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Sunday's Word: Raiders

(Photo Credit: L.A. Times)

It seems destined that this weekend's "Sunday Word" would have both a Colgate and a Bay Area tilt.  "Hate" would have to be a close second, considering that  it's going to be "Hate the 'Gate" week once again, but with the Giants besting the Phillies in one of the most excruciating MLB playoff games in history, there's another commonality between the Bay Area Bozos (my nickname for the San Francisco Giants - do I sound bitter?  Really?)  and the word I chose for this Sunday's "Word".

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis has had a slogan that has defined his team for several generations: "Just Win, Baby", an expression that has been softened from its original implications of winning dirty to drilling down the game of football to what's important - it's not the number of first downs you win, passing yards you get, or penalties you suffer, as long as you end up the winner of the scoreboard.

Lehigh and Colgate are not dirty teams by any stretch. But the matchup next weekend will feature one set of "Raiders" who dominated the stat sheet against Holy Cross, and lost, and another team that Al Davis might enjoy who has found, more often than not, that they lose the statistical battle but "just win". (more)


This weekend, few folks thought the Crusaders could travel up to Hamilton, New York and beat a team that had throttled three straight opponents.

And if you looked at the score sheet but not the scoreboard, you'd be hard-pressed to conclude that Holy Cross would be the winners.

The "Raiders" held onto the ball against Holy Cross for 36 minutes. Their defense only allowed 248 total yards. Colgate QB Greg Sullivan (16-28, 148 yards passing, 41 yards rushing, 1 TD, 1 2 point conversion) vs. QB Ryan Taggart (8-of-17, 98 yards passing, 35 yards rushing, 1 TD)? No awards as to who won the day statistically.

But stat sheets don't always say the whole story. In the first quarter, a fumble off a punt led to a TD by WR Freddie Santana to give Holy Cross a 7-0 lead. A rare fumble by Colgate superstar RB Nate Eachus led to a 22 yard FG by PK Rob Dornfried to have the Crusaders extend their lead to ten.

After Eachus responded with a 35 yard scamper to cut the deficit to three, RB/KR Andrew Zitnik responded to that by taking the resulting kickoff 93 yards to the house, keeping the Holy Cross lead at ten. Later, a 26 yard punt return by WR/PR Freddie Santana set up a short field for backup QB Mark Tolzein, Zitnik and company (who?) as they converted another TD by halftime to extend their lead to 24-7.

To recap: at half, Colgate dominated the game on pretty much every part of the score sheet on offense and defense, but in the "just win, baby" statistics - turnovers, special teams and, most importantly, scoreboard - Holy Cross was winning by three scores.

The second half saw Colgate revert to what made them the Patriot League frontrunners; starting with a "Raider"-esque, 10 minute drive that ended in a Eachus TD run; a safety two plays later, after Holy Cross started a drive at their nine and Colgate DE Lamont Sonds sacked Tolzein, who alternates snaps with Taggart, in the end zone for a safety; and then, after the free kick, Colgate engaged in another 8 minute, touchdown march to bring the deficit to two.  A two-point conversion attempt to WR Doug Rosnick - who barely touched the pylon with his outstretched hand, holding the football - tied the game up.

But it would be Taggart - doing his best Ken Stabler impersonation - that would be what won this game for the Crusaders.  Starting at his 24, Taggart would go 2-for-2 passing, and rush for 25 yards in setting up a 2nd-and-11 at the Colgate 14 yard line.

Timeout, Holy Cross. Would John Madden have gone for it instead of relying on his kicking game? Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore, undoubtedly channeling his inner "Raider", took the field goal unit off the field. He would take one more shot at the end zone.

WR Bill Edger, Dominic Randolph's favorite targets last year, had one reception the entire afternoon. But it was the biggest, as he hauled a the game-winning rainbow pass from Taggart for the go-ahead TD with ten seconds left.

"I took a couple years off my life in this game today," Gilmore said in the Colgate postgame report from Holy Cross Athletics. "On top of being such underdogs, we had a horrible loss last week (to Dartmouth). I was proud that they didn't listen to anyone, worked real hard and got the job done."

Ironically, the Colgate "Raiders" lost a game the way the Oakland "Raiders" used to win them. And Holy Cross, a team that had been prized just last year for having a powerful spread offense and out-gunning teams, won one with turnovers and special teams.

Just win, baby.

*****

It's funny that Holy Cross were outgained, but still won the game.

A bunch of times this year - against Princeton, Harvard, and Fordham - Lehigh was outgained on offense in all three games, but were still Lehigh wins.  It was a trend that was bucked this weekend with a smothering defensive performance by Lehigh, and an effective offensive performance.  Including the two losses against top ten teams Villanova and New Hampshire, Lehigh has only outgained their opponents twice this year.

Nobody on Lehigh was happy to hear that Colgate got upset by Holy Cross last weekend.

The theme was clear that the Mountain Hawks will be facing off against a cornered, desperate Colgate team that has to win at Murray Goodman to have any chance at winning the Patriot League championship. "Eachus is going to come out next week and run for something like 600 yards", one media member was overheard saying.

"As they met the media following a 32-10 win over Bucknell on Saturday at Goodman Stadium, Lehigh coach Andy Coen and junior LB Tanner Rivas and sophomore WR Ryan Spadola were getting play-by-play updates on what was happening in the Holy Cross-Colgate game.", the Morning Call's Keith Groller mentioned in his column of Lehigh this week. "But as he left the room with reports still coming in, Rivas said. 'I'm not going to worry about that game.'"

The updates on the Holy Cross game were given with music blaring in the background, as the Lehigh football players celebrated their win.

When Lehigh wins, the coaching staff allows the players to blast music in the locker room to celebrate the victory.

And the music choices are, well, unorthodox, to say the least.

Try Whitney Houston and Vanilla Ice.

For a while, I thought that their choice of music would completely coincide with my time as an undergraduate at Lehigh. I half-expected to hear Winger, or perhaps Warrant's "Cherry Pie". (Two tunes I thought were finally buried forever, but seem poised for a comeback, possibly, after hearing Ms. Houston blasting in the locker room this Saturday.)

And it wasn't totally for laughs, either - you could hear the players singing the words. They knew this stuff. "You wouldn't think it's a locker room", Spadola said of the blasting music as he exited the press conference. "There's every single genre you can think of."

"They're a handful," one Lehigh assistant coach said as the media were getting ready for the postgame press conference this weekend.

They do seem like a handful - much like the Oakland "Raiders" of 1977.

*****

"It is a crazy bunch," Oakland QB Ken Stabler said at the time of his 1977 team and words that could be used, in a way, to describe this Lehigh team. "We have one of almost everything and no two of anything. Everyone is an individualist doing his own thing."

Stabler and coach Madden were happy to give the impression of rambunctious "gridiron misfits", circus-like practices and allowing players to be individuals - up until a point. "Coach Madden gives us a great deal of freedom, but he draws a line," Stabler said.

"Coach Madden lets us go a little bit more than most coaches," special teams maven RB Pete Banaszak said that year, "so long as it is understood that we put out and produce on the football field."

The analogy with Lehigh's 2010 team and the 1977 "Raiders" is not perfect. The "Raiders" roster, especially on defense, was comprised of a lot of free agents - some, like CB George Atkinson, were in quite a bit trouble with the law - and many players were refugees from other teams (cut from other rosters, as there was no free agency at that time in football).

But team president Al Davis fostered an organization that - at that time, anyway - knew exactly who to get onto that team. Guys who wanted to prove people wrong. Guys who other teams thought couldn't play in the NFL. Players who were too "individualistic" to win together.

And that part of the theme does seem to apply to this Lehigh team.

Part of that is driven by record - Lehigh hasn't had a winning team in a couple of years. Another part of that is disrespect - Lehigh's players may have gotten the impression that haven't been getting the same respect as the other star players around the Patriot League. It hasn't been said that way explicitly, but that's been the implication as RB Nate Eachus and QB Dominic Randolph have gotten the accolades around the league as Lehigh has not.

Still another part of the theme is that head coach Andy Coen has had his share of critics in his time here - critics shielded by the anonymity of the internet - who have criticized his every move, it seems. If he calls for a run, the fans want pass.  If he spreads the field, the fans want a power running game.

A players coach, Coen definitely channels some of that "Raiders"-like, Madden style of leading his team.

"We tell the kids, Saturday is your showtime, but you're going to make yourself better Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday every week," Coen said. "We've got to continue to work in that way. These kids, they love football, they've got a lot to manage here academically and athletically, but this group of guys are doing a great job of it right now. They've got to keep it up."

They are Coen's players. Even when naysayers were slamming him anonymously, the Lehigh players only have kept playing for him and came out and have continued to play hard for him week after week after week. That's not a recent phenomenon, either: even as Lehigh's season last year was dwindling to a 2-7 record and many anonymous internet people thought they'd get his head on a stake, his players played for him.  They beat Lafayette - denying them a co-championship, and a possible FCS playoff berth.

They'll ram themselves into a brick wall for him.  Madden, too, got that sort of loyalty from his players.

*****

There is a big difference between "individualistic" and "undisciplined", and it seems like coach Coen has treaded the line just fine, kind of like how Madden treaded that line as "Raider" head coach. Nowhere is that as evident as this week's upcoming game against Colgate - where this Lehigh team, even in the postgame press conference, knew that this was going to be a big, focused week of practice.

After the win over Bucknell - and the "gag order" on Colgate now officially lifted - the players were free to talk about the challenge of Colgate.

"I don't really know what to expect," Spadola said of the Colgate "Raiders." "They've been a great team these past few years. I just want to go out there, do my part, and when I have an opportunity to make plays, I just want to keep doing it. Like coach said, this week of practice will be like no other. We're going to have to bust our chops, non-stop, and just know that this team is coming into our house next week, and they're in a battle, just like us, they want the title. We just need to want it more. Next week, we just need to show it."

"We had them beat here two years ago, and we let that one slip away, and were in a real competitive game at Hamilton last year," Coen said. "We've had great games with them. The Lehigh-Colgate games, you know what types of games they are. If you love football, you love watching this game, you love playing in this game and you love coaching in this game."

It will not be easy by any stretch. Lehigh has not faced a team as physically dominating along the offensive line as Colgate, except perhaps Villanova. If Eachus lines up and runs for 600 yards for the "Raiders" - and Lehigh keeps things alive for Colgate with untimely penalties or bad special teams play - Lehigh will no longer have their Patriot League title destiny in their own hands.

Untold by Coen about that game two years ago was the fact that a critical missed extra point played a huge part in that game. Missed in the first quarter, Coen went for two on several different occasions to try to extend the lead - and didn't manage to do it. The 34-33 game - lost in the last two minutes - was partially due to special teams.

It shows that in order to beat the Colgate "Raiders", this Lehigh team may need to channel Banaszak and the Oakland "Raiders" in order to emerge the victors in next weekend's game, the final regular season home game of the Lehigh football season. Not only in the "rambunctious" way, but also in the way of solid special teams, forcing turnovers, and making Saturday "showtime".

After all, it worked for Holy Cross last weekend.

Comments

Nice write up, but some corrections.

"Colgate QB Greg Sullivan (16-28, 148 yards passing, 41 yards rushing, 1 TD, 1 2 point conversion) vs. QB Ryan Taggart (8-of-17, 98 yards passing, 35 yards rushing, 1 TD)?"

It is hard to compare Sullivan's numbers to just Taggart's. For about 5 games now, Holy Cross has alternated its quarterback every series, so from strictly a numbers perspective, you would have to combine Taggart's numbers to the other qb. In this case, Holy Cross quarterbacks combined passing statistics were: 12-22, 131 yards passing, 43 yards rushing, and 3 passing touchdowns.

Saying that Sullivan had a better day at quarterback, than the HC quarterbacks, isn't all that accurate.

"In the first quarter, a fumble off a punt led to a TD by RB Sam Auffant to give Holy Cross a 7-0 lead."

Auffant never scored during the game. The first touchdown was actually a 14 yard pass to Freddie Santana from Mark Tolzien (it was Tolzien's first ever varsity pass attempt).

"A rare fumble by Colgate superstar RB Nate Eachus led to a 11 yard FG by PK Rob Dornfried to have the Crusaders extend their lead to ten."

It would be impossible to kick an 11 yard field goal. Dornfried's kick was good from 22 yards out.

"To recap: Colgate dominated the game on pretty much every part of the score sheet on offense and defense, but in the "just win, baby" statistics - turnovers, special teams and, most importantly, scoreboard - Holy Cross was winning by three scores."

True, but to anyone who either watched the game, or attended it, Holy Cross absolutely dominated that first half of play. The defense pretty much shut down Colgate's running attack, and the offense moved the ball pretty well on the Raiders defense.

"...Holy Cross started a drive at their nine and Colgate DE Lamont Sonds sacked Taggart in the end zone for a safety..."

It was Tolzien who took the safety, not Taggart.

Love the "Sunday Word," LFN, but just trying to keep you on your toes.
Anonymous said…
GOOD ARTICLE. The boys of fall need to become men this Saturday.
ngineer said…
If this program is turning around, we'll find out Saturday. Three wins in a row including a tough one on the road. Now, the 'big, bad' Raiders who we haven't beaten the last three years. These are the games everyone waits for with high anticipation and it's good to see the opportunity setting there for the guys. Now they have to grab it!

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