(Photo courtesy of the Morning Call.)
Allentown Morning Call:
Groller: Lehigh Defeated, Not Deflated
McGowan Comes Up Big
Upshot: "Lehigh's passionate fan base, which was never shy in expressing its displeasure with preceding coach Pete Lembo, will likely give Coen a pass on this one because of the bad weather. The honeymoon will not last much beyond next week's game at Villanova, however."
Lehigh's Choices Backfire In Defeat
Fierro: Coen Can Blame This One On The Rain
Upshot: "Coen and all Lehigh fans have to know deep down that this one doesn't count. Maybe Albany wins this game in more pleasant conditions as well. But to make any kind of judgment on the strengths and/or weaknesses of the Hawks based on Saturday's contest would be ill-advised."
Brown & White (Lehigh Student Paper):
Great Danes Drown Hawks
Albany Times Union (who recently discovered that they have a Division I team in their midst):
UAlbany Narrows Gap With An Upset
Overall it looks like folks are willing to wait-and-see about the Lehigh season, in effect saying that this loss shouldn't doom everyone's hopes for the year. At the same time, there is a sense of incredulousness about the loss as well.
I don't blame the media for giving Coen a "pass". I don't think they pulled punches in their analysis of the actual game. But there's plenty of reason for hope this season.
No game balls this week. Although tempting to give one to a couple of standout players, it just doesn't seem right after such a loss. Hopefully next week the tradition will be renewed.
Monday Morning QB
I keep thinking back to 2000, in college basketball. Michigan State won the national championship that year over Florida. If you google "Michigan State 2000", you'll find a ton of press on their national championship, reams of copy on their march through the Tournament, their wins over Wisconsin and Florida. What you don't see, though, is "Wright State".
Wright State is the team that shocked the Spartans that year 53-49. The Spartans were ranked at the time, and the loss to a middling 3-8 team from the tiny Horizon League had the potential to kill their entire season. Yet, obviously, it didn't. Folks came back from injury, the team got better as the year went along, and they ended up winning the NCAA championship. Everyone remembers the championship. Few remember Wright State.
Part of the joy of college sports is watching a team build on itself during the year. You can look unsure and flat in September yet you can still compete for championships in November and December. Michigan State's basketball team in 2000 is a great example. That team in December could lose to anyone. The team in March was unstoppable.
Here's the bottom line going into this coming weekend. We don't know this team yet. What we saw was the Spartan team in December 2000, capable of losing to anyone. But you cannot say that all hope is gone from any of the goals of the year - most notably, a Patriot League title. Each week we're going to learn a lot about this team, and next Saturday night at 6:00PM versus Villanova we'll learn a bit more about how Lehigh responds. Will it have an ending like Michigan State in 2000? I have no idea, but I'm sticking around to find out.
That's not to say I'm happy with the (by my count) twelve unforced errors that changed the course of the game last week. But I am eager to see how Lehigh responds next week. I don't expect perfection in Week Two, but I do expect improvement. That's all we can ask for from our troops.
What we've done is make our case for an at-large playoff bid harder. But of course, if you win the Patriot League autobid, you don't have to worry about that.
Shameless I-AA Plug
This Thursday, I was at the Wagner/LaSalle game, but the article is not posted yet. When it is, trust me I'll let you know about it here. [UPDATE: It's now here. Please go read it now.]
Lafayette at #24
Lafayette makes its first appearance of the year in the Sports Network and Any Given Saturday polls at #24. With coach Tavani talking big about how polls mean nothing, you begin to wonder if the "little school in Easton" will be sneaking up on anybody anymore. Hopefully Lafayette will have to worry about the at-large I-AA playoff berth selection procedures this year, not Lehigh.
"I think I split a blood vessel," said Albany coach Bob Ford, the second-winningest coach in Division I-AA with 211 career victories. "Back and forth, back and forth it went. The conditions weren't the best. But that's called football. Our kids played with spirit and just kept battling back. I thought they did a great job.”
"For myself and the seniors, this was incredibly gratifying," said junior linebacker Dan Barnes, one of the team captains. "We've taken a lot of lumps early in the season the past four years."
The Great Danes have won six of seven games since starting last season with five straight losses. They recovered from three straight losses at the start of the 2004 season to finish 4-7." Coach (Bob) Ford always talks about narrowing the gap between the Northeast Conference and the Patriot League," Barnes said. "We beat Fordham to end last season, and now we've beaten Lehigh."
Ryan Chrobak, another defensive captain, said the opening day win had special meaning. "This is the biggest win I've ever been a part of in my life playing football," Chrobak said. "People outside our program consider this playing up. Today we proved we're just as capable, we are just as good as these teams."
"The defense stepped up when it had to," Ford said. "We made three field goals on the special teams and the offense got a first down when it absolutely needed to have one."
Albany kicker Jason Fralicker was able to convert field goals of 37, 34 and 38 yards. “I went out at the beginning of the game, and it seemed like pretty good footing so I wasn’t thinking much about it out there,” Fralicker said. "I assumed it would be good
Fierro: Coen roughed himself up afterward with some therapeutic self-analysis. "I'll take the hit because I was probably too conservative with my play calls with the weather and didn't let this guy [Threatt] play the game," Coen said.
Groller: For a team haunted for nearly 10 months by its failures against Lafayette, this one seemed too reminisicent of that one and the other 2005 collapses. It's true that Albany is not the same cupcake that was mashed by Lehigh 44-14 two years ago, but this was a loss — in bad conditions or not — that will stain the Mountain Hawks' resume later on.
The depressing scene is sure not how Andy Coen believed his first game as a head coach would be remembered. "I'm not discouraged," said Coen. "I'm not happy, (but) we did some things well today. We just didn't do some things that you need to do to win a football game, [but] they showed a degree of toughness there. And we're going to need that. It's a long road."
"[T]hat's what makes football such a great game. There's the ups and downs, and these kids will work hard, and the neat thing is we'll play another game next
Despite Coen's approval of their play, the players were clearly disappointed with the outcome. “We have to execute the plays that coach gives us,” Threatt said. “We didn’t play our best today.”
And the resulting pain in the rain at Goodman Stadium made the Mountain Hawks wince in anguish.
Even more gallant was long snapper Erik Rakus, who was brought into the media room merely to explain why two of his snaps seemed better suited for Yao Ming to
handle rather than a 5-10 punter. Rakus also displayed class, refusing to use
the slippery ball as an excuse. He said Saturday was a piece of cake compared to
last October's Holy Cross mud bowl.
Threatt agreed. "Toward the latter part (of the game), I don't really think (the wet ball) was that much of a factor," Threatt claimed. "Like Holy Cross (last year). I remember Holy Cross week. We were dumping footballs inside a bucket to get ready for it, literally, to work on the quarterback exchange."
"You could say it didn't matter," Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt said in frustration. "But we lost."
Coen echoed his players’ sentiments. “You want to win,” he said. “We’ve got to fix
the mistakes for us to have a shot. Flat-out, we have to play better.”
"Some of the good things we did today in these conditions were because of the things we have been emphasizing," Coen said. "We did hand the ball off eight or nine times in a row and were able to move the football. That was encouraging, but I would have rather played on a nice day with dry conditions that allow some of our athletes to do some of the things they can do. You can't use [weather] as an excuse because when you play football in the Northeast part of the country, you play in [poor conditions] like this."
"Those guys [Matt, Josh Pastore] all work hard and they're really capable," Coen said. "They all pick each other up. We told Matt and Josh that it was on them because we didn't know if Marques was coming back and they did the job."
"The footing wasn't as bad as I expected; not as bad as it was for Holy Cross last year," [McGowan] said. ''I know how physical the game can be.''
And he showed he can be as physical as most defenders trying to bring him down.
"Matt competes," quarterback Sedale Threatt said. "You saw him out there. He can run."
Also, a nice drive to end the first half showed a tantalizing glimpse at Lehigh's offensive potential. “Coach was calling plays to get us down the field, and the guys in the huddle just started getting in a rhythm, and I just hopped on board,” Threatt said.
As for the unveiling of the new 3-4 defense, Coen said his group battled a large Albany offensive line well. "They were just out on the field too long, especially in
the first half, but they battled their [butts] off," he said.