Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Lafayette-Lehigh: How big was that first play?

Neither Lafayette nor Lehigh had any positive momentum going into Saturday’s football game in Fisher Stadium, so it makes sense to me that the team that could get an upper hand the quickest would have a distinct advantage.

But Leopards coach John Garrett didn’t agree with me at the postgame press conference when I brought up the first play from scrimmage, on which Lehigh’s defensive-line rush, Julian Lynn stripped the ball from Lafayette quarterback Sean O’Malley and Lehigh’s Davis Maxie caught it and ran for a 43-yard defensive touchdown. It put the visitors’ side in a frenzy.

I approached the play with the premise that you could have made a lot of money in Las Vegas if you placed a bet that a defensive end’s first-play touchdown would end up giving Lehigh more points than Lafayette would score all day.

The play was so bizarre to me that I stumbled around to find the best words to say to Garrett, who finally asked me, “What’s your question?”

Friday, November 16, 2018

2018 in review: not a lot of positive memories

J.J. Younger scored the season's first TD on a 95-yard kickoff return (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College).

Did you know that that seven of Lafayette’s 10 previous opponents this season – including all five non-league foes – have winning records going into games this weekend.

Coach John Garrett mentioned the difficult non-league schedule his team faced this year – Army is currently 8-3, Delaware and Monmouth 7-4 and Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut. I’m not going to get into a ton of research, but I don’t remember a year when the OOC opponents were this good as a group.

Here’s a brief game-by-game recap. Because after the second game, Coach Garrett told the media, “If both (Sean O’Malley and Cole Northrup) continue to play at the starter level, they’ll continue to get reps.” Alas, at a time when we thought they were going to share responsibilities  to take advantage of their differing talents,  the competition almost disappeared for the rest of the year.

O’Malley had one of his real disappointing games of the 2017 season against Lehigh. He was 6-for-18 for 43 yards. It was hard to watch. He didn’t play at a “starter level” that day, but there was no substitution. He has thrown for only three touchdowns this year while being intercepted 11 times. In two seasons, he has 15 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. Seven of those picks have been returned for touchdowns.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Lafayette-Army notebook: Leopards will honor players' favorite vets

Lafayette Coach John Garrett said Tuesday that some teams that face Army West Point like to pay tribute to the Cadets and their service to the country in various ways. With this game also being played so close to Veterans’ Day, Anthony Martin, the equipment director at Lafayette, suggested one that may be the best yet.

Each Leopard was asked to select a relative or friend who has or currently does serve in the military. Players came up with photos of the persons they chose, and special decals were made from the photos and will be placed over the “L” on the side of the helmets for this game. After the game, the decals will be taken from the helmets, placed on backing, framed and given to the players as a memory of the game and of the person they chose to honor.

For example, offensive lineman Gavin Barclay said his two grandfathers served in the Army and he chose his father’s dad, who served in Vietnam from 1964-66; linebacker Major Jordan selected his father, who was in the Navy from 1985-89; and defensive lineman Harrison Greenhill selected his high school defensive line coach, who, he said, became a mentor and father figure to him and who had been a lieutenant colonel in the Marines.

Way to go, Anthony. And, God Bless America!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Flashback: Lafayette-Army, 2016

Rachel Robertson, who followed the Lafayette football team for The Lafayette newspaper, accompanied me to the Leopards’ locker room after the team’s 62-7 blowout loss to Army West Point back in October of 2016.

She had no idea what she was walking into. Neither did I.

Coach Frank Tavani, who supposedly had time to cool off, came into the room and, when I said, “I don’t know where to start,” that was all he needed. He was hot, not cool.

“Where you start is, we stunk; we got an ass whooping out there like I’ve never been involved in and it looked like we didn’t want to play. It’s disgusting and embarrassing. You want me to say anything more than that? Next question.”  It almost seemed like a dare.

I used that quote high in my game story for The Morning Call. I figured that, coming on the heels of a two-game stretch in which his team gave up 1,053 yards rushing and 120 points, and with a losing streak going to six games, Tavani deserved to blow off the steam.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Dale's 1803 House adventure: the rest of the story

Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Dick Farmer (right) and me.

I was in Indianapolis when Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 in 1969.

I was in Bankstown, Australia, when Marty Nothstein raced to the men's sprint gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

The crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway went 

crazy when Andretti pulled into Victory Lane for his ceremonial sip of milk and that now famous kiss from car owner Andy Granatelli.

I listened as the chants of “U-S-A! … U-S-A! … U-S-A!” drowned out the “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … Oi, Oi, Oi” and Nothstein hoisted son Tyler in one arm and daughter Devin in the other at the Dunc Gray Velodrome after putting an exclamation point on his bicycle racing career.

The victories by Andretti and Nothstein rank among the top one-day events of my newspaper career. Emotional celebrations of local athletes at the peak.

But on July 27 of this year, I experienced a different type of emotional event involving a high-profile athlete. No howling crowds. No television cameras.

I watched Dale Earnhardt Jr. walk through a house. And a graveyard. Only four other people were present. But, this was not their day. This day belonged to Dale Jr., and he immersed himself in it. It was terrific.

I couldn’t believe it when Dick Farmer, whom I first met when we played in the same senior tennis group, called to tell me Earnhardt Jr. had a direct connection to the 1803 House, a home that has been a labor of love for him for about 45 years. How could the family with such a rich Southern history have real ties with the Lehigh Valley?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Leopard-Bison pregame: 2 steps back

Was I a bit hasty in my decision to give the Lafayette Leopards a midterm grade based on the short half of an 11-game schedule?

It sure looks like it.

After they dazzled me with a 31-point performance in a victory over Central Connecticut State, I rushed to judgment and handed out an overall grade of C.

The grade caused one long-time follower of the program to message me: “You are a more generous grader than I am … no group is better than a C from me. A win against Georgetown gets the team to C+. A loss drops them to D.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Lafayette mid-season grade: one win saves it

I can remember more than once during my high school and college days that the score on a single test brought my overall course grade up considerably. It then became a matter of whether I could hold on to the higher average the rest of the term.

Well, the score I’m thinking about today was 31-24. It was anything but knocking it out of the park, but for the Lafayette football team, a victory over favored Central Connecticut State, which was earned with a drive that was completed with only 33 seconds left in the game, boosted the Leopards’ mid-term grade (at least in the mind of this one “professor”) from a probable best of D- or a worst of F to a C and the possibility of even better before the end of the term at something around 4 p.m. on Nov. 17 in Fisher Stadium.

The first four games of the season, including three in which Lafayette didn’t score a touchdown, looked eerily like the 2017 season. John Garrett’s team scored only 26 points and gave up 142. Coach Garrett had told us that his team was “miles” ahead of last year, his first on College Hill, but the results didn’t back up that assessment.

The four-game rushing yards average was up from 15.8 ypg to 46.8, but point production was down from 53 to 26 because passing average was down 57 yards per game. Rushing touchdowns were up (from 0 to 1), but passing TDs were down (from 7 to 2). Fumbles lost were zero last year, four this year. Ball security must improve.

Defensively, the Leopards intercepted six passes in the first four games of 2017, just one in this year’s first four. The second and third quarters continued to be the biggest problem. Opponents outscored the Leopards 116-9 last year and 90-10 this year in the middle periods.

The bottom line was that the Lafayette teams of last year and this year were both winless entering Game 5, and into all that negativity came a CCSU team that was the preseason favorite to win the Northeast Conference.