Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lehigh 21, Holy Cross 35, final

Once again, Lehigh showed some good fight.

Once again, Lehigh in effect spotted a team points in the first half - not on turnovers this time, but by allowing Holy Cross to march down the field on three straight possessions to go ahead 21-0.

Once again, Lehigh came back to tie the game at 21, mostly on the back of senior RB Matt McGowan's incredible performance: 244 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns, and senior DB Quadir Carter's two big interceptions in the red zone.

Tied in the 4th quarter, it felt like anybody's game. Just like the Harvard game. Or the Princeton game. Or the Cornell game.

But Holy Cross proved why they're a potential Patriot League championship team, and Lehigh isn't.

Payton Award candidate Dominic Randolph promptly led Holy Cross on a 11 play, 71 yard drive, avoiding a near-certain sack on 3rd and 1 at the 2 yard line and finally picking WR Jon Brock to go ahead 28-21.

Lehigh gets the ball back, and suffers a weak 3-and-out. A 3rd-and-4 screen pass, on the bad footing at Fitton Field, went nowhere, and senior P/K Jason Leo trotted out to punt.

In some years, I'd see Leo trot out and I'd feel like Lehigh had just yet begun to fight. But not this time. After that 3-and-out, I felt the game was probably over. Maybe it's a function of being in this position four times already, I'm not sure. But I didn't have that feeling that we could defnitely make this happen.

One drive later, it was over. Randolph shredded the defense on a 13-play, 77 yard drive, including two huge third down conversions. This time, he found WR Brett McDermott in the end zone to make the score 35-21 with just about 4 minutes to play.

Sophomore QB J.B. Clark kept battling - but two interceptions later, those hopes were dashed. Lehigh falls to 2-5, and faces an extremely uphill battle the rest of the way to avoid a losing record for the second consecutive season.

Once again, Lehigh battled, and Lehigh lost.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Water Cooler: Autobids

I figured I'd make my life really easy this afternoon - aside from the "Phillies Fever" that has overtaken my workplace (and the fact I was up late last night watching the Phillies lose to the Dev* I mean Rays 4-2) means that I think I'll tackle only one subject that I've written about elsewhere.

On second thought... make that two subjects. But before I do that let me quickly mention that Lehigh's game will be on local and national TV this weekend: on WFMZ Channel 69 at 1:00 p.m. and nationally at 1:00 p.m. on FCS Atlantic, as well as on radio on AM 1230 and 1320 in the Lehigh Valley. If you can't get any of these media outlets, surf on over to lehighsports.com - you can get streaming video of the game online.

First, Lehigh beat writer Keith Groller had the opportunity to travel down to Tampa to cover games 1 and two for the Morning Call (lucky dog), and he's been blogging about it. It's real good stuff: witness:

One of the funniest Saturday Night Live skits in recent years featured Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell and Walken's desire "for more cowbell" to add juice to a studio session for his rock group. Ferrell was the cowbell man eager to oblige Walken's desire..

The cowbell is the favorite noisermaker for Tampa Bay Rays fans. There's probably a couple thousand of them in here tonight for Game 1 of the World Series.

But really, this is a sterile, emotionless atmosphere for a World Series game. It could use more cowbell and much more.

These fans, you get the feeling, haven't paid their dues for this moment. This "worst to first" rise has caught them by surprise. They don't know what this is all about, how important it is. They're going through the motions, trying to rev it up for the national audience without any real sincerity or heart put into it.

Philadelphia knows how important it is and the city will let it all hang out for Games 3,4 and 5 Saturday thru Monday. There's no doubt about that.



I'm still a Red Sox fan - it's in my blood - but I'm sure I'll be real happy for the Phillies fans around here if they take care of business here in the next three games and beat the sterile, hyped-out Rays. It's a bit overdone, but Philadelphia has needed a winner for a long time, and it would be great if they get a shot in the sun.

(Besides, Yankee fans would then have to suffer with the fact that the Red Sox and Phillies would have both won World Series titles since the Yankees have won their latest Series. If you throw a Mets title in there in the next couple years, better put some new gun-control laws on the books in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area.)

Playoffs
Back to college football. In this week's CSN Way I talk about the playoff scenarios for all of FCS and take a peek as to which teams might make the Field of Sixteen this Thanksgiving. If you're a Patriot League fan, it's worth reading the whole thing:

It all started, as it sometimes does, as a phone call with the executive director of the College Sporting News, Ralph Wallace. We started shooting the breeze about our favorite football players in Football Championship Subdivision, games we’ve been to, fun times we’ve had at games this year.

Then, the conversation took a turn towards something else: Brackets. Conference Champions. “What about the autobids?” Ralph said.

He was right. The fun times of FBS matchups, interesting out-of-conference games, and following a team just to admire the band is over. It’s time to get serious. It’s time to talk conference champions, autobids - and who’s going to be in the coveted field of sixteen playoff participants to be announced the week before Thanksgiving.

In other words, it’s time to get serious.

In the article I talk about the chances of the Patriot League in getting an at-large team in the party this year. Looking at the number of power conference teams still in the hunt, the early returns say: if Lafayette, Colgate or Bucknell need to rely on an at-large bid to make the playoffs(the only three teams with a chance at an at-large bid without winning the autobid), they're very likely going to need some help.

Patriot League Picks: Week 9
I went a mediocre 3-3 last week, bringing my yearly total to an awful 17-14. I must get better, with the following picks! (All of these picks are, oddly enough, also covered in the CSN Way this week, too.)

Georgetown at No. 9 Richmond. When folks generally mention the Hoyas, it’s usually preceded by the word ‘poor’. Georgetown, led by young quarterback Keerome Lawrence, haven’t enjoyed a winning season since coming to the Patriot League in 2001. Their second win on the year won’t come against a rejuvenated Spiders team - led on defense by defensive back Justin Rogers - that can’t afford any missteps if they want to get back to the playoffs.
Spider Men 55, Hoya Boyas 6

No. 24 Lafayette at Fordham. The Leopards offense sure didn’t look like they were struggling much after leaving Lynchburg, Virginia last weekend. THe main criticism from Leopards fans of their team was a lack of offensive output: but set up by two big special teams plays (including a blocked punt from linebacker Andy Romans) the Leopards routed the No. 14 ranked Flames 35-21. They face last years’ Patriot League champions Fordham, whose dizzying inconsistency has been hard to understand: losing to Lehigh one week 45-21 and then beating Ivy League championship co-favorite Yale 12-10 the following week. Will this be the type of week that quarterback John Skelton puts everything together and gets the upset? The answer is: yes it is, but it won’t be enough against a Lafayette team that may have just become a Patriot League title-quality team last weekend.
Romans in the Gloamin’ 28, Skelton’s Offense Still In the Closet 18

Colgate at Bucknell. It’s a chance for Bison quarterback Marcelo Trigg (QB rating: 172.2, 1,112 passing yards, 16 touchdowns) to show the FCS world that Bucknell isn’t just a basketball school. At 4-2, a win for the Bison would put them squarely in the running for the Patriot League title. But they’ll have to stop either Colgate runningback Jordan Scott (971 yards, 11 touchdowns) or the runningback that came in when Scott got inujred last week, freshman Nate Eachus (241 yards, 3 touchdowns). Their rushing defense isn’t impressive enough to stop whoever plays, Eachus or Scott.
Good Year for Raider Runningbacks 42, Bad Year for Bison 21

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Preview of Lehigh at Holy Cross

Emimem once wrote that he's "cleanin' out his closet", and that it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience. I feel like I'm doing that here for the football team for this preview: to preview Holy Cross is to revisit a time and place that won't make any Lehigh fans happy.

Last year, almost a year to this day, Holy Cross visited Goodman stadium and gave Lehigh a thumping that they will not soon forget. The Crusaders very nearly scored a point-a-minute as Lehigh suffered their worst-ever loss in Murray Goodman Stadium history, 59-10.

It was a picture-perfect day - 66 degrees and sunny - and I went to Lehigh (after picking a Mountain Hawk victory, mind you) thinking Lehigh would finally come out and play an emotional do-or-die game against one of the best teams in the Patriot League.

I could not have been more wrong.

Almost from the opening kickoff Lehigh was flat, giving up two quick touchdown drives while Lehigh only came up with a punt and a field goal from senior P/K Jason Leo. Still, Lehigh was still battling with quarterback Sedale Threatt, who found senior WR Mike Fitzgerald for a 15 yard score to make the score 24-10 at the break. Down two touchdowns, it still felt possible.

Then, the wheels came off.

Threatt started having to force the issue. Two interceptions were turned into touchdowns. QB Chris Bokosky came in, and promptly fumbled on a sack. A punt was fumbled. And not to be outdone, sophomore QB J.B. Clark made his debut in this debacle as well. His stat line? 1-2 with a fumble and an interception.

All told, six turnovers en route to five Holy Cross touchdowns. Lehigh went completely flat, seeming to give up emotionally and trudging off the field slowly after extra points and kickoffs.

It's by far the worst Lehigh game I've ever witnessed. I saw the 47-22 loss by Lehigh in 2001 to Delaware in the I-AA playoffs - I actually walked out of that game - but at least there you could say that Delaware was stacked with scholarship talent. In addition, the Lehigh players played hard all sixty minutes, scoring some late points to prove that they were fighters. The Lehigh team I saw last year did not do that.

It was, quite frankly, the sort of loss that sent an earthquake through the program. I wrote a quick, angry recap. My Sunday "Word" was "Emotion" - or you could say, lack thereof. And I wasn't alone - fans couldn't believe the Mountain Meltdown they saw.

It's been one year that the nasty taste of this game has been in the throats of the Lehigh players. This Saturday, they'll finally have a chance to get rid of it.

Game Notes
With a lot of Lehigh players coming out against Harvard last week, it was a relief to see most of the same, familiar faces in for Lehigh on the depth chart this week in this week's game notes - most notably senior WR Sekou Yansane. Only one name was different, and that was the backup for senior OL Kevin Bayani: instead of sophmorore OL R.J. McNamara, freshman OL Troy McKenna gets the nod on the two deep this week.

The biggest surprise was that senior DL Paul Bode is not only on the depth chart after being helped from the field last Saturday, but is still pencilled in as the starting "D" lineman - a nice shot in the arm for this Lehigh defense.

As of this preview, Holy Cross' game notes were not up yet.

Weather Report
The forecast for Worcester is for unseasonably warm weather, similar to the temperature in the game last year at Murray Goodman. Cloudy with highs in the 60s, with as of right now a 30% chance of showers. It used to be that Lehigh/Holy Cross games always seemed to be in monsoon-like conditions, and there is a chance these chances of showers could still increase. Stay tuned.

A Word on Holy Cross
The Crusaders enjoy a program with a very successful history. In the 1920s and 1930s, Holy Cross was a consistent national powerhouse and, along with schools like Fordham, NYU and Manhattan, came to symbolize "Eastern Football". Much later, when Holy Cross helped form the Patriot League in 1988, the Crusaders eagerly abandoned scholarships across all sports. This made the football program, who had good local rivalries with UMass, Boston University, and Boston College, wither. But in those early years of the Patriot League Holy Cross (with a host of grandfathered scholarship players) wreaked havoc on their Patriot opponents.

One of the most significant games in Patriot League history involving Holy Cross came in 1991. A battle for the Patriot League championship that year, going into Murray Goodman stadium that year the Engineers and Crusaders were both 6-0. In the exhilerating 43-42 defeat, the game featured six lead changes and not one but two "fumblerooski" plays by then-Lehigh coach Hank Small to try to get the win. That game that did wonders for establishing the Patriot League as "big-time". (The Crusaders won the Patriot League title that year and also finished 11-0, but were not invited to the I-AA playoffs despite wins over Harvard, BU, and UMass.)

From 1991 to 2003, Holy Cross really struggled at times as the Holy Cross athletic department actively chose to pursue basketball while phasing out football scholarships and implementing stringent academic stadards.

Then in 2004, fortunes changed. Then-Lehigh defensive coordinator Tom Gilmore, fresh from the Lehigh coaching staff, took on the job of rebuilding the Crusader football program essentially from scratch. Adding insult to the injury of Gilmore hightailing to Holy Cross in the middle of recruiting season, Gilmore also convinced defensive backs coach Issac Collins to follow him in his rebuilding effort - after Collins had already been promoted to defensive coordinator. This caused some bad blood between the Lehigh and Holy Cross coaching staffs. Over the years there has been some movement between the coaching staffs at Holy Cross and Lehigh - when coach Coen took over at Lehigh, for example, one of his first hires was Dick Kotulski, defensive coordinator at Holy Cross.

Tom Gilmore deserves all the credit in the world in rebuilding a Holy Cross program that had been in serious disarray before he arrived. Five years ago, he inherited a 1-11 team that had enjoyed only one winning season since 1993. Since Gilmore has arrived, he's guided his "Purple Army" to three straight winning seasons. All that's missing for him is a Patriot League championship.

Last Time Out
My dad, a Dartmouth alumnus, saw Holy Cross last week dismantle the 0-5 Big Green up in Hanover, NH. The potent Holy Cross offense shot out to an early 23-6 lead and never really looked back in a 44-26 victory. Specifically my father was impressed by the efficiency of the Purple offense.

So, evidently, was Datmouth head football coach Buddy Teevens. “They spread you out wide and they get the ball out of their hands,” he said in the post-game press conference. “There weren’t a lot of down-the-field throws. It was all five or six yards. We’d mix up pressure but even if they don’t block anybody it’s hard to get there as quickly as they get the ball out."

LFN's Drink of the Week
On a sunny day in Worcester, Mass, nothing says Lehigh victory like a nice purple cocktail. It's got a lot of components - blueberry liqueur, Blue Curacao, Sloe Gin - and it is potent, so ice it up. But on an unseasonably warm day, it seems like just the thing before the game this weekend.

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 Holy Cross
Offense
The tight end is back in the Holy Cross offense, and the Crusaders are a tad more conservative than they used to be with the four-wide set they used to run with Chris Pincince. But if you think the new offensive coordinator Mike Pedone will throw the ball around any less, think again. Holy Cross will yet again be the bubble-screening, pass-happy team we've gotten to know for the past two years. They will be relentless on offense, and if you slip (like Lehigh did last year) you can find yourself down by three touchdowns.

And it all starts with the quarterback: senior QB Dominc Randolph (pictured), who is a legitimate Payton Award candidate and a player with a real shot at playing on Sundays. He's accurate (he completes 65.7% of his passes) and finds the end zone (16 TD passes). If he's allowed to pick you apart, you're done.

Randolph has an exceptionally quick release and is also extremely quick with receiver reads. Teevens said of the senior QB: "The thing I’m impressed about with Randolph is he makes great pre-snap decisions. He knows where the ball is going and it is out of his hands.”

Randolph isn't the most mobile quarterback in the world, but he does has enough speed to make you respect his ability to take off, even if most times a linebacker can catch him from behind. It's also worth noting that he can be forced into making mistakes - he has 8 interceptions on the year.

Holy Cross uses the pass to set up the run, and when they do it's senior RB Terrance Gass (245 yards, 5 TDs) or senior RB Mike Kielt (334 yards, 3 TDs) rushing the ball. Both small, speedy backs, they are build for speed and breakaways rather than power running. In addition, both offer another dimension with their ability to catch the ball - combined, they have 41 receptions, 292 yards and a TD between them. (Last week, Gass didn't make the trip to Hanover and may perhaps be out again this week.)

Two seniors: senior WR Brent McDermott and senior WR Jon Brock - lead the receiving corps, with Brock this year emerging as the "alpha receiver" with 412 receiving yards and 6 TDs. Although the two speedy seniors - and 5'7 sophomore WR Josh Jenkins, for that matter - are shorter than Harvard's trees at wide receiver, it doesn't matter much because at Holy Cross, it's all about the system - everyone's going to get receptions, even sophomore WR Freddie Santana (with his 231 yards and 3 TDs). Even senior TE Ryan McGuire gets in on the fun (17 catches, 205 yards, 2 TDs).

The passes are generally short, and the wideouts will generally be very good blockers. There are targets galore, and Randolph's quick release gets them the ball fast. This offense is exceptionally hard to contain. And it's the offensive line's job - led by senior OL Chris Poole - to pass block and give Randolph those few seconds he needs.

Defense
Holy Cross plays a base 3-4 defense that still gives up points in bunches. Of note, Harvard scored 25 on this defense and won. Yale scored 31 points on them and won. But this defense may not be exactly what you think: teams are not averaging many rushing yards against them.

Holy Cross boasts a small front seven, anchored by 6'0 245 lb junior DT Alex Carson (10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss) on the defensive line. Unlike Lehigh, there is no one real dominating lineman in this group for offensive linemen to key on - there's an opportunity to control this line of scrimmage, in my opinion.

The linebacking unit is led by junior LB Marcus Rodruiguez (30 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) and junior LB Sean Lamkin (28 tackles, 3 tackles for loss). The linebackers are bigger, but overall this is still a smallish front seven. Interestingly, the front seven has only forced one fumble all year, and the linebackers have not forced any of them - very unusual. Still, this unit has been stingy against the run, holding superstar Yale RB Mike McLeod to 131 yards rushing and only 1 touchdown, for example.

The secondary still boasts some very good players - senior CB Kyle Mushaweh leaps to mind, who had two interceptions last year against Lehigh, and senior SS Daryl Brown, who is second on the team in tackles with 31 to go with his 2 interceptions - but this unit has been downright picked on, to the tune of 313 yards on average per game. Part of this may be due to the fact that this secondary is short - Brown is listed at 5'8.

Special Teams
Senior K Matt Partain has an exteemely good leg - he connected on a 49 yard field goal last year, and had a 46 yarder this year - but he's struggled with accuracy, going 5-for-8 on field goal attempts this year, and booting five balls out of bounds on kickoffs. Senior P Mike Holloway is an OK punter, averaging 36.8 yards per punt.

Sophomore WR Josh Jenkins and senior WR Brent McDermott field the punts and kickoffs have been decent threats on returns. McDermott has 258 return yards and 1 kickoff return for a touchdown to his credit, while Jenkins is averaging 8.4 yards per punt return.

Keys to the Game
1.YAC-etty YAC. They key to this offense isn't great arm strength from Randolph but yards after the catch from the receiving corps, or YAC. If Lehigh can keep the YAC from the plethora of receivers to a minimum, the Mountain Hawks will definitely have a chance in this game.
2.Pressure. Constant pressure on Randolph may not slow him down completely, but might make him a little off-balance and give Lehigh a chance to force a throw and get some big turnovers. Not letting Randolph get comfortable will be key.
3.Zurn Baby Zurn. This could be a chance for Clark to have a big day passing the ball, and if he does it will be because players like sophomore WR Craig Zurn are an early and active force in the offense. A big day passing could mean a big win for Lehigh.
4.Special Teams Execution. In a big game like this, coverage on special teams and punts take on extra-special meaning. If Lehigh can win the "third" phase of this game - special teams - I like Lehigh's chances.

Fearless Prediction
Randolph is an exceptional quarterback and the offensive system is one that is difficult to stop. Yet this still looks like a winnable game for Lehigh, not least due to the vast improvement Lehigh fans have seen on offense and the solid play we've seen so far on special teams as well.

The two big questions I have involve emotion and pressure. Will the team be up emotionally for the game, unlike last year? You have to believe that all the players know, or have heard, about last year's shellacking and have used it in some measure for motivation this time around. I've got to believe that Lehigh will play with a lot of emotion this weekend.

The other question is: what if this game comes down to another fourth quarter play? Three losses came in the last two minutes of play. What does that do to this team in a much bigger game? Does it mean the team goes in and says "here we go again"? Or does the team refuse to let it happen again?

I see Lehigh going up to Fitton Field and playing with the intensity needed to win this game. And I think it could very well be the game that puts the swagger back into the steps of this Lehigh team. It won't be easy. But I think they can, and will, do it.

Lehigh 38, Holy Cross 35

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yansane is Player of the Week

In what can only be described as the closest vote ever, Lehigh Football Nation readers anointed senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane as Player of the Week this week. The "Stunt Man" had an amazing 11 receptions for 132 yards and 1 TD against an extremely talented Harvard secondary. Aside from the touchdown which allowed Lehigh to get back into the game in the third quarter, Yansane was singly responsible for more than half Lehigh's receiving yards on the afternoon. His heroic effort was more than worthy of Player of the week honors.

Game Balls will be going to:

Reader's Choice: Senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane

Offense: Senior RB Matt McGowan (16 rushes for 105 yards, first back in 31 games to get more than 100 rushing yards against Harvard)

Defense: Junior LB Matt Cohen (8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss including 1 1/2 sacks)

Special Teams: Senior P/K Jason Leo (3 punts, 47 yard average; 3/3 extra points, 30 yard FG)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lambert Power Rankings, 10/18/2008

One win this week - Lafayette's win over No. 14-ranked Liberty - had huge effects for the Patriot League across all manner of polls this week, and the Lambert Power Rankings were no exception.

First, Lafayette became the first Patriot League school to spend time in the Sports Network's Top 25, debuting this week at No. 24.

Even though TSN voters were impressed, the official ECAC Lambert Poll this week saw Lafayette remain at No. 8, while Colgate also made an appearance at No. 9.

Lafayette was already represented in my weekly Lambert Power Rankings, but they've shot up from No. 9 to No. 5, possibly because I rate the win over Liberty highly. Here are my power rankings (including, in parenthesis, their ranking last week):

1. (1) James Madison (CAA, 6-1, 74 points)
2. (2) Richmond (CAA, 5-3, 67.5 points)
3. (3) New Hampshire (CAA, 5-1, 58 points)
4. (5) Villanova (CAA, 5-1, 55 points)
5. (9T) Lafayette (Patriot, 5-1, 50 points)
6T. (4) UMass (CAA, 4-3, 48.5 points)
6T (NR) Maine (CAA, 4-3, 48.5 points)
8. (6) William & Mary (CAA, 4-2, 47.5 points)
9. (NR) Colgate (Patriot, 5-2, 44.5 points)
10. (NR) Albany (NEC, 4-3, 43 points)

Interesting that my LPR and the actual Lambert Cup poll almost came out the same this week, only subbing out Harvard in the voters' poll for Maine in mine. (And Harvard came in at No. 11 in the LPR this week with 41 points, so they're not at all far off the board.) Worthy of mention is that Sacred Heart and Yale - who were in last week's Lambert Cup poll but weren't in my LPR - ended up losing.

I'll say it again: it's strange that Lafayette arguably had the biggest non-conference win in a decade - yet still stayed at No. 8 in the Lambert Cup voter's poll.

The GPI this week shows Maine as well as Harvard and Northeastern (instead of Colgate and Albany) as the strongest teams in the East:

1. James Madison (1.00)
2. Villanova (4.25)
3. Richmond (5.38)
4. New Hampshire (10.25)
5. William & Mary (13.13)
6. UMass (15.63)
7T. Harvard (23.00)
7T. Maine (23.00)
9. Lafayette (26.25)
10. Northeastern (27.50)

Interestingly, the GPI lists four teams ahead of Colgate and Albany in the East as I define it (Liberty, Delaware, Hofstra, Holy Cross). Note the presence of two sub-.500 CAA teams, which would be very unlikely to make it into the Top 10 in my system.

Here's the GPI of all the Patriot League schools (and the change from last week):

26T. Lafayette (26.25) (+19)
46. Holy Cross (38.13) (-6)
47. Colgate (38.25) (+13)
64. Lehigh (50.00) (+2)
69. Fordham (53.13) (+13)
85. Bucknell (62.50) (-3)
107. Georgetown (76.00) (-4)

Don't ask me why Holy Cross loses six spots by beating Dartmouth. Perhaps they should have blown them out more?

Of the eight playoff conferences, the Patriot League leapfrogged over the OVC this week (and also the Ivy League) thanks to the Lafayette and Fordham wins. That makes the Patriot League the sixth-best autobid conference out of eight autobid conferences. The Patriot League, OVC, Big South and Ivy are very close in ranking - only about 1 1/2 points separate all the conferences, with the MEAC continuing to bring up the rear (more than 10 points behind the Patriot League).

As heady as this sounds, the Partiot League has three out-of-conference games left - two against Marist, which will hurt the GPI no matter what the score, and Georgetown this week plays Richmond, a near-certain defeat that should not count much against the GPI. In contrast, the OVC has one out-of-conference game against FBS Auburn. Look for the OVC to surpass the Patriot League when all is said and done.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Official Release: Harvard 27, Lehigh 24

As we reflect on the 27-24 loss to Harvard, one thing is becoming more clear: it was a very close game that could have gone either way. Without making excuses for the loss, the two plays around the end zone - the strip of senior WR Sekou Yansane in the end zone by Harvard CB Drew Berry, and the strip by the Harvard defensive lineman of sophomore QB J.B. Clark weren't so much Lehigh screw-ups as they were stupendous individual plays by the Harvard defense.

Speaking of screw-ups, voting for the Lehigh vs. Harvard Player of the Week is now available in the sidebar. I've extended voting through Wednesday to make up for the delay.

That's not to say Lehigh played a screw-up-free game - far from it. The official recap, and head coach Andy Coen, says it well:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Harvard linebacker Glenn Dorris recovered a Lehigh fumble on the Crimson’s 19 yard line with just 1:07 to play, and Harvard was able to run out the clock to hang on for a 27-24 victory over the visiting Mountain Hawks at Harvard Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Lehigh scored 17 second-half points and looked poised to go in for the winning score, but the untimely turnover prevented that from happening. With the win, Harvard improves to 4-1 on the season, while Lehigh drops to 2-4 with the setback.

"Obviously a tough, tough loss for us today," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said during the post game press conference. "The game was lost in the first half; we made too many mistakes and didn't make the big play."

He continued, "We gave them 14 points off of turnovers (in that first half). I will say this about our kids. They gave great effort. The second half was probably the best half of football I've seen this team play in my two-plus years as the head coach. We talked about it at halftime, just playing within yourself, taking it one snap at a time. And in the second half we did that, and gave ourselves a chance to win."
The official box score is available here.

If you thought that coach Coen considers this a "moral victory", if you read the Morning Call's Monday recap you know that's not true:

Coen would not embrace the effort in Cambridge as a ''moral victory.''

''I don't believe in them. We have to find ways to win these games because how many times are you going to allow this to happen?'' he said.

Of increasing concern is the injury toll.

Starting left guard Chris Tiefenthal and backup split end Nick Johnson missed Saturday's game and backup tailback Jaren Walker is out for the season. Bode, a key man on the defensive line, left the game with a knee injury and his status was uncertain.

''Injuries are going to creep up on you when you play a physical team like this,'' Coen said. ''Injuries are a part of football. You just have to deal with them.''

Worthy of special mention is something else that coach Coen is doing this week versus Holy Cross: he's showing his support for the "Coach to Cure" effort to fight Muscular Dystrophy:

“I am very proud to be joining my fellow coaches in the Coach to Cure MD program,” Coen explained. “I am sure we will be able to create more awareness of this disease and help generate added funds necessary for research.” He added, “As football coaches we are very fortunate to work with some of the strongest and fastest young people in our country, and it is only fitting that our association should step forward to help those who are stricken by MD.”

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the most common fatal genetic disorder diagnosed during childhood. Because the Duchenne gene is found on the X-chromosome, it primarily affects boys and occurs across all races and cultures.

Football fans will be able to donate to muscular dystrophy research either online at http://www.CoachToCureMD.org or by texting the word “CURE” to 90999 to automatically donate $5 from their mobile phones.

This seems like a good time to also mention that I shared a running commentary during the Fordham game with Brett Snyder '00, who is the president of the Tackle ALS Foundation. While we're supporting "Coach to Cure", it's worth also surfing over to Tackle ALS as well to find out about Brett's story and what his foundation is doing to help find a cure.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday's Word: Five

In the end, this weekend's word is simple.

"Five".

In the preseason, Lehigh was picked number "five" out of seven Patriot League teams, picked to finish behind Lafayette, Colgate, Holy Cross, and Fordham.

Now past the halfway point of the season, Lehigh is 2-4 - but had they been able to make some key plays at the end of games, they could very well have been "5"-1.

Lehigh's had - you guessed it - "five" out-of-conference games. In those games, they have gone 1-4, only beating 3-4 Drake in those games.

Aside from Harvard - who seems likely to be in everyone's Top 25 after this weekend - they've lost to nationally-ranked Villanova, a 4-1 team who may very well be the best team in the powerful CAA, and whose only loss was to FBS West Virginia.

They've lost to 2-3 Princeton, a good team that got drilled 31-10 by Brown and who seem unlikely to dethrone Harvard this weekend. Princeton - despite their schedule, as their other losses came to The Citadel, who spent time in the national rankings, and Colgate, who is knocking at the door - looks to be a .500 team in the Ivy League this year.

They've lost to 3-2 Cornell - also a good team - but also a Big Red team whose losses have come to Harvard two weeks ago (in a 38-17 blowout) and Colgate last weekend. Although they seem likely to be a factor in the Ivy League race, it won't be easy for them after their loss to the Crimson.

Four tough losses to four extremely tough teams.

And now, Lehigh's season comes down to the final "five" games of the year. And if you thought the road gets any easier for the Mountain Hawks, think again.

Start off with the most impressive win from this weekend for the Patriot League in quite some time: the one from "that school in Easton".

If you fooled yourself into thinking that the Leopards are going to struggle through the year offensively, think again and watch the whole replay of "5"-1 Lafayette's 35-21 shellacking of No. 14-ranked Liberty. Watch the blocked punt by senior LB Andy Romans - where he blocks the punt, and this tough kid never breaks his stride after getting a football in the chest, grabs the ball, then pulls three Flames special-teamers as he puts the ball across the plane of the goalline.

Up three scores, the game was over at that point. The Flames got one more touchdown, but you know they were not going to get three scores on that ferocious defense. Just like that, the nation's longest winning streak of 11 games was history - thanks to the team from Easton.

If you thought "5"-2 Colgate was going to suffer if senior RB Jordan Scott came out of the lineup, think again. True freshman RB Nate Eachus, the highly sought-after Lehigh Valley football recruit, stepped in for an injured Scott and out-Scotted-Scott to the tune of 241 yards and 3 touchdowns. Not bad for his first significant action of the year - and a frightening thought for Lehigh fans in the future, Scott or no.

Colgate limped (as they often do) to start the year, but they've won their last four games and have all pistons firing going into league play. It's easy to hate the 'Gate, but they will be awfully hard, as always, to beat.

Bucknell is also no team to sneeze at. At 4-2 you can argue that their wins haven't been against top-flight competition (Robert Morris, Duquesne, Marist, and Georgetown) and you can quibble about margin of victory (they held on to beat the Hoyas 27-24 last weekend). But their only losses have come to Hofstra of the CAA and the same Cornell team that beat Lehigh.

And that's not even including powerful Holy Cross, the team that Lehigh plays this weekend. They've put up 44 and 41 points, respectively, against Brown (who is currently sitting atop the Ivy League standings) and Dartmouth last weekend. They boast the preseason Patriot League offensive player of the year - and Walter Payton award candidate - senior QB Dominic Randolph. They sit at 3-3, but could very easily be 6-0 had they reversed several close losses to Harvard, Yale - and nationally-ranked UMass out of the CAA.

Some folks are saying "if Lehigh runs the table, and wins "five" games, we can win the Patriot League".

But you cannot underestimate the challenge that this will be to go "five"-for-"five".

This Lehigh team is better than they were to start the year, and better than last year's squad. But if you look around the Patriot League to "that school in Easton", Colgate, and next week's opponent, Holy Cross, you see three teams that look and feel like they're further along than Lehigh.

All three have signature wins against elite programs. All three are on a roll. Lehigh has neither.

And it's not like Bucknell and Georgetown are walkovers. The Bison knocked off Fordham the last week in the season last year and look much, much improved from last year. And Georgetown's offense finally came alive last week and wouldn't like anything more than to beat Lehigh for the first time since joining the Patriot League.

It will be a huge challenge - bigger than the challenge that the Mountain Hawks failed to meet last weekend - to win "five".
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