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Sunday's Word: Terminator

So many possibilites for "words" this weekend.  A weekend where the Phillies are poised to sweep the Reds in the NLDS.  A day where the date is 10/10/10, a quirk of the calendar that won't recur until November 11th of next year.  Even the Eagles are in play, after not looking half bad in the beginning of their game against the 49ers.

But an intriguing nickname - and a monster performance - leads me to the movie franchise, headlined by the "Gubernator", Arnold Schwarzenneger, and more recently by Christian Bale, as this Sunday's Word.

Early in the year, junior LB Mike Groome looked like he would have to bide his time to get serious playing time, sitting behind senior LB Troy Taylor on the depth chart. But once Taylor pulled up injured before the Drake game, the player his friends and family call the "Groominator" stepped into the starting role and made sure that the Lehigh defense didn't miss a beat next to senior LB Al Pierce in the middle of the defense.

You could even say that Lehigh's defense "terminated" a pretty strong Fordham offense this weekend.  (more)

Fordham seemed to get opportunity after opportunity to stay in the game this Saturday. As Lehigh's offense couldn't close the deal and Fordham's defense kept hitting on big yardage plays, but the story of the game ended up being Lehigh's ability to stuff Forhdam on third and fourth downs.

The Rams were stuffed on 13 of 16 chances on third down, and 6 of 8 chances on fouth down.

While this statistic details an entire defense that knows how to "terminate" drives and stop a pretty talented Ram offense cold, it was the "Groominator" that was involved in an awful lot of those stops, too - seven, in fact.

One of those drive "terminations" came on a fake punt, where 300 lb Fordham NG Justin Yancey took a direct snap and actually got the first down yardage - until Groome and another backer alertly smacked him in the hands with their shoulder pads, jarring the ball loose for the only turnover of the game.

Another was an attempt by RB Jamir Livingstone to leap over the pile to at least get one yard on a 3rd-and-1 play from the Lehigh 2 yard line. But Groome met him - and pretty high up there, too - to stop him cold. One play later, where mobile QB Blake Wayne would find no answers from Lehigh's defense, it would be - who else? - Groome who hunted down and sacked him.

Two key Fordham offensive possessions. "Terminated."

Groome had some good days before this weekend. Against Princeton, he had 11 tackles. Against the defending national champions, Villanova, he got 8 tackles and forced a fumble. But his 11 tackle, 2-sack performance - including that big forced turnover - really stood out this weekend.

Asked how the defense was able to be so successful, in the post-game press conference he gave some credit to a surprising source.

"We played very well off the offensive momentum," he said. "They did a good job keeping us off the field. And I give a lot of credit to the "D" line, they did a tremendous job in the trench, allowing the linebackers to step up and make some plays when we needed it."

"We just did our jobs.  We knew we had to step up, keep getting them off on third down, and that's what we did for the most part."

True, the offense did show some flashes of solid play on Saturday, notably Lehigh's opening drive which saw sophomore WR Ryan Spadola score after a 12-play, 72 yard drive. Late in the game, too, Lehigh's offensive line finally wore down Fordham's front seven and senior RB Jay Campbell was able to break some big runs for first downs, giving the Mountain Hawks some crucial breathing room.

Yet Lehigh's offense - and defense, too - could have "terminated" Fordham's threat mutiple times in the second half and didn't do so. A 4th-and-inches that wasn't converted by Lehigh was a big point of emphasis by head coach Andy Coen in the post-game press conferece, a potential back-breaker for Fordham that instead say the momentum shift the other way in a touchdown by Ram RB Darryl Whiting that cut the deficit to four, and made it a game.

Folks might look at the statistics from this game, and see that Fordham ran more plays on offense than Lehigh, gained more yardage, and even connected on more offensive big plays than the Mountain Hawks.

But sometimes statistics don't tell the whole story. In this game, the difference in the game was - you guessed it - the "termination" of Fordham drives by the defense.  Last year, the Mountain Hawks had a reputation of not being able to win close games, that the defense would break at the wrong time, that the offense couldn't get that game-clinching score.

"In these next six weeks, evey one of these games could have us driving down the field to win this thing in the end or having someone driving down on us to win it," Coen said.  "Don't get me wrong, I would have loved this to be a nice, clean 40-15 type of deal. But that's not a reality at our level of football right now. In these next six weeks everybody's got the same type of kids and every game is going to be a battle. So, the challenge is to keep your kids motivated to make the plays and staying healthy is going to be a key as well."
Since a 35-28 win over Fordham last year, Lehigh has now won five games that were in doubt in the fourth quarter or overtime, including last weekend's "termination" of Fordham.  Those wins are giving this entire team more confidence - that they can "terminate" games, and win them.  Some fans might not be happy with "Just Win, Baby" - but it does matter, and gives a team real momentum.

And going into a game against a tough, talented Harvard team, that's a great thing to build on after this week.  The defense showed - and has shown - they can "terminate" a strong offensive team like Fordham, with a realy great quarterback and a host of different weapons. 

If the offense can take that same attitude - in "terminating" games by making some key third and fouth downs, or making those big passes or receptions - this team can possibly become a team that can do some special things.

I feel Lehigh is close.  Clearly not there yet, but close.  And this year's Fordham victory - building off last year's win - could very well be a sign that this team is ready to "terminate" a lot more teams this year.


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