of Harvard linebacker Glenn Dorris.

Fumble - or interception - it didn't matter. Game over. Harvard 27, Lehigh 24.

There's no such thing as a good loss, and this one would be Lehigh's third excruciating loss on the year. But this one didn't feel like the Princeton or Cornell losses. In those games, Lehigh left many opportunities out on the field. In this game, there were fewer opportunities - but Lehigh made things happen.

To me - admittedly an optimist - there can be a lot of positives to take out of this game going into Patriot League play. There were a lot of great individual performances. Great plays. Great effort.

But it's still a loss - another punch to the gut. And the third game this year in the closing two minutes where Lehigh couldn't make a play to win the game.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Water Cooler: Finding Patriot League on TV and the Internet

Today's water cooler topic is appropriate enough to me, for sure.

Whether you're a Philadelphia Phillies fan (like my wife, 10-4!) or (like me) a Boston Red Sox fan (who stayed up late last night to witness another miracle comeback last night), chances are you've been spending a lot of time in front of the TV.

Now, I am not made of money. I don't have a TV like the one to my left, nor do I have the budget to take a trip up to Harvard this weekend. That means I'm going to be spending a lot of time on Saturday - my first one, as a matter fact - watching Patriot League games on TV and over the internet instead of watching it live.

For Lehigh fans and fans of "that school in Easton" that live in the Philadelphia area, we're in luck this weekend. Locally, Channel 69 carries the Lehigh game at Harvard with a 12:30 p.m. start time, and RCN-4 and WPBH-60 carries the Lafayette game at Liberty starting at 3:30 p.m. - ensuring that my home-grown DVR will be grinding away this weekend with Patriot League football action.

If you're not in the Lehigh area, you may still be in luck. The Harvard game will also be shown on NESN throughout New England, and the Lafayette game will be carried nationally through Liberty University's affiliation with the FamilyNet channel.

Still unavailable to you? Not a problem: for a small monthly fee, you can catch video all the Lehigh games over the world-wide internet through Lehighsports.com. This also has some added benefits: on-demand copies of the Lehigh Sports Magazine (broadcast every week locally on Channel 69, Monday at 7:30 PM), radio broadcasts of the games from AM 1230 and 1320 (in case you're not thrilled with Eric Frede & Steve DeOssie's call of the game), and footage from the Lehigh weekly press conferences at the Copperhead Grille.

****

So you've caught the first quarter on the radio (on ESPN Radio AM 1230 and 1320) running errands Saturday morning. You get home, put the radio stream on for th Lehigh game while watching the video on Channel 69. What about up-to-the-minute updates - and video - of the other games around the Patriot League?

I maintain the CSN Log's list of TV broadcasts and streaming internet games, and I've compiled a list of all the games on TV and the Internet for this weekend.

From that list, you can see that CSTV XXL has three Patriot League games this week. They have streaming video of Bucknell at Georgetown and Yale at Fordham (which is available free) at 1:00 p.m., and in case you can't get the Lafayette at Liberty game, that's also available at 3:30 p.m. on there as well.

Elsewhere, you can also get the Colgate game at Cornell at ibnsports.com at 1:00 p.m. You can also subscribe to DartmouthInsider to get live video at 12:30 p.m. of Holy Cross at Dartmouth - or get audio of the game there for free. (Or you can simply get phone updates from someone at the game - my dad, a Dartmouth alum, is going to the Homecoming game, and I'm sure I'll be hearing from him!)

There currently isn't a "Patriot League Game of the Week" through a league package - but with today's technology, you can come awfully close to it in your own house, and for not all that much money either.

Patriot League Picks: Week Eight
Redemption! This week, I went 5-1 to right my ship adn thrust him over .500 for the year at 14-11. To read the rest of my picks for FCS, click on the College Sporting News to see my CSN Way this week - along with an overview of the conference races.

Lafayette at No. 14 Liberty. Every eye in the Big South and the Patriot League is on this game. The Flames, who have cruised through the early part of their schedule (including wins over Youngstown State and Western Carolina), are undefeated behnd the steadfast running of runningback Rashad Jennings (725 yards, 10 TDs). But they don’t face off against any old defense: the Leopards are only allowing a paltry 76.8 rushing yards per game behind the strong front seven, led by linebacker Andy Romans. A win by the Flames and they go 7-0, and barring a severe misstep in league play they seem destined for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. A Lafayette win, and the Patriot League gets a huge shot in the arm - and big out-of-conference win - before heading into league play. The Leopard defense will do the job, but it’s the struggling Lafayette offense - who will severely miss runningback Maurice White, out with an injury - that will betray them at Williams stadium.
Heck Fire 23, Romans’ Not On a Holiday 10

Holy Cross at Dartmouth. On paper, this is a team still favored to make a run at the Patriot League title facing an 0-4 team. In practice, though, Dartmouth has always played Holy Cross tougher than you' imagine, and the Big Green consider this somewhat of a rivalry game. At Homecoming and with alumni in town from across the Northeast, Dartmouth will probably scare Holy Cross real good. Dominic Randolph will win it in the end, but it's not going to be the cakewalk some people think.
Purple Defense Eaters 35, Green Goes Green 28

Bucknell at Georgetown. It's awful hard to win when your offense is averaging less than one touchdown per game. The only time the Hoyas have scored more than one offensive touchdown all year was in a 12-7 victory over Howard in Week One. That streak may not end this week against a good Bucknell team that, with quarterback Marcelo Trigg, may just be a dark horse for the title if everything plays out right.
Trigg Men 47, Hoya Boyas 6

Yale at Fordham. This matchup simply reeks of two teams heading in opposite directions: with the Rams most likely eliminated from the Patriot League title race in their 45-24 loss to Lehigh last week, and Yale getting energized in Ivy League play with a 34-7 throttling of Dartmouth. Worse for Fordham, Yale runningback Mike McLeod is just getting warmed up - how will that defensive line, unable to handle Lehigh, be able to handle the Elis "hogs"?
Elated Elis 37, Ram Rodded Rams 20

Colgate at Cornell. One of these years, I want to see this rivalry game between Cornell and Colgate. The 91st meeting between these two foes, it will indeed be a battle between the unstoppable force (Colgate runningback Jordan Scott) and the immovable object (Cornell's powerful rushing "D"). Will Cornell make it three straight - and bring Scott's string of 100 yard rushing games to an end? If I've learned anything over the past month, it's don't underestimate Cornell quarterback Nathan Ford. Cornell wins a close one again - with some great special teams play and a heroic quarterback effort.
Big Red Machine? 27, Railroaded Raiders 24

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Preview of Lehigh at Harvard

When a college football team comes off a huge, emotional victory in their League, and then plays a non-league game right after that, there is the risk of a letdown.

Add to that the fact that a college football team is on the road against another League Champion, and risk gets bigger.

Multiply that by the fact, however, that Lehigh beat the Crimson 20-13 on a last-second play - a strip from senior LB Tim Diamond which was scooped and scored by senior DL Paul Bode - and that Lehigh didn't score an offensive touchdown that afternoon at Murray Goodman - and the risk seems even larger.

You know Harvard has circled this one on the calendar since March. The second vengeance game. They already started their season by avenging their other last-minute loss to Holy Cross last year, a 25-24 thriller that saw Harvard rally from 12 points down in the fourth quarter. This is the other game that must stick in their craw the most - a game where they ran 97 offensive plays, racked up 465 yards, went 13-for-26 on 3rd down, yet still lost on the strength of a punt return for touchdown by CB Brannan Thomas, the strip-and-scoop, and two field goals by senior P/K Jason Leo.

Furthermore, it appears sandwiched in-between two important Lehigh games: the Fordham game which Lehigh absolutely had to win, and the Holy Cross game, a hugely important Patriot League contest as well. There's that risk that Lehigh makes the trip up to Harvard, and coasts after the big win.

If that happens, Lehigh has the capability of getting pounded plenty good.

This Harvard team already went into Fisher Field and pounded the boys from Easton pretty good to the tune of a 27-13 victory. The 27 points were the most that the Leopards have given up to any opponent all year.

This will be a huge test against a team that probably should be in the Top 25.

Game Notes
This week's game notes show only one player different, but it's a big one: sophomore RB Jaren Walker is out indefinitely after a serious injury suffered at the end of the Fordham game. The snake-bit running back will be replaced once again by untested sophomore RB Jay Campbell as the change-of-pace back to senior RB Matt McGowan.

With Walker's injury, it will be interesting to look on the sidelines for a couple other numbers: #31 and #5. Should anyone else go down, it will be up to some promising youg freshmen: freshman RB Matt Fitz (#31) or freshman RB Jonathan Littlejohn (#5) to get carries. It will be interesting to see if one, or both, make the trip to Cambridge.

Harvard's game notes are available here.

Weather Report
Up in Cambridge, the Lehigh game and the Head of the Charles event promises to have crisp, cold weather. Currently, the weather calls for sun and clouds, with highs in the mid-50s. If the game goes into overtime, the hot weather for the last two games in Bethlehem will seem far, far away: the lows overnight are supposed to hit the 30s. Fall, officially, is here.

A Word on Harvard
Everyone hates Harvard. Not only on the football field - though for Lehigh fans, it certainly applies. But everyone really just hates Harvard in general.

Admit it. It doesn't matter if you were Democrat or Republican - when you saw Eliot Spitzer (Law School '84) have to clench his mouth after it was revealed that he had a taste for ladies of the night, if you weren't a Harvard person something inside of you stirred. Maybe Harvard isn't this place where the best and brightest go to school. Maybe Harvard has just as many screw-ups here as everywhere - only when they screw up after leaving Harvard, it (like in the Spitzer case) it makes front-page news internationally.

And these days, there's plenty to hate. Take current Fed chairman Ben Bernake ('75). Or take president Bush's economic team: Dr. Eddie Lazear (Economics Ph. D, '74), senior economic adviser (and hedge fund founder) Donald Marron (Mathematics, 1950s), and assistant Keith Hennessey (Law School, '90), who replaced Al Hubbard (Business School, '75). Add to that longtime unofficial economic adviser to Presidents over the last twenty years, former Fed chairman Robert Zoellnick (Law School, '81). Or take Bush treasury secretary Henry Paulson (Business School, '70, though we'll conveniently forget that he spent his undergrad days at Dartmouth). Or take the CEO's of one of the biggest American companies to get slammed in this crisis, GE's Jeffrey Immelt (Business School, '82).

Senators (Chuck Schumer, '71, Law School '74). Supreme court justices (Antonin Scalia, Law School '60). There's even room for hate if you hate the Bourne series of movies (Matt Damon, '92). They're all from Harvard.

To top in all off, Harvard boasts a former Yalie (George W. Bush, Business School '75) as its notable alumni.

Especially at this time in history, it looks like there are a lot of (formerly considered as smart) people who had a huge part in royally screwing up our economy. And a significant portion of those folks came through - you guessed it - Harvard.

Maybe the next president might pick more Lehigh folks on his economic team rather than Crimson.

(Trouble is, it looks like it's going to be Barack Obama (Law School, '91).)

Last Time Out
Cornell - you know, the Big Red team that broke Lehigh's heart's two weeks ago - was manhandled by Harvard 38-17. The Crimson sacked the hithertofore sack-free Nathan Ford twice and also intercepted him twice, and also ground out 423 yards of balanced offense. After a 67 yard screen pass zipped into the end zone from Harvard's third play from scrimmiage, the Crimson never looked back in this blowout win.

Harvard also kept their streak intact of not allowing a back to gain more than 100 yards against them. The streak is now 32 games: the last time they allowed one was against Brown's Nick Hartigan in a 38-35 win. The Crimson lost the following week to Lehigh 49-24, and Lehigh barely got 100 yards total rushing in the game, led by Eric Rath's 76 yards.

LFN's Drink of the Week
In honor of the football fans and crew crazies heading up to Cambridge to see a Lehigh football game and the Head of the Charles event (with official Lehigh reception), there is a breakfast, lunch buffet and unlimited non-alcoholic drinks - but there is a cash bar close by. One of the shells for the race is getting christened "The Bus" - and there's definitely a drink that can be raised to the occasion. The "School Bus" - a shot of Amaretto in a mixture of half-beer, half-Orange juice - seems like the perfect drink for a brunch on a cold morning in Cambridge.

As always, Drinks of the week have a place in responsible tailgates: that means being over 21 and drinking responsibly. Please do that.

Breaking Down Harvard
Offense
Coach Tim Murphy, 2-5 lifetime vs. Lehigh, kills you on offense with all the options that he has available. The offense hasn't changed that much since the days that Dave Cecchini (Lehigh '91) was assistant coach here, with a balanced rushing and passing attack and a dizzying array of targets to throw to on offense. Last week, Cornell head coach Jim Knowles said that Harvard was "pretty much doing what they wanted" on Cornell's defense.

Senior QB Chris Pizzotti came in last year once last year's opening-day starter, senior QB Liam O'Hagan, went down with a first-quarter injury. Since then, Pizzotti has gone 9-1 as a starter and guided the Crimson to the Ivy League championship last year. He's become a dangerous passer (61 % completion percentage, 7 TDs) and can also take off with the ball (44 yards rushing, 2 TDs). He's one of the best in FCS at picking a defense apart if he's given the time, and if you don't close rushing lanes he can also kill you that way, too.

The Harvard rushing attack has been a two-headed attack thus far. Sophomore RB Geno Gordon leads all rushers with 201 yards and 2 TDs, while junior RB Cheng Ho is close behind with 153 yards and 2 TDs. Neither are what you'd consider power backs nor are they feature backs. Notably, Gordon can a bit of a threat catching the ball (6 receptions, 34 yards, 1 TD). There is no fullback in Harvard's base offense this year.

Harvard has at their base offense a three-wideout set, and eleven different players have caught passes from Pizzotti. The premier receiver is 6'6 junior WR Matt Luft (460 yards, 2 TDs) that poses all sorts of matchup problems for all of Harvard's opponents on defense. 6'4 sophomore WR Chris Lorditch (234 yards, 1 TD), 6'4 senior TE Jason Miller (60 yards, 1 TD) and 6'2 sophomore WR Levi Richards (67 yards, 1 TD) complete the receiving corps that gave the Leopards problems, and could very well be the best recveiving corps in all of FCS.

The bad news doesn't stop there for Harvard opponents. A big, talented "O" line, led by junior OL James Williams and senior OL Zach Copple (pictured) have only allowed 5 sacks in 4 games and have given Pizzotti the time he's needed to pick apart defenses.

Defense
As good as Harvard is offensively, on defense they are equally challenging to play against. The Crimson play a basic 4-3 defense, but then again they don't need to be fancy with the sort of athletes they have.

Senior DT Matt Curtis (23 tackles, 7 tackles for loss including 2 sacks) is the leader on the "D" line that hasn't allowed a 100 yard rusher since 2005. Curtis and 280 lb senior DT Carl Elrich (5 tackles) do a great job plugging the middle. Something to watch for as well are tipped passes on the "D" line - these guys get their hands up and tip and bat down balls often.

When a back gets through the line, the linebacking unit traditionally has been outstanding hitting the gaps and getting tackles. Senior LB Eric Shultz and senior LB Glenn Dorris have combined for 42 tackles. You'll notice that this front seven also does a great job prying the ball loose and going after the loose ball if they're given the opportunity.

As if that's not enough, Harvard also returns an all-Ivy cornerback that may be playing on Sundays. Senior DB Drew Berry (24 tackes, 2 interceptions, 5 pass breakups) is one of the best at our level, and a danger in the defensive backfield.

Special Teams
Junior K Patrick Long has a terrific leg - he has gone 6-for-7 on field goals, including a 45 yarder - and is no slouch on kickoffs, averaging 62 yards per kickoff. Junior P Thomas Hull is a below-average punter, averaging 34.1 yards per punt.

Murphy beleives in putting his best players on the return units, which means speedy junior RB Cheng Ho and senior DB Drew Berry return kicks. Both need some serious respect in the return game; having said that, neither has been able to break one for a touchdown yet (Ho averages 19.7 yards per return, and Berry averages 19.8).

Keys to the Game
1. Pin the ears back. If Pizzotti gets the time to throw, it probably won't be much of a contest. Vital to Lehigh's chances will be to get pressure on the quarterback and keep Pizzotti out of rhythm.
2. Linebackers in pass coverage. Harvard will test you deep, but most of their damage is done on the small stuff with screens and flares in coverage gaps. How the linebackers play in pass coverage will be vital - as will be their ability to wrap up the receivers after the catch, too.
3. Use the pass to set up the run. Interior runs are not likely to make a lot of hay, so I'd probably start firing the ball early. Emphasizing the pass early - then the run later - may help get the offense going against a tough defense.
4. Field position and getting 3s. If this is a low-scoring game like last time, trading punts may not be bad for our offense. Trading punts - and coming out with opportunities in the red zone when we do, including field goals when necessary - may really make a difference.

Fearless Prediction
Harvard is a very good football team. Lehigh is playing them on the road, and they should be facng a crimson-faced Crimson team after last year's defeat. Beating them is very possible, but it won't be easy.

These games seem to always be close, whether at Murray Goodman or at Harvard Stadium. If Lehigh can put up more than 24 points on this defense, the Mountain Hawks have a chance. If senior RB Matt McGowan can get 100 yards against this defense, I will right now guarantee a Lehigh victory. Unfortunately I don't see either happening. In a classic "tweener" game and a huge game against Holy Cross looming the following week, Lehigh fights valiantly and loses.

Harvard 27, Lehigh 22

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Threatt Trying Out For Soul, and Strangeness at Holy Cross

At the midway point of the season - and in a strange week for the Patriot League - it's time to go "Around the Horn" as well on this Wednesday in order to summarize all the media stories there have been leading into this important week.

Starting out is a story that some of Sedale Threatt's detractors during his senior year may have never thought possible. Threatt will be trying out for the Arena Bowl-champion Soul in his effort to play professionally.

Here's some exceprts from the article:

Logistical obstacles are irrelevant when it comes to getting a shot at playing professional football.

Consider the case of Sedale Threatt Jr., who caught a plane from Orlando, Fla., and stayed overnight to plunk down $60 for a chance to try out in Turtle Creek for perhaps an invitation to the training camp of the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League.

"It's always been my dream to play on Sundays," Threatt said after a workout and an extended session featuring quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs. "Ask any guy here and he'll tell you the same thing."

...

Threatt, 23, quarterbacked the Lehigh University team after playing high school football in Massachusetts and attending prep school in Valley Forge, Pa., for a year. In the first game of his senior year, he broke some ribs. But he still showed enough to get some inquiries from some NFL teams, including the Chicago Bears.

"I know I can play," Threatt said.

He displayed a strong arm, a quick release and enough raw talent in the basic drills that he was asked to stay for an extended session in which quarterbacks threw passes to wide receivers being covered by defensive backs.

"He's an athlete. He's intelligent. You can tell he's a leader," said Rich Ingold, who helped run the tryout camp.

A big congratulations for Sedale!

*******

Elsewhere in the Patriot League, a developing story has many Holy Cross fans scratching their heads in puzzlement. All that is really known about the story is that in an off-campus party at 2AM the day after Harvard bombed Brown 41-34, sophomore WR Luke Chmielinski was tackled by his roommate, sophomore OL Michael McCabe, and when he got up he was bleeding.

According to court records, Mr. Chmielinski, a 5-foot-10-inch, 185-pound wide receiver, and Mr. McCabe got into an argument at the party.

“The victim states the argument was over his roommate’s sister, and that they argued for several minutes,” police reports said.

“He (Mr. Chmielinski) states that this went on for a few minutes and Michael then got off of him and walked away,” Officer Michael H. LaHair wrote. “He states that he then got up off the floor and noticed that he was bleeding.”

Friends took Mr. Chmielinski to UMass Memorial Medical Center — Memorial Campus to be treated for a puncture wound to the back and a cut across the right side of his chest.


His father also said the following:

“He is absolutely convinced he was not stabbed,” Christopher Chmielinski said. “He thinks his injury was a result of the scuffle.”

On the football field, the injuries have a small effect in the sense that Chmielinski, on the depth chart at receiver is now out for the year. The worry is that this incident gets blown out of proportion - that it becomes a symbol of a renegade program, which anyone who follows Holy Cross knows is patently ridiculous.

My questions are as follows: If he was stabbed, where was the weapon that was used? Wouldn't that have been pretty easy to find? And if Chmielinski did, as his father claims, told police that his roommate didn't do it, why was he arraigned and ordered by the judge to stay away from campus? Is there really enough evidence to do that?

******

Turnabout is fair play for Princeton: themselves a winner over Lehigh on a last-second field goal, they found themselves the victims of the same in a 27-24 defeat to Colgate.

But if you're a member of the Colgate football team and were hoping that your head coach was going to talk about your God-given abilities and maybe get some interest from NFL scouts, you'd be wrong.

No, really, in this sports page piece for the paper of record, the New York Times, are you sure you want your coach to say this?

“He’s got good, not great, ability,” said Dick Biddle, in his 13th season as Colgate’s head coach. “He’s not fast, but he gets there. He’s not big, but he does the job. He has the will. He shows up in the fourth quarter, and most of his big yardage comes in the fourth quarter. And he doesn’t act like a star. He has no ego. My son played here, and other than my son he’s my favorite player.”

I know Biddle meant it as a compliment, but c'mon... "He's got good, not great, ability? He's not fast?" Keep in mind that this is the #1 rushing leader in FCS right now by a wide margin, and he's already rewritten the Colgate and Patriot League record books.

Scott usually is a terror in the fourth quarter, but against Princeton the damage was mostly done by sophomore QB Greg Sullivan, who directed the game-winning drive from his own 20 with Scott touching the ball only once. If Sullivan is coming to his own, the rest of the Patriot League had better pay attention.

****

Lehigh News & tidbits: Keith Groller of the Morning Call added this to his media column yesterday: "Best Village People reference: ''If it was up to me, I'd dress them as a cowboy, Indian and a biker,'' said Lehigh football radio analyst Kody Fedorcha on Lehigh Valley ESPN radio, talking about the three Mountain Hawks backup QBs who wear fluorescent yellow chest protectors and signal in offensive plays."... The Easton Express Times reported that senior DB Quadir Carter sat out the Fordham game with a lingering shoulder injury... Coach Coen in Keith Groller's Groller's Corner Blog: "What I liked today is that we didn't execute on one of our late series and kicked some things around, but we went back out there the next time and executed and went on to ice the game."... Finally, the Taste as You Go Blogger, on her visit to the Blue Sky Cafe in Bethlehem, had this to say: "However, in our last visit to the Blue Sky Cafe, in honor of fall, I ordered something I had never had before -- the Sweet Potato Quesadilla ($6.95), topped with scrambled eggs and black bean salsa... We wondered whether we could replicate the quesadilla at tailgates. Alas, an experiment that will have to be carried out at the next home football game up at Goodman Stadium." (Great - now I'm going to have to look out for sweet potatoes grilling in the tailgate area.)

Clark Is Player of the Week

On the back of his great offensive performance on Saturday, sophomore QB J.B. Clark resoundingly gets LFN Player of the Week honors this week. Clark went 18-for-27 for 292 yards and 4 touchdowns, and added one big touchdown with his feet as well. He led the first offensive Lehigh explosion for the year, putting up 5 of Lehigh's six TDs en route to a 45 point performance against last year's Patriot League champions. The Jupiter, FL native well deserved this honor voted on by you, the Lehigh fans.

Game balls will be going to:

Reader's Choice: Sophomore QB J.B. Clark

Offense: Senior RB Matt McGowan (24 rushes, 110 yards, 1 TD, plus 3 catches for 59 yards, giving him 169 all-purpose yards)

Defense: Junior DT B. J. Benning (4 tackles, 3 sacks)

Special teams: Sophomore DB/KR John "Fear Itself" Kennedy (3 kickoff returns for 95 yards, setting up a short field on three seperate occasions)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lambert Power Rankings, 10/11/2008

This week's Lambert Power Rankings coincides with the release of the inaugural Lambert Poll by the ECAC.

To refresh your memory, my LPR is formula-based and it's not something too difficult for my tiny little head to wrap itself around. Rising up the "Lambert Power Rankings" is easy: win games on your schedule, especially conference games and games vs. Eastern teams. Oh yeah, and play good teams, too: there's a "degree of difficulty" to my power rankings: beat up on patsies and it won't count as much as an FBS win.

Unlike the official Lambert Poll, I also include the MEAC teams in my poll north of Virginia and also include Liberty and VMI in my rankings. The ECAC Lambert Cup rules state that a school can only be eligible if they play more than half their games against "Northern" schools.

Here are the rankings for the week of 10/11/2008:

1. James Madison (CAA, 6-1, 74 points)
2. Richmond (CAA, 4-3, 53 points)
3. New Hampshire (CAA, 4-1, 48 points)
4. UMass (CAA, 4-2, 47.5 points)
5. Villanova (CAA, 4-1, 45 points)
6. William & Mary (CAA, 3-2, 42 points)
7. Hofstra (CAA, 3-2, 40 points)
8. Liberty (Big South, 6-0, 35.75 points)
9T. Lafayette (Patriot, 4-1, 35.50 points)
9T. Harvard (Ivy, 3-1, 35.50 points)
9T. Cornell (Ivy, 3-1, 35.50 points)

The CAA dominates my objective ranking system due to their abject dominance in out-of-conference games - and challenging scheduling. Had Liberty not played two games against D-II opponents and still gone 6-0, they would probably be doing much better.

Here's the real ECAC Lambert Cup poll for comparison:

1. James Madison 6-1
2. Villanova 4-1
3. Massachusetts 4-2
3. New Hampshire 4-1
5. Richmond 4-3
6. Harvard 3-1
7. William & Mary 3-2
8. Lafayette 4-1
9. Colgate 4-2
10. Yale 3-1
10. Sacred Heart 6-0

The poll includes Sacred Heart out of the NEC - who isn't in my Top 10 due to a weak schedule, weaker than even Liberty's - and 3-1 Yale and 4-2 Colgate.

Here's the GPI's take on the strongest teams in the East:

1. James Madison (1.00)
2. Villanova (5.88)
3. Richmond (6.38)
4. UMass (8.63)
5. New Hampshire (13.50)
6. William & Mary (18.63)
7. Liberty (20.00)
8. Harvard (23.38)
9. Northeastern (24.25)
10. Maine (24.88)

Eight of the ten are CAA teams - and it even includes one team that's not in the LPR (Northeastern) and excludes one that I include (Hofstra). If there's any doubt that the CAA is still the top dog in the East, the Lambert Cup poll, the GPI and the LPR all point to the fact that the CAA still dominates Eastern college football at our level.

Here's the GPI of all the Patriot League schools.

40 Holy Cross (35.38)
45 Lafayette (37.63)
60T Colgate (47.13)
66 Lehigh (51.25) (up 7 spots from last week)
82T Fordham (61.50)
82T Bucknell (61.50.75)
103 Georgetown (74.13)

Of the eight playoff conferences, the Patriot League right now would still be considered seventh-best autobid conference out of eight autobid conferences, ranking 9 overall (behind six of the other seven playoff conferences, the Great West Football Conference, and the Ivy League). They rank ahead of the MEAC, the eighth autobid conference, by a pretty wide margin (52.65 to 62.44).

The Patriot League sits one and a half points below the Big South and three points behind the OVC. If "that school in Easton" can knock off Liberty this weekend, it might be a great help to the Patriot League in terms of a Patriot League team knocking off a nationally-ranked opponent - but our GPI could possibly lurch upwards, too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Official Release: Lehigh 45. Fordham 24

This week, we get a happy recap to go along with the now-regular features on the Lehighsports.com website like the podcast of the postgame press conference and video of senior WR Mike Fitzgerald's second touchdown pass on the afternoon:

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Sophomore quarterback J.B. Clark led the Mountain Hawks to a 45-24 victory against defending Patriot League champion Fordham in what was by far the best statistical game of his career at Lehigh.

Clark threw for 296 yards on 18-of-27 passing in the win. The sophomore connected for four touchdowns through the air and added another on the ground while not throwing an interception for the second-consecutive week. With the win, the Mountain Hawks improve to 2-3 on the season and 1-0 in the Patriot League and run their record to a perfect 10-0 at Goodman Stadium versus Fordham. The Rams dropped their second-consecutive league game to fall to 2-3 (0-2).

"I'm obviously very proud of our kids for a lot of reasons," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said afterwards. "Through the adversity of the last two weeks, these kids came out, they worked hard, they didn't get down, they got angry." He continued, "We played well today. Well enough to win. We made some of the plays that we needed to make to get the win today. I thought the kids executed pretty well. They made their share of mistakes too, but it's easier to clean those things up after you come away with a win like we did today."
Worth adding to the mix of recaps is the following as well from Keith Groller of the Morning Call. In this quote from WR Mike Fitzgerald, it's a sign that Lehigh has taken the right lessons from the close losses:

''You could probably see it in everyone's reaction coming off the field and in our locker room. Guys were just sick and tired of losing, especially the way we were losing. I think you can expect to see more of this over the next three games.''
Finally, Lehighsports.com had a really good article about two local players who devoted themselves to getting into Lehigh, and did so: the safety tandem of senior DB Quadir Carter and senior DB Brendan VanAckeren. Both talk a bit about growing up in Bethlehem - VanAckeren on the north side and Carter on the south side - and how they cam to choose Lehigh.

Carter is one year older than Van Ackeren, having attended The Hill School in Pottstown for a year of post-graduate schooling after graduating from Freedom High School. “I struggled academically in high school and wasn’t very interested in any of the subjects being taught. Still, I could have gone to college, but my high school coach (Jim Morgans) talked to me about considering prep school. It turned out to be a great decision.”

Carter continues, “The Hill School helped me in a lot of ways. It prepared me for the rigorous academics and it helped me in adjusting to a much different social scene. By the time I came to Lehigh, the transition wasn’t nearly as tough as when I went to prep school. I really enjoy learning here at Lehigh; I’m able to select the courses I want to take and it makes things interesting.”

“I had talked to the coaches at Lehigh and they were very interested in Quadir,” Morgans explains. “They recommended that he go to prep school and he took it from there. He used football as a vehicle and I’m very proud of him.”

...

While Carter was attending The Hill School, Van Ackeren was contemplating where he would attend college upon graduation from Liberty High School. It was then that a former Lehigh football player, Jim Seratelli, offered his thoughts on the University just down the street. “I coached Brendan during his senior year at Liberty and quickly noticed that he was an outstanding person from an outstanding family,” Seratelli explains. “He’s very bright, he’s polite and I was immediately drawn to him.”

Seratelli continues, “As I’m watching Brendan, the entire time I’m thinking, this is the perfect Lehigh guy. He gives 100-percent on the field, he’s smart, the young guys look up to him, he’s an incredibly hard working individual and I just knew that Lehigh University would be a perfect fit for him.”

“I knew that Lehigh would be a good fit,” Van Ackeren says. “I knew it was a good school, I knew about the tradition and it just felt like the right environment for me.”

Hopefully, Lehigh will be able to continue to get these sort of men in the program for years to come.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday's Word: Typecast

Last night, I was writing my summary of the Fordham game and I noticed something which ultimately led me to this Sunday's "Word".

Heartbreaking last-second losses are like movies where you want to rewrite the ending. If you're a writer of fiction, your team never has to lose on missed 4th-and-1 conversions or excruciating last-second touchdown passes in the right corner of the end zone - you just write something else. You write in the script the offensive line making a heroic push to get that extra yard to get that game-winning field goal. You write in the script the defensive back making the play of a lifetime.

Writing the recap of the Fordham game, I was struck how often I was thinking back to not only the excruciating losses in the Princeton and Cornell games this year, but also last year's loss to Fordham as well.

Last year's Fordham game was won in the fourth quarter. In my fictionalized account of the game, Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt would connect with a across-the-body throw to senior WR Sekou Yansane for the game-winning catch in a 25-21 victory. Lehigh, of course, would ride the momentum of that win all the way to the Patriot League title, beat "That School in Easton" 50-0 and of course beat UMass in the playoffs - and fight so valiantly against Appalachian State (another team of destiny, of course) that for years Mountaineer fans will talk about the game they almost lost to "that school in Bethlehem."

But that's all that would ultimately be: fanciful fiction. Instead, what really happened when Lehigh was driving for the game-winning touchdown, Fordham linebacker Earl Hudnell would return an interception for a touchdown with just under five minutes to play. That would give Fordham a ten point lead and effectively ice the game.

After that game, I had a pretty impassioned "Sunday Word": "If". "How long do I have to wait for players to deliver on the wonderful potential that I and others have seen in spots for the past three years?" I said. "At some point, potential for greatness simply becomes the present, and your record is right there, live in front of you. And it's happening to this team, right here and right now."

It was a big moment in the season - in my opinion, bigger than the blowout loss to Holy Cross a couple weeks later. The reason was that the plotline had been written for the rest of the season - and, as it turns out, beyond.

Lehigh didn't play well last year against Fordham. Threatt was hurt much worse than anyone knew at that time, and he looked nothing like the Patriot League preseason player of the year. But looking back on the game, there were more troubling signs on this team. In that game, nobody stepped up as a go-to guy on offense. There were defensive lapses. Special teams had some vital mistakes that took points off the board. There was a severe lack of sync that was troubling.

The script was set: Lehigh wasn't what it used to be. They were a team that couldn't score at will anymore, and weren't always mentally in the game - and now they weren't winning the close ones against top competition. Sure, they had enough talent to put up 45 points on Georgetown and outlast Bucknell. But against "that school in Easton?" Again, the same old script: give up a late touchdown, and once again Lehigh couldn't deliver a big-time play at the end of the game to win.

The "typecasting" continued into this year. Against Drake, Lehigh again had enough raw talent to win that game. Against Villanova, Lehigh lost against one of the better teams of the CAA (maybe even a team that ultimately will be a Top Ten team when all is said and done). But against Princeton and Cornell, the same old plot: lapses at the end of the game. 4th-and-inches against Princeton - no push on the line. A toss to the end zone - and sophomore CB Jarard Cribbs can't make the play.

This week, though, against Fordham, I saw a team that simply refused to be "typecast". And it appeared to start at the end of the first half.

The play was 1st and 10 on the Lehigh 25. Lehigh was up 23-14, under 30 seconds to play. Skelton attempted a pass from just about the same place that Cornell quarterback Nathan Ford did. He lofted a pass to nearly the exact place that Cornell wide receiver Jesse Baker made the game-winning catch last week.

But something happened. Cribbs refused to be "typecast".

This time, he made the break, and made a great play to defend the pass. The ball was batted away before Fordham wide receiver Asa Lucas could get his hands on it. Fordham would get points out of the drive, making it a 23-17 game at halftime.

After that, you could see the plot lines change.

Senior RB Matt McGowan ran extremely hard, ultimately getting 110 tough yards on the ground and another 59 through the air. Sophomore QB J.B. Clark didn't throw the big interception that would be returned for a touchdown. I marked three occasions where Lehigh's "O" line needed to come up big and get a big push to keep a drive alive in short yardage - and all three, they made the grade.

What does the Fordham win ultimately mean? It's hard to say. The optimist looks at Fordham and sees the Rams as last year's Patriot League champions, a very good quarterback and an awesome stable of receivers that will play better the rest of the way. But others see a team that has been maddeningly inconsistent, a defensive line that is missing some key pieces from being a top Patriot League unit, and a quarterback that for all his physical tools still can't carry Fordham on his back completely.

Folks very well might look back at this game and only see a win at home over a sub-.500 team.

But it is very possible that we may look back on this game in particular and say that this was the game where Lehigh determined that they simply refused to be "typecast" as a team that loses the big one.
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