Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Johnson’s last second touchdown overcomes Oakland
Detroit Lions star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was suspended for two games, a loss to the New Orleans Saints and a close win over the Minnesota Vikings, was reinserted on the road against the Oakland Raiders.
In the most important game of the season for the Lions — every game from here on out is important — the Lions produced a heart-pounding, come-from-behind victory over the Raiders in the notorious Black Hole.
Calvin Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown on a 6-yard pass from Matthew Stafford with 39 seconds to play, and Suh blocked Sebastian Janikowski’s potential go-ahead field goal as time expired to give the Lions another breathtaking and spine-tingling 28-27 victory.
The 9-5 Lions are certain of their first winning season since 2000 and are on the verge of their first playoff appearance in 12 years. With two games to play, Detroit leads four NFC teams — the Bears, Giants, Seahawks and Cardinals — by two games for the NFC’s final wild card spot. They can clinch a playoff berth by winning one of their final two games, against the Chargers on Christmas Eve or at Green Bay on New Year’s Day.
The Lions are in a prime position, but it will not be easy. The Chaargers are playing their best football of the season and the Packers, are, well, the Packers.
Following the Lions’ improbable victory over the Raiders, many of the players told reporters that the Chargers game this weekend will be the most important game in many of their careers and it is not hyperbole to say one of the most important in recent team history.
With the Raiders (7-7) contest on the line and a kicker with the most powerful foot in the NFL set to sock the ball, Suh in his return game got a good push up the middle and deflected the kick with his right thumb.
“It probably means something a little bit extra for Ndamukong,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz told reporters. “It was good to have him back, good to have him on the field. Any time that you’re getting your hands on a field goal when it says 0:00 on the clock, I think that’s obviously a big play.”
It appeared the Raiders had the game won as the Lions started their final possession at their own 2. Stafford had been having a rough second half and who could have imagined that he would lead the team on its most important drive of the season. But the Lions got it done one play at a time until they found themselves down on the Raiders’ 6.
From there Johnson made 6-yard catch in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown.
“I’d like to think that we all knew we were going to go out there and do it,” Stafford said. “We’re a confident bunch. We’ve got some special players. We knew it was going to take a chunk here, a play there. But we’ve got the players to do it and we did it. I’m obviously extremely happy and extremely proud of our team for holding together. There were a bunch of instances in that game where we could’ve folded it in and waited till next week, but we went out and got it done.”
Stafford finished 29-for-52, passing for 391 yards and four touchdowns. He has 33 touchdowns on the season, passing Scott Mitchell for a new team record. Johnson caught nine passes for a career-high 214 yards.
“I get to see Calvin every day in practice and he’s the best,” said receiver Nate Burleson. “He’s the greatest to ever do it and he proved that today.”
With two games left, the Lions are right on the playoff doorsteps, but there are four teams nipping at their heels for a wild card spot. They are almost there but still have a mile to go.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 13:46
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
I always felt that Wayne State sitting in the center of Detroit was a perfect place to build a contending football team in the very competitive Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC).
But that was just a fantasy thought that would never manifest itself into reality. But along comes Coach Paul Winters and after 20 years of futility and ineffectiveness, the Wayne State Warriors have crossed over to being relevant in the football community.
This past weekend in Florence, Alabama, the Warriors (12-4) saw their dreams of football glory dissipate in a 35-21 loss to the Pittsburg State Gorillas (13-1 overall) in the 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship game.
Not only was it the Warriors’ first appearance in a playoff, the sixth-seeded Detroiters went beyond all expectations and dreams getting to the nationally televised national title game.
As I perused the Detroit sports community. all were giddy and excited that Wayne State, always known as a stellar academic institution and a Detroit foundation, found itself on the national stage in college football.
I know too many Detroit and even national leaders who earned their academia at the university on Woodward and this PR gift from its football program only highlighted the good that has been going on for decades at the school. The Warriors finished with a school record 12 wins (the 2010 squad had the previous mark at 9-2), but a rash of four turnovers halted their dream season.
Winters told me in an interview last year after the team posted the best season in school history that he is getting better talent each season and he expects more for his players.
“I felt like last year (2009) we arrived,” he said. “I really thought this year (2010) we were the best team in the league, but we lost three games by a total of 12 points. It was a matter of us, not the opponents. I think we are at a point in the program where we can sustain excellence.”
Coach Winters’ words were right on point as the 2011 Warriors came out and sustained excellence all the way to the national title game. Over the past month, his team had taken the Motor City on a enthralling and thrilling football journey, from Minnesota to Nebraska to North Carolina and finally to northern Alabama to play for the Division II national championship.
Wayne State, the third largest higher education institution in Michigan, has seen its noteworthy and large alumni galvanized behind their team. As I went into grocery stories I saw the green-and-gold proudly sported by happy fans and alumni. Busloads of Warriors took the trip to Alabama and those that did not go filled bars throughout Detroit.
No matter that the ending for Wayne State did not have a fairy tale conclusion, we are thankful for the effort and the journey.
“Yeah, it didn’t end the way we wanted,” WSU back Josh Renel told reporters, “but we couldn’t have asked for a better journey.”
I concur. It was unexpected, and, that made the journey that much more fun.I cannot give enough praise to the effort Winters has extended to the struggling program he inherited in 2004. When he took over the program it had gone 23-74 in the previous nine years.
Then in the midst of the rebuilding effort he lost one of his most popular players, Cortez Smith, to gun violence, following the team’s exclusion from the 2010 playoffs after losing their last regular-season game.
No matter. Winters rallied his men and created a family that bonded and worked hard to honor their teammate, Smith, and erase the memory of being left off the 2010 playoff list.
“This is the best group of kids I’ve ever had,” Winters told reporters after the heartbreaking loss. “It always hurts to get this close and lose, but money can’t buy this experience. It’s just unbelievable and an honor to be a part of it.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 13:43
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Detroit earns last second win over Vikings.
A win is a win is a win. It does not have to look pretty, and the Lions 34-28 victory over division rival Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field was not pretty. In fact, it was a nail biting, nerve racking, hang on for dear life win.
"We played as good as we needed to play to get the win," said quarterback Matthew Stafford. "I don't know if you call it dodging a bullet; but we got the win. That's one down. We've got three left."
Added coach Jim Schwartz: “The game was definitely not pretty. The only thing pretty is that ‘W.’ ”
The victory was very important in the Lions’ (8-5) march toward earning a Wild-Card spot in the NFL Playoffs. With three games left starting with next week’s game on the road against the Oakland Raiders, followed by their last regular season home game versus the San Diego Chargers and concluding on the road in Green Bay. By all accounts the Lions need to win at least two of those games to squeeze into the post season.
It appeared the Lions had rebounded mightily from the disappointing showing last week in New Orleans, as they jumped out to a 31-14 lead going into halftime, but Minnesota fought back and gave themselves a chance to snatch the victory from the Lions.
Fueled by the stellar effort of defensive end Cliff Avril, who on the Lions’ opening defensive series, registered a 10-yard sack and forced a Christian Ponder fumble resulting in a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the end zone by linebacker Stephen Tulloch. It was Avril’s eighth sack this season and he finished with a game high 8 tackles (7 solo), 2.0 sacks, 3 tackles-for-loss, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. He is currently tied for a League-high 6 forced fumbles and tied for second with 3 fumble recoveries.
Stafford followed up Avril and Tulloch’s efforts with two first quarter touchdown passes to Titus Young (57 yards) and Brandon Pettigrew (12) and it looked like the Lions were going to bury the Vikings, but the offense did not score another touchdown in the next three quarters.
No matter, reserve cornerback Alphonso Smith latched onto two interceptions, returning one 30 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Eric Wright halted another drive with his fourth interception of the season.
“Yeah, Alphonso made a couple really nice plays,” Schwartz said. “He’s always been a good player around the football. He’s playing very good technique football now. Our secondary did a good job of making a bunch of plays.”
The Lions patch-work secondary did do an excellent job of stopping drives, but the play of the game occurred on the final play of the game with the the Vikings having 1st-and-goal at the Lions 1-yard line. Linebacker DeAndre Levy sacked Vikings quarterback Joe Webb for a 10-yard loss and forced a fumble that was batted and recovered by Avril as the clock winded down to zero.
“It had me sweating out there,” Stafford exclaimed. “You know, our defense did a great job of hanging in there. Had some guys get knicked up, had Rashied Davis out there playing nickel a little bit I saw. It was a tough one; we had to battle on both sides of the ball.”
Said Schwartz: “A couple months ago, we were in a very similar situation (vs. San Francisco). We had a chance to make a fourth-down stop and win the game. We didn’t get it accomplished. The big thing is we had that situation today and we made the play and got the win. You don’t get style points, but we’ll take it.”
The Vikings second year backup quarterback, Webb, came in and gave the Lions fits, driving his team one yard from a last second victory. “We prepared for Ponder,” explained Avril, “and then (they) put a running quarterback in and we just did not adjust quick enough to his skill set.”
The Lions played without defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh (suspended) and Nick Fairley (foot), cornerback Chris Houston (knee), safety Louis Delmas (knee) and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh). During the game, linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring), cornerback Aaron Berry (shoulder) and Wright (hamstring) went out.
Last Updated on Friday, 16 December 2011 01:55
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Detroit dedicates court to its former coach.
I remember interviewing the acknowledged college basketball ambassador, Dick Vitale at a Final Four a few years back, and, of course our conversation found its way to his University of Detroit days and Saint Cecilia.
Vitale told me then that his day in Detroit was the foundation that fueled his meteoric rise to the top of the college basketball as an announcer and pundit. He recalled how he would sit in Saint Cecilia’s gym and ingest and gobble up the basketball lexicon, which he later regurgitate as a passionate and animated color commentator.
So it came as no surprise to me that the University of Detroit Mercy’s athletic director, Keri Gaither, announced that the school would honor its former coach by dedicating the new state of the art Dick Vitale Court at Calihan Hall prior to the Titans recent victory over St John’s.
Gaither told reporters that it was a no-brainer to revisit Vitale’s years at Calihan Hall. "We are honored Dick not only for his accomplishments with Detroit and all the tremendous things he did for our school and the city of Detroit," she told reporters. "He's made a lasting impact on our program. But we also want to honor him for what he's done for college basketball. He is a tremendous ambassador for the college game and we want to recognize him for it all."
Said Vitale at the ceremony as tears started rolling down his face: “The city was so good to me. I’m really taken aback by this big time. It hit me more than any award I’ve ever received, because of what this university did for me. They gave me a wonderful opportunity. I don't deserve to have that court named after me. I owe them”
Indeed, with the opportunity to coach the Titans, Vitale put together a noteworthy coaching record of 78-30 from 1973 to 1977, including an outstanding 25-4 season in 1977 that included a victory over that season’s NCAA champion Marquette.
Vitale parlayed his outstanding run as head coach of the U-D Titans into the head coaching job with the Detroit Pistons, becoming ESPN’s voice of college basketball and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
One of the things that made Vitale a very good coach was his ability to recruit some of Detroit’s best players. I remember seeing his at Saint Cecilia making himself known and feeling very much at home in the small, quaint legendary gymnasium. Slapping high fives with any and everyone and just talking basketball to all that would listen.
Vitale told reporters that the late, great Titan and New York Knicks basketball legend, put in the good word for that resulted in the interview with Bob Calihan, and, the rest is history.
Vitale also told me that in his travels people still mention John Long, Terry Tyler and what those teams accomplished. We also talked about his days as the Pistons coach which last only one season (1978-79) and 12 games into the 1979-80 campaign.
He said he was somewhat blinded by the bright lights and money of the pro games at the time. He said he made a big mistake leaving the college game. “My spirit, my enthusiasm belongs with the college kids,” he said.
Going into his 32 years at ESPN Vitale’s enthusiasm is still evident as his catchy phrases like “awesome with a capital A,” “diaper dandies,” “awesome baby” or “PTP'ers” (prime time players) are still delivered with his unique zeal.
Last Updated on Friday, 16 December 2011 02:01
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
INDIANAPLOIS – Michigan State Spartans’ fans dreamed it, but dreams do not always come true.
For the 2011 Spartans they went out this season and turned those dreams into one step from reality as they played themselves into making history winning the first Legends Division crown and playing the Wisconsin Badgers in the inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan State realized a dream to play in the conference’s first title game, but the icing on the cake would have been winning the nationally televised game and earning its first trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Ca since 1988.
Instead, at the end of a staggering and unbelievable game, the Spartans saw their Rose Bowl dreams dissipated, after Wisconsin’s remarkable, end of game comeback 42-39 victory in the inaugural Big Ten Championship.
The Badgers (11-2) will now play in the Rose Bowl and the Spartans (10-3) narrowly missing out on the BCS game, will play in the Outback Bowl in Orlando, Florida where they will contest Georgia on January 2nd.
Michigan State beat the Michigan Wolverines in conference play but now must standby and watch their rival get invited to the $17 million payout BCS Sugar Bowl, while the Spartans will settle for the $3.5 million Outback Bowl.
“We understand why certain programs are picked at certain places,” Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. “You don’t beg for respect, you earn it.”
No doubt Michigan State did not do the things it needed to win or earn that fabulous game. They appeared more athletic, seemed to have a better overall team and an excellent mix of senior starters, but they lost.
Cruising the Indianapolis downtown area I saw firsthand Michigan State’s fan enthusiasm and hoped for dream of returning to the Rose Bowl.
For Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who led his team in the 2010 season to a school record eleven wins earning a three-way share of its first Big Ten title since 1990, but again narrowly missing out on a BCS Bowl Game, it was another hard pill to swallow.
“This was a very difficult football game, but great football game,” Dantonio said in the post game press conference. “I thought both football teams showed a tremendous amount of maturity and toughness in terms of battling back. We started a little bit slow, cameback. But it is very difficult, the way it all went down at the end of the game, but we'll rise again.”
Said Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins: “It's tough. Came close
two years in a row. It's tough.”
Concurred receiver B.J. Cunningham: “Like Kirk said, it's tough. We played hard, a great game, Wisconsin played a good game. We just didn't come up with it in the end. That's it.”
The Spartans had beaten the Badgers, 37-31, earlier this season in East Lansing on a last-second Hail Mary pass. So, Wisconsin returned the favor. After Michigan State extended its lead to 39-34 on a field goal, Wisconsin with a little more than three minutes remaining in the game implemented its own Hail Mary on fourth-and-6.
Badger quarterback Russell Wilson tossed a 36-yard prayer and Jeff Duckworth latched onto it for the game winning score.
But the Spartans had one more shot with 1:37 left, but a roughing-the-punter penalty by Isaiah Lewis basically ended the game, negating a Keshawn Martin apparent game winning punt return to the two yard line for the Spartans.
I’m look at the punt return and saying, “Yeah,” but then I see a yellow hanky. My emotions ran the gauntlet and I waited for the call and it went against the Spartans.
“I think we are a BCS worthy team,” Dantonio exclaimed, “but you've got to get the votes to do that. This game could have went either way and it will be an instant classic. But at the same time you have to be able to look at things, deal with the problems that you have and keep moving forward. I think that's part of life. Our seniors put a lot into this and they had very high hopes. We had
them on the ropes, but in the second half Wilson found guys off the broken plays and his ability to create.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 16:11
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