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?”

I admitted, “I don’t know. I’m not sure. I just watched it and …”

And Garrett interjected, “Do you want me to tell you about the play?”

I acquiesced, and he said, “It was just a freak play. The left tackle got beat on the play on an inside move. (O’Malley) got hit; the ball went up in the air. (Maxie) caught it and ran it in. So, it’s a freak play.”

I agreed with that simple explanation. I don’t agree with what he said next.

“It’s 7-0, but that really didn’t have anything to do with the result of the game. There’s 14 minutes and 49 (actually 41) seconds to go in the first quarter, so (we) just gotta be able to respond and keep playing.”

My take is that the play by Lynn and Maxie had plenty to do with the game. Both teams were undoubtedly on adrenaline overload at the time. But when those two d-linemen delivered that blow, only one team could possibly remain on that pregame high. Lehigh. In fact, those kids in white uniforms were higher than ever, while the kids in Maroon had to be deflated. Big time.

Consider what happened in the next few minutes. First, Lafayette’s offense went 3-and-out and punted, after which Lehigh drove 78 yards for a field goal. Then Lafayette went 3-and-out again, only to have a wild center snap on a punt sail over the head of punter Jacob Bissell, who fell on the ball at the 1-yard line. On second down, Dom Bragalone scored a touchdown.

Lehigh 17, Lafayette 0. And, still 6:42 left in the first period.

Sure, lots of playing time still remained; but Lehigh must have felt invincible by that time.

“What they were able to do is they responded well to the events of the game; they executed,” Garrett said. “They played well on defense; they were able to drive the ball and score, and they played better than us in every aspect of the game. They outexecuted us. Give all the credit to Lehigh. They were harder to beat. They generated more explosive plays; they created turnovers, so it’s real easy to see what happened. Just stay factual. So, there’s really no magic psychological analysis; it’s just they played better.”

Coach Garrett talked earlier in the week about his team’s resiliency. But on Saturday, that resiliency was neutralized by a Lehigh team that wanted the win more. And Garrett was left to say, “That’s going to serve as great motivation for our football team to have a great offseason and continue to show signs of improvement like we did all year.”

He said the Leopards were not ready to play and that he was to blame for that, but he insisted that his team will “not be defined by that one game. That’s was not us. It’s one game that we didn’t play well.”

But this one game happened to be against the team you want most to beat. Winning is magnified when it comes to this game. It’s important not only to the record or to the alumni or to the college, it’s also important for what’s coming up now for Garrett and his staff. Lafayette seems to be lagging well behind some Patriot League schools when it comes to verbal commitments, and the early signing period is coming quickly – one month from today. That game on Saturday couldn‘t have played well in the minds of some student-athletes who are being recruited by both Lafayette and Lehigh.

Here are a few other left over season-ending tidbits.

THE LEHIGH GAME STATS – The Leopards had only one running play of more than 10 yards (a 15-yarder by Selwyn Simpson). The Lehigh defense was porous against the run all season, but Lafayette didn’t attack it hard. C.J. Amill had just 52 yards on 13 carries … The Leopards had only two of what Coach Garrett calls “explosive plays” in the pass game (gains of 15 yards or more) and there were several key drops. The most crucial was on O’Malley’s best throw of the day, to freshman Tim Payne on the final play of the first half. The ball went off Payne’s hands in the end zone. A catch was a touchdown. … J.J. Younger had kickoff returns of 36 and 42 yards to give the Leopards excellent field position, but the offense was unable to get any points after those run … Sean O’Malley’s passed for 162 yards, making it the eighth time in 11 games he was under 200 yards. He finished the year with four TDs and 12 interceptions … Malik Hamm had a sack to finish the season with 8.5. The freshman d-end had sacks in six of the 11 games. … another d-end, Billy Shaeffer had the first pass interception of his career and the only Lafayette pick in the game …

THE PENALTIES – The two teams combined for 174 yards in penalties – Lehigh 80, Lafayette 94. Two of the flags against Lehigh were for sideline interference, and offensive line coach Donnie Roberts admitted after the game he was guilty of both – one on the first-play fumble fumble-return touchdown, the other when Riley O’Neil blocked a punt. Lehigh also had three unsportsmanlike conducts … Lafayette had three unsportsmanlike conducts and two personal fouls among its calls, and when I asked Coach Garrett, “Were you embarrassed by the number of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and other things (facemask, holding)?” he said, “Well, I don’t think that’s the right word. We emphasize be the right kind of guy and keep your poise. The game was chippy all game. All of us need to keep our composure.” … Lehigh had the ball for less than 10 minutes in the first half but almost 21 in the second half … Lafayette has now lost four in a row to Lehigh and has not defeated the Brown and White at Fisher since 2006, the year they completed a three-peat of Patriot League titles.    

2013 CHAMPIONS … AND A FUMBLE – Frank Tavani’s last Patriot League championship team, which rallied behind quarterback Drew Reed to win in 2013 by routing Lehigh 50-28, was saluted as part of its five-year reunion. The college missed the boat, however, when it failed to invite Tavani, who now lives in Lebanon but undoubtedly would have loved to see the guys again. Tavani texted me that he felt “bad for my guys (the current juniors and seniors on the 2018 team) after the loss to Lehigh. Great to chat briefly with guys like Mark Ross, Ross Scheuerman, Luke Chiarolanzkio, and Brad Bormann. The list of attendees also included Collin Albershardt, Alex Alford, Matt Andrews, Shane Black, Mike Boles, Robin Cepeda, James Coscia, Darrell Crawford, Pat Crosby, Dan Dellovade, Robert DePietro, Demetrius Dixon, Shane Dorner, Ryan Forrester, Matt Gill, Brandon Hall, Toussaint Helm, Johnathon Hoffman, Draeland James, Ben Jeannot,. Greg Kessel, Andy Labudev, John Lang, Skyler Lash, Rand Lewis, Randall Logan, Kyle Mayfield, Zach Mazur, Garrett McNally, Jake McTighe, Steve Mercado, David Miller, Max Ngolla, John Poetzsch, Tyler Robinson, Matt Rothrock, Zach Schnitzer, Matt Smalley, Duncan Sparks, Connor Staudle, Tim Vangelas, Tyrus White, Darren Wright, Nick Zataveski.

ANGUS EVANS: NOSE GUARD – I didn’t get to mention this prior to the Lehigh game, but Evans, a 6-5 275-pound senior who was a high school quarterback and a college tight end and who never played a down on defense, took the “next man in” thing to another level when, two days before Lafayette’s game at Army West Point, defensive coordinator Luke Thompson asked him if he would be willing to fill in at nose guard when the defensive line got a bit thin. Evans, who has the look of a d-lineman and who had been buried deep in the offensive depth chart, jumped at the chance. He got 10 snaps against the Cadets and called the experience “awesome. I’d do anything (Coach Thompson) asked me to do.” Angus started a couple of games as a freshman, played in every game as a sophomore but missed his junior year because of a preseason leg injury. He got only one snap against Lehigh. He played in seven games and had only one catch in 2018. But the experience at Army was one he’ll never forget.   

EXTRA POINTS – A terrific trio of Matt Mrazek, Dylan Wadsworth and Rocco Palumbo wandered around together greeting lots of alums. I told the three of them they could try suiting up – but probably would not have any balls thrown their way. Their old numbers were busy, however.  Tim Payne, wearing Mrazek’s #17, caught four passes; Steven Stilianos, wearing Wadsworth’s #89, caught two; and Nick Pearson, wearing Palumbo’s #6, had three catches and also ran the ball four times. I continue to find it interesting that, in one of its fund-raising ads, then freshman Mrazek is featured making his touchdown catch against Lehigh in Yankee Stadium …  It was a busy week at Lafayette in many ways. On Friday night, the college took in its last Hall of Fame class. I’m sorry I missed that celebration, because a bunch of the players from two teams I saw a lot of around the turn of the century were on hand for their teams’ induction. The Brian Ehlers-Tim Bieg-Tyson Whitfield-Stefan Ciosici-Brian Burke et al years were terrific fun.     

LEAGUE HONORS -- Malik Hamm was named Patriot League Rookie of the Year early this week. Nice honor for him after finishing with 8.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 58 total tackles. Teams paid a lot of attention to him late in the season, but he was a factor every time out.  He was also a second team all-star.  The league's first all-star team included fullback Will Eisler (second time), offensive tackle Jake Marotti and return specialist C.J. Amill. Amill also was named a second-team running back. Linebacker Jerry Powse waas named first team defense. Other second-team picks included wide receiver Nick Pearson, center Kevin Zataveski, linebacker Michael Root and defensive back Yasir Thomas. The academic all-league team also was announced and included safety Trent Crossan and defensive end Andrew Chuma. Congrats to all those guys. The annual football awards dinner for the Leopards is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 9.