« Week 13 Semi-Finals »

New York Slimes, November 8, 2009
Empires Top Albany, 21-10, to Earn Wildcard Berth
Go Ahead to Stay on Delhomme’s 36-Yard Touchdown Pass to Toomer
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Syracuse Posed Standee, November 8, 2009
Charleston Ends Crush’s Playoff Hopes, 28-26
Rodgers Passes for 297 Yards but Critical 2-Point Try Fails
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, November 8, 2009
Cherries Nip Baltimore in OT, 27-24, Grab Top Seed
Losses by Albany and Washington Leave Door Open — Kasay Delivers
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Hartford Crude Rant, November 8, 2009
Comets End Disappointing Season with 23-17 Loss to Hershey
Cassel, Offense Swoon Again with Only 249 Yards
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Richmond Timed Distant, November 8, 2009
Shiancoe, Philadelphia Keep Rebels in Basement, 14-6
Fail to Reach End Zone as Ground Game Goes AWOL
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Washington Postage Stamp, November 8, 2009
Capitols Upset by Providence, 17-10, Won’t Host Semi-Final
Settle for #3 Seed and Trip to Albany as Jackson, Peterson, McClain are Ineffective
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, November 8, 2009

Rip Snorter

Cherries’ “Do-Over” Yields Another #1 Seed

On the Cherries’ bench the coaches and players knew Albany and Washington had just lost their games. Coach Jon Brams denied that later — but I knew better.

Ray Lewis told me they knew. So did Philip Rivers.

Those other games went final right after the redoubtable LaDainian Tomlinson had just burst 37 yards up the middle, thanks to nasty blocks by Nick Mangold and Max Jean-Gilles, for a touchdown with 1:15 left in the 4th quarter to put the Cherries back in front of Baltimore for the fourth time.

If the Cherries could just hold off the Bolts they would earn the #1 seed and guaranteed home field in the upcoming playoffs.

As the obviously fatigued defense took the field Lewis exhorted his teammates to show they’re deserving of the top seed, to dig in, and just hold on.

They couldn’t.

Twice on the Baltimore drive, Brian Dawkins, who otherwise had a marvelous game, snagging his league-leading 8th and 9th interceptions of the season, left Lito Sheppard in single coverage on the fleet Vincent Jackson, electing to double up instead on third wide receiver Chris Chambers, a vital member of the Cherries’ 2008 EFL championship team. Chambers led the Bolts in touchdown receptions this season with 5.

Twice Jackson burned Sheppard.

Fortunately, in the early minutes of the extra session Sheppard and Dawkins would get the last laugh on Roethlisberger, Jackson, and the Bolts. The Cherries would get the win, 27‑24, that prized #1 seed, and a semi-final date with their familiar and no doubt preferred opponent, the New York Empires.

This is how the Cherries’ “do-over” went down:

The Bolts took possession first in the overtime. After DeAngelo Williams ran for a first down, Roethlisberger went deep looking for Jackson. However, his throw had too much mustard and Sheppard picked it off. Dawkins promptly leveled Jackson, clearing a path up the left sideline for Sheppard. Lito made it all the way to the Baltimore 47 where he was brought down by Jon Jansen. The takeaway gave Delaware great field position to start what would be the last drive they would need.

After Kevin O’Connell (more on him in a bit) hit Heath Miller on a quick out for 6 yards, Tony Richardson cleared the way for Tomlinson to gain 7 yards off tackle on a key 3rd and 4. Tomlinson was clearly gassed, having done yeoman’s work with 26 carries for 162 yards and 2 scores, so Brams brought in Antonio Pittman and called his number 4 straight times. The sub responded with gains of 5, 6, 2, and 6, the last positioning the ball midway between the hash marks at the Baltimore 15.

Brams sent in John Kasay on 3rd down, and the veteran nailed a 32-yard field goal right down the middle, with far more oomph than necessary, for the win. The kick would have been good from 52.

The game was very entertaining — full of emotional highs and lows. It reminded me of the last game of the 2005 season, a game that, like this one, was in Baltimore and went into overtime. That one ended up a 17‑17 draw, which ensured both teams would finish the season with winning records, largely because Kasay and Bolts kicker Morten Andersen combined to miss an unfathomable 6 of 8 field goal attempts.

The kicking game was much better last night although Baltimore’s Jeff Reed missed a 46-yard attempt in the 2nd quarter that could have wound up being the difference.

Regardless of whatever motivation the scoreboard might have given the Cherries at various points in the evening, they played with a lot of intensity and were deserving winners. Their coach was proud of their effort: “The guys were focused, they hit hard, and I could tell they really wanted it. A great win! They overcame some adversity, didn’t they?”

They sure did — although some of it was of their own making. I’m talking about you, Dante Hall.

The veteran return man, whom I suspect won’t be back next season, fumbled away 2 Jason Baker punts in the first half, effectively keeping the Bolts in the game.

But Hall’s contribution wasn’t all negative. His 35-yard kickoff return in the 1st quarter set up Delaware at its own 47, great field position that eventually translated into a Donnie Avery scoring reception. And when Hall fumbled a kickoff with less than 7 minutes left in regulation, he prevented an unthinkable 3rd turnover by diving into the pile-up and wresting the ball away from the much bigger and stronger Mike Cox.

Another piece of adversity the Cherries overcame occurred with 3:57 left in the 3rd quarter. After handing the ball to Tomlinson, Rivers whacked his throwing hand against the helmet of Nick Barnett.

Rivers was unable to return so the Cherries had to rely on O’Connell, who was appearing in just his 3rd game.

Give a lot of credit to the rookie. He played with a lot of poise, and, more importantly, avoided any major miscues. Although his longest completion was only 9 yards, he still managed to engineer points on 3 of the 4 legitimate possessions in which he participated, with 7 completions in 11 attempts.

Of O’Connell’s performance, Brams said, “Kevin did what we asked him to do, and he didn’t try to do anything more. He saved our bacon.” Rivers should be at full strength when the Cherries host the Empires in next Sunday morning’s semi-final. Washington will be at Albany the night before.

Baltimore finished 6‑8, with 7 losses in their last 10 games. Franny Key and Bolts fans have to be disappointed in how their men in black clearly underperformed. Their 6 wins were 3 fewer than in 2008 when they barely missed the playoffs and their fortunes appeared to be trending up.

Big Ben just hasn’t been a good fit in Baltimore. Inconsistent play has plagued his 5-season career there. I wouldn’t be surprised if Key were to put him on the trading block. Providence and Richmond are two teams I could see him going to.

The biggest bright spot for the Bolts last night was Barnett. He was all over the field, accumulating an astronomical 17 tackles.