"Well, at least it wasn't Lafayette that performed the double-sweep on Lehigh this weekend."
Lehigh's basketball sweep against American was only part of the story, however.
In a Wild Card weekend where my defending Super Bowl champion Saints had their hearts broken by a head coach (Pete Carroll) that did his best John Calipari impersonation to flee USC in a swirl of NCAA sactions, and ultimately won the game after "off the field thug" RB Marshawn Lynch on Saturday, and a Sunday when QB Michael Vick underthrew a TD pass to secure an excruciating 21-16 defeat at the hands of the Packers, the theme of the weekend would unquestionably be one of collapsing leads and repeated shots to the stomach. (more)
Friday, January 7th, 2011, 11:35 PM Delaware 19, Eastern Washington 20
The look from Vice President Joe Biden truly said it all, as Eastern Washington would come from behind in an amazing 20 point rally and shocked favored Delaware 20-19.
Normally, I'm no friend of the Hens. But this year was different on several levels.
First, Lehigh's loss to the Blue Hens in the semifinals was a tough one to endure - but one that would have been a bit easier to swallow if you could then say, "yeah, but they were the National Champions." Add to that the fact that Lehigh could also say that they faced off against "future NFLer" QB Pat Devlin - the best QB, in my opinion, in FCS this year - and it would have been, in a way, the cherry on top of the Mountain Hawk 2010 season.
Second, not to take away from Eastern Washington, but the Eagles were giant beneficiaries of good luck (in the form of Villanova playing in Cheney in their third road game on six days rest) and referee blunders (with a overtime fumble call against their opponents in their semifinal game vs. North Dakota State that has to be the nominated for being worst call in the history of football) in their run to the title.
It would be wrong to say that Eastern Washington was a bad team - they weren't. But they had some giant assists - and in an eerie repeat, had another huge assist by the referees in the closing minutes of the Championship game, too.
It was fourth and one from the Delaware 23 when Blue Hen tacklers Benard Makumbi and Siddiq Haynes appeared to stop true freshman RB Mario Brown a half-yard short of a first down.
"We stopped them," said Delaware coach K.C. Keeler. "There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It was not game over, but it was close to game over."
But the Southern Conference officiating crew mis-spotted the ball and signaled that the Eagles had earned a first down.
That is when Lady Luck in the guise of a replay official smiled on Eastern Washington once again.
By the time the man in the booth declared that he needed to replay the spot of the play, the chain gang on the sideline had moved the sticks and reset the clip that marked the position of this football apparatus.
"The chains were not on the 22," Keeler said. "When they said the ball was on the 22, we knew we had the stop."
Eastern Washington needed to get past the 22, but the chain crew had stunningly lost the correct position of the sticks before the ball was re-spotted.
"The chain crew was confused," said Keeler. "They had already moved the clip. The chains were not put back at the right spot in our opinion. There is no way they knew where the ball was."
Replays on ESPN clearly showed that Brown's knee was down a full half yard behind the marker, making one wonder what sort of keystone cops were down on the field setting the chains and doing the job of officiating.
In this reporter's opinion, that one spot took an otherwise entertaining game and run to the title and made the entire subdivision seem downright bush league. It's hard to say how disheartening to see the striped guys get a call so obviously incorrect, bring it back up to the booth - and STILL get it wrong.
I don't mind Eastern Washington being FCS National Champions - and QB Bo Levi Mitchell's fourth quarter comeback in his return to his home state of Texas was certainly a great story. The kids deserve a lot of credit for hanging tough and finding a way to win.
But championship games are supposed to be determined on the field, not due to incorrect calls in the replay booth. Eastern Washington was the beneficiary of too many of those calls in the playoffs, robbing fans the ability to see what might have happened had the calls been correctly adjudicated.
It wasn't so much Biden's sadness that started my weekend on a bad note. It was that the game ended in the worst possible way - with shoddy officiating playing such a large part in the outcome.
(Note the ESPN message in the crawl of the photo above - an eerie prediction of the sports calamity to come.)
Saturday, January 8th, 2011, 4:05 PM Lehigh 75, American 82
Admittedly, road wins in the Patriot League are not all that easy to come by, so it perhaps wasn't totally surprising that the men's basketball team would lose to American 82-75. But it was the fact that Lehigh was staring down at the (ugly?) mug of F Vlad "The Mad Romanian" Moldoveanu as the Eastern European hoop sensation went medieval on Lehigh's backcourt Saturday afternoon.
And I mean medieval. 10 for 10 in free throws. A double-double. 12 rebounds. 39 points. 3 for 4 from 3-point range. Turnovers? One.
Encouragingly for Lehigh, it was a dogfight until the very end, with sophomore G C.J. McCollum matching the Romanian shot for shot down the stretch. Lehigh's superstar went 11 for 13 from the charity stripe - showing that many of Lehigh's future opponents will likely be fouling him rather than letting him shoot - and a 32 point effort on his own. Add freshman G Mackey McKnight's 11 points and sophomore F Holden Greiner's 11, it was a close battle the entire way.
"We were right there at the end of the game," said head coach Brett Reed. "If we make a stop that last possession, we’d have a shot to tie the game. On the road against a very good team who shot very well, we were right there."
So it was a moral victory - of sorts. Still 0-1 in the Patriot League is 0-1, and the outcome certainly wouldn't make me feel better as the other results would roll in later.
Saturday, January 8th, 2011, 8:15 PM
As I've mentioned before in this space, I grew up as a Saints fan. I live in the Philadelphia Suburbs, and I like the Eagles, but the Saints are the team I adopted as a kid and stuck with, through Jim Mora, Mike Ditka, Ricky Williams and a lot of foibles. Add this one to the list: the first team to lose to a sub-.500 team in the playoffs.
As so often happened this year, the Saints came out of the gates looking like a team that would simply overrun the opposing team, jumping out to 10-0 and 17-7 leads. And then...
The Saints defense - which seemed to have finally gotten things together - simply fell apart. I knew things were bad when QB Matt Hasslebeck looked like Aaron Rodgers with incredible pinpoint passing, finding receivers embarassingly wide open to take a seven point lead at halftime. I knew the Saints were in deep, deep trouble when he would find WR Mike Williams on the right side, beating CB Jabari Greer like a rented mule (a scene that would happen, sadly, often in this game).
Finally discovering that there was a football game to play, the Saints finally started to get to work, with QB Drew Brees finally getting the passing game going again and closing the gap to four - until the "thug" RB Marshawn Lynch broke free through one... no, two... no, three... no, four... no, five missed Saints tackles for the back-breaking touchdown. Though the Saints would score a late touchdown to get close, I had lost my appetite hours ago in this excruciating exercise of a football game.
Sure, you could blame it on injuries - with DB Malcolm Jenkins' absence the obvious death blow to the Saints, but also a guy who got carries at running back that hadn't played a snap all season for the Fleur De Lis gang - but giving up 41 points to a team coached by Pete Carroll is inexcusable. Anything that makes "Pete The Rat That Jumped the USC Ship" happy shouldn't make any red-blooded American happy.
But rest assured that the Seahawks will be crushed by the Bears next weekend, a team against which they do not match up well at all. The only problem is that it seems to assure a Bears/Falcons NFC championship game - in which I root for, what, exactly? Injuries? Embarrassment? QB Jay Cutler?
Saturday, January 8th, 2011, 9:01 PM Lehigh 51, American 64
Now this game was the one that was the huge surprise - the game which on which I was hoping to have a crumb of hope to not be shut out as a fan.
Few things are absolutes in life - motherhood, perhaps, ice cream, puppy dogs. But Lehigh's women's basketball team winning at home was in the same neighborhood as an absolute. Add to that American F Michelle Kirk quit the team, and I really, really liked Lehigh's chances to at least be undefeated the rest of the year at home, where they had lost only once in the last two years.
Make it three, though, as American F Liz Leer - who, incidentally, is much prettier than Vlad Moldoveanu (though that isn't difficult) - went medieval on the Lady Hawks to the tune of 25 points, 7 rebounds and three blocked shots. C Stephanie Anya added 13 boards to go with 11 points from G Nicole Ryan off the bench which was enough to counter the balanced attack of Sue Troyan's Lady Hawks. G Erica Prosser finished with 10 points and 7 assists, and F Courtney Dentler added 11 points as well, but it wasn't enough.
"We struggled the whole game to get any type of flow," said Troyan. "Credit them defensively. We struggled to get any rhythm going on the offensive end. To get the number one seed, you need to protect your home court. You always get the best of your opponent in league play. American really came after us and dictated the play, offensively and defensively."
It didn't get any better.
Saturday, January 8th, 2011, 9:20 PM Kent State Edges Lehigh, Pushes Grapplers to 4th Place in Virginia Duals
The losses on this excruciating weekend, for the most part, had a similar theme: jumping to an early lead, only to fall down the stretch. With the Virginia Duals in their grasp, the Lehigh wrestling team fell behind to Michigan - a team they had beaten in duals earlier in the year - and ultimately fell to 4th place in the esteemed Virginia Duals, just when they were positioned to win the whole thing.
"The dual came down to 197 and the highly anticipated rematch between junior Joe Kennedy and Michigan’s Anthony Biondo. Kennedy won the first meeting in overtime and once again extra time would be needed. The wrestlers were tied at one after regulation and sudden victory. Biondo escaped midway through the first tiebreaker period. In the second period Kennedy was close to an escape near the halfway point but Biondo clamped down on the ankle and managed to milk time off the clock while not being penalized for stalling. Biondo eventually rode out the period to win 2-1 and clinch the dual for the Wolverines."
“We were a little flat,” said Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro after losing the 3rd place bout to Kent State. “It was still one of our better rounds of the weekend, though. We wrestled hard and responded well to the loss this morning. We were out-gunned at a few weights where we were missing some guys. It’s not an excuse. We will have to get better. That being said there were some good things this weekend from some individuals that we can build on.”
On a sports day when underdogs would be pummeling my favorite teams, two lower-ranked teams in Michigan (No. 15) and Kent State (No. 23) would pummel Lehigh (No. 9). It just kept getting worse.
Sunday, January 9th, 2011, 7:59 PM Eagles 16, Packers 21
The final excruciating defeat would come from the team, frankly, I least expected to let me down.
All year I had been telling people about QB Michael "D.K." Vick. Not about his lost time in the NFL, but what he had done on the field in the postseason. "He'll break your heart," I told people. "I know he's Mr. Excitement in the regular season, but can he do it in the playoffs, with everything on the line?"
Unfortunately, I had no idea how prescient that would be.
The Eagles - even with the benefit of an awful call from the officials - judging that a Packer purposely touched the football on a downed punt, when it was clear that he was blocked into the play - could only manage a measly FG with the wind at PK David Akers' back as the Packers had their dream start in dashing to a 14-3 lead, with Packer QB Aaron Rodgers dissecting the Eagle defense and rookie RB James Starks seemingly getting five yards every time he touched the ball.
And even with Green Bay's dream start, it felt all game like the Eagles would somehow come back and win this game. WR Jason Avant - whom, thankfully, I had on my fantasy team - had a career day, as WR DeSean Jackson's fragile ankles were clearly not 100%. Nor were Vick's legs, either - and yet, at home, it seemed unlikely that the Eagles would be denied.
They willed the ball in the end zone, making it 21-16. The defense got the stop they needed, getting the ball back to the offense right after the 2 minute warning. Jackson, who seemed to be one step from breaking a short pass into a touchdown was barely tripped.
And two plays later, Vick didn't have the proper zip on the ball - and WR Riley Cooper didn't anticipate the ball correctly, falling back to receive the ball rather than turning into a defender and tackling CB Tramon Williams - and just like that, the game was over.
And NFL became dead to me for the rest of the season.
It wasn't the worst weekend in the world. Cliff Lee is still a Phillie, and not a Yankee. The Red Sox had one of their finest offseasons, and while the sweep loss to American is embarrassing, it's not something that can't be overcome. But it's not a weekend I'll soon forget - and yeah, it was one of those crappy weekends that is memorable for all the wrong reasons.