Monday, December 2, 2019

Cleaning out my notebook one last time

Jeffrey Kordenbrock kicks the winning field goal at Lehigh out of a Sean O'Malley hold.
All photos courtesy of Lafayette communications.

So, season No. 138 of Lafayette College football is in the books. The 16th time the Leopards have finished with four wins. The last time was 2011.

Breakthrough? Coach John Garrett declared that after defeating Lehigh for the first time. I think it was too soon to tell because this year was the weakest for the Patriot League overall. But it had a look of potential. And remember, it was I who said the Leopards had a shot at running the table after not winning a nonleague game!

Now as we come to the end of another football season, I am also come down the homestretch of my direct involvement with the program at Lafayette, having been The Morning Call’s beat writer from 1968-77 and more recently during my formal retirement years, 2008-2019.

With my 80th birthday staring me in the face, it’s time to take a seat in the stands, and having had some issues this year with bladder cancer caused me to alter the way I handled the beat. This season didn’t give me the same satisfaction of past years and I think it’s time to turn it over to someone else.

So, that makes this my final “official” report on Leopard football. It’s going to get wordy because I want to address the most recent season overall, the Leopards’ future, #155 of The Rivalry and some other thoughts from my notebook.

Monday, November 25, 2019

THE RIVALRY: Trivia and a mea culpa


I’ve been thinking a lot of Lafayette’s 17-16 win over Lehigh last Saturday in game No. 155 of college football’s most-played rivalry.

I have been trying to figure out how I would play it in one of my final blogs with which I plan to assess the 2019 season. Every season, after all, is in some way affected by the outcome of the Lafayette-Lehigh game.

This is a game that produces all kinds of trivia, so here’s what I think is the best addition of 2019.

This is the first time Lafayette has won the game by a single point.

It is also only the second one-point game in the entire series. Lehigh won the 1929 game 13-12 in a game where quarterback Arthur Davidowitz kicked what proved to be the winning extra point. Lehigh broke a 10-game losing streak to Lafayette in that game and the Brown and White blocked two extra point attempts and a late field-goal try to preserve the win.

Here is the second paragraph that appeared in The Morning Call the next morning, Nov. 24, 1929, courtesy of my favorite historical website these days, The sports writer is not mentioned.

“Scenes such as probably never before been witnessed in the concrete saucer of Lehigh University were witnessed in the hysterical demonstration following the final whistle of referee W.C. Crowell. Out onto the field rushed the Lehigh partisans, fairly smothering the Lehigh players in their frantic efforts to reach them, and one swaying mass of humanity ushered the players off the gridiron. Staid old grads for the time forgot themselves to join in the wild demonstration and the steel city was truly a typical college town last night in every sense of the word.” 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Reinhard: A chat with Colgate's Dan Hunt

No current Patriot League football coach – assistants included -- has spent more time in the league than Colgate’s Dan Hunt. It may be only his sixth year as the head coach, but Hunt spent another 19 years as a Dick Biddle assistant.

Hunt won league Coach of the Year honors in three of his first five seasons. He’s not getting it this year – in fact, he will finish with fewer wins this season than any other since he succeeded Biddle in 2014.

At 3-8, he’s having a tough time, but he could still have a say in who represents the league in the FCS postseason tournament. Lafayette would to well to put the blinders on this week and focus on nothing but the Raiders, who have a whopping 45-13-4 advantage in the head-to-head series.

I caught up with Hunt the other day to get some comments for my Morning Call preview of the game. But before we hung up, we talked about lots of other things as well. So, I thought I’d simply post the interview in full.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Lehigh-Holy Cross-Gilmore: A flashback

When Kevin Higgins left Lehigh to becomes quarterbacks coach of the Detroit Lions in 2001, he gave Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett three recommendations for the head coaching position.

Pete Lembo, Higgins’ assistant head coach.

Dave Cecchini, the offensive coordinator.

Tom Gilmore, the defensive coordinator.

Together, those four guys had put their talents together to make Lehigh virtually unbeatable. In Higgins’ last three seasons as head coach, the Brown and White lost only one regular-season game. Won 32.

Sterrett got Higgins’ decision on a Sunday. On that same day, Sterrett met with the entire coaching staff and learned that, if he was willing to stay inside for Higgins’ replacement, all of Higgins’ coaches were committed to staying to maintain the momentum.

Sterrett met with each of Higgins’ recommended staffers for about an hour apiece.

A paralyzing snowstorm the next day kept Sterrett from doing anything on Monday, but he did call the college president. He had a decision, he told Dr. Gregory Farrington.

On Tuesday, he met with the coaches as a group again.

On Wednesday, he announced that Lembo would become the head coach.
During the press conference confirming all the decisions, Sterrett told us that the three coaches “never viewed [the interview process] in competitive terms, so this is not a case of one winning and two losing. I told them none of them was good enough [to replace Higgins] but together they have a chance.”

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Leopards replay: The start of something good?

Selwyn Simpson celebrates his winning touchdown. Photo courtesy of Lafayette Sports.
I got a bunch of grief when I came out with my Lafayette-Leopards-run-the-table prediction for the Patriot League portion of the schedule.

They had a bit of a stumble in the opener against Georgetown, a game they might have won.

But the tables turned for them big time on Saturday against Bucknell – in a game they just as easily might have lost.

My point is this: the 2019 Patriot League has no such thing as a lock to win or lose.

Proof? Look at league leader Lehigh. A win Colgate on a last-minute TD … a win over Fordham in overtime … a win over Georgetown on the final play.

Can what took place on Saturday be contagious for Lafayette?

Can Lafayette use that rare touchdown-off-turnover victory over a Bison team that has to be stunned today be the “breakthrough” we haven’t heard Coach John Garrett talk about for several weeks?

Until that fourth-quarter rally against the Bison, the lead to my Morning Call game story was probably going to be about the Bucknell punter.

My story was trimmed in several places, including my last paragraph. Here’s a piece of what wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Lafayette FB: A QB shakeup, scouting the Hoyas

I admit to getting a bit nit-picky. One of my favorite targets is the depth chart released by Lafayette football coach John Garrett.

I have come to accept the fact that the two-deep list that usually comes with sports information director Phil LaBella’s weekly game notes may not be an accurate indication of who will or won’t play in that week’s game. Garrett is super protective of information concerning injuries.

Last week was the worst. The notes for the Leopards’ game with Princeton came with no depth chart page. To compound the dilemma, Princeton Coach Bob Surace also provided no two-deep for the Tigers. Garrett and Surace are long-time friends, so I don’t know if they were playing some kind of mind game before the undefeated Tigers and the winless Leopards met last Friday night.

When I arrived at the weekly media luncheon on Tuesday, the first thing I wanted to see was whether Garrett would again be withholding information, fearful, perhaps, that he was giving Georgetown Coach Rob Sgarlata some secrets in advance of Saturday’s game in Washington.

I’m happy to say depth charts for both the Hoyas and the Leopards were handed out. I immediately began looking for names of previously injured players who might be making a return for what Garrett would say “almost feels like a second season” consisting of all six Patriot League contests.

(NOTE: I’m not going to address the “almost” remark, except to say that if what’s about to begin this week doesn’t feel “exactly” like a second season, the next six Saturdays won’t be much fun for Leopard fans. No one should be happier than the Leopards to have a clean slate and something to play for.)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Can the Leopards solve their third-down dilemma?

Two Ivy League football teams, one Patriot League team and one of my “favorite” all-time FCS teams – the Leathernecks of Western Illinois – all outrank the 0-6 Lafayette Leopards in third-down ineptitude in 2019.

According to the latest NCAA FCS football statistics, through games played on Saturday, WIU ranks No. 124 in third-down conversions, having been successful just 21 of 90 times in six games for 23.3 percent.

The three C’s – Columbia, Colgate and Cornell – rank No. 119-121, respectively.  The Lions and the Big Red have played just four games, while the Raiders have played seven and been successful on just 25 of 91 chances on third down.

All that should come as no consolation for John Garrett, the head coach, offensive coordinator and play caller for the Leopards, who are 25-of-86, for 29.1 percent to sit in 115th place on the national list.