Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pitarresi: Bad day for CNY football

It was a bad day for Central New York football.


Syracuse ended the Greg Robinson era with a 30-10 loss to Big East champion Cincinnati, and Colgate was whipped by Villanova 58-28 in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.


Colgate knew it would be tested mightily at Villanova, ranked sixth and capable of competing with big time teams. The Raiders were, giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff and seeing things go downhill from there. It was a great season, though, with tailback Jordan Scott ending a great, record-setting career behind a terrific offensive line. And I’ll never forget that very entertaining, 28-27 victory over Holy Cross for the Patriot League championship.


The SU loss was predictable, I suppose, considering the track record of the last few years, but the Orange were still in it until that interception that helped set up the Bearcat touchdown that made it 20-13. It might have been different, too, had the Orange had their heads on straight from the beginning. Right before John Goebel ran 10 yards for Cincinnati’s first touchdown, I noticed that SU had just 10 players on the field, with just three down linemen.

“What is that?” I yelled at my television.

Goebel ran left, right through the empty spot, and it was 7-0. Not good.


At least Uticans Nick Santiago and Vincenzo Giruzzi finished their careers with their heads up. Both were credited with three tackles and sack, and Giruzzi played most of the game with a thumb that had been disclocated and ripped through his skin and his glove

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pitarresi: McNabb comeback prettty nice

I’m not going to say I knew Donovan McNabb was going to come back big Thursday after having been benched in an Eagles loss Sunday, but I’m not in the least surprised.


McNabb has had a lot of ups and downs in his career. He’s a terrific quarterback, maybe a Hall of Famer, but he is a bit erratic. He’s had some terrible games in his pro career, or at least moments, in which he was inexplicably inaccurate or made terrible decisions. He did that in college on occasion, too, but he did so many great things people often failed to notice. He was a great college quarterback, but not a perfect one.


On balance, however, McNabb has been as good anyone in the NFL after Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He also is a smart, gracious, very nice man who is easy to get along with. I hope he continues to have big days like the one he had in yesterday’s win over the Cardinals.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pitarresi: Two big wins for SU basketball


Two things:


Syracuse University’s basketball team is for real, and Jonny Flynn definitely is one of the best point guards in the nation.


SU’s victories over Florida and Kansas in the Reilly Autoparts tournament Monday and Tuesday in Kansas City should have pretty much convinced everyone that the Orange have the stuff to compete at the top of the Big East. The win over defending national champion Kansas was particularly impressive because SU had to come back from 13 down in the second half. That is a great confidence builder.


And Flynn’s performance against Kansas was sensational. He got the comeback started with his steals and breakway baskets, and of course his 3-pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime was classic. The kid is a great player, tough as nails, smart, willing to take the responsibility for winning and losing on his shoulders. Enjoy him while you can. There are pro scouts who feel he is ready to play in the NBA right now.


One caveat: Both Florida and Kansas are quality teams with big reputations, but both are pretty young, and that showed against the Orange. The Big East will remain a tough grind, but SU, which has plenty of talent, showed plenty of grit the last two nights. That’s a good thing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pitarresi:Great victories for Colgate, SU

I was away 10 days, and all heck broke loose.


Greg Robinson was fired as Syracuse’s football coach, then the Orange defeated Notre Dame, and an hour or so before that, Colgate defeated Holy Cross in a sensational game for the Patriot League football title.


As it happened, my brother and I went to the Colgate-Holy Cross game Saturday. It was kind of what used to be called a busman’s holiday. I’ve spent 37 years covering games, but rarely get to watch one from the stands. Same for my brother, who has coached football at New Hartford for 38 years.


We had a great time out in the cold and snow. We stood on the Holy Cross side, with Crusader parents all around us – very nice people – and took it all in. It reminded me of when we were little kids going to all kinds of games with my father.


This was old fashioned football. With running backs Jordan Scott and Nate Eachus and quarterback Greg Sullivan running – and occasionally throwing to Pat Simonds and Doug Rosnick – the Raiders just pummeled the Crusaders in the second half in a come-from-behind 28-27 victory. As one reader mentioned to me, the real MVP of the game was the offensive line. I don’t care how many games you’ve ever watched, you’ve probably never seen one line dominate another that way. Steve Jonas, Zach Posey, Justin Snyder, Rich Rosabella and Nick Hennessey were just sensational as Colgate held the ball for 25 minutes in the second half.


Colgate had a 17-play, 79-yard, 10-minute scoring drive, a nine-play, 67-yard scoring drive that lasted five minutes, and a closing drive of 10 plays that went 51 yards, last 4:37 and ended the game. And this was against one of the top run defenses in the nation.


It was a great, great show.


So was SU’s victory over Notre Dame.


The Irish gave the Orange plenty of help in this one, but who cares? A victory over Notre Dame at South Bend by a team that came in at 2-8 and with its coach having been fired earlier in the week? Come on!


I was very happy for the players and very happy for Greg Robinson, who by the way, is a huge Notre Dame fan. Everyone noticed that he interrupted his post-game interview on CBS to show respect for the Irish alma mater. He wasn’t gilding the lily, either. That’s really the kind of guy he is.


Hey, maybe the Orange will spoil Cincinnati’s Big East title hopes Saturday. That would be a great way for Robinson to go out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pitarresi: Area teams in states is great stuff

We have four area teams in the New York State football regionals – New Hartford, Oneida, Westmoreland and Dolgeville.


That’s great stuff. I have my reservations about the state playoffs, but only because they truncate the regular season and make league championships all but meaningless. The big plus is that sectional and state playoffs make for exciting high school football, and help prepare players for the next level.


Post-season football is terrific to watch for a lot of reasons – top players, top coaches and great variety, meaning that teams from different areas often have widely varied philosophies and offensive and defensive systems. It’s really interesting to see how programs from outside our area approach the game, and it also brings home the idea that there are many ways to skin a cat.


I’ll be at deer camp this weekend and won’t be able to see any of our teams in action, so I’m hoping they all win so I get another look at all of them. Best of luck to the Spartans, Indians, Bulldogs and Blue Devils.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pitarresi: Make a date for Colgate-Holy Cross

Put this on your calendar:

Holy Cross at Colgate, 1 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 22.

That game will decide the Patriot League football championship and determine whether Colgate’s Red Raiders take another trip to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Colgate is undefeated in the league. Should Holy Cross defeats Lafayette Saturday – not a given by any means – both teams will go into the game undefeated in the league with the title at stake. If Lafayette defeats Holy Cross, and Holy Cross defeats Colgate, and Lafayette defeats Lehigh in their ancient rivalry the same day, there will be a mess with three teams having one loss.

I’m not sure how they’ll resolve that deadlock if it occurs, but the Raiders can remove all doubt by defeating the Crusaders.

Andy Kerr Stadium, although in late November it can be a little, shall we say, cool. Dress warmly. It will be a great game.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pitarresi: Remembering the vets


My father’s name was Murphy Pitarresi. My uncle’s name was Tom Schiro.


My father was an athlete, and was a well-known football player at Niagara University before and after World War II. He coached for many years, first at NU and then in the Niagara Falls school system. He gave my brothers and me, and sisters, for that matter, our love of sports.


Uncle Tom was not an athlete, but he loved hunting and fishing. An extremely patient man, he put up with my cousin and my brother and me on many fishing trips. It was largely because of him and my grandfather that we learned to love the outdoors.


I mention them today not because they gave us those gifts, but because they both were combat veterans of World War II. My father was in the Army Air Corps and served in England, France and Germany. My uncle earned all kinds of medals and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge.


As is typical of vets, they rarely spoke of their war experiences, and if they did it almost always was at the urging of others. I think they saw too many things they didn’t want to remember, or maybe they remembered them too easily. These people and so many like them went through all sorts of hells that most of us can never really appreciate.


Both my father and my uncle have been gone for a decade or so. I’m never going to forget them, and I don’t want anyone to forget them and the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who have served in our armed forces, in combat and behind the lines, in all sorts of roles, and dozens of foreign lands.


So, on this Veterans Day, take a minute to remember

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pitarresi: UC's Casey McNultry pretty impressive


Utica College was down 25-6 to Norwich with 11 minutes to play today, and stormed back to win 28-25 behind a host of big plays – Cody Elliott’s 82-yard kickoff return, interceptions by Kevin Hennion and Peter Vano, a long drive engineered by Michael Clark, a sensational catch by Josh Mason.


What I might have liked the best, though, was that Casey McNulty, the Pioneers’ 5-7, 176-pound placekicker and kickoff man, was in on four tackles. How many kickoff guys have you seen make a tackle, aggressively on the opponents’ side of the field.


McNulty’s best stop came after Elliott’s return. He kicked off to Dan Wilde, a pretty good return guy, who took the ball at the 23. Wilde appeared to have some room, but a blue blur appeared out of nowhere and smashed him down at the 33.


I mean, that kid is a football player.


UC’s victory was great. Hamilton College’s 23-22 loss was depressing. The Continentals finished 2-6 for the third straight year. They’re getting better, but they have to learn how to win. Minus and turnover here and there, and they could have been 5-3, 6-2 or even 7-1. They had fourth quarter leads against Trinity and Middlebury and were tied with Williams, and those are the powers in their league. In all, they lost five games in the last two minutes by a total of 19 points. They’ve got to learn how to win.


And how about these scores:


Rutgers 35, Syracuse 17: If the Orange had won this game, Greg Robinson actually had a chance to keep his job. They didn’t, blowing a 14-0 lead and imploding on offense, and he isn’t going to keep his job.


Iowa 24, Penn State 23: There is no such thing as an unbeatable team, but I thought the Nittany Lions were rock solid. However, as soon as I heard a broadcaster say they would run the table after their victory over Ohio State, I knew they wouldn’t. It was a curse. Parity in college football is a fact, and you have to be ready to play every down.


Western Michigan 23, Illinois 17: Another win for the Mid American Conference over a Big Ten team. And the Illini are 5-5 and coach Ron Zook might have to be looking over his shoulder a bit

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pitarresi: UC a phenomenon


I headed over to the Utica College hockey game tonight expecting a smaller than usual crowd.


The Pioneers were playing a nonleague game against Johnson & Wales, and there was plenty of competition. New Hartford and Camden were playing for the Section III, Class A football title at the Carrier Dome, and Dolgeville was playing Watertown IHC for the Class D championship.


I figured a lot of people would make the easy drive to Syracuse to see those games, and that a lot more would watch the games on Time-Warner. It had to cut into the crowd at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.


It didn’t. UC drew a school-record 3,786 fans. Amazing. Even UC coach Gary Heenan, who has earnestly promoted his team and made it a big part of the community, was stunned.


“I don’t understand it,” he said, although he said it with a big smile on his face. “We had 3,000 for opening night.”


I think what has happened is this – after many years of failed professional teams in the Aud, people still want to see hockey in that building. UC is it, and fans don’t have to worry about whether the team will be here next week or next year. The players are like your brothers or kids or whatever, they are involved in the community, people like them, and they’re pretty good.


It’s pretty phenomenal.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pitarresi: Robinson might not be done

Everyone has assumed since about the third week of the season that Greg Robinson is going to be fired as Syracuse University’s football coach. Or already has been.


I’m not so sure.


The fans hated Paul Pasqualoni so much – I’m still not entirely sure why, because he certainly did well for most of his career – that they didn’t get horribly upset when Robinson went 1-10 his first season. They were pretty quiet when he went 4-8 in 2006. But then they went nuts when the Orange were 2-10 last year, and they and the columnists and talk show hosts have been on the warpath ever since.


Right now, the team is 2-6 and on a bit of a high after Saturday’s 28-21 victory over Louisville. If SU manages to beat Rutgers Saturday – and Rutgers is one of the most schizophrenic teams in the very schizophrenic Big East – then somehow manages to win two out of three against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Cincinnati, I think there is a very good chance that Greg keeps his job.


That would be 5-7. That would be, on the face of it, progress. Also, Robinson has a contract for next year at an absolute minimum of $1.1 million. And, the team will have some weapons next season, possibly even the return of standout receiver Mike Williams, even with Curtis Brinkley graduating.


So, while so many people already have Robinson out the door, it isn’t yet a done deal. If SU loses to Rutgers, it will be.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pitarresi: Scott, Eachus impressive kids

I went down to Colgate today to work on a story about star running backs Jordan Scott and Nate Eachus.


I was impressed with both of these kids. Scott, who has an injured ankle and might be out again this week, is the Raiders’ all-time leading rusher. Eachus is just a freshman, but the way he’s started – 621 yards in three games subbing for Scott – he might end up with that title some day.


Both guys came across as terrific young men with their feet on the ground, totaling unimpressed with themselves. They said all the right things about team play, and I think they were 100 percent sincere in what they said. Maybe that’s just the kind of kid Dick Biddle recruits. It certainly has worked well in his 13 years as head coach.





Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pitarresi: Happy birthday Coach Mac

This was a first.


Syracuse University football coach Greg Robinson walked into his weekly press conference Tuesday, and the first thing he did was … not discuss this week’s opponent, Rutgers.


No, Robinson, announced that it was Dick McPherson’s birthday.


McPherson, the coach who returned SU to football prominence in the 1980s, is still attached to the program as a radio broadcaster and elder statesman It was very nice of Robinson to announce the birthday – it was McPherson’s 78th – and beyond that, it was surreal when he led the media in singing happy birthday to the old coach, whose normal rosy complexion turned bright red all the while.


It was terrific.


Maybe that had been done before at a major college football press conference, but I can’t imagine where or when. Hey, one good win like Saturday’s victory over Louisville, and everyone in Syracuse gets slap-happy. Why not?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pitarresi: SU provides a big surprise

There were some big surprises in college football Saturday.


As far as local fans are concerned, Syracuse’s 28-21 victory over Louisville was chief among them.


This win was built on the back of tailback Curtis Brinkley, who has been terrific all year. The fact that Brinkley didn’t start the Akron game – the coaches mysteriously were committed to a rotation that had Doug Hogue starting – probably cost the Orange one victory, and the fact that Brinkley wasn’t in the game on a key possession against Pittsburgh might have cost that one, too.


We’ve said it here many times – if Brinkley can run, Syracuse can play offense. The Orange still have to play much better defense. The D was just good enough against the Cardinals to win, with Utica’s Nick Santiago contributing two big sacks and Bruce Williams, who had lost his starting position at safety, coming up with a sensational interception to ice the game.


Another surprise:


Utica College played powerful St. John Fisher to a standstill before bowing 17-10. The Pioneers made a statement with that one. A little more explosiveness on offense and they are a pretty good team. Eric Kahl and the defense are good now. It was a loss, but a loss that will give the Pioneers confidence and shouldn’t hurt coach Blaise Faggiano’s recruiting, either.


Not a surprise, but just too bad:


Hamilton College is a better football team than it has been in years, with much more offensive potential, but the Continentals keep letting games get away. Their 31-28 loss to Middlebury on a late field goal was very disappointing – their fourth loss by seven points or fewer – especially since the usually reliable defense didn’t do the job in the fourth quarter.


How about these scores?


Northwestern 24, No. 20 Minnesota 17: The Wildcats might not be a power, but they’re pretty good, and they’re another reason SU has six losses.


No. 6 Texas Tech 39, No. 1 Texas 33: What gunslinging showdown, with another No. 1 biting the dust. This season has made rankings meaningless, and you wonder if the BCS championship game really will match the top two teams in the nation.


Colgate 21, Lafayette 13: Marv Hubbard, Dom Fischer, Mark van Eeghen, Henry White, Kenny Gamble, Anthony Cavaretta, Randall Joseph, Jamaal Branch, Jordan Scott and now Nate Eachus, who had 34 carries for 171 yards and two touchdowns to help win an important Patriot League game. Eachus, a freshman, has started three games in place of the nicked up Scott, and has 107 carries, 626 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a season for most guys