Posted on: November 26, 2009 12:18 am
My time in college has been marked by hardships for my favorite football teams. The Tennessee football team is up and down, while the Georgia Southern team is just down. However, this past Saturday offered a clear, concise view of the difference in the two programs. I'll start with Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt.
Coming off an awful campaign last year following the awful hire of Dave Clawson, the Tennessee Vols were picked to finish no higher than 4th or 5th in the SEC East, and were ruled out of bowl contention almost from the get-go. The early season had its ups and downs, and, coming off of the blowout loss to Ole Miss, Tennessee needed a win to become bowl-eligible. The hire of Lane Kiffin was maligned as a rushed decision, just a symptom of the lost time Tennessee had on the recruiting trail. Many questioned his accomplishments and record as a head coach, and few believed his boasting and braying about bringing championships to KNoxville.
The game was marked by terrrible officiating and an excruciating near-interception by Eric Berry that would have broken the record for interception return yards as EB would havve taken it to the house. However, after an atrocious pass interference call gave Vanderbilt a new set of downs with goal to go, Tennessee stepped up its game. Following an amazing open field tackle by freshman sub Stephaun Raines and walk-on Shane Reveiz, weak-kneed Senior Wes Brown caused an intentional grounding that forced Vanderbilt to settle for a field to make the score 24-16. A few minutes later, Brown electrified Neyland Stadium with a play that Vol fans will talk about for years to come.
Vanderbilt QB MacKenzi Adams was forced out of the pocket and wrapped up by Chris "Unblockable" Walker. Trying to make something happen, Adams flung the ball to... Wes Brown. With a shoelace catch, only two Commodores stood between Brown and paydirt. Brown start chugging for the checkerboard, wrapping the football tight to his barrel-chest. One Commodore, an offensive linemen took himself out of the play with a bad angle. But VU freshman standout Warren Norman, who had broken Hershel Walker's freshman all-purpose yards record earlier in the night, had the speed to catch Brown. As Brown crossed the Vandy 10-yard line, Norman launched into the air and latched onto Brown's back. Without a good grip, he slipped down so that his arms strained to encircle Brown's hips. The determined Brown dragged Norman the last 15 or so feet and then it was his turn to launch into the air. As Brown fell into the end zone, Neyland Stadium exploded, the crowd envigorated by Brown's efforts to finally score a touchdown as a Volunteer. The entire defense piled on top of Brown, celebrating his assuredly painful and glorious score.
Head Coach Lane Kiffin ran down the sidelines as the play developed, hoping to help keep Brown's knees from failing as he trudged towards the hallowed orange and white checkerboard. In his exuberance, Kiffin blindsided Vol QB Jonathan Crompton, and later joked that Crompton "is on this week's injury report." Somehow, Neyland Stadium contained the immense energy released by this play, and the atmosphere after the final gun sounded was nothing short of electric. Players hung around on the field afterwards, seemingly held there by the magic they had witnessed just minutes before. The parents of the seniors proudly held their progeny, celebrating a happy ending to a decidedly melancholic tenure at Tennessee. Kiffin sarcastically thanked the SEC comissioner for the pass interfernce call leading to the Raines-Reveiz collusion and the Brown sack, stating "Mr. Slive...thank you for that call." Later this week, Kiffin announced more good news: Janzen Jackson, recently free of any charges stemming from an incident two weeks previous, was coming back to the team, and would practice and start the next game at Kentucky. A good week for any Volunteer.
The situation at Georgia Southern was remarkably similar. After the awful hire of Brian Van Gorder, currently the DC of the Atlanta Falcons, Georgia Southern made the snap decision to hire Chris Hatcher, coach of Div II Valdosta State, already with a DII title under his belt. He vowed to "keep all the Traditions and Lore of Georgia Southern Football." Reversing the mistake of his predecessors, Hatcher reached out to Erk Russell, attempting to bring him back to talking terms with the program. He also reverted to the traditions established by Coach Russell, hoping to also revert to the tradition of winning football in Statesboro.
However, his pass-happy offense did not fit the hodge-podge of triple option and pro style offensive players available on the roster, and the defense was also a mess. Hatcher led the team to a 13-9 record the first two years, bringing hope that the team would begin to produce SoCon championships and hopefully a few FCS Crowns. However, things did not according to plan, and the Eagles came into the final game of the season on a three game losing streak with a record of 4-6. The GSU seniors, with a record of 20-23, had no shot at a winning career record, but they played for pride, and played hard. In a defensive struggle, GSU prevailed 13-6, behind a strong defensive effort producing several turnovers.
Shortly after the game, with the Southern Pride marching band performing out the victory hymn "It is Well with my Soul," and Hatcher celebrating with his seniors, GSU Athletic Director Sam Baker came over and informed Hatcher that his contract would not be renewed for the next year. Hours later, Baker announced publicly that same decision and put to rest any notion that he has a shred of class or intelligence. Instead of ending on a high note, the Eagle seniors were left looking over thier shoulders at the teammates they left behind, knowing all too well what awaits them. The tension of a coaching search, the boos that echoed throughout Paulson just a week earlier during a Homecoming loss to perennial doormat Samford, the unease that comes with a coach bringing in new offensive and defensive schemes. Those 17 seniors, who led 42 freshmen, 37 sophomores and just 12 juniors onto the field were now leaving them at the mercy of the fumbling Baker, whose football knowledge amounts to how much money the university pulls in at the gate and how many tickets need to be sold to move to Division I, FBS.
The seniors at Tennessee face a stiff challenge in Lexington this weekend, with a possible January 1st bowl on the line, hoping just to play another game in the Orange and White. The Georgia Southern seniors face demoralizing self-doubt and must live through various "what-if" scenarios that would have vastly changed their fortunes. Without much hope for the future, the gray, cold winter seems endlessly long and terminally bleak, but they must look past their fears, their doubt, and their perceived shortcomings and remember that the night is always darkest before the dawn. GATA Eagles, don't give up.
Posted on: April 9, 2009 8:59 am
I guess that ranking wasn't a fluke. The Eagles earned a split this week against the 8th-ranked Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech.
The first game could have gone either way, but for a misplayed flyball that might've been scored an error. Southern and Tech were knotted at 2 before Tech blew it open in the 5th. Phillip Porter, responsible for the flyball flub, responded by hittting a 2-run homer to pull the Eagles within 4, but they would come no closer to victory. Brian Pierce, more affectionately known as BP by the Eagle faithful, let the way with 3 hits, and Roman Grimaldi continued his hot streak, finishing with 2 hits and a swipe of second base.
The second, however, was a nightmare for the fans in Old Gold. Georgia Southern won the game 23-3 in the most lopsided game for Georgia Southern this season, which is saying something, considering some of margins of victory this season. Ty Wright, mentioned in the previous article, went back to the lead-off spot and respond by going 4-5 with 4 runs scored and his first collegiate grand slam, highlighting a 7-run effort in the 7th frame. With the Eagles leading 11-2, this game seemed to be in the bag. However, the Eagles weren't done yet. AJ Wirnsberger hit his team-leading 6th homer in th 8th inning, and then all hell broke loose in the 9th. With Georgia Tech closer Mark Pope in for a little light work, the Eagles struck, and hard. Will Southwell, a redshirt junior not known for his offense, seems to have woken his bat up. After a home run on Saturday night, Will Southwell went 2-2, 2B, HR and 4 RBI's. In the 9th inning. Kyle 'Bear' Blackburn woke from his 1-21 hibernation at the plate to hit an RBI single, and AJ added another RBI. The Eagles actually held runners up on the basepaths, trying not to stretch the lead any more than they needed to. On a side note, a North Cobb High School class mate of mine, Sean Devine, took over for Pope and recorded the last three outs, allowing 2 runs on 2 hits and striking 2 out.
In talking about how good the Eagles were in my last dip in Eagle Creek, I omitted the fabulous season of Phillip Porter, out of Sprayberry HS in Marietta. He leads the team in slugging percentage (no small feat in Statesboro the past two years) and triples, with 2, has posted an avg/slg/ops of .361/.602/1.015, is second on the team with 6 homers and 6 stolen bases. My apologies to Phillip on overlooking his excellent season.
Posted on: April 7, 2009 9:00 am
Well, GSU baseball is full swing, and, after a dissapointing football season and an investigation of the men's basketball program, GSU baseball is just the panacea I was looking for.
Last year, my Eagles set multiple school records, and even set an NCAA record for most home runs in a single game with 14 against Cornell last March. They finished 37th in attendance in the NCAA, also setting a school record for season attendence. But now to this season. Returning nearly everyone who mattered, the Eagles got off to the same blistering offensive pace, but something was different.
Rodney Hennon found some pitchers.
Not to say that any of out pitchers are going to win the Cy Young in the pros, but when you're scoring nearly 10 runs a game (9.9) to be exact, you don't need much in the way of pitching. But our pitching staff has responded, especially the bullpen, bolstered by the arrival of Kyle Kamppi, who moved from a starter's role last year neatly into the closer's role this year, going 2-1 witha 2.75 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings (11.44 K/9) while leading the team by converting 5 out of 5 saves (he's also in my Biology Lab). Overall the bullpen is pretty amazing, producing a 4.12 ERA en route to an 11-1 record while striking out 106 in 113 2/3 innings. But the pitching staff isn't the strength of this team.
Ty Wright, Griffin Benedict, and AJ Wirnsberger were all expected to great things this season (the latter two were named Louisville Slugger Pre-Season 3rd Team All-Americans), and they haven't disappointed, especially Griffin Benedict.
At one game this spring, I heard a fellow student shout "I want to be just Griffin when I grow up!" Don't we all. Over shadowed a bit by newcomer Ty Wright, fans hadn't forgotten about Grif, but some had forgotten what a player he is. He goes into tonight's game agianst Georgia Tech carrying a .412 average, with 4 HR and 6 2B in 97 at-bats, good for a .598 slugging % and a 1.118 OPS, stealing 5 bases as a catcher. Ty Wright had a banner year last year. He was featured as one of SI's Faces in the Crowd for hitting for the cycle in the first four innings of game three against Wofford last year. His blend of power and speed is something watch, and I love the energy in the air when he steps up to the plate with runners on, everyone knows something special is about to happen. When I say power and speed, I mean he has equal amounts of both. Last year he batted lead-off, and this year he's clean-up, alll with no noticeable change in weight of strength. He is a man, batting .340 after a slow start, but notching 7 extra base hits and swiping 8 of 9 bases so far, in addition to walking 21 times while striking out only 10 times in 94 AB. AJ got off to a slow start, but he does lead the team with 5 homers, all while committing only 2 errors all year while playing 3rd base. Some other names to note include Eric Phillips at 1st, with an avg/obs/slg/ops of .344/.438/.500/.938 in his first year of quality time, and Roman Grimaldi, cracking the lineup this past weekend and rewarding Coach Hennon with 3 HR in 20 at-bats this season, posting a .450/.542/.900/1.442 line thus far.
So tonight, the Eagles take on Georgia Tech in the away portion of out 4 game home/away series this season after splitting the first two meetings in Statesboro earlier this year. Good luck to the Eagles, carrying their first national ranking since the 1997 preseason poll, ranked #26 by Collegiate Baseball. Go Eagles!!! GATA!!!