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Lions’ post-game analysis: The good, the bad, and the ugly

October 3, 2009

Slipping on the shoes of a meek Nostradamus, Lions’ quarterback Chris James rightfully predicted Friday night’s road trip to Kean University would furnish the season’s first punch to his top scoring offense’s mouth. He was right, as the Cougars volatile defensive pressure and buoyancy on early gut-check situations handed the Lions their first loss of the season–and a pivotal crossroads in its NJAC title campaign.

In spite of a 21-point deficit, the Lions’ remained in contention for a majority of the contest–dissimilar to how their first three visitors fared in Lions’ Stadium. I’ll try my best to explain exactly what happened, and why the Lions’ faithful shouldn’t consider jumping ship–at least not yet.

THE GOOD

  • Dean Misura

The youngest of three Misura siblings, Dean’s uninhibited hussle on special teams manifested in a punt downed at the Cougars’ one-yard line–paling in comparison to his second-consecutive mention in TGBU.

Now a junior, Dean is only used sparingly in the Lions’ secondary, sporadically rotated in obvious passing situations.  But, when he’s immersed in the action, Dean carries his weight as well as any of the other first-time impact players at defensive back. Undoubtedly gifted physically (successfully recorded 325 bench press as a freshman), Dean’s relent and malcontent with mediocrity should substantiate elsewhere–when and wherever he’s needed.

  • Cohonesbig ones

For anyone that’s thinking of second-guessing the Lions’ staff for electing to go for it on two fourth-down attempts in the red zone–save your breath. You’d be wrong.

The surrounding circumstances really didn’t permit any other option. The Lions issued a screechingly loud statement on the game’s opening possession, forcing an abrupt punt in response to the Cougars’ short-lived offensive success. On an uninhibited march down the field on its first appearance, the Lions’ offense earned an unmistakably golden opportunity to set the tone for the remainder of the game. Facing a fourth-and-two from the Cougars’ 12-yard line, someone signaled in an outside zone run–the team’s surefire bread-and-butter entering the game.

Just as it couldn’t have predicted such a poor snap on fourth-and-goal from a yard away in the second quarter, who’d have really foreseen anyone dropping Justin Donoloski behind the line-of-scrimmage? He broke about seven or eight tackles later in the game. Who’d have thunk that he couldn’t when it mattered most? Certainly not I–in fact, I’d probably feed him the rock again on such an attainable down-and-distance.

And again, and again.

It’s unclear whether or not the calls originated from head coach Eric Hamilton or from offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta. But both the initial decision and ultimate play selection leave little room for criticism–credible ones anyway. Described by players as a “go-getter,” Acosta hasn’t raced up the cliquey totem pole of assistant coaching on account of conservative play-calling. He wanted it all–and, had it worked, he’d be celebrated as a genius.

As for Hamilton, well, his resume speaks for itself. He knows what he’s doing.

Waiving the shot at an easy three-points earlier, the Lions’ coaching staff was pot-committed in their aggressive strategy. Simply, the second quarter’s fourth-and-goal wasn’t decided upon at the time–it was a foregone conclusion, dictated by their earlier call.

It would have been easy to send your All-NJAC kicker on the field, all but guaranteeing points and shaving a still-manageable deficit to four points. Kudos to the guy–whomever he is–for sticking to his guns. I’d be willing to bet that bravery pays off later.

  • Cougar grace

Following the team’s ’08 triumph over the Lions’ on final play of regulation, Cougars’ quarterback Tom D’Ambrisi talked up a storm, taunting his opponents after a victory that, frankly, he had very little to do with (9/20, 139 yds, TD).

Resembling the frequently aired ESPN footage of Philip Rivers’ classless barking at then-division rival Jay Cutler, the versatile youngster looked like he could have benefited from a crash-course in Winning Etiquette: 101, according to Lions’ signal-caller Chris James.

“It was a rookie mistake,” he said, emphasizing that any past beef had since been quashed since he’d received a flood of phone calls rom D’Ambrisi in the weeks following the match-up.

This time around, after thrusting a dagger in any hopes for a Lions’ undefeated regular season, the 2009 Cougars couldn’t have handled themselves more professionally–despite competing as nonsalaried amateurs.

Gamebreaker Jared Chunn paused his friends’ and family’s conversation/celebration to speak with the media, and D’Ambrisi–looking more than a year wiser and more mature–personally extended a sportsman’s consolidation to his counterpart. In fact, a number of Kean student-athletes trekked across the palatial turf arena after securing the win to gladhand the young men they dueled just minutes earlier.

Whether the matter was addressed internally–or even recognized–is an afterthought. Needless to say I was wholly impressed.

THE BAD

  • The big play

Chunn’s 62-yard dash aside–since players, coaches and a few of the press box affiliates doubt its legitimacy–the Lions’ were decimated by lengthy gains throughout the evening. And it cost them.

The team really could have used one of the period’s two three-and-out performances the defense conjured up earlier, following the James’ interception with 5:19 remaining in the second quarter. Instead, D’Ambrisi lofted a gorgeous heave to the corner of the end zone–the beginning of Friday night’s end for the Lions.

The play was one of two D’Ambrisi attempts that accounted for 40 of his 117 yards on the game, the other a 29-yard salt-in-wound smearing to Chris Aquino with the game already out of reach. Far short of implicating that he didn’t earn his yardage, omit two runs from Chunn’s day at the office and he’d have only mustered a scoreless 102 yards on 20 carries–benign in comparison to his ultimate totals (22 rush, 210 yds, 2 TDs).

Hamilton’s defense earned his praise–less a handful of caustic let-downs. Kean wasn’t as forgiving, nor will the rest of the schedule allow these types of miscues. Should be an interesting storyline moving forward.

  • Indecisive zebras

Before you call me a homer, let me explain.

In addition to two ostensibly disorganized decisions on two of the game’s most impactful plays, it didn’t really seem like the officials were all on the same page Friday night. Flags were thrown like caps at a high school graduation–senselessly and, worse, without ownership.

It only happened a few times, but for whatever reason the committee couldn’t identify the source of a few penalty markers drawn throughout the course of the game. Of the 13 fouls whistled–ones, of course, that someone actually owned up to–several others were questionable at best.

And I’m talking about calls against both teams. I couldn’t see any holding on Colin Weber’s nullified third-and-18 reception, just like I didn’t see anyone grab cloth on the play that preceded Chunn’s longest rush of the season.

I’m a much bigger proponent of lassiez-faire umpiring, but if you’re going to immerse yourself in the action, at least pretend like you know what you’re doing. This way, your credibility might not be called into question for a half-hearted touchdown signal on Donoloski’s third-and-goal from the one (fumbled snap on following play), and a phantom whistle on Chunn’s 62-yarder.

I say that unselfishly, of course, just for future reference.

THE UGLY (What not to do)

  • following a touchdown

None of us in the press box could pinpoint their speaker, but someone tried to get smart with Cougars’ defensive coordinator, Keith Migliorino. Evidenced by a booming “bullsh-t” that permeated the half-open windows of the booth at Kean University Alumni Stadium, a Kean defender tried to pin the Lions’ first offensive touchdown on Migliorino, citing he “didn’t get the call in fast enough.”

For those of you that were there–and for the rest of you that get where this is going–I needn’t say what happened next.

  • …rooting for your team–at home

On the whole, everyone in Union was a pleasure to be around. The media affiliates were helpful, regurgitating statistics and player names on demand, aside from offering Popeye’s fried chicken and homemade cookies.

So del.

The Cougar faithful did their best to create a diorama of the quintessential big-time college football stadium pulse. Falling short of the sight-for-sore-eyes qualification, body-to-shirt ratio of the student section lingered around one-to-four–beer bellies, unfortunately, replacing trim waists of southern college co-eds. All the same, the Cougars appreciated its student section’s indelible enthusiasm, like any home team would.

BUT, not everyone in the crowd of “Cougar faithful” was as constructive–or aware, altogether. Aside from her cigarette bleached voice calling for a challenge flag following a Kean holding penalty, one Cougar-mommy harshly criticized the team on its few shortcomings, even when the Lions’ were solely responsible for the play’s outcome. Why-don’t-you-give-them-the-game’s, and let’s-just-go-home’s don’t have any place in fanatical discourse–at least outside of a bar.

Let’s turn that frown upside down, and replace the unnecessarily picky and inaccurate jabs with some safe and time-honored cheering. Allow me to demonstrate…

Lesson #1 (this one’s free).

“Yay.”

Lesson #2 (I know–I’m feeling overly generous…)

Louder “yay.”

…end of tape.

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