Saturday, November 07, 2009

Lehigh 20, Holy Cross 24, Final

I was there to see what was almost the biggest Lehigh upset in two decades.

The No. 13 team in the country. The Mountain Hawks written off by pretty much everyone, including me. And Lehigh didn't just put forth a great effort, they very nearly shocked the world, pressuring Holy Cross senior QB Dominic Randolph intensely and making the superhuman Crusader QB look a lot more like a regular human being.

You got the feeling this one would be different from the opening drive. Lehigh got the ball first and junior QB J.B. Clark led the offense right down the field, punctuated by big runs by junior RB Jay Campbell and a 14 yard TD pass to junior TE Alex Wojdowski.

When the Lehigh defense would stop Holy Cross' initial drive at the 7 yard line, forcing the Crusaders to settle for a short FG, you got the feeling that this was going to be a game.

It would never be beyond one score all afternoon, with two ties and four lead changes. Against a team that had scored over 30 points six times, over 40 points four times and over 50 points once this year, Lehigh held them to ten first-half points.

The playbook was emptied -we discovered that junior RB Jay Campbell is a lefty, as he took a pitch from Clark, and then completed a pass to a wide-open Wojdowski to tie the game at 17. Aside from his first-ever TD pass, he had a fantastic day running the football with 131 yards on 21 carries as well and was the engine that made the Mountain Hawks go.

There were big 4th down conversions, including a big one to junior WR Craig Zurn to keep a drive alive. There was a 4th and inches on our own 30 yard line - that junior RB Jaren Walker converted.

The defense, led by senior LB Troy Taylor's 9 tackles and 1 1/2 tackles for loss, were effective in disrupting Randolph all day - and Taylors forced fumble in the 4th quarter (recovered by senior DT B.J. Benning) led to a 4th quarter lead against the Crusaders - after a drive ended in a 38 yard FG by freshman PK Jake Peery to make the score 20-17.

"The whole game he was running with the ball out," Taylor said in the post-game press conference. "I just used a move we've been working on since training camp to dump the ball out for a big play in the game, give our offense the momentum."

"The Lehigh kids came out and they blitzed," a relieved Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore said after the game. "They did a good job changing things up. One time, a play would be there, and the next time we'd get back to it, they had it defended. I thought they did a good job changing things up."

And yet Lehigh, with their first fourth-quarter lead against a team not named Bucknell or Georgetown this year, couldn't make the big 4th quarter play to actually seal the deal and pull off the upset.

Twice, the defense stopped Randolph, with senior LB Matt Cohen in his face the whole time, pressuring him. But twice the offense couldn't drive to get that score that would have sealed the deal. You can only give Randolph so many opportunities to beat you, and the third time for him was the charm.

"Coach McKenzie told me [at the beginning of the last drive] 'forget what whatever you've done, just go out there and play football'. It kind of brought me back down to realize that it's just a game, and we were a little more loose during that last drive. That gave us the opportunity to move the ball."

Two big passes to Holy Cross junior WR Freddie Santana - one a 32 yarder to get into Lehigh territory, and his final catch on the afternoon - a catch in between two Lehigh defenders, crunching him, but still holding onto the winning score - were what ultimately did Lehigh in this afternoon.

The effort wasn't as good as pulling off the upset of the decade, but still ought not to be fogotten. It should be an important building block for this young team for the future. If Lehigh plays like this the last two games, they will have a chance to win both.

"There's a lot of young kids playing, and they're good players," coach Coen said afterwards. "JThey keep working hard every week, and they've gotten better. "

I was at the game two years ago when Randolph and the Crusader offense put up 59 on Lehigh, and I remember the post game interview. That afternoon, Randolph didn't have a lot of respect for the Lehigh defense, and it showed - he said that they could do "pretty much what they wanted to all day". And to be fair, Lehigh's defense didn't earn the respect.

This weekend, Lehigh got the respect back.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Game Preview: Holy Cross at Lehigh

It's three weeks until the end of the regular season. At 2-6, the Mountain Hawks don't really deserve to have any hope - however infinitesimal - for competing for the Patriot League title.

If your record says what you are, Lehigh is an under-.500 team. The record says that Mountain Hawks are a team that beat Georgetown and Bucknell and nobody else. They are a team that didn't score a single point in their last appearance at home three weeks ago. They are a team that played better last week, but still lost a tough game to Colgate 27-20.

2-6. The record tells you what you are, and it's not pretty. This isn't the world of Shallow Hal, where we can be hypnotized like Jack Black into thinking that 2-6 is actually 6-2.

And yet, the tiniest hope still exists that Colgate loses this weekend - eighteen miles away from Murray Goodman Stadium - and Lehigh pulls off what would be considered the biggest Mountain Hawk upset of this decade.

As improbable as that might be, if that were to happen Lehigh would - of all things - be in control of their own title destiny.

But make no mistake about it - it would honestly be the biggest upset this decade for Mountain Hawk football, perhaps the biggest upset in the past twenty years. That's because Holy Cross in 2009 has looked so far like one of those all-decade sort of teams, with an offense that hasn't been able to be slowed down all year and a defense that has - scarily - been getting better week to week.

The No. 13-ranked Crusaders see Lehigh as a speed bump to their ultimate goal: their first Patriot League championship since 1991. They should, too. Two years ago at Murray Goodman, Lehigh's flat 59-10 loss to Holy Cross rocked the Mountain Hawk program and their fans to the core, causing me to plead for "emotion". (It also signaled an inauspicious quarterbacking debut
from junior QB J.B. Clark, going 1-2 with a fumble and INT). Last year in Worcester, the Crusaders jumped to a 21-0 lead before Lehigh battled back and made it a game before falling 35-21.

Looking at my recap of that game, the comments could have been pulled from today's headlines. "Work and heart aside, what we have before us a 2-5 team. A team that's worked hard and played tough - but lost. A team that is one loss away from being under .500 for the second straight year. A team that may very well go 4-7. Or maybe even 3-8. This team, for whatever reason, is not consistent enough - unable to put everything together in one game - to be Patriot League champions this year."

If your record is what you are, 7-1 Holy Cross is looking like Gwenyth Paltrow without the fat suit, let's just say. They have the look of this year's Patriot League champions. Their offense is clicking, and their defense is getting better. It's easy to see their squad give a team some trouble in the first round of the FCS playoffs - could they cause Villanova grief, for example?

But games are not won on looks alone. Holy Cross needs to get by Lehigh first. And it's the Mountain Hawks' job to stop them.

Game Notes
This week's game notes show one interesting change: a bit of a reshuffled "O" line. Two sophomores that started last week - sophomore C Jim Liebler and sophomore OL Troy McKenna - are now behind junior C Keith Schauder and junior OL R.J. McNamara. Part of the reason might be that sophomore OL Vinny Pellegrini is off the depth chart (I believe due to injury), but it's quite possible that with such a young team the presence of more veterans may help the "O" line. Worthy of note is that Schauder's return on the line gives us three 300 lb linemen, which might help us.

The other interesting item is the inclusion of freshman RB Zach Barket on the depth chart alongside junior RB Jaren Walker backing up junior RB Jay Campbell. Sparingly used last week, Barket may be more of a presence in this week's game plan. We'll see.

Weather Report
Whether this helps Lehigh, I don't know, but this family weekend will feature some great November weather. The forecast calls for a high of 52 with 5 to 10 mph winds at gametime.

A Word on Holy Cross
In the 1920s and 1930s, Holy Cross was a consistent national powerhouse and, along with schools like Fordham, NYU and Manhattan, came to symbolize big-time "Eastern Football". With a backyard rivalry with nearby Boston College, things looked rosy for the boys in purple, especially after they appeared in the Orange Bowl in 1946 (losing to Miami (FL) 13-6).

In the 1950s, when many religious colleges were abandoning the sport, Holy Cross survived behind the steady coaching hand of Dr. Eddie Anderson. Form 1933 to 1964, Anderson's twenty-one year career coaching record was an amazing 129-67-8 - and he also, incredibly, maintained a medical practice as well as the head of the eye, ear, nose, and throat clinic at Boston's Veterans Hospital.

Holy Cross and Boston College would continue to be joined at the hip as Division I independents, but the Eagles' taste for big time football, and Holy Cross' more modest ambitions, would mean that Boston College would dominate the football series in the 1970's and early 1980s. Holy Cross' scholarship football program's fate would be sealed when Fr. Brooks, the then-president of Holy Cross, got together with the presidents of Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell and Colgate to form the core of the Patriot League.

This made the football program, who also had good local rivalries with UMass, Boston University, 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. The 1987 and 1991 teams are considered to be some of the best Patriot League teams ever, both undefeated. Had Holy Cross in 1987, behind two-way star Gordie Lockbaum, chosen to play in the I-AA playoffs instead of abiding by the then-post season ban imposed by the new league, they certainly would have done some damage, if not won the whole thing.

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 once again did not go 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 - and he's on the brink of that right now.

LFN's Drink of the Week
When times get tough - when you need a win, against all logic or common sense - you pull out Lord Chesterfield. Lord Chesterfield Ale, that is: with its dry, sharp finish, it's a tasty beer for any sort of tailgating food to be sure. I'm more interested, however, in it's luck-bringing properties to the Mountain Hawks. Let's just say if Lord Chesterfield helps Lehigh win this week, you'll see it again. (Hell, you'll see it every week.)

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you drink responsibly and are over 21. Pleas do that. (And, no, Yuengling does not pay me for the free advertising - I'm just a fan!)

Breaking Down Holy Cross
Offense
If something is working for you Payton Award-nominated quarterback, don't change it - that would sum up the Crusader offensive philosophy this year. Unsurprisingly, Holy Cross will yet again be the bubble-screening, pass-happy team we've (unfortunately) seen up close the last three years. They will be relentless on offense, and if you slip you can find yourself down by three touchdowns.

When senior QB Dominc Randolph (pictured) decided to return for his final year of eligibility, defensive coordinators around the Patriot League undoubtedly threw their arms up in disgust. They know all about his accuracy (65.4% completion percentage) and nose for the end zone (26 TD passes). If he's allowed to pick you apart, you're done. However, he has made his share of errant throws: opponents have 11 interceptions against him, and he has bee intercepted in six of his eight games this year. Any Lehigh success will come from getting at least one interception this weekend, and many more if possible.

Randolph has an exceptionally quick release and is also extremely quick with receiver reads. Already a great decision maker, Randolph has made life even more frustrating for defenses by simply tucking the ball and running if defenses simply sit in dime coverage all afternoon hoping for picks. One of the more interesting - and revealing - stats for Randolph is that he also leads Holy Cross in rushing with 410 yards. Lehigh will find a way to force Randolph to make errors - yet still punish him if he takes off to try to get first downs on the ground.

Randolph also has no end of targets to hit: junior WR Luke Chleminski (568 yards, 3 TDs), senior WR Bill Edger (527 yards, 4 TDs), junior WR Freddie Santana (406 yards, 5 TDs), senior WR Nick Cole (209 yards, 5 TDs). The H-Back/Tight End, an afterthought in most college offensive schemes in terms of offense, becomes a frightening issue in coach Gilmore's offense with 6'7 sophomore TE Alex Schnieder (103 yards, 3 TDs). All speedsters, there's an awful lot to cover back there - and if Randolph gets the time to hit them, it usually spells a long day. The passing gets spread around to everyone - Randolph doesn't focus on one receiver. On any play, all are targets.

That also includes sophomore RB Matt Bellomo, who is second on the team in rushing (365 yards, 4 TDs) but is also - surprise - a target in the passing game, too, with 226 yards. Freshman RB Eddie Houghton also gets a fair amount of carries too (243 yards, 3 TDs), but the pass sets up the run in this offense.

Want more to worry about? Try senior OL Aaron Brown, the 360 lb left tackle that almost went to Lehigh (and might, along with Randolph, get some sniffs from NFL scouts). The large "O" line have only allowed eight sacks all year - one a game - and obviously are excellent in pass-first protection.

Defense
Holy Cross plays a base 3-4 defense that has improved a lot from last year's squad that gave up points in bunches. They're better at stopping the run, and they've only allowed more than thirty points once - to a powerful Brown offense in their only loss of the year, 34-31 to the Bears.

Holy Cross boasts a small front seven, anchored by 6'0 249 lb senior DT Alex Carson (18tackles, 1/2 sack) on the defensive line. But the emergence of a pass-rushing threat on the line in the form of junior DL Mude Ohimor (48 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks) is a massive improvement over last year. This "D" line is solid.

Once again the linebacking unit is led by senior LB Marcus Rodruiguez (68 tackles, 6 passes defended) but this unit misses senior LB Sean Lamkin, injured in Week 3 against Harvard and out of action this week. Senior LB Andrew Cialino has done well in his place, however, notching 53 tackles and 3 tackles for loss. One thing they haven't done a lot of this year is force turnovers, only recovering four fumbles all year and nabbing 5 interceptions.

Senior CB Michel Wright (40 tackles, 13 passes defended, 2 INTs) is Holy Cross' shutdown corner, while junior SS Anthony DiMichele (54 tackles, 1 INT) is solid in run support as well. They can, however, be caught through the air: their pass defense is averaging 275 yards per game, or 112th/125 FCS teams.

Special Teams
Junior PK Rob Dornfried has his best weekend of the year last week, getting Special Teams Player of the Week honors with FGs of 21 and 30 yards. His longest of the year is 34 yards, so he might be able to be forced into errors. His earlier inaccuracy may have been because he was also doing double-duty as punter - now that junior P Don Lemieux is there (8 punts with a whopping 43.9 average), Holy Cross appears to have an excellent kicking duo.

Kick returns are solid, too, with junior WR Freddie Santana (7.9 average) and junior RS Alex Johnson (23.2 average).

Keys to the Game
1. Disguise those blitzes. You can't sit back against this offense. Your best bet is to mix up the blitzing and - somehow - keep Randolph out of rhythm. Let him get a few big gainers, but always make sure to make him pay if he does. If senior LB Matt Cohen can disrupt Randolph enough to force a few picks or get just a few sacks, Lehigh could have a chance.
2. Ball Control. As tempting as it might be to try to pass your way to victory, grinding the clock gives Lehigh their best shot at the "W". Hopefully Campbell, Barket and Walker can get enough yards on the ground to keep that Holy Cross offense off the field.
3. Win the Turnover Battle. Holy Cross is too good to keep giving them opportunities. The Mountain Hawks will need to get in the plus in turnovers and reduce their opportunities to have a chance to pull off the upset.
4. Lunchpail time. The linemen need to bring out their lunchpails and out-work the Crusaders. If Lehigh gets out the lunchpails, they'll have a chance.

Fearless Prediction
I'm not going to lie: this is a huge challenge for this Lehigh football team. Should Lehigh win, it would be their greatest upset in two decades without question. This Lehigh team has only scored more than 30 points once all year, and that came against Bucknell. In contrast, Holy Cross has scored more than 30 points six times, and more than 40 points three times.

If they somehow manage to slow down the Dominic Express to only score four touchdowns, it will give Lehigh a chance to build off their success in the last two games and pull off an upset. But it's hard to see Lehigh keeping Holy Cross under 28 points. The Crusaders will almost certainly win this weekend, and the Mountain Hawks will need to find answers for Lafayette in two weeks.

Holy Cross 45, Lehigh 10

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Players of the Week, Lehigh vs. Colgate

Last week's valiant effort versus the Raiders results in these players getting nominations for LFN's "Players of the Week":

Offensive Hawk: Junior QB J.B. Clark (54 yards rushing, 151 yards passing, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 turnovers)

Defensive Hawk: Senior LB Troy Taylor (8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss)

Special Teams Hawk: Freshman PK Jake Peery, who went 2-2 on field goals (25, 35 yards) and extra points - no mean feat in 20-30 mph winds.

Something to think about, with Holy Cross coming to town: the 1969 Lehigh football season. Forty years ago, the Engineers started at 2-5-1 (including losses to The Citadel, Delaware, Wittenburg and Gattysburg). But Lehigh would win their last two games versus Bucknell and Lafayette to become "Middle Three" Champions and would get votes for the Lambert Cup. (Matter of fact, Lehigh's 36-19 victory would come two days before I was born.)

That season, RB Jack Rizzo would debut, and soon thereafter Lehigh was playing in the Division II playoffs, cumulating with a D-II national championship later in the 1970s. Championships can happen with losing records - and perhaps some forty-year-old inspiration might be good to recall for this weekend.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

FCS East Wrapup: Minute Hens Fall, Clarify CAA Playoff Bids

(Photo courtesy Fred Comegys/The Delaware News Journal)

Going into last weekend, the specter of five CAA teams in the playoffs loomed large. But with James Madison's 20-8 upset of Delaware and Maine's 19-9 upset of UMass made it that much more likely that the CAA only puts three at-large teams into the playoffs.

If there was any thought that Mickey Matthews' James Madison team was going to roll over the rest of the year, that was dispelled this past weekend on the road against the Blue Hens. Trailing 3-0 at halftime, the Dukes' long-dormant offense finally came alive, with freshman QB Justin Thorpe breaking a ten quarter touchdown-less streak with a 12 yard run. Add to that a smothering defensive performance - forcing Hen junior QB Pat Devlin into a 19-for-42, 2 interception day, and only allowing the Hens a paltry 9 yards rushing.

Since beating New Hampshire and remaining in the hunt for a playoff spot, UMass has self-destructed. There's no other way to describe it, having committed an amazing 13 turnovers in two games. No, that's not a typo: seven turnovers against No. 1 Richmond, ands six against Maine. Black Bear sophomore LB Donte Dennis nabbed two of the interceptions, broke up two passes, recovered a fumble, and got 11 tackles in the afternoon. One of his interceptions set up what would end up being Maine's go-ahead touchown, a 7 yard TD pass to freshman WR Derrick Johnson.

Folks around the country will continue to be huge JMU fans. With four losses, UMass is an unlikely (but not impossible) at-large choice - but if JMU beats them in two weeks, they will definitely be out with five losses. Delaware only has three losses - but with a win over Division II West Chester, they would have to run the table - including against FBS Navy, who is the front-runner for the Commander-in-Chief trophy (and not to mention No. 4 Villanova as well, who was idle last week).

If UMass and Delaware don't survive, that leaves 7-1 Villanova, 8-0 Richmond (who just won their seventeenth straight game with a 42-14 throttling of Towson) 7-1 William & Mary (who took out Rhode Island last weekend 39-14) and 7-1 New Hampshire (who pounded Northeastern 48-21).

Fortunately for the CAA, there are going to be some great games coming up - including No. 4 Villanova at No. 1 Richmond this weekend. New Hampshire at William & Mary next weekend, and the "Oldest Rivalry of the South," Richmond and William & Mary, play for the 119th time on November 21st. Still, barring a meltdown in the next three weeks by one of these four teams, the Patriot League Champion - and possibly a Patriot League at-large team as well - seems likely that they will be playing at one of these four venues.

Other big games this past weekend:

  • Last year, 7-1 Central Connecticut State saw their dreams of a NEC title go up in smoke in Albany when they missed a late two-point conversion. This time at home, the tables were turned as the Blue Devils stopped the Danes' two-point try - and stopped Albany's 18 game NEC winning streak with a gutty 31-29 win. Senior RB James Mallory had his best-ever day running the ball - 204 yards, and 3 TDs. "I felt good about the game the whole week," Mallory said. "I just followed my blocks. I have to give all the credit to my offensive line. I did the easy part, running the ball. They did the hard part." The Blue Devils look like a shoo-in for the NEC title - with a weak schedule remaining - and if they go 10-1 and get a lot of help, might even be playing in the playoffs instead of the "Gridiron Classic", the postseason game between the NEC and Pioneer League champions.
  • The Big South became a two-team race this weekend. One of the teams was expected: 6-2 Liberty, with a predictable 55-19 burying of Presbyterian last weekend. The other team, not so much: 5-4 Stony Brook, whose 24-14 win over Gardner-Webb gives the Seawolves a real shot. As long as the Seawolves take care of business against Charleston Southern in two weeks, when they host Liberty the final week of the season it may very well be for the championship. If the Flames win, at 9-2 will be prime candidates for an at-large bid (especially if Lafayette, whom they beat 19-13, finishes strong). If the Seawolves win, at least one at-large team might be sending Seawolf senior RB Conte Cuttino and senior RB Ed Gowins Christmas cards.
  • Not many teams can only eclipse the 21 point barrier two times during the course of the season and still be in the title race, but that's exactly where Penn finds themselves this year. The Quakers hadn't beaten Brown since 2004 nor had they won an overtime game since 2004, but both streaks were broken with their 14-7 overtime victory over the Bears. If their offense isn't doing it, it must be their defense, led by senior DL Joe Goniprow and senior LB Jake Lewko - giving up only 66 rushing yards per game (good for No. 2 in FCS). Undefeated in Ivy play, their game at Harvard in two weeks looks like it will be the Ivy League championship game, barring any major surprises.
  • Finally, Lehigh's three final opponents - Lafayette, Fordham and Holy Cross - all showed that they are teams to fear. 7-1 Lafayette's 35-14 win over Bucknell featured a near-perfect game by senior QB Rob Curley that was so amazing he won Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week - 30 for 35 passing, 3 TDs, no interceptions. And Fordham and Holy Cross combined for over 1,000 yards of offense - fitting a matchup between two NFL prospects, Holy Cross senior QB Dominic Randolph and Fordham senior QB John Skelton - as the Crusaders avenged their loss at Fordham two years ago by beating the Rams 41-27. Amazingly, if Lehigh were to run this gauntlet of hell - and if Lafayette beats Colgate this weekend - Lehigh would win the Patriot League at 5-6 and win the Patriot League's autobid, and would become the first-ever team to play in the playoffs with a losing record.
  • PS. It is conceivable that Lehigh will have played the NEC champion (Central Connecticut State), Ivy League Champion (Harvard) and CAA Champion (Villanova) all in the same year (and, might I add, all in the first four weeks of the season!). That's not an excuse for a losing record, but in retrospect this has been Lehigh's toughest schedule in recent memory. Furthermore, if the Blue Devils end up in the Top 25 - and they very well might - that means that Lehigh will have played six teams that spent time this year in the Sports Network Top 25. Six! And one huge purple one, of course, looms ahead this weekend.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Press Roundup: Colgate 27, Lehigh 20

(Photo courtesy Colgate Athletics)

There was precious little coverage in the papers this weekend on the game, especially in the upstate New York area where all we have is the AP mentions that a game was played in Hamilton and that the 7-1 Raiders still are very much in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs and maybe the Patriot League autobid.

The local papers also mostly ran modified versions of the official Lehigh recap, though to their credit the Morning Call did do a follow-up piece today as well. Even the student-run Brown and White didn't mention the game at Colgate this weekend, which leaves my recap as the only independent record of the game this Saturday.

Lehigh Athletics: Lehigh Can't Hold Early Lead, Falls to Colgate 27-20


"I thought the kids fought hard, they competed right to the end there. But we need to win one of these close games,” Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen said after the game. “I thought junior QB J.B. Clark did a nice job running the offense today. He knew we would ask him to tuck the ball and run with it a little more than usual and he handled that very well. We had a chance there at the end, it was a bang-bang play but we couldn’t pull it out.”

Morning Call: Lehigh's Schedule Doesn't Get Any Easier


Andy Coen said it was ''an ugly day - rainy, windy, miserable'' at Andy Kerr Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The frustration is apparent, but Coen, his staff and players can only press on and work toward turning things around.

''Obviously, it's disappointing to be right there and have a chance to win it, or at least tie it, late in the game and not be able to do that,'' Coen said. ''We continue to struggle to find a way to win the close games. I thought we had things figured out, but it didn't happen. It was a somber locker room and a long ride home. And that's the way it should be when you lose a game like that.

''That wasn't the case a few years ago. I remember a few years ago when we lost at Colgate, by the time I had gotten back in the locker room after talking to the media, you would have thought we had won the game judging by the reaction. But these guys took it hard. They care. They have kept a good attitude through a tough season.''

Coen said that the defense, which had been stout through most of the season, gave up ''too many big plays for the first time in a long time.''

...

''It was our best day with no turnovers and not having as many penalties, but that was a big one there before the end of the half,'' Coen said. ''And then we had a sack on the next play and didn't get any points out of it. We didn't protect the quarterback as well as we've been. We did a lot of good things up there, just not enough.''

...

But even though things appear gloomy, Coen has no doubt that the players will continue to compete.

''The attitude, the work ethic, their desire has been there all year,'' he said. ''It has just been a play here and there. We've got a lot of young guys playing, and that's not an excuse, but some of them are still growing into their positions and learning.

''We know it doesn't get any easier this week with Holy Cross, but I know our kids will respond well as they have all season.''

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday's Word: Stars

Seeing as my "Word" last week - "Lidge" - did way worse than Lehigh did this weekend against Colgate, it's probably time to go to another topic that is probably worth discussing. (Um, guys? Don't think about "Lidge" any more. Please.)

I try to watch as many Patriot League games as I can during the year (as long as it fits into my, um, Lehigh viewing/attending schedule). I knew Colgate had some really good athletes, but the couple times I saw them during the year were not their best days. On ESPNU a few weeks ago, Colgate escaped Princeton in a game that probably won't make anyone's highlight reel, and the Fordham game wasn't one for the ages, either.

The artists formerly known as the Red Raiders did, however, win those games. And they beat Lehigh with some players that are bona-fide "stars".

In my Sunday "Words" this year, it probably seems like I've been down on the Patriot League in general. Is it because Lehigh's had such a disappointing season? That probably has something to do with it - and yet, the Patriot League doesn't have a signature out-of-conference win against a team that's bound for the playoffs, and if you take the out-of-conference record of the lower four teams of the league (yes, of course, including Lehigh), it makes for dismal reading.

But that doesn't mean that the Patriot League sucks. The top teams - Colgate, Lafayette and Holy Cross - are very good teams. Almost completely thanks to them, the Patriot League owns a winning record against the Ivy League (including two impressive wins over Harvard). Two are already in the Sports Network Top 25 and a third might join them tomorrow. And one of these three may even win a first-round game in the playoffs this year, too.

And all of them have "stars", including three seniors, and perhaps more, that are, and will continue to get, NFL looks.

If there was any doubt that Colgate senior WR Pat Simonds will be invited to NFL camps next year - if not drafted - those doubts were extinguished after this game. He had five catches for 83 yards, but three were touchdowns for the 6'6 native of Sidney, New York. On the year, he has 756 yards and 11 touchdowns - and represents more than half the receiving yardage of the whole team. Strong and with deceptive speed, he clearly has all the tools to be a solid possession receiver in the pros.

And if you think potential NFLers at Colgate stop at Simonds, think again. Senior SS Uzi Idah is second on the team in tackles and has impressive speed off of blitzes. I can't say enough about that great play he made on senior WR Jimmy Pocotnie to end Lehigh's drive - one of the best Patriot League plays I've seen all year. I don't know if he'll be in an NFL camp, but I do know that he's being scouted.

On Fordham, senior QB John Skelton has definite "star" power on the Rams. Before the season began the 6'5 gunslinger from El Paso was on the list of Top Ten QB prospects, and while the Rams season hasn't been where they want it to be this year, it wasn't the fault of Skelton, who won a Patriot League title in 2007. He's already thrown for 2,612 yards and 17 TDs and he's looking to eclipse the 3,000 yard mark and really make his draft value climb. Folks will be watching these last three games just to say they saw him play. And wile they're looking at Mr. Skelton, NFL scouts may also be keeping an eye on senior LB James Crockett, too, who has done well in the center of their "D" with 53 tackles and 1 interception.

While "that school in Easton" may not have some of the marquee "stars" that grace the rest of the league, senior QB Rob Curley is proving to be one of the toughest kids in the Patriot League, a kid that never says die and the rest of the Leopard offense has rallied around. Meanwhile, senior DT Andew Poulson may not get the same accolades as other folks in the league, but you better believe NFL folks have their eye on this 6'6 275 lb behemoth on the "D" line, who has 25 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 blocked kick this year.

As for Holy Cross, everybody is waiting for senior QB Dominic Randolph to graduate, and he's making life miserable for the rest of the Patriot League one last time before he goes. His numbers speak for themselves: 2,563 yards passing, 26 TDs, 5 rushing TDs. Folks are saying that his "draft value" is behind Skelton's, but don't count on that - the 6'3 Ohioan has clearly worked on his mobility, as he also leads the team in rushing with 410 yards to go with his passing ability He'll get in an NFL camp, if he's not drafted.

That we can talk about at least four Patriot League "stars" realistically being in NFL camps this summer says something good about the league in general.

Will one of them win in the playoffs, though? That's very difficult to say.

It's hard to picture Colgate's running system working effectively against some of the better "D" lines in FCS. It remains to be seen if Holy Cross' offense can out-gun a playoff opponent. And quite possibly, the league's best hope at a playoff win might be Lafayette, who has a tough defense and a gutty leader on offense. It's easiest to picture a playoff team to simply be out-guts-ed by them.

The ultimate judge of this Patriot League season, in fact, will be the play of one of these teams in the playoffs. If one of them win even just one game it would be head and shoulders the best win for the League in a very long time. Beating Harvard is good, but in order to get national attention beating one of the big boys in the playoffs gets the attention.

It will also take "stars" to step up and play their best game of their careers. It will be interesting to see which of these "stars" carries their team to the playoffs, and what they might do once they get there.
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