Although it is coming a little later than usual this week, Joe Tutino has fabulously provided his great insights to our trip to quaint Hamilton, NY. I cannot think of a single part of the trip that Joe left out, other than myself having some serious digestive problems on our drive from the hotel to Colgate on Saturday morning; there definitely was something peculiar in those sausage links.
Figuring that we have a bye week this week, I thought I’d delay my recap so there would be something to read about over this weekend. It’s only been a week, but the excitement of the Colgate win is still fresh in everyone’s minds. After a long ride through the winding roads of western Massachusetts and eastern New York, a huge win over the 1932 National Champions proved to be a huge momentum booster heading into the bye week as the boys prepare to take on the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh University this coming Saturday. All things considered, the winner of this game will be in complete control of its destiny for the Patriot League Championship (as I write this, Lehigh dismantled Colgate 44 to 14 on Senior Day in Bethlehem). This week proved to be big as injured guys have slowly made their way back onto the field and into pads, enthusiastically preparing for another potent offensive attack in Lehigh. But, for one last time, let’s take a look at the game that kept us alive in the hunt for another PLC…
As Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ chimed through the speakers at Colgate’s Andy Kerr Stadium, the sun slowly descending behind the hills of Hamilton, NY, the Holy Cross football team erupted into unrestrained jubilation after upsetting the preseason Patriot League favorite Raiders of Colgate University, 31 to 24. To those who were not there, it is extremely hard to put into words the anxiety of scoring early, losing the lead and then scoring on a really bold play to win the game. Recording the first road win of the 2010 campaign and the first road victory at Colgate since Kerr Stadium had a grass surface back in 2000, the Cross took full control of their own postseason destiny as they have the last couple of seasons, not to mention taking at least a few more years off of Coach Gilmore’s life. Something felt very different about this game almost from the very beginning. As soon as we arrived at the locker rooms to the time the boys stepped on the turf for warm-ups, the entire team was vocal and upbeat, something that was not really seen or felt before last week’s defeat at Dartmouth. The hangover from the Hanover trip was almost nonexistent and that was evident in practice this past week. The entire coaching staff did a great job of keeping the guys loose, yet focused on correcting mistakes from Dartmouth and, boy, did it show. The boys were talking a good game on the field, but they brought the intensity to back it up against what appeared to be an arrogant Colgate squad.
Colgate, sporting purple Holy Cross t-shirts during pregame that read “Finish,” must simply not have believed that the Crusaders would be unable to a) establish an aerial attack and b) stop their vaunted rushing game. To a small degree, in terms of statistics on paper, this was true. The combined passing assault of Ryan Taggart and newcomer Mark Tolzien only combined for 12 completions on 22 attempts for 131 yards and a safety (2 total sacks), hardly a dominating performance. Colgate back Nate Eachus showed us why he is one of the top backs in the entire FCS, rushing for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries for an average of over 5 yards a carry. His quarterback, Greg Sullivan, tacked on another 55 yards on 14 carries. These are stats on paper; the final score tells a different story. Taggart and Tolzien combined for three big touchdown passes, including the game-winner with 5.2 seconds to go in regulation. Their stats do not jump off the page, but their performance at key junctures of the game spoke volumes. Taggart continues to get a little better each week with experience. His near-flawless final drive to win the game where he accounted for all but 2 yards of a 76 yard, :58 second drive, capped off by a 14 yard touchdown floater to Billy Edger, was championship-esque. Tolzien worked wonders in his action, throwing a touchdown pass on his first career completion to Freddie Santana and hitting Luke Chimielinski on a perfect pass in the back of the end zone late in the second quarter that I could’ve sworn from my position was an interception. Being thrown into the fire with no game experience was telling of Gilmore’s trust in his game, his talent (he was nationally ranked by ESPN as a senior quarterback coming out of high school) and the preparation of quarterbacks coach Andy McKenzie (he did have a certain quarterback under his tutelage from 2008-9). What was surprising about Tolzien was that, when he got back to the sidelines after that first touchdown, he acted as if he had been there before, confident to get back out there and do it again—which he did. With the injury to Kevin Watson, Tolzien’s progression in game situations will be crucial down the stretch.
In her weekly preview in the Telegram and Gazette, Jennifer Toland touched upon the fact that, in order to win, the Crusaders would have to slow down Eachus, but they would be unable to completely stop the junior Colgate back. Though Eachus ran for over 150 yards and 2 scores, he was never able to really strike full out fear in the defense. What stood out to me was his ability to find one hole and burst into a clearing. More specifically, in the first quarter, Eachus was able to get through a couple defenders and turn on the afterburners en-route to a 35 yard touchdown run to cut the lead down to 3 points. Similar to 2008, he was able to pick up yardage in small chunks, but this time around he could not break the game open with big 10 or 20 yard scampers or find the sticks on key third downs. When he was able to find space, the play would be nullified for a holding penalty, dashing Colgate’s hopes of any kind of momentum (I believe a lot more holding calls could have been called on Colgate’s offensive line, but the zebras were picky). What was also different than 2008 was that Colgate’s running game had relied heavily on clock management. This was a difficult plan to follow considering we put up points before they were able to gain any kind of a rhythm, disrupting Colgate’s Dick Biddle from implementing his time consuming offensive game plan that worked to perfection in the snow in 2008 and again this year against the likes of Monmouth, Princeton, Georgetown and Cornell. One of their scoring drives in the third quarter took up almost eleven minutes, eating away at precious clock time they could have used in the third quarter. Two years ago, our offense may have been too good for our defense, scoring at will in short bursts of time. However, when Colgate would make a stop, we would be handcuffed on defense knowing that we were too banged up to stop their running attack, which included Eachus, Sullivan and the sneaky, deceptive, and illusive Jordan Scott (the three adjectives describing Jordan Scott are indicative of both his on the field talents, as well as talents off the field). This year’s win was won because of the early lead, turnovers, consistency on both sides of the ball, an earlier scheduling time (October rather than late November) and contributions in all three phases of the game.
There was no one particular star of the game in Hamilton this past Saturday, though freshman utility man Andrew Zitnik became the first ever Patriot Leaguer to garner Special Teams Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week in one game. Zitnik came through with 150 all purpose yards, including one of the most exciting 93 yard kickoff returns, bouncing off defenders and spinning his way to the promised land to post a ten point lead in the first. Zitnik’s return brought back old memories of Brett McDermott and even Ari Confessor (coaching at URI now) racing down the sidelines to glory and into the record books. Not only did he contribute on special teams, he added two big carries for ten yards to his resume, giving the offense another weapon instead of Eddie Houghton and Matt Bellomo. But, like I mentioned, he wasn’t the proverbial “star.” Guys like Tolzien, having endured a tough preseason competition for the starting quarterback slot and seven straight games holding a clipboard on the sidelines, stepping up to throw arguably two of the biggest passes of the game; one to draw first blood and the other to give us a big halftime lead. Guys like Donny Lemieux who, having been relegated to backup placekicker, came up with some huge punts to pin Colgate deep in their own territory on many occasions, throwing off their game plan to score early and play with the conservative run game. Even usual stars like Edger, limited to zero production stats-wise for the first 59 minutes of the game and enduring the yapping of defensive backs (most notably cornerback Coree Moses), coming up big when it really counted to the delight of the Holy Cross faithful. The tenacity of Perry Townsend, blowing through wedges with total disregard for life and limb, forced their special team’s players into guessing where he was going to be every time the ball was kicked. From guys like veteran Dakota Allosso firing up the guys to newcomers like Mike Tucker who forced Sullivan into throwing the ball away on the game’s final play, this was truly a team effort and, truly, a team win.
To paraphrase the venerable Bob Fouracre (his call—a must listen—can be found here: http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/holycross.portal#; go to about the 2 hour 20 minute mark for the end of the game), the Colgate faithful were absolutely stunned after the Taggart-to-Edger touchdown, but they were stunned in general that Holy Cross even showed up to play the game. Riding a 12-game home winning streak, Colgate never really displayed a sense of urgency until their final possession. Even then they seemed to not know if they wanted to go for the win or settle for overtime, rushing twice then electing to throw a pass before punting the ball away. The trio of Sullivan, Eachus and wideout Doug Rosnick were quite effective in putting up serious yardage (356 yards of total offense). But big Colgate turnovers in the first half dug a deep, insurmountable hole, not to mention costly penalties late in the game to put the game out of reach. Colgate failed to realize they were not playing a Princeton or a Cornell, teams from the Ivies that have underperformed in recent years. I don’t think that Colgate believed our offense would be able to muster even a first down, never mind a game-winning drive, something this team had not seen yet this season. What we saw on Saturday was a near-flawless performance in all three departments or as close to near-flawless as we have seen all season. Joking with Kevin before the game, I thought what we needed to do was go with an onside kick to start the game and put guys out of position on offense to throw Colgate off of their game. Though we didn’t go with the onsider, all other facets of the game were unpredictable when I’m sure Coach Biddle and Co. was expecting the predictable. Benefitting from great field position from great defensive play and aggressive special teams play, combined with timely offensive play calling, the boys put a wide grin on Coach Gilmore’s usually stern countenance and ensured an entertaining ride in the cool moonlight back to Mount Saint James. And in response to a Crossports poster, yes, I can personally report to you that Coach Bandy had a smile on his face, too.
Like Kevin said, after two weeks on the road and a long bye week, we return to the lush grass of Fitton Field for the first time in almost a month to face Lehigh, the cream of the crop in the Patriot League this year. As always, Coach Gilmore will be up for this game especially, considering the time he spent patrolling the sidelines at Goodman Stadium, not to mention second year outside linebackers coach Matt Mohler, a former All-Patriot League linebacker for the Mountain Hawks (when isn’t Big Tom fired up for any game though?). To paraphrase John Candy in the epic motion picture Rookie of the Year: “This one’s for allllllllll the marbles, folks!” Another stellar performance is going to be needed from everyone, considering that Lehigh (based on today’s win) is better than Colgate. Maybe we’ll see Alex Schneider emerge as he did at the end of last season. Could Andrew Zitnik possibly repeat his performance this weekend? Does Taggart share duties with Tolzien, or do we see Watson return from injury for a three pronged attack? Will the defensive line step up big again? Does the coaching staff avoid cardiac arrest? Stay tuned. Beat the Hawks.
Tidbits from the Colgate trip:
- In full disclosure, on the final timeout called with just over ten seconds to go, Coach Gilmore had originally wanted the timeout with about two seconds to go after running one more play, informing the referee closest to the sideline that he wanted to control the final play. After Taggart ran the play, to the surprise of most of us (including the coaching staff), he called the timeout with ten seconds with an interesting facial expression; I couldn’t tell if he was regretting the decision he had made or he knew exactly what he was doing. Obviously it was the latter. Not to sound cheesy or anything, right before we took over on offense on the final drive, I told Billy Edger I was feeling a touchdown from him on the ensuing drive as he squirted his gloves with water. True to form, Edge came through.
- Hands down, I think this was one of the best hotels comfort wise we have stayed in my two years as a manager. Situated in the beautiful Handshake City, Utica, NY (home of more strip clubs than McDonald’s from my count, including “Teasers” that could be seen glowing from our room), the Radisson Hotel we stayed at came complete with Sleep Number beds in all rooms and crystal clear Panasonic TVs, as well as free chocolate chip cookies and Wall Street Journals in the lobby. Though Kevin Callahan and I missed breakfast as a result of staying up really late to watch scary movies on AMC, the breakfast food was reported to be uncharacteristically subpar, but the dinner the night before was superb. Devouring some of the best ice cream sundaes we’ve ever had, we got to spend some quality time with Coach Gilmore and the kickers, discussing among other things what Coach Gilmore would be for Halloween. Unsurprisingly, he’s going as a football coach.
- Order Pizza Classic if you’re ever in downtown Utica. The cheese pizza was well worth the price and the chicken wings rivaled Wings Over Worcester, not to mention they’re open until two in the morning. It doesn’t get any better than waiting for pizza with a grumbling stomach and watching a drunken guy in red shorts and Jordan flip flops almost stumble straight into the glass wall at the Utica Radisson. Just another priceless moment on the road in the Patriot League.
- Colgate has one of the best overall football facilities in the league, having installed an impeccable field turf surface a few years back with a gigantic video board. Similar to Harvard, we utilized a pre- and post-game dressing locker room in their basketball/hockey complex (which was a little tight), but we moved to an auxiliary locker room under the stands for halftime. Instead of shagging kicks this week, Billy Bellerose and I explored the hockey arena and basketball courts in the complex. Overall, it’s a pretty impressive operation with all sports having offices in just one building. What is interesting to note is that they have a three or four lane bowling alley right next to their main athletic offices (somehow I don’t think Dick Regan would approve). Also, Colgate does an admirable job of promoting their athletic history through colorful interpretive trophy cases, displaying jerseys from hockey/football greats alike; for one, I never knew that Mike Milbury was a Raider. A little touchup to our trophy cases would be inexpensive and wouldn’t be a bad idea.
- Colgate’s press box, constructed in 2003, is pretty nice, up there with the UMASS press box in terms of overall functionality and comfort. While the snacks were lacking this week, the amount of free programs and maneuvering space more than made up for that. The only real letdown was that our equipment had to be carried down two flights of stairs before we reached the elevator; the elevator was slower than the one in the Fenwick basement. In terms of media outlets, Time Warner Cable was covering the game on television for central New York. The TV announcers were clearly getting peeved when the Colgate coaching staff had to cross the path of their cameras to get to their coaching box (who came up with the position for the camera was my biggest question). And just like UMASS’, Colgate’s video board carried the broadcast of the game during the game. That allowed for myself and the others on the sideline to see ourselves every few seconds during the game—not something you get to do everyday. (Not to sound conceited, before the UMASS game, I purposely ran across midfield while throwing the football with the other managers to see how athletic I looked.)
- Doug Rosnick and Greg Sullivan are two of the most talkative guys I’ve ever seen on a football field; up until the game, rightfully so with the numbers they put up. I can only wonder what they did with their Holy Cross t-shirts after the game.
- Nice to see the band making the trip out to Hamilton, as well as a decent contingent of parents. Compared to home games of the past, the band sounds much better with the recent addition of a new band director. After the game, Coach Gilmore and the parents invited the band to come eat with us at the post-game tailgate, a nice gesture considering the great enthusiasm displayed by the band the entire game.
- A sad day in the world of mangers this past week as Notre Dame manager Declan Sullivan died after falling from the lift he was filming from at football practice in South Bend. Scissor lifts like the ones used at Notre Dame are used at almost every facility we have been to, including two we use for sideline and end zone film at practice. We used to joke a lot when it started snowing or raining (which it did a lot at the beginning of the year) that we might get blown over; it got pretty real this past week with the news. Our hearts go out to Declan and the Notre Dame community.
- If you make it to the game on Saturday, don’t forget to wish myself and Andrew Zitnik a happy birthday!
Thanks against Joe T. for your always entertaining input and commentary.
Hopefully I can draft up a preview to the Lehigh game in the next day or so as Championship Game #2 is on the horizon. I have three papers and a test later on in the week, but we all know that Chu Chu Rah Rah and Holy Cross football takes precedence over everything else.
Kevin Doyle '11