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Press Mash-up; Polls and Playoffs; Lembo on Fordham

Lehigh stays steady in the national polls at #13, despite their win this weekend. Personally I am not a huge fan of either the Sports Network or ESPN/USA Today polls (for instance, exactly how is Coastal Carolina at #9 in both polls?). In the fan-based Any Given Saturday poll, on the other hand, Lehigh is at #11, which I feel is more accurate. In that poll, we're ranked in front of Coastal Carolina (#15) and Western Kentucky (#14).

Before I talk about the playoffs, let me preface everything by saying, yes, yes, I realize that the Mountain Hawks need to concentrate 100% on beating Fordham next week, and then beating "that other Patriot League team" on November 19th before worrying about the playoffs. If you saw the Lehigh Sports Magazine yesterday, you saw coach Lembo say this about Fordham:

"The Rams are a real scary team to me... Their record isn't overly impressive, [but] they're real good. They got incredible skill players, some of the best athletes in the conference, they won their last two games, including one versus Holy Cross who we know is a real solid football team... and every year, it seems like this one is a close football game.

I can add to this by saying Fordham came awfully close to knocking off Lehigh last year in Goodman. The Hawks won 21-14 after preserving the win with a huge interception on one late drive and stuffing a another late Fordham rally to seal the deal. The Rams' season would be made if they knocked us off in their house this Saturday. So, no, I'm taking nothing for granted.

But with the playoffs so close in sight, it's hard not to talk about playoff possibilities should our beloved Mountain Hawks beat Fordham and beat - that other team.

In the Patriot League, the road to the playoffs for Lehigh is clear. Win both our remaining games, and we're in, and at-large hopefuls Colgate and Lafayette are probably on the outside looking in. If we falter, Colgate is next in line, and if we falter and Colgate falters, then it's a mess with a 4-way tie for the championship. Bottom line is, if we lose, we're out of the running.

Could we host a playoff game? The possibility exists, especially after seeing 13,000 fans come out to see Lehigh play Georgetown last weekend. If the choice comes down to, say, Lehigh and Southern Illinois for a home playoff game, the fact that a Lehigh/Georgetown game gets 13,000 fans versus a Youngstown St./Southern Illinois game gets only 9,000 fans may make a huge difference to members of the I-AA committee. (Not to mention that the YSU/SIU game was a battle of nationally-ranked teams with playoff implications.)

To those who are not familiar with the I-AA playoff structure, the top four teams in the country are "seeded" 1-4. This is like a #1 seed in the NCAA Basketball tourney except that you basically have home-field advantage through 2 games (and possibly 3 games). Unless some really wild and wacky stuff happens, Lehigh would not be seeded in the playoffs. New Hampshire, Appalachian St., Hampton and Montana would appear to have those spots wrapped up.

That leaves 4 slots to host first-round games. With Georgia Southern beating Furman this past Saturday, and in effect booking their ticket for the I-AA playoffs, you can count on them hosting a home game. But after that, who? Possible teams with good I-AA attendance numbers include: Western Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Texas St., and maybe UMass and Richmond. Both WKU and NIU won't make it - as a matter of fact, every team I just listed is in danger of not only not hosting a game, but not even making the field.

So why not Lehigh hosting another I-AA playoff game? If we win our next two games, we have an excellent chance of being in the Top 10 by selection Sunday, and that's without any further craziness in a crazy year in I-AA.

OK, OK, no more playoff talk for all of this week. Instead, please read this week's press mash-up:

"This one reminded me a lot of last year's game down there," Lembo said, referring to a 49-18 win in Washington, DC.

Pete Lembo conceded it's part of human nature for young men who are coming off a huge, emotional win over a quality team on the road to let down at home the following week against a team that they've positively owned for four straight years.

But the Lehigh coach insisted, "I'll never give in to that."

He demands minimal mistakes from his team and Lehigh's effort was far from perfect against the Hoyas.

"We've shown glimpses, but still haven't put everything together in all three phases of the game for 60 minutes," he said. "Other coaches would be thrilled and go out and celebrate with some Buffalo wings tonight. That's not me. I feel good about the win, but not as good as I probably should.

"I'm disappointed with the amount of mistakes we made. If we make the same mistakes again, they're going to come back to haunt us."

In his first start at Goodman Stadium, quarterback Sedale Threatt lost the 'S' he seemed to have on his chest in wins at Bucknell and Colgate and finally resembled a sophomore making his third start.

"We just weren't finishing plays in the first half," said senior wide receiver Kevin Zeblium, who caught two TDs.

"We had too many mental mistakes and some poor timing," Lembo said. "But the nice thing about this team is that when one side of the ball is struggling, the other side has shown the ability to shoulder the burden."

"There wasn't a fire-and-brimestone speech at halftime," Lembo said. "These are bright kids. They knew we were struggling and had kept Georgetown hanging around. We set the tone right away in the second half."

Lembo, though, wasn't all that bothered by Eric Rath's fumble deep in Lehigh territory. "He was fighting for extra yards," Lembo said. "He's such a strong kid and he was spinning out of the pile. If he goes down five seconds earlier, we're looking at third down.

"He's got to be more cognizant of guys trying to strip the ball from him in those situations, but you can't fault the effort. We work very hard on ball security every week. Hopefully, that's the last one we see for the next two weeks."

Of sophomore RB Marques Thompson's 125 yard performance: "He got hot, he was on a roll. We kept giving him the ball. We felt good going in that some of the runs we had in the game plan suited Marques' ability well."

"The offensive line opened up holes, Coach Lembo had a great game plan, and we executed," Thompson said.

"Eric's running well right now," Thompson said recently. "I just have to let him do his thing. I kind of took the back seat a little this year. I'm comfortable with my role. That's basically my routine right now... We need to take advantage of every opportunity. That's how I play every game, every time I touch the ball."

"We haven't played our best football yet this season," Lembo said. "We have another opportunity again next week at Fordham.

"It is a one-game season for us from here on out," senior defensive captain Kaloma Cardwell said. "If we lose any games, it's meaningless."


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