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Albany Sliced Onion, November 15, 2009
Racers Bounced Out of Post-
Season by Washington, 28-16

Fall in Early 21-Point Hole; Ultimately
Doomed by Campbell’s 4th and 1 Failure

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by “Troyski” Nectady
The Racers’ return to the EFL post-season after a 10-year absence was short-lived, as they fell way behind in the first half, almost made the game competitive in the second, but ultimately fell to the Washington Capitols, 28‑16.

Playing before an amped up full house, the Racers moved the ball effectively between the 20s, outgaining their guests 449‑324, but they lacked a finishing punch and penalties really damaged their prospects. Washington, on the other hand, made 3 lightning-quick scoring plays, one coming on a takeaway, didn’t turn the ball over at all, and even got a couple of late lucky bounces. There was a certain economy to the Capitols’ effort, whereas the Racers were over-eager and seemed at times to flail.

Despite falling behind 21‑0, the Racers hung in, driving 92 yards for a late 3rd quarter touchdown by Thomas Jones on a clever 3rd and 4 pitchout call, and soon thereafter had a great chance to make it a one-score game. During a Racers drive which started on their own 15 with Washington up 21‑10, Jason Campbell connected with Hank Baskett for 27 yards on 3rd and 7 to move the Racers into Capitols territory.

The pivotal play was set up by a 3rd and 10 screen pass from Campbell to Jones that was successful — just not successful enough. Jones was brought down at the Capitols 12, bringing up 4th and less than a yard with 9:50 to go. The Racers needed only a short John Carney field goal at this point to make it a one-score game, but coach Rocky Feller gambled, trying to put his squad into a position where a subsequent touchdown would put them in the lead instead of merely giving them the opportunity to tie with a two-point conversion.

Feller sent in a full house alignment but called Campbell’s number on a sneak. Unfortunately, Capitols left tackle Marcus Stround and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo got penetration against Racers guard Kirk Chambers, in for the injured Chris Snee, and center Ryan Kalil. Campbell was barely able to advance the pile forward. A measurement was taken, but it really wasn’t necessary, as the ball had been placed a full foot shy of the marker.

Buoyed by the big stop, Trent Edwards and the Capitols’ offense, which had to that point been contained in the 2nd half, drove 88 yards for an insurance touchdown by Hines Ward with 3:17 left, and that was basically all she wrote.

During that drive Plaxico Burress and Adrian Peterson fumbled after catching passes from Edwards, but in both cases the ball bounced directly to teammates — Peterson and Robert Royal, respectively — depriving the Racers of another opportunity to reduce their deficit to single digits.

To their credit the Racers didn’t give up, getting a 30-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to Chansi Stuckey. But Campbell overshot Kevin Boss on the two-point conversion try, Carney’s onside kick was corralled by Burress, and soon Washington was on their way to the championship game against the winner of the game today between the New York Empires and the Delaware Cherries.

Some questionable Feller game-planning — coupled with untimely defensive lapses and costly penalties, put the Racers in the 21-point first half hole, from which they were unable to extract themselves.

Relying heavily on Jones, Albany took the opening kickoff and moved smartly into Capitols territory. But the drive stalled at the Washington 37, and Brian Moorman did his job, pinning the Capitols at their own 6.

The Racers’ defense came out with a lot of energy. But they didn’t temper that energy with intelligence, and they were hurt by the officials’ evident desire to call the game close. On that first Washington possession, Racers defensive end Chris Kelsay was called for unnecessary roughness against Peterson, moving the Capitols to their own 44. That call seemed a little iffy, and the crowd made their discontent known.

Three plays later, Adalius Thomas kneed Peterson in the calf after tackling him. This was an obvious unsportsmanlike call, and there was no delay in the officials’ delivery of it. The 15 additional gift yards put Washington on the Albany 34. Then on 2nd and 10 Peterson went around right end and broke into the clear. He escaped the grasp of Andre Carter near the 20 and galloped the rest of the way to put Washington up 7‑0.

The ensuing Albany possession ended with a Moorman punt after 2 first downs. The most significant occurrence was the departure from the game due to injury of Washington’s excellent middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. He would not return. That boded well for the Racers’ chances. But while they did pile up a boatload of yardage after Pierce left, his replacement, Ayanbadejo, played pretty well: Not only did he have 5 tackles, he also had a key role in foiling Campbell’s pivotal sneak.

Feller’s early game script seemed, oddly, to exclude short- and medium-range passing — Campbell didn’t complete his first pass until the 2nd quarter. Instead the script was heavy on Jones run calls with a sprinkling of calls for Campbell to air it out.

That strategy would prove disastrous late in the first quarter. A Chris Kluwe punt skipped out of bounds at the Racers 2, putting their backs against the wall. What an odd time to throw deep, but on both 1st and 2nd downs Campbell dropped back well into the end zone and surveyed the landscape way up field.

  • On 1st down the Capitols appeared to be caught by surprise. If not for an superb, athletic play by Nick Collins to bat Campbell’s on-the-money pass away, Derrick Mason might have had himself a 98-yard score.
  • On 2nd down Washington wasn’t fooled at all. Jared Allen sprinted around Kyle Eckel and wrapped an arm around Campbell’s waste a couple yards into the end zone. With Fred Robbins closing in too, Campbell fell forward in an effort to avoid a safety, and in doing so slammed the ball into the turf and lost control of it. Washington’s Rocky McIntosh fell on it just on the end zone side of the goal line for a 14‑0 Capitols lead with 1:01 left in the first quarter.

The Racers controlled the ball for 10 of the next 12 minutes but incredibly got no closer to scoring than the Capitols 36. After a touchback, Washington drove 80 yards in 5 plays for their 3rd score. Steve Smith set it up with a 30-yard catch as the clock ticked down under two minutes. On the first play after the warning Peterson tried again to go around right end. Kelsay appeared to have him pinned for a loss, but Peterson stiff-armed him and zoomed 35 yards untouched to the end zone to give Washington a 21‑0 advantage.

The Capitols lost their shutout bid on the final play of the first half. Following Peterson’s score, the Racers moved into Washington territory. On 4th and 2 at the 49, Feller went for the first down. Eckel was caught for a 5-yard loss on an ill-conceived sweep, but the Capitols were offside, and the Racers maintained possession.

Boss then beat Brandon Meriweather for a 27-yard reception to the 17. Campbell spiked the ball, hit Stuckey for 7 yards, and then spiked it again, doing so just barely before the clock ran out. The crowd wanted Feller to go for the touchdown from 10 yards out, but he wanted his team to get on the scoreboard and therefore sent Carney out to kick. Carney’s 27-yarder made it 21‑3 Capitols at the break.

Campbell ended up passing for 310 yards, all of it in the last 3 quarters, with 27 completions in 41 attempts. He was sacked 3 times, twice by Allen. Jones was the leading rusher in the game with 127 yards on 23 carries. He also caught 3 passes for 25 yards.


Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, November 16, 2009
Cherries Throttle New York,
35-10, Advance to Title Game

Dominating Performance Led by Rivers,
Tomlinson, Miller, Peppers, Webster

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Rip Snorter

Like a Python, Cherries
Squeezed Life Out of Emps

Yesterday the Cherries excelled in all phases of the game and earned a spot in the EFL championship game for the 2nd straight season. The sellout crowd in Delaware Stadium couldn’t have asked for a better performance.

Well, they could have asked, but I doubt the Cherries could have obliged. They were scary-good.

The Empires put up a fight in the first half. But by midway through the 3rd quarter, when Philip Rivers threw his 4th touchdown pass, the Cherries, in python-like fashion, had just about squeezed all of the life out of New York. The final was 35‑10, Cherries — and it wasn’t even that close.

Consider the Cherries’ advantages in

  • first downs: 29‑9
  • total yardage: 435‑189
  • rushing yardage: 187‑49
  • 3rd down conversions: 63% (10-16)‑13% (1-8)
  • plays from scrimmage: 79‑40
  • time of possession: 39:03‑20:57

Those numbers are “sick”, as younger fans might say.

But what I liked most was the way the Cherries in the 2nd half didn’t allow the Emps any type of opening that could have given them hope of getting back into the game. Already ahead as of the break, 21‑10, the Cherries just kept squeezing harder and harder. They would allow New York only 55 more yards. For every Empires possession, the Cherries responded with a longer one. The clock melted, and the Cherries increased their lead.

It was a thing of beauty.

  • Julius Peppers brought the curtain down on the first New York possesion of the second half after only 4 plays with a sack of Jake Delhomme on 3rd and 13. Sav Rocca punted for the Emps, and Rivers drove the Cherries 72 yards on 15 plays. Lee Evans beat a double-team on 3rd and 12 at the New York 13 to set up Heath Miller’s 2nd touchdown.
  • New York got a couple first down on their next possession but lost the ball on downs at the Delaware 42 when Delhomme underthrew Amani Toomer. Two consecutive catches by Evans highlighted the Cherries’ 58-yard ensuing touchdown drive, which ended with Rivers sneaking in for his first ever EFL rushing touchdown. (I loved how he gave the ball to center Nick Mangold to spike.)
  • After both teams went three-and-out, with the Cherries holding the ball for 34 more seconds than the Emps, New York started off well with Toomer beating David Barrett for 27 yards. But then the Cherries turned up the heat with a LaMarr Woodley sack, leading to a 3rd and 16 situation for the Emps at their own 49. The next play was doubly unsuccessful, as I’ll describe in a moment, and New York coach Roman Gotham ran up the white flag, bringing in Rocca to punt with 6:25 left and his team down 4 scores. He certainly was correct to do that because the Cherries would methodically run out the clock, getting all the way to the Emps 7 before calling off the dogs.

That 3rd and 16 play by New York epitomized the difficulties they experienced throughout the game. Delhomme found all of his receivers covered, and in frustration he threw the ball 20 yards beyond his primary intended receiver Devin Thomas who had run a deep route. When the flag came out for intentional grounding, Delhomme looked toward the New York bench, saw the punting team coming out, and walked off the field shaking his head in resignation. I almost felt sorry for the guy.

Delhomme was also called for intentional grounding in the second quarter. It wasn’t that Delhomme had a bad game. He was 14-for-24, and his passing rating of 91.7 was higher than his regular season rating. He just didn’t get much of a chance to get into a rhythm due to the Cherries’ hogging of the ball.

The disappearance of his favorite regular season target, Torry Holt, didn’t help Delhomme. During the regular season Holt had 90 receptions for 1,182 yards, 2nd in the league in both categories behind only Steve Smith of Richmond. Yesterday Holt had only 2 catches for 10 yards. Mad props to Corey Webster for his lock-down coverage of Holt.

Rivers, on the other hand, was excellent overall, and he got better as the game went on. He sure feasted on the Emps this season. His 4 touchdown passes yesterday were more than he threw in any regular season game.

Despite 3 of those scores coming in the first half, his aim seemed a little off before halftime. After the first few minutes of the second half, Rivers got hot. He completed his last 11 passes, and 8 of those completions resulted in first downs! That enabled the Cherries to chew up clock in huge gulps and clearly demoralized New York.

Gotham said afterward, “We just couldn’t get a stop on Rivers in the 2nd half. He was pinpoint. We needed points in a hurry, but we just couldn’t get the offense back on the field.”

In the first half LaDainian Tomlinson carried the Cherries — no surprise there.

  • In the early minutes Willie Anderson cleared the way for Tomlinson to ramble 45 yards to the Emps 20. That led to Miller’s first touchdown.
  • Late in the half L.T.’s consecutive runs of 21, 7, and 3 yards, each of which was good for a 1st down with the last coming on 3rd and 3 at the New York 10, set up Donnie Avery’s touchdown catch that upped Delaware’s lead to 21‑7.

Tomlinson had 105 yards in the first half on 13 carries. For the whole morning he had 138 on 22.

The Cherries served notice on the Emps that they would give no quarter before any points were scored. 3 plays after Tomlinson’s 45-yard ramble, the Cherries were faced with 4th and 2 at the New York 12. Kicker John Kasay didn’t budge off the bench. To paraphrase an old movie … “Field goals? We don’t need no steeking field goals!” Rivers lined up his unit in a pro set, dropped back 2 steps, hit Miller running a slant route in stride at the 3, and the big tight end bulled his way across the goal line — first blood for the Cherries.

Ironically, Tomlinson lost a yard minutes later on another 4th and 2, this one at the Cherries 49. New York took advantage of the short field to tie the game on the first play of the second quarter. But there’s no denying the first 4th down gamble and the resulting opening score was a tone-setter. This was going to be the Cherries’ day.

Of that first gamble, coach Jon Brams said, “We had already come, what, 70 [actually, 68] yards? Do that and settle for a chip-shot [field goal] and as far as I’m concerned, you give [New York] a shot in the arm. It was the first possession of the game, and when you can get 7 [points], it’s huge. I have confidence our guys can get 2 yards whenever they need them.”

The Cherries’ dominating performance was much appreciated by the packed house of Delaware faithful. When the clock ticked down to 2 minutes on the heels of a 10-yard Antonio Pittman run up the middle on 1st and 5 behind Mangold, the crowd stood up en masse and gave the team a prolonged standing ovation that lasted until nearly the end of the 2-minute timeout. It was extraordinary — the type of reaction you would see in a basketball game after the home team has run off 9 or 10 points in a row to take the lead and forced the other team to call timeout.

The Cherries will face a tough championship game opponent in the Washington Capitols Sunday morning. Washington beat them here in the regular season. While the Cherries’ attitude in the locker room toward championship game preparations seemed businesslike, their fans might like to take a little extra time to savor their team’s work in the semi-final against the Emps. The Cherries played brilliantly.