Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
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.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.
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.
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
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
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.
Breaking Down Colgate
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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)
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
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
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."
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."
"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
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?