Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lehigh 20, Colgate 27, Final

Another disappointment in a season of disappointments. What makes this one even more frustrating is that Lehigh had real chances to make this a game but were unable to pull it out in the end.

You couldn't have scripted a better start for Lehigh: after the defense held the Raiders to a 3-and-out, junior QB J.B. Clark led a drive to the Colgate 7, and freshman K Jake Peery nailed a 35 yard FG to give Lehigh the lead.

Then, a rarity: a fumble by Colgate junior QB Greg Sullivan gave Lehigh excellent field position after a rare fumble, recovered by sophomore DE David Brown, and Clark would find junior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn on a nice left end zone fade to give Lehigh a 10-0 lead.

Momentum was squarely on Lehigh's side, but Sullivan and the Colgate offense grabbed it right back. After a questionable late hit call on sophomore LB Colin Newton, Sullivan connected on a deep pass to freshman WR John Schademan to make the score 10-7. After pinning Colgate at their own 7, Sullivan led the Colgate offense to a grinding 93 yard drive ending with a 6 yard curl to future NFLer senior WR Pat Simonds to give Colgate a 14-10 lead. Give Colgate credit: they didn't fold after going down by two scores and simply took care of business to get ahead. “That was a great play there by Simonds,” Coen said after the game.“Those two (Sullivan and Simonds) connecting for three touchdowns was huge.”

On their back foot, Colgate kept pushing on the accelerator. After a Lehigh 3-and-out, Sullivan found Simonds again for a 46 yard TD pass on the right side again, pushing the lead to 21-10 before the end of the half. But Lehigh did a great job fighting back, with a big rush by Clark and a beautiful fade down the lft side to freshman WR James Flynn for a 45 yard TD pass to cut the lead to 21-17. The defense would hold up their end of the bargain and set Lehigh up on the Colgate 29, and a short field ended in a 29 yard Jake Peery FG to cut it to 21-20.

But Lehigh would get no closer.

Sullivan would add another touchdown to Simonds - his third on the day - but they would muff the extra point making it 27-20 and giving Lehigh two chances to tie the game on offense. But on 4th at 13 - and a great pass by Clark to senior WR Jim Potocnie - Colgate senior SS Uzi Idah made a great, game-clinching move to keep him from catching the ball, batting the ball away.

Colgate sophomore RB Jordan McCord did everything but score, grinding out yards all day and converting key 3rd and 4th downs. He got 159 yards rushing, executing coach Biddle's rushing system extremely well. Senior LB Troy Taylor played well for Lehigh in the middle, getting 8 tackles and 3 big tackles for loss.

In the end, though, it was a typical Lehigh game. Lehigh battles hard, falls behind, and can't make that one play to tie or win it late in the game. It's a script that Lehigh fans have been seeing with depressing regularity.

But give Colgate credit. Sullivan and their seniors played a whale of a game. Simonds played like a guy that will be playing on Sundays, and that normally would have been a catch by Potocnie - but Idah made an awesome move, with perfect timing, to knock the ball away. Their team made plays that championship teams make, and their senior-laden team played like, well, a senior-laden team.

Equally as impressive, they didn't give up after falling behind. They played with confidence and executed beautifully to regain the lead. It's something that Lehigh can learn from as they take on an even tougher task this coming week: Holy Cross.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Water Cooler: Homecoming

When folks in the future look back around college football in 2009, they're going to see a banner year in attendance. Folks complain about their being so many distractions for college students these days - including those outmoded concepts "homework" and "study" - to explain a decline in attendance, not to mention the availability of college football games on TV. In some ways, it's easier to follow games at home than at the stadium itself.

The average attendance of FCS games in 2009 shows the usual suspects at the top of the list - notably Montana, Appalachian State, Delaware and South Carolina State averaging more than 20,000 fans per game - what's striking is that many of the big "Rivalry Week" games that have yet to be played will probably skew these numbers even higher for schools like Harvard ("The Game"), Richmond ("The Oldest Football Rivalry of the South"), and plenty of others that could be sellouts.

It's poised to be a great year for FCS football attendance. The problem is that many of the Patriot League and Ivy League schools have been left out of the party.

Last weekend, I happened to be in Washington, DC and attended Howard's homecoming game against North Carolina A&T. Heading to Greene Stadium at Howard University, I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a sellout crowd - on a day where there was a 100% chance of thundershowers, featuring two teams that don't have a chance in the MEAC title race.

The bands blared. The halftime shows were awesome. The game - which seemed like it might be an ugly defense-driven game - was actually pretty exciting until NCAT pulled away in the third quarter (and the rains finally came down). It was everything that homecoming should be - ribs roasting behind the stadium, packed with people, and an entertaining game. If the home team had won, and the rains stayed away, it would ahve been perfect.

Conversely, Harvard's homecoming was a well kept secret:

As Princeton’s Ben Bologna kicked off the start of the game, there were zero people in the stands in front of me. Z-E-R-O in all of Section 35—the traditional student section.

This is something I have never seen before in my time at Harvard (and as Saturday marked the 100th game that I’ve cheered for the crimson and white, I’ve seen quite a lot). Sure, some freshman and their parents filed in during the middle of the first quarter, but no fans for the first minutes of the game was a new low for Harvard. making matters even worse: this weekend was Homecoming.

If my estimates are correct (and the brain break crowd at Kirkland dining hall comprises a sufficient sample of the Harvard student body), approximately 60% of you are saying to yourself, “Wait, Harvard has a Homecoming?” Yes we do, and yes, it was this past weekend. Organized by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), Homecoming was a complete failure. There were no student-centered events, no flyers, not even a banner at the game that heralded its significance. Unless you were involved with the game or had recently-graduated friends pass on information from the alumni mailing list, Homecoming probably flew right under your radar.


This is par for the course at many Ivy League and Patriot League schools, where homecoming seems about as cool as standing up and humming "Be true to your school". Can anybody tell me when Lehigh's homecoming was? Anyone? Clearly, Lehigh's homecoming was similar to Harvard's: nearly invisible.

On that same topic, there was the following op-ed in the Brown and White that discusses something that's happening at Lehigh that isn't happening elsewhere in FCS: dwindling attendance. Thankfully they describe the Lehigh/Football "relationship" as something worth saving:

Student spirit is always unparalleled during the Lehigh-Lafayette faceoff. Any student will agree: Leh-Laf is the only game that "matters." But any other Lehigh football game has a drastically lower attendance rate and barely there spirit. Although this past weekend's game against Yale University was in accordance with Young Alumni weekend, few students or graduates attended. Even tailgates were slacking.

How is the team supposed to be motivated if no one watches the games? This year's 1-5 start has been - sorry, team - the most unsuccessful beginning to a season since the seniors have been here. Part of this lack of success can certainly be attributed to a lack of student support.
While "lack of student motivation" isn't the reason the team is 1-5 - the editorialist has a point. Attendance is dwindling at Lehigh games - and it flies in the face of the overall trend at FCS schools. Part of that can be attributed to a disappointing won-loss record - but not everything. After all, Howard is 2-5 and is a team that Lehigh should beat handily; yet their homecoming was packed.

Part of the issue has to be that Murray Goodman is on the other side of the Mountain - meaning folks need to drive to and from the games, mostly, and alcohol and vehicles, well, you know that's not a good idea.

Nobody asked me, but I think that one way to get more students at (non-Lafayette) Lehigh games is to offer safe, free, no-questions-asked busing to and from the game. Another is to offer a class sponsored dry tailgate area - with food, non-alcoholic beverages and the like. It would make non-Lafayette games a bigger event.

There's plenty of alumni activities at football games. More student activities at games could be done without a lot of money - and might actually create engaged alumni in the future, too.

*****

With the World Series in town, the Morning Call will not have a full report of the game this weekend and will be offering a reprint of the official recap from Lehigh Athletics. So I'll be writing a more extensive, bigger recap for this blog a lot earlier than usual after the end of the game.

I'll also be Twittering during gametime. More interactivity for this big Lehigh game this weekend.

*****

If you've been following the World Series, you've probably noticed commercials featuring David Spade and the late Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. Apparently some fans thought it a bit morbid that Spade allowed DirectTV to use the movie clip in their ad campaign, where a movie scene happens and then one of the characters uses a point to wax philosophic about the merits of DirectTV's wonderful TV packages. Despite the fact that Farley's family gave the OK to use the clip, Spade felt the need to justify his decision this week to the media.

My thought is that, if this is the sort of thing that needs justification, shouldn't Kim Basinger need to have a press conference too for her Wayne's World 2 commercial? "I, um, got the OK from the surviving family of Dana Carvey's film career, and even Carvey himself emerged from his secure, undisclosed location to say that he was OK with accepting millions from DirectTV, who has a bunch of wonderful packages..."

*****

Here's my picks of the other Patriot League games this week. Last week I went 3-0, and I'm hoping to keep my perfect streak alive. Some of these picks come from my CSN Way column this week.

No. 17 Holy Cross at Fordham. With not one, but two, potential NFL-caliber quarterbacks playing in the Bronx in the form of Holy Cross quarterback Dominic Randolph and Fordham quarterback John Skelton, expect plenty of NFL scouts in the stands at Coffey field this weekend, not to mention scoreboard operators in case the scoreboard gets worn out. While the Rams are out of the playoff race, Fordham is exactly the type of quick-strike offense that can give Holy Cross problems - and they will.

Skeltons Win On Halloween 41, Crusaders Crushed On Halloween 38

Bucknell at Lafayette. Linebacker Michael Schmidlein and the Leopards won’t have any problem with the Bison this weekend - but it might be the margin of victory that propels them back into the Top 25 against this overmatched opponent.

Laughing Leopards 41, Bummed Bison 3

BONUS PICK:

Georgetown at Old Dominion. On the plus side, Georgetown has had two weeks to prepare for the Monarchs. On the negative side, the Monarchs, fattened up on a cupcake schedule, have a lot of confidence, especially at home. ODU, especially at home, is too much.

King of the Cupcakes 28, Princes of Hoyatown 20





Thursday, October 29, 2009

Game Preview: Lehigh at Colgate

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably figured out that the Yankees and Phillies will be facing off at Citizen Bank Park for a double dip this weekend (Series tied at 1), and the hated Giants come to the Linc to face the Eagles for first place in the NFC East.

While the composition of the Lehigh student population is most likely split down the middle when it comes to fan allegiences in these two series (I have an annoying number of fellow Lehigh alums that are also Yankee fans), there's another Pennsylvania/New York grudge match happening as well this weekend.

This one is happening in Hamilton, New York, as the Mountain Hawks and Raiders will face off for the 48th time in their history.

It may not involve the same level of hatred as the Giants and the Eagles, but it's damned close - and it feeds from that Pennsy/Noo Yawk thing, too. It wasn't coined "Hate the 'Gate" week by LB Matt Mohler a few years ago for nothing.

Lehigh and Colgate own or share fourteen Patriot League championships. They own six of the seven postseason wins in the FCS playoffs of the Patriot League. (Fordham has the other.) When it comes to academics, football and playoffs, Lehigh and Colgate are always in the conversation to prospective students, and they recruit many of the same players. For example, RB Matt McGowan out of Hazleton went to Lehigh, and the next big back to come out of there is now suiting up for the Raiders.

Lehigh leads the series against Colgate 7-6 since Dick Biddle became Colgate's head coach in 1996. Andy Coen is 2-2 against the Raiders. There have been blowouts and some high-scoring affairs, but most have been close. And many times, Patriot League title hopes have been on the line, which has made for intense football games. These Halloween games have been treats to watch.

Last year, a heartwrenching 34-33 by Lehigh was simply par for the course this series. Some missed extra points - a Raider drive in the final two minutes - and testy words after the game between coach Coen and coach Biddle defined this loss as Lehigh's losing season was clinched and Colgate's drive to yet another Patriot League championship remained intact.

This year, though, against all odds 2-5 Lehigh's in the thick of this title race with an expected 2-0 sweep of Georgetown and Bucknell. And No. 25th-ranked Colgate - who was undefeated before falling to 7-1 last weekend - is a 1-1 in the Patriot League, and desperately need a win to either get another Patriot League title or qualify as an at-large team in the playoffs.

While the past has seen two teams on the path to titles and playoffs, this year the game has the feel of two teams desperate for a huge momentum boost. A win here for Colgate gives them a boost to surge to a title, and a win for Lehigh turns around a season that seemed to be nearly off the rails. That makes for a compelling matchup - and it's also got that Pennsy/Noo Yawk thing, too.

For both teams, it's go time in Hamilton.

Game Notes
The game notes show one big change for Lehigh: another freshman being asked to start. Freshman K Jake Peery jumps ahead of junior K Tom Randazza on the depth chart after Peery replaced Randazza after a missed extra point and a blocked extra point last weekend. In addition, freshman TE Jamel Haggins, who picked up that blocked kick for a two-point conversion, was elevated to second TE as well. I'd still imagine we'll see junior TE Alex Wojdowski and sophomore TE Mark Wickware play in any case.

On defense, sophomore LB Colin "The Final Piece of the Puzzle" Newton returns after getting injured early against Bucknell, while sophomore LB Tanner Rivas backs him up instead of the injured junior LB Ben Flizack.

Colgate's game notes can be found here.

Weather Report
It shouldn't be a snowy day in upstate New York - but it won't be pretty, either. The current weather report is calling for a 50% chance of showers and a high of 59 - with possible 20 to 30 mph winds. For the third straight week, weather could be a factor in a Lehigh game.

A Word on Colgate
The rivalry between Lehigh and Colgate has come a long way from the first game in 1922, which was played in Johnson City near Binghamton, NY. It was set up by William Fisher, the athletics director of the Endicott-Johnson corporation, and Lehigh's athletics director at the time, H.R. Reiter. The New York Times reported that the game "will be of great interest to all Central New York and Pennsylvania, and will probably result in an annual contest in Johnson City."

Although the yearly meeting in Johnson City wasn't meant to be, both national powers at that time battled fiercely, by account of the New York Times. Lehigh center "Wild Bill" Springsteen recovered a fumble for a touchdown to go up 6-0, but the Maroons (as they were then called) piled up 35 unanswered points to win that inaugural game 35-6.

In the modern era, former Lehigh head football coach Fred Dunlap, who was a star football player at Colgate, helped get the Raiders and Mountain Hawks together in the Patriot League. He saw how similar Colgate and Lehigh were in terms of academics and athletics. And when the Patriot League formed in 1987, it was natural that Lehigh's northern rival be included along with Holy Cross, Lafayette, Bucknell, Lehigh and Davidson.

More recently, this game has generally featured prominently in the battle for the Patriot League title, which has brought this historic rivalry into sharper focus. Since 1997, Lehigh or Colgate have been either outright or co-champions in every Patriot League title. One of those games featured another sophomore quarterback: QB Sedale Threatt, in his second start in relief of injured starter Mark Borda, who helped drop 50 on the Raiders in a wild 50-34 victory in 2005.

LFN's Drink of the Week
It's not for the faint of heart, but in a day where we need the (formerly known as Red) Raiders' title hopes to "die", we need some Red Death to help them on their way. Vodka, Southern Comfort, Amaretto, Sloe Gin, Triple Sec - and oh, yeah, some Orange Juice and Lime Juice - one of these, and you'll be plenty ready to take on wind and rain.

As always, drinks of the week have a place in responsible tailgates: that means being over 21 and drinking responsibly. Don't make me hunt you down and show you the other meaning of Red... well, beatdown.

Breaking Down Colgate
Offense
Subtlety is not head coach Dick Biddle's calling card on offense. Biddle, now in his 14th year at Colgate, likes to line up a huge offensive line and pound you until you can't get up again, lulling the pass defense to sleep and then striking right at it for huge gains. He doesn't have RB Jordan Scott around anymore to be the main rock-carrier, but he still has plenty of weapons.

Start with junior QB Greg Sullivan, who has been a devastating rushing quarterback all year. His ability to lead, make good decisions and improvise - and run with the ball (603 yards rushing and 6 rushing TDs, to lead the nation in rushing yards for a QB)- makes him difficult for defenses to deal with. Whether on designed runs, broken plays or quick passes (96 for 168, 10 TDs, only 3 INTs), Sullivan is a top-flight QB that doesn't make a lot of mistakes.

Two stud running backs join him in the backfield to run the football - Hazelton sophomore RB Nate Eachus (600 yards, 10 TDs) and sophomore RB Jordan McCord (704 yards, 5 TDs). Eachus is more of a power runner - low to the ground, hard to bring down, and doesn't shy from contact, where McCord has more pure speed around the corner. They don't really do a lot of screens or passing to these guys - they, along with Sullivan, mix up all their running styles during offensive drives. It's allowed Colgate to have the No. 2 rushing offense in the nation.

When defenses put eight in the box, Biddle then turns to the pass - and he has an NFL-caliber receiver to turn to. 6'6 senior WR Pat Simonds (671 yards passing, 8 TDs) killed Lehigh last year with 3 TDs, and unsurprisingly he's had a great season so far this year, too as a possession receiver. Junior WR Doug Rosnick (258 yards) is also a possession guy who's a good blocker downfield. Freshman WR John Schandeman is the only real "speed guy" on the Raiders, but he hasn't broken out yet this year. Other receiving threats involve blocking junior FB Gigi Cadet and junior TE Nick Cvetic.

The Colgate "O" line is smaller than in years past, but it doesn't make them any less talented. 280 lb senior OL Zach Posey, 276 lb senior OL Ryan Gross and 272 lb senior OL Rob Budny demonstrate the level of senior leadership on this line that generally has won the battle of the trenches this year. Don't be fooled by the weight numbers in the program: these big boys can play. They've only allowed 8 sacks all year, too.

Defense
Colgate plays a multiple 4-3 defense that loves to blitz early and often. It's a unit that still misses CB Wayne Moten (who left prior to this season) but still boasts six seniors. They're a defense that is ranked 27th in all of FCS in terms of total yards per game (296).

The "D" boasts 25 sacks on the year, many coming from junior DE Lamont Sonds (2 1/2). Senior NT Paul Mancuso (24 tackles, 1 sack) is a great run-stopper as well. Mancuso, senior DE Austin Douglas and senior DT Carlton Walker form a big "D" line in general, averaging more than 260 lbs across. It's not easy to run against these guys.

Senior LB Greg Hadley (45 tackles) is the team captain, but it's senior LB Garrington Spence that has been a one-man wrecking crew this year with 42 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 1/2 sacks. He's everywhere on the field, and he makes this front seven tough to deal with as well. Depth, however, may be a concern: McCord, the running back very much in the rotation on offense, is listed on the two deep at linebacker.

Junior CB Corree Moses (2 INTs) and senior FS Uzi Idah (41 tackles) form a solid Raider secondary. Sophomore SS Vinnie Nicosia (1 INT) and freshman CB Demetri Diamond (1 INT) complete the unit that's only allowing 190 passing yards per game.

Special Teams
If there's one area where Lehigh has a definite edge this week, it's special teams. The Raiders' return units are not only last in the Patriot League, they're near the bottom of FCS in terms of yardage. Freshman WR John Schandeman only averages 4 yards per punt return and 18 yards per kickoff return, and freshman DB Jamar Brown is only a little bit better on the other side.

Freshman P Trevor Lawler has taken over the punting duties since freshman P Evan Goldszak went down with an injury. Last week against Holy Cross, he only averaged 31 yards per punt. Freshman K Evan Colborne has done a great job on kickoffs but has only been 3-for-5 on FGs - the longest being 30 yards.

Keys to the Game
1. Let's Get Physical. The trenches of Colgate are daunting, but Lehigh's "O" and "D" lines can and should be able to win these battles this weekend. If senior FB Anthony Fossati is picking up the blitz and having fun doling out some punishment to Colgate's "D", it means we're having a good day and will have a chance to win.
2. Take Care of the Ball. Sullivan won't give you many chances, so it is crucial that Lehigh doesn't donate free points this week to the Raiders. Two hands on the ball; not forcing the ball into triple coverage; and making good decisions will be impertiave to a Lehigh win.
3. Big Plays on Special Teams. On paper, Lehigh can use this advantage to be a great equalizer. A big return by junior CB Jarard "Fearless" Cribbs or junior CB John "Prez" Kennedy could be the difference in the game.
4. Third and long. Stuffing the run, with Sullivan, McCord and Eachus running the ball, is a given. Taking away Simonds as the primary passing option is another given. But forcing the Colgate offense to enter obvious passing situations would give Lehigh a real chance to force stops and turnovers. The more third and long situations the Mountain Hawks force, the better Lehigh's chances of winning.

Fearless Prediction
Saturday, we will learn what this Lehigh team is made of. There's no two ways about it.

It's the biggest game of the year; it's the "other" Patriot League rival; and the games get no easier after this weekend. It's been a disappointing season so far, but Lehigh is still 2-0 on the Patriot League and still have their fans hoping - if not entirely believing - that they can win the Patriot League championship.

Last week provides hope that the offense has worked out their kinks and have the capability of putting up four scores on Colgate's defense. Lehigh's defense, tops in the Patriot League, have the capability of disrupting the Raider offense. And on special teams, it's hard to escape the conclusion "advantage: Lehigh".

If Lehigh cleans up the errors - cleans up the penalties, takes care of the ball - they have a chance to tell the world that they will be heard from this year, and that they still can, against all odds, make a run at this thing.

Maybe I have to believe this - maybe it's a pick from my heart, not my brain - but I think Lehigh's going to shock a lot of people this Saturday.

Lehigh 22, Colgate 13

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Players of the Week, Lehigh vs. Bucknell

The fantastic work on offense in Lehigh's 35-16 win over Bucknell deserves plenty of "Player of the Week" nominees. Eight, in fact.

Offensive Hawks of the Week: Junior OL William Rackley, sophomore OL Troy McKenna, sophomore OL Jim Liebler, junior OL Ricky Clerge, and senior OL Frank Giacalone (0 sacks, 461 yards of offense) and junior QB J.B. Clark (24 for 37 passing, 327 yardsm 2 TDs, 1 INT).

Defensive Hawk of the Week: Junior DB/RS Jon "Prez" Kennedy (65 return yards on 2 kickoff returns, 3 tackles, 1 INT)

Special Teams Hawk of the Week: Freshman TE Jamel Haggins (grabbing a blocked XP and returning it for the 2-point conversion)

Congratulations to all the winners - and here's hoping that the momentum from this win will carry all the way north to Hamilton..

The third ECAC Lambert Poll was released this week, and it's no secret which team remains at No. 1: that's right, the team that also happens to have been the No. 1 team in the land since Week Two this year. Only a reshuffling of the Top Ten this week:

1. (1) Richmond
2. (2) Villanova
3. (3) William & Mary
4. (4) New Hampshire
T5. (7) Delaware
T5. (8) Holy Cross
7. (6) Massachusetts
T8. (5) Colgate
T8. (9) Lafayette
10. (10) Penn

Dropping Out: None

My own Lambert Power Rankings, or LPR, paints a different picture:

1. (1) Richmond (98 points)
2. (2) Villanova (72 points)
3. (T3) New Hampshire (71 points)
4. (T5) Albany (66.5 points)
5. (T54) William & Mary (62 points)
6. (T3) Colgate (57.5 points)
7. (T10) Holy Cross (56.5 points)
8. (T5) UMass (53 points)
9. (T10) Lafayette (52 points)
10. (8) Hofstra (49.5 points)

Clearly Albany, using my weighted system to weigh strength of schedule, is ranked too high, but at 6-2, I think they're clearly worth a Top 10 Lambert Trophy vote - and I've been voting them in for the past two weeks.

Other wackiness; Delaware falling out of the Top 10 (only because they had a bye week, certainly), and Holy Cross beating Colgate, but still failing to pass them. I'll have to think about revising my formula when I get a chance. Rest assured, though, if Delaware keeps winning they won't only be in the LPR Top 10, they'll certainly rise up quickly.

Oh yeah - and the Phillies didn't even need Mr. Lidge in Game One of the World Series last night. I know, though, the Phils will need him to save one, maybe two, games this Series, and I know he'll come through. I believe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

FCS East Wrapup: Revenge Wears (Crusader) Purple

(Photo courtesy Holy Cross Athletics)

Jenifer Toland of The Worcester Telegram-Gazette helpfully reminded her readership last Friday that it had been 343 days since Colgate knocked off Holy Cross in Hamilton 28-27. Not only did that game mean that the Crusaders would come up just short for the Patriot League title for the third straight year (and a shot at a national championship in the FCS playoffs, too), it would be a driving factor for senior QB Dominic Randolph's return to Worcester for his final year of eligibility.

“Every game’s a big game, but now that we’re back in the Patriot League, this is the biggest game of our season,” Randolph told her, “and it’s the biggest game we’ve had in a while because we came up short against them last year for the championship. I still have a sour taste in my mouth from that loss. We’ve been looking forward to this game for a while.”

“That was probably the worst feeling I ever had in my life,” senior WR Bill Edger (pictured) said. “We couldn’t let it happen again.”

Three hundred and forty-three days later, Randolph and the Crusaders would get their sweet revenge with a Dom-inating 42-28 victory over Colgate, putting them in the drivers' seat in the Patriot League title race - again.

It was easy to picture a "here we go again" moment happening for the Crusaders in this game, not least when Colgate junior CB Coree Moses returned an early Randolph intercetpion to the house to tie the game at seven. But after that mistake, for every offensive move that the Raiders had, Dom and the Crusaders had an offensive counterpunch to keep a two-touchdown lead. Colgate junior QB Greg Sullivan connects with senior WR Pat Simonds, to cut the deficit to 21-14? One 61 yard kickoff return by junior DB Alex Johnson, and two plays later, Holy Cross makes it 28-14. Sullivan finds a way to make it 28-21 after a TD pass? Dom and the offense then goes on a seven play drive that ends in a 1 yard TD sneak by Randolph to make it 35-21.

“We can control our own destiny now,” coach Tom Gilmore said. “We still have four more championships to go, but had we not gotten the job done against Colgate, even if we won the rest, we’d still have to be hoping. We don’t have to hope, we can take care of business.

“That’s not going to be easy, but by winning this, it puts us in a position where every win will get us that much closer to a Patriot League championship.”

Colgate did their level best to take Dom out of his "pick apart the defense" game - so instead, Randolph took off with the ball to the tune of 116 yards and 2 rushing TDs. Dom's day was hardly perfect - with 3 INTs - but the offense was still clicking with 440 yards of offense (and only one punt), and it was plenty to get him another Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week honor.

Holy Cross will be traveling to Fordham to try to avenge their disappointment from two years ago, the place where a last-second interception by Randolph cost them a shot at the Patriot League championship that year. Colgate, still very much alive for the title or a postseason berth, will undoubtedly be a pissed-off bunch when they host Lehigh this weekend in Hamilton.

Other games this week in the East:

  • The NCAA releases a release for the toughest schedules every week, and it so happens that Lehigh is ranked No. 2 in that department in all of FCS. It's no wonder, when you keep seeing teams on Lehigh's schedule that keep winning: for example, 7-1 Villanova throttling Rhode Island 26-7 and 4-2 Harvard dominating Princeton on Homecoming 37-3. The combined won-loss record of Lehigh's opposition the rest of the way is 22-7, including games against 7-1 Colgate, 6-1 Holy Cross and 6-1 Lafayette.
  • For the first time since 2007, Dartmouth fans went home happy after the Big Green broke their 17 game losing streak at the expense of Columbia, 28-6. They did it by scoring a touchdown quickly on the Lions, blocking a punt and turning that into a 14-0 lead, and then having sophomore RB Nick Schweiger rushing for 242 yards to give Dartmouth the sweet victory. “I’m happy for [the team] because they didn’t get panicked and they didn’t get nervous,” head coach Buddy Teevens said after the game. “They were laughing on the sidelines, not as a distraction but because they loved what they were doing. It’s what college football should be like.”
  • Remember when Richmond and William & Mary were floated as real possibilities to become members of the Patriot League? Well, Richmond has almost been the No. 1 team from start to finish as they went to 7-0 by crushing UMass 34-12 in the FCS game of the week. The Spiders got six INTs to fuel the win - including an unlikely candidate, senior DT Parker Miles, who got a pick six for his trouble. "I know I got a lot of grief from all my friends and coaches making fun of me for not being able to get in the end zone," he said in the post-game press conference. "So I promised all of them I'd get in this time. I even told coach London on Wednesday, joking around, that I'd take it in today."
  • And the 6-1 Tribe were equally as impressive as they dominated reeling James Madison 24-3 at home, rising to No. 5 in the Sports Network Top 25. Barring a complete meltdown, either one of these two teams will be practicing on Thanksgiving. “This is, by far, the best team he’s ever had since I’ve been in the league,” James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews said. “This is the best quarterback he’s had. He’s the best quarterback we’ve played this year.”
  • Yale's offensive woes continued last weekend - and turnabout was fair play for as the Bulldogs were victimized by a pick six and a FG as they lost to Penn 9-0 in another defensive struggle. Harvard, Penn - and Brown, who handily beat Cornell 34-14 last weekend - seem to be the teams that will be in the Ivy League race until the end. A huge game between Brown and Penn looms this weekend - Penn's 1300th football game in their long history.
  • Finally, for the second time this year Fordham had a chance to make a stop and a final drive against a member of the Patriot League elite - but came up short in a 26-21 defeat to Lafayette. After the game, a frustrated coach Masella was reported to have lost his cool a little bit to blast the referees. "I take nothing away from Lafayette. I just wish officials wouldn't decide games, and they decided this one." He appeared to be particularly annoyed at a 15 yard "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalty after senior LB James Crockett pushed a lineman after the play when there had been a lot of emotion and pushing and shoving all game with few flags. The loss of yardage - and time - gave the Rams only 30 seconds left to try to score.
  • As for "that school in Easton", they are 6-1, riding high and are a real threat to win the Patriot League this year. Notably, head coach Frank Tavani isn't relying on gimmicks like he's been accused of using in the past. ''I think we're starting to show that we can be a team that might have some destiny attached to it, but we still have a lot of work to do. We have no slogans this year. 'Lafayette football' is our slogan, and we see that every day when we go out to practice. There are no uniform changes this year, and that's by design, too.'' Maybe having senior QB Rob Curley on your side - who had another beautiful, efficient day against Fordham, 23-for-31 with 2 TDs and only one INT - and an always punishing defense, led by junior LB Michael Schmidlein (11 tackles vs. Fordham) - you don't need slogans.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Press Roundup: Lehigh 35, Bucknell 16

(Photo Credit: The Sunbury Daily Item)

As we watch freshman RB Zach Barket grind out some yards against the Bucknell defense, it's time to look over some of the press that comes out of this weekend. While there isn't a photo gallery of the game from the Morning Call this week, the Sunbury Daily Item did have a couple good pictures in their writeup.

Allentown Morning Call: Lehigh Wins Big over Bucknell


''It felt great and hats off to the offensive line first,'' junior QB J.B. Clark said after completing 24 of 37 passes. ''They gave me five or six seconds to throw the ball and the receivers made some great catches. We came out confident.''

''That was big [for freshman QB Michael Colvin] to score on the first series,'' Clark said. ''It set the tone for the game, and hopefully, the rest of the season.''

''I got my opportunity and I think I took full advantage of it,'' Barket said. ''But this was all about the line today. I just followed their blocks. They just executed so well.''

Barket admitted he missed the feeling of being in the end zone after a touchdown.

''I scored 66 of them last year, so I was hoping to get at least one this year,'' Barket said. ''I can get used to that feeling again.''



Easton Express-Times: Clark Passes Lehigh to Victory


"This feels much better than last week, that's for sure," said Lehigh coach Andy Coen, whose team lost to Yale 7-0 last week. "I thought we had a great plan coming in and certainly with the way JB (Clark) played, that made the offense go right from the start."

"I felt very comfortable out there today," Clark said. "The receivers did a great job of getting open and making plays and the entire offense was really in sync."

Groller's Corner: Beating Bucknell Gives Lehigh a Chance to Smile - For Once

It was a good day. And in a year of surprising results, it was nice to see that Lehigh's dominance of Bucknell hadn't changed.

But it gets much, much tougher from here and frankly, Lehigh will not be favored to win any of their remaining four games this season -- at Colgate next week, home vs. Holy Cross on Nov. 7, at Fordham on Nov. 14 and home vs. Lafayette on Nov. 21. We still could be looking at 2-9. That's the absolute truth.

Can this team rise up and beat an opponent of quality? We'll see. The jury is still clearly out and just like the Georgetown win two weeks ago, the win over Bucknell was more about relief than jubilation.

****

One negative was the major injury suffered by wildcat-quarterback Michael Colvin who was taken off the field on a stretcher. Scuttlebutt was that he had suffered a fractured fibula and will miss the rest of the season.

That's a blow for an offense that had been using Colvin and the wildcat quite a bit.

Lehigh's defense played without junior LB Colin Newton, who had an injury, and several other guys were hurt, prompting "considerable scrambling" according to coach Andy Coen.

Freshman TE Jamel Haggins picked up a blocked extra point and ran it in for a two-point conversion. "When's the last time we got a break like that," Coen said. "I can't remember."


Sunbury Daily Item: Lehigh Topples Bucknell Again

"I'm shocked by the whole game to be honest with you," [Bucknell head coach Tim] Landis said. "I thought physically we could stand up to them because we've gotten stronger and more physical. That was the biggest surprise for me. I thought it would be rather low scoring and a battle for four quarters.

"I thought physically we just got outplayed," Landis said. "They handled us on both the offensive and defensive lines. They won the game in the trenches and made the big plays when they needed them."

"The biggest thing for us was execution," Clark said. "The coaches have been putting us in spots to score and make big plays and we haven't been executing."

"When we kicked the field goal to make it 21-10, I thought 'Wow, this is kind of the way we played this year and now we'll get back into it and get going here,'" Landis said. "It just never happened."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday's Word: Lidge

(Photo courtesy nj.com)

With the Phillies making it once again to the World series (and, for good measure, facing the hated Yankees in the first-ever Turnpike Series), it's unsurprising that my thoughts on Lehigh football might also turn to baseball.

But in Philly closer Brad "Lidge" there's perhaps something that the Mountain Hawk football team can look to for inspiration as they take on Colgate, Holy Cross, Fordham and "that school in Easton".

Even with a feel-good win this weekend over Bucknell, it feels like Lehigh may as well be taking on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And with word that freshman QB Michael Colvin being done for the year with a fractured leg - Lehigh's second-leading rusher - and junior RB Jay Campbell sitting out the Bucknell game as well, it will not be easy at all.

Then again, it wasn't easy this year for Lights-Out "Lidge" this year, either.

*****

From "Lidge"'s Wikipedia page, it states that he attended Notre Dame and was drafted in the first round by the Houston Astros in 1998. The kid from Sacramento, CA made it to the majors in late 2003 as a middle reliever, and he quickly rose up the ranks to become the Astros' closer by the end of 2004. (For good measure, he was part of the six Astro pitchers that shut out the Yankees in 2003 and was the winning pitcher.)

By 2005 "Lidge" was the closer on the Astros' relief staff. He had a dominating year, pitching in the all-star game and racking up 42 saves and a 2.29 ERA. But the cracks had started to show. While a little shaky in the NLCS, the Astros did make the World Series - but a walk-off homer to Scott Posdenik (who?) lost Game 2 for Houston, and eventually they would get swept by the White Sox in the Series.

Injuries would take their toll. "Lights-out" would battle injury and ineffectiveness the next few years, and in 2007, "Lidge" was traded to the Phillies for three nobodies - a scrap heap trade to see if "Lights Out" could turn his lights back on for the Phils. And he would in a 2008 season for the record books: appearing again in the all-Star game, battling early-season injury to notch a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities, and of course helping give the Phillies their first World Series title since 1980.

****

Like the Mountain Hawks, "Lidge" came into the 2009 season with big expectations in being a dominating force in the National League. But like Lehigh's football team, his early season will mostly be remembered for how bad it was. Six blown saves and a 7.27 ERA, and it didn't get that much better as things wore on. By the time the end of the season rolled around, "Lidge" was not even the closer that manager Charlie Manuel was going to necessarily call upon to win the game in the playoffs.

Yet when elimination time came around in a big game, "Lidge" suddenly and dramatically came back into championship form. Against the Rockies, he saved two of the Phillies' three wins. He appeared three times against the Dodgers, getting one save. He's still strugged with control (3 walks in 5 appearances), but he's been basically unhittable, giving up only one hit and - most importantly - no runs.

"Lidge" is four wins - and potentially a few saves - from being the worst regular season closer to ever win a World Series title.

*****

"Lidge" demonstrates so clearly what can happen in sports. That it doesn't necessarily matter what you've done, or what circumstances you're in. You could have the worst regular season ever. You could be injured half the year. But all that matters is the opportunity that's given to you this day, this week, these coming weeks.

Lehigh has that opportunity, too.

Like "Lidge", they have struggled. But like "Lidge", they have the opportunity to wipe out the bad memories. Lehigh hasn't written a new story for their season yet. Sure, they've had some feel-good wins against teams they have historically beaten in the Patriot League. But they haven't shown that they can hang yet with a top team.

More importantly, though, "Lidge" demonstrated in the postseason so far that he's got what it takes inside to get the job done to win games. He didn't look back at his past record this season and just quit or melt down. He kept plugging and plugging until he got his opportunity, and demonstrated what he's made of.

"Lidge" didn't know if he would get the opportunity to have his role back or make the World Series. But he did get that opportunity, and he would make the most of it. Now, he's going to be taking on the Yankees - and giving the Phillies the chance to win back-to-back world championships for Philadelphia for the first time ever.

"In the last week of the regular season as the postseason started, I started feeling I could really push off my backside and not even have to think about mechanics or what I'm doing out there physically and if I feel good," Lidge said in this USA Today article. "And that leads to a lot of confidence because I know what I'm capable of when I'm feeling good.

"And then the other thing is that once the postseason rolls around, I think there's kind of a different level of focus, and fortunately for me so far it's worked out pretty good to where I feel pretty locked in. A couple things kind of happened at the right time, and you've just got to try and run with it."

If "Lidge" does beat the Yankees, nobody will remember regular-season blown saves and a bad ERA. They'll remember that World Series ring, though, and Lidge's role in it, and how he worked through those problems to succeed on the biggest stage.

Same with Lehigh. Just like Mr. "Lidge" - four wins could potentially erase an entire early season, and deliver the most likely of Patriot League Championships. The opportunity is there. What will happen if Lehigh keeps plugging and plugging? What if they "just try to run with it"?

What will happen?