Bald Eagles still struggling

By Bill Albright in Sports

September 29, 2011

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On the heels of a near-miss 21-20 loss to Millersville to open the season followed by a 49-6 pasting administered by 16th-ranked Kutztown in week two, facing defending PSAC champion Mercyhurst Saturday afternoon might have felt like jumping from the frying pan into the fire for first-year LHU head coach John Allen and his young troops.

As the game unfolded, the young Eagles probably played as well as they could have against the defending conference champions during the first half of the PSAC-West confrontation.

Unfortunately for the Bald Eagles, a college football game consists of 60 minutes in length, and just as well as things went for them in the first half, the game went South for the Crimson & White during the final 30 minutes as the Lakers coasted to a 42-3 win in sun-drenched Hubert Jack Stadium.

As for John Allen in his initial year as head coach of the LHU program, although frustrating to watch his young Eagles play hard in a losing effort, he also saw some positive things that came out of the game.

“It is frustrating, but the positive thing is that we played pretty well on both sides of the football in the first half,” said Allen. “The frustration for the kids comes because they know they want it (a win) so bad that they sometimes do things that causes them to get a little bit out of whack as far as execution is concerned. That is the part of it that we (the coaches) are now trying to learn how to overcome.”

Breaks are a part of any football game, and for the Bald Eagles, two of those reared their ugly heads during the opening half.

The first came on their second possession when it came to an abrupt halt as the result of a lost fumble on the Laker 8-yard line. Minutes later, the Eagles again drove into the Laker red zone, only to have a 44-yard field goal attempt by Central Mountain product Noah Heimer hit the crossbar and bounce back.

“If we don’t give up the fumble, things might have been different. That was critical and we talked about that,” Allen said. “If we put points on the board that might have been a different story. And I thought Noah (Heimer) did a good job on field goals. He just missed that one which he is very capable of making.”

However, the bad news was the domination produced only three points for the Bald Eagles.

Although trailing by 11 points (14-3), the LHU domination was evident on the stat sheet as they held advantages in first downs (11-5), time of possession (19:52-10:08) and total offense (163-77).

“That (being behind) is a matter of turning the ball over in critical situations, putting ourselves in a couple of situations where the defense is backed up in our territory,” said Allen. “Those are the things we have to overcome as a young football team. I think we are continuing to move forward because I do sense they (the LHU players) want to continue to play hard and continue to learn. As I look at it, this group hasn’t learned that kind of stuff so this is all new to them. We have to go through being coached through difficult situations in order to get better.”

As for the early part of the game, there was both good news and bad news for the Bald Eagles from the opening kickoff.

The good news was that the Crimson & White dominated the Lakers for the opening 17 minutes of the game, only to have a zero on the board.

After an exchange of punts, the Lakers were the recipients of good field position at the LHU 37.

After picking up a first down, Hurst had apparently coughed up the football with a LHU recovery, but a little piece of yellow laundry on the field allowed Hurst to maintain possession when the Bald Eagles were guilty of an offside infraction.

Taking advantage of the break, the Lakers turned the break into seven points when tight end R. J. Miller hauled in a 7-yard scoring pass from Travis Rearick for the touchdown with 6:38 left on the clock before the break.

Trailing 7-0, the Bald Eagles came right back to mount a drive that started on their own 28.

Riding the legs of Brandon Brader and the arm of quarterback Jarryd Burkett, LHU drove inside the red zone to a first-and-goal at the Hurst 6-yard stripe.

Three plays had the ball right back on the Hurst 6-yard stripe where Heimer connected for a 23-yard field goal to cut the Laker lead to 7-3.

Hoping to go to the locker room only four points down, Trevor Kennedy took Heimer’s kickoff on his own 10-yard line and went the distance for the score with a mere 41 ticks left on the clock before the break.

Not only did Kennedy’s touchdown jaunt increase the Laker lead, it might have set the tone for what was to come in the second half.

“When things like that happen, it is almost a situation where we are being tested,” Allen said. “I think now is probably a good time for it because we need that mentally and we talk a lot about mental toughness. We need to experience and work our way through these growing pains for us to be successful down the road. If don’t learn it now, then we’ll probably never learn it.”

When the two teams came out of their dressing room for the second half, it was Mercyhurst’s turn to dominate the action and they did just that.

With the LHU offense unable to generate much of an attack following the intermission, the Lakers asserted themselves to put up 28 unanswered points to set the final at Mercyhurst 42, LHU 3.

Now 0-3, things don’t get any easier for the Bald Eagles as the nationally-ranked California (PA) Vulcans make their way into Jack Stadium Saturday for a PSAC-West contest.

“It doesn’t get any easier for us, but that is the great thing about this conference,” said Allen. “Every week you have great competition, you have to suit up and you have to play your best. There is nobody in the league where you can say, OK, we’ll just show up and play today and we’ll get a ‘W’. I enjoy that and I think this squad is starting to learn to enjoy that kind of competition and the challenges that come with it.”

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