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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Veteran tackle tandem holds the line



Clifton, Tauscher have given Packers reliable pass protection for nearly a decade

September 27, 2008


By Rob Demovsky

Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher probably have no business being one of the most formidable offensive tackle duos in the NFL.

Not when you consider Clifton probably never should have recovered from the devastating injury he sustained nearly six years ago.

Not when you consider almost no one had Tauscher pegged for NFL success.

To understand how this unlikely duo became stalwarts for the Green Bay Packers, it is necessary to go back to the beginning, when their seemingly different paths to professional football crossed.

Clifton was a highly touted prospect who was the 44th player taken in the 2000 draft after an award-winning college career at Tennessee, while Tauscher was an afterthought pick taken 224th overall in the same draft after spending just one season as a starter at the University of Wisconsin, where he began his career as a walk-on.

A long shot to even make the roster, Tauscher was the first to crack the starting lineup when in Week 2 of his rookie season, veteran right tackle Earl Dotson’s balky back seized on him. Clifton got his chance in Week 7 after the Packers benched Mike Wahle, who was a flop as a left tackle.

Since Clifton joined Tauscher in the lineup on Oct. 15, 2000, against the San Francisco 49ers, the two have proven inseparable and irreplaceable. They even sustained the only major injuries of their careers in the same season — in 2002, when Clifton’s pelvis was separated in a jarring hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp and when Tauscher tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Clifton missed the final six games of the season and Tauscher the final 14.

Other than that stretch, the duo has been a mainstay on the offensive line. Heading into Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, only one other tackle combination in the league has more combined starts than Clifton and Tauscher’s 224. The duo ranks second behind Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas of the Philadelphia Eagles, who have 331 combined starts.

Since Week 7 of the 2000 season, when Clifton and Tauscher began their run together, the Packers have allowed 175 sacks. Only the Indianapolis Colts (with 164) have allowed fewer sacks during that period.

Much goes into preventing sacks — running backs picking up blitzes, quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly, receivers getting open downfield, interior linemen blocking defensive tackles — but it’s the right tackle and the left tackle who face the best pass rushers down in and down out.

“A ton of it is those guys,” said Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who began his NFL coaching career as the team’s assistant offensive line coach in 2003. “Yeah, those guys are a huge part of that. It’s a team thing, but absolutely, it’s a big credit to those guys.”

Clifton and Tauscher have not gained much notoriety — they have just one Pro Bowl appearance between them (by Clifton in 2007) — but they have given their coaches little reason to be concerned about their play.

“They don’t keep us up at night,” Philbin said. “It’s not to say we don’t help those guys when we can, but they don’t require us to do a lot of double teaming because of their ability and their latitude and the effort that they put forth.”

Perhaps the only issue with the bookends on the offensive line has been Clifton’s health. Managing and maintaining his body has become a full-time job. His pelvis injury may have contributed to his chronic knee problems. But third-year Packers coach Mike McCarthy believes he has found a way to preserve Clifton. In training camp, Clifton almost never practiced twice in a day. During the regular season, he usually takes part in very little practice on Wednesdays, then goes full speed on Thursdays before scaling back on Fridays.

“We’ve always had Chad, since my time here, on a certain schedule because of his knees, and we’ve stuck to that,” McCarthy said. “Actually, last year was much better than the first year, and he seems to be doing hopefully the same this year. I think the Wednesdays where he is a limited participant and then goes full on Thursday really helps him, and then we’re smart with him on Fridays.”

Clifton said: “That’s been huge, no question about that. Coach has done a great job with resting some veteran players that might need it throughout the week. No question that helps me be a little bit fresher.”

Perhaps only cornerback Charles Woodson, who has battled multiple injuries yet missed only two games in the last two-plus seasons, practices less than Clifton. Remarkably, Clifton’s level of play has not declined appreciably, if at all.

“I don’t know that you’re going to get three butt-kicking practices out of him every week,” Philbin said. “But again, he’s seen twists before. He’s seen blitzes before. He’s been doing it for a while, and you know the fundamentals don’t change that we teach in pass protection. We always tell him the quickest point between A and B is a straight line, so get your body on that line and at least make (the defender) go around and take him off that line. That’s as simple as we can make it. Chad’s quickness, his ability to get out of his stance enables him to get his body in front. Then you’ve got a big man who’s got an excellent lower body. He can bend. He’s got balance. He’s got quick feet. So he can mirror (the defender), and he’s got pretty good punch and separation. That’s a hard guy to beat.

“He’s been a warrior. He’s a guy you can sleep at night knowing he’s going to be blocking probably an excellent rusher on a weekly basis.”

In Week 1 of this season, Clifton put on a near dominating performance against Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, one of the marquee free agents of the offseason. If Clifton has a weakness, it’s that he probably isn’t the prototypical left tackle for McCarthy’s zone-blocking running game, but his pass- protection skills make him indispensable.

Tauscher showed his value in last season’s NFC divisional playoff game against Seattle. He shut down Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kearney, who had no sacks and no tackles.

“He’s playing well and having another solid year,” Philbin said. “You take him for granted probably. You just count on a solid performance out of that guy on a weekly basis.”

Tauscher, 31, is in the final year of his contract but probably will warrant a contract extension.

“I definitely feel like I’ve got three or four more good years in me,” Tauscher said. “We’ll see how it all plays out, but I feel from a health standpoint really good.”

The two ninth-year veterans don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“I tell you what, it’s flown by,” said Clifton, who is 32 and under contract through 2009. “Time has definitely flown by. I can’t believe I’m in my ninth year right now.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

Steelers' Matt Spaeth promotes healthy approach for high school athletes





September 25, 2008

By Teresa Varley

The Steelers reached out to local high schools this week to promote healthy living and reduce the use of steroids and drugs among high school athletes as a part of the NFL’s Atlas & Athena School Program.

Athletes from five local High Schools, Hampton, Penns Manor, North Hills, West Allegheny and Baldwin, attended a seminar at Heinz Field that focused on the importance of nutrition and exercise.

Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth spoke to the group and let them know you can achieve your dreams and goals the right way, which is drug free.

“You can get to the level where you want to be and do the things that you want to do and dream of doing without using illegal substances,” said Spaeth. “If you get rest, eat right and work hard then you can accomplish anything you want.”

Spaeth used his approach as an example given that he maintains a healthy diet, staying away from fast food, and is a regular in the weight room. He is hoping that his words help to diminish the perception that steroids are needed in order to gain an edge.

“I think it’s big for them to see us and we can show them you can get to this level without doing that stuff,” said Spaeth. “You hear a lot about steroids and kids get wrong perception that they are everywhere and that is not the case.”

Whitner's shot heard 'round the room





Jerry Sullivan

September 25, 2008

George Wilson is not known for brevity. The Buffalo Bills’ backup safety could turn a simple hello into the Gettysburg Address. But when I asked how many players objected to Donte Whitner’s late hit Sunday, Wilson got right to the point.

“None,” Wilson said Wednesday afternoon. “None of them.”

From what I could gather, the players loved it. When Whitner tackled Oakland’s Johnnie Lee Higgins after Higgins showboated his way into the end zone, he had the full support of his teammates. Their only regret was that they didn’t get a shot at Higgins, too.

“Hey, I imagine there were 10 other guys who would have done the same thing if they could have caught him,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “I’m a little heavy and was further down the field, or I would have done it.”

If you think Whitner’s teammates were behind him, you should see what Bills fans are telling him on Facebook and MySpace. To them, Whitner was chasing an intruder out of the house, striking a blow for the franchise. He could run for mayor right now.

Dick Jauron took the predictable stand, saying Whitner has to control his emotions. But deep down, the coach had to be giving his young safety an attaboy.

“I was talking to Thurman Thomas,” Whitner said. “He told me that when he played here, someone on the defensive side — like Darryl Talley — would have done the same thing.”

Maybe it was a coincidence that Whitner did it on the day Bruce Smith was honored, with the old Bills in town. But it was a statement of competitive resolve. It said, “This team is different. You do not show us up in our house.”

This is the same young player, remember, who guaranteed the playoffs this season. Whitner wanted everyone, including his teammates, to understand the Bills were playing to a different standard. That means playing with the healthy bravado all great teams possess.

“Yeah, I was pretty much saying the same thing Sunday,” Whitner said. “You can go back to last year, when I said we weren’t punching bags for teams coming in here. Teams need to know they can’t come in here and show you up.”

On a team of bright, competitive guys, Whitner has become an unquestioned leader. As a 21-year-old rookie, he bided his time. But once the Bills cleaned out the old guard, Whitner was ready to take over as a leader and spokesman.

Whitner relishes the leadership role. That’s one of the reasons the Bills drafted him eighth overall in 2006. He had the physical talent. But he also had a bright, inquisitive nature and a fierce competitive temperament — an ideal combination for a young team leader.

The guy gets it. Early on, he reached out to Thomas, who told him how the team had bonded at Jim Kelly’s house in the old days. Whitner began hosting his defensive teammates at his house on Thursday nights. He believes a team can’t be truly close on the field if they’re separate away from it.

Last New Year’s Eve, on locker clean-out day, Whitner said he was going to start watching film right away and get ready for the new season. He said he was determined to do everything in his power to turn things around here.

The hit on Higgins was instinctive. The playoff guarantee was not.

“I think he knew what he was doing before he even made his statement to the media,” Wilson said. “I know he did, because we spent a lot of time together this offseason and that was one thing we discussed. He told me he was going to make the prediction. My response was, ‘I’m with you 100 percent, and I know the other guys are as well.’”

They were behind him 100 percent Sunday, too. Wilson guarantees it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hines follows 'star' path first blazed by Whitner





September 25, 2008

Doug Lesmerises

Columbus- The screen pass that banged off Ohio State defensive back Jermale Hines after he jumped a route near the goal line Saturday - that was no coincidence.

Sure, he wished he would have grabbed the interception for a touchdown.

"I knew I had the pick," the sophomore said. "I dropped it. I faked outside and went inside and the ball was right there."

He'll have other chances, because he always seems to find himself around the ball. In his first year at a new position since moving from linebacker, Hines has blown away his coaches with rare football instincts while establishing himself as the ideal antidote to the spread offense.

"I'm not sure I've seen a guy who can go line up and play a position and probably didn't get coached," coach Jim Tressel said. "He's just got natural instincts and an understanding of the game of football."

Safeties coach Paul Haynes sees linebacker size and safety speed in the 6-2, nearly 220-pound Hines - a combination that makes recruiters drool. That's why the Glenville graduate has seized the "star" position for the Buckeyes, the role as the fifth defensive back who takes the field on passing downs. As Tressel exhorts a veteran team to play faster, Hines has stood out as a example of ferocious, yet intelligent, intensity.

"His football instincts are incredible," Haynes said. "You sit there and you're like, 'That's exactly what I wanted him to do.' He does it without you telling him."

Ted Ginn Sr. saw it at Glenville, where the head coach used Hines all over the field, including at quarterback and linebacker his senior season. Ginn is certain Hines could excel at nearly any position in college as well.

"He's a football player. Some things you can't teach," Ginn said. "Jermale Hines is a freak. You don't find 6-2, 200-pound guys that can run and have the technique and the instincts like that. He'll be one of the great ones to come through Ohio State."

It was Haynes who dropped the name of the greatest safety in recent OSU history - former Glenville star and current Buffalo Bill Donte Whitner. Hines is bigger, Whitner was faster, but both found their way to the ball. Haynes was reminded of the past by the way Hines disrupted Troy's passing game Saturday, when he tied for second on the team with seven tackles.

"Maybe since Donte Whitner that's something we've missed on those screens," Haynes said. "After a while, you could see that receiver kind of started turning those down, because Jermale was coming after him."

Haynes made it clear Hines has a long way to go to reach the level of Whitner, a film rat who knew the game like a coach. But you can see that initial spark that resides in playmakers.

"It's just something you're born with, your mentality. Some people have it, some people don't," Hines said. "That's something I look forward to, going out there and trying to take people's heads off."

That's what the Buckeyes need from their star, which is the position Whitner played in the nickel defense in 2005 before he became a first-round pick of the Bills. The player needs to be physical enough to stop the run, but quick enough to play man-to-man against a receiver. Haynes said one of Hines' greatest advantages is few receivers can block him when he rushes up to make a play.

On an OSU defense predicated on everyone doing their job, the star position provides a rare level of freedom that must be taken advantage of. Hines loves that aspect of it. And he knows what to do with it.

"He'll do exactly what you tell him to do, but he'll do that extra you don't tell him," Haynes said. "He may not be right every time, but he's going to make more plays than he screws up. The sky is the limit for him."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Steelers, Matt Spaeth turn to yoga




Steelers fever takes new meaning with hot yoga

September 24, 2008

By Abra Metz-Dworkin



Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth is helped with a yoga pose by instructor Karen Conley during an optional yoga class available as part of their in-season regimen at the Steelers' South Side training facility. Ms. Conley, along with her husband, Sean Conley, below, a former NFL player, are co-owners of three yoga studios under the name of Amazing Yoga and began teaching yoga to the Steelers in spring 2007.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shock's Smith carves out quite a career



By Gary Bond

September 23, 2008

AUBURN HILLS -- On a team where the coaches and owner arguably are more recognizable than the players, Katie Smith has become the the face of the Detroit Shock franchise.

Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, two imposing figures and former Detroit Pistons Bad Boys, are well-known Shock coaches.

William Davidson is the well-respected owner of the NBA's Pistons as well as the WNBA franchise. He was courtside Sunday afternoon at The Palace of Auburn Hills for Detroit's 89-82 overtime loss to the Indiana Fever in Game 2 that evened the best-of-three WNBA first round playoff series at 1-1.

Forward Swin Cash was the face of the Shock, but an off-season trade to Seattle took her out of the picture. That put the spotlight on Cheryl Ford, but injuries have sent her to the sideline. She tore the ACL in her right knee in July and was finished for the season. The WNBA 2003 rookie of the year had micro-fracture surgery on her left knee last season.

That leaves Smith, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner -- 2000 in Sydney, 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing -- front and center in the organization and leading this year's playoff charge.

"It's that challenge of going out every night and proving yourself," said Smith, who was scoreless in Game 1 against Indiana but bounced back and scored 15 points in the loss Sunday. "I think I have enough knowledge, and I think I understand the game and the different scenarios that it makes me a coach on the floor.

"I'll probably play a couple more years if the body feels good. Who knows?"

A 5-foot-11, 175-pound shooting guard from Ohio State, Smith is just the second player in WNBA history to score 5,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and hand out 800 assists. Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks was the first.

The 34-year-old Smith is in her 10th WNBA season, her fourth with the Shock after six with Minnesota.

Smith and her Shock teammates are facing an elimination game tonight against the Fever, a team Detroit beat three times during the regular season and in the first game of the playoffs.

"We knew Indiana was going to come ready to play and that it would be harder than the first game."

"To sweep someone in a season, on this level, that's hard to do," Smith added. "We just have to play smarter and stay closer (on defense) to some people. It's going to be a tough game (Game 3) because we're very familiar with each other."

The Shock likely will be without Plenette Pierson tonight, after she went down with shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter Sunday. Guard Deanna Nolan was almost non-existent until hitting the 3-pointer with five seconds left in regulation that sent the contest into overtime. Laimbeer was disappointed with the play of his inside players.

Smith's leadership will be a major key tonight.

"We don't expect her (Pierson) to play the next game (tonight) for sure, and that hurts us badly," Laimbeer said. "I expect our team to come out and play much better than we did today. I expect our bigs to be involved in the game. I expected (center) Kara (Braxton) to come out and play well. I expect our bench to play better than they did today.

"I expect a lot of things. I expect us to win the basketball game, no question about it."

He can expect it will be Smith leading the way.

Monday, September 22, 2008

BG's Gregg Brandon coaches Falcons to upset win over Pitt



NC State Coach Tom O'Brien leads Wolfpack to upset win over East Carolina



September 21, 2008

NORTH CAROLINA STATE 30, NO. 15 EAST CAROLINA 24

Roles Flip and East Carolina Is on Losing Side of an Upset


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Andre Brown jumped over one defender, then ran over another. Nothing was going to stop him from possibly saving North Carolina State’s season — especially not No. 15 East Carolina.

Brown scored on a 10-yard touchdown run in overtime Saturday, lifting North Carolina State to a 30-24 victory.

Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes — including a tying 5-yarder to George Bryan with 1 minute 12 seconds left in regulation — for N.C. State (2-2). The Wolfpack, a 7-point underdog, never trailed by more than a touchdown. It was the program’s biggest upset since a win at Florida State, then ranked No. 9, in 2005.

“This is the first time we’ve played 60 minutes of tough, hard-nosed football,” N.C. State Coach Tom O’Brien said. “The plays we weren’t making in the past, we made them today.”

The Pirates did not, and now their Bowl Championship Series-busting hopes are all but over. Patrick Pinkney was 19 of 32 for 210 yards and a touchdown for East Carolina (3-1), but he was stripped by Shea McKeen on East Carolina’s third play in overtime.

“The first thing I go for is the ball, especially if the quarterback doesn’t know I’m coming,” McKeen said, “because he’s not going to hold it too tight.”

Brown then hurdled the defender J. J. Milbrook during a remarkable 16-yard run that set up the winning score. On the next play, he powered into defensive lineman Jay Ross while extending the ball over the goal line to end the game.

“I just said, ‘I didn’t want to rely on the kicker,’ ” Brown said. “I want to go out here and put this boy in here and get off the field.”

Brown finished with 73 yards and a 4-yard touchdown reception from Wilson, a redshirt freshman who was making his first home start. Wilson was 21 of 31 for 210 yards and also threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Williams.

After opening with upsets of then-ranked Virginia Tech and West Virginia, the tables were turned on East Carolina, which looked vulnerable for the second straight week.

East Carolina, a member of Conference USA, usually plays in the shadow of instate rivals from the Atlantic Coast Conference like N.C. State. The attention “was something that we weren’t used to the last couple of years,” safety Van Eskridge said.

Eskridge returned an interception 23 yards for a score and Norman Whitley added 83 yards rushing and a 42-yard scoring run for the Pirates, who never trailed in regulation.

Ben Hartman’s 21-yard field goal with four and a half minutes left put the Pirates ahead, 24-17, but then N.C. State’s offense went to work. Wilson needed only two plays to move into the red zone, then found a sliding Bryan in the end zone five plays later.

Zastudil's impressive night



By Tony Grossi

September 19, 2008

Dawson said punter Dave Zastudil's night "was the most impressive performance I've ever seen."

Zastudil's net average of 52.8 yards on five punts was second-best in the NFL since 1970. Only Rohn Stark's 59.5 net - achieved in the RCA Dome - was better.

"All five of his punts were into the wind," Dawson said. "To do what he did on a night like that, I can't overstate how impressive it was."

Santi Entertains Children in Homeless Shelter Through Colts Community Outreach Program



By Colts Community Relations

September 17, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS – On Tuesday, September 16, Colts players Tom Santi and Isaac Smolko spent time talking with children at a School on Wheels tutoring session. School on Wheels provides academic mentors and tutoring to homeless children at eleven shelters throughout the greater Indianapolis area. Their goal is to shrink the gaps in education of these children and assist them with the highest quality of education possible.

Children at the Dayspring Center had a chance to spend time with each player to practice their interviewing skills. Some children simply asked questions about the players’ height and weight while others requested arm-wrestling matches or talked about some of their school projects. Later this week, the youth will use content from their interviews to practice their writing skills and create a story about their experience.

Children at the shelter are tutored four days a week through the School on Wheels program, but were able to take a break from their studies to visit with the players during I-STEP testing this week. For more information on the Dayspring Center or School on Wheels, click here.

Colts Community Tuesdays, sponsored by WISH TV, is a season-long outreach program in which players participate in various charitable activities every Tuesday of the season.

For more information on what the Colts are up to in the community visit www.colts.com/community.

Santi "blows up" Vikings defensive back



THE POLIAN CORNER

By staff - Colts.com

Question: An 18-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The Colts trailed by nine points at halftime and 15-0 late in the third quarter. Very little went right for a long time, then a whole lot went right after a very bizarre play. Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez lateralled to wide receiver Reggie Wayne. You don’t always like to see that, but it gave the Colts a lift . . .

Answer: You almost never do, but in dire circumstances you do things you perhaps would not otherwise do. It turned out fine. Great credit to Reggie for hustling and for (tight end) Tom Santi for hustling and blowing up a defensive back on the play.

Q: How did rookie tight end Tom Santi do in his first extended action?

A: He struggled at times. Let’s face it. He only has had about three weeks of practice and he’s in there and he has to block (Jared) Allen in certain circumstances and he has to adjust to various calls. The next thing you know, he has Charlie (Johnson) next to him who hasn’t played the position at left tackle in the National Football League, so there were some mental errors. There were some technique things that have to be cleaned up, but by and large, I thought he did a terrific job. As Peyton said, ‘He gets open and he catches the ball.’ When he learns to run routes exactly the way Dallas (Clark) does and when he gets adapted to the techniques of blocking, he’s going to be a fine player. He did a good job as it was, but there’s a learning curve. No question about it. More credit to him for hanging in there and typical of this class of rookies their work ethic and their enthusiasm seems to stick out in my mind. Tom went down and really through a heck of a block on Gonzo’s lateral play. He really lit a defensive back up. Well, that’s a guy who’s out there hustling every time he is out there. That’s typical of this rookie class. They give you everything they have all the time. It doesn’t always look pretty, but they’re giving everything they have and it’s enough to get the job done in most cases.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Santi catches first five passes of career against Vikings



Colts tinker with pass formations

By Phil Richards


September 16, 2008


Wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Reggie Wayne alternated working from the slot Sunday in the Indianapolis Colts' three-wide receiver sets.

Gonzalez, who usually plays inside, caught nine passes for 137 yards and seven first downs to help the Colts beat host Minnesota 18-15. Wayne, who more often has split wide, had five receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown.

"It was our best way to go based on the injuries we had, how they were playing, how the game developed," coach Tony Dungy said Monday. "We'll continue to look at that. All those guys can play anywhere. The three-wide group really helped us (Sunday)."

The Colts went mostly with two-tight end sets during the first quarter, when they totaled 24 net yards. Their take was 297 yards over the final 45 minutes, when they operated almost exclusively in three-wides, with Wayne, Gonzalez and Marvin Harrison.

With No. 1 tight end Dallas Clark (knee) out, Gijon Robinson and Tom Santi played tight end. Robinson is a second-year player who spent last season on the practice squad. Santi is a promising rookie, who had the first five receptions of his NFL career Sunday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Patriots' Mike Vrabel to Speak at St. Mary's Fund Dinner



September 17, 2008

FALL RIVER — New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel will be the featured speaker at the annual St. Mary’s Education Fund Fall Dinner set for Tuesday, October 14, at White’s of Westport.

Proceeds from the evening support the St. Mary’s Education Fund, which provides need-based scholarships to students at Catholic elementary and middle schools in the Fall River diocese.

While Patriots fans are well aware of Vrabel’s solid contributions to their team over the years, what’s likely less-known is his commitment to tackling the problem of illiteracy.

He is a co-founded of what is called the 2nd & 7 Foundation, whose purpose is to promote literacy with a particular focus on influencing children to read.

Vrabel also has a special interest in Catholic education in the Fall River diocese: his two sons attend a Catholic elementary school here while the Vrabel family resides in the diocese during football season. The children complete their school year in a Catholic school in Ohio during the off-season.

He started his 2nd & 7 Foundation with two teammates from his Ohio State University football days. The three former Buckeyes, who had done community service work while in school, wanted to continue to do something for the central Ohio area where they remained after graduation.

With that impetus, they launched the 2nd & 7 Foundation to encourage children to read and to help them understand how important reading skills are to a successful future.

At the heart of the foundation is its “Tackle Illiteracy” program which sends Vrabel or one of the other co-founders out weekly with various student-athletes from Ohio State University to visit second grade classes in elementary schools in and around the city of Columbus. There, they read to the class, discuss the importance of reading, and present each student with a book to take home and read.

The 2nd & 7 Foundation Web site reports that it has donated over 50,000 books and read to some 10,000 students.

Vrabel and his partners are now working to expand the reach of their foundation through the financing of interactive learning centers in schools, where children can enjoy books, websites and educational video games.

Diocesan Development Director Mike Donly remembers in his conversation with Vrabel on the Fall Dinner, Vrabel noting that he, as somebody who lives in the diocese, is very willing to take part and that he was committed to doing whatever he could to help children.

A native of Akron, Ohio, Vrabel graduated from Walsh Jesuit High School in nearby Cuyahoga Falls, before going to Ohio State where he was a pre-med major and a standout defensive end.

Highly regarded in Patriots Nation, Vrabel became part of the team in 2001 after four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has been a major force in the Patriots defense and was a member of three of their Super Bowl winning teams.

The Fall Dinner will begin with a 5:30 p.m. reception and will include, in addition to Vrabel’s talk, a video snapshot of Catholic schools, student entertainment, and a delicious multi-course meal.

It is one of only two yearly fund-raising events for the St. Mary’s Education Fund, which within the current school year alone is distributing over $660,000 in partial tuition aid to more than 700 students.

Fall Dinner chair E. Dennis Kelly and committees in four regions of the Fall River diocese are taking reservations from businesses and individuals who want to host a table or purchase a ticket to support the St. Mary’s Education Fund.

Anyone interested in supporting the Fall Dinner or obtaining more information on the St. Mary’s Education Fund, should contact the Diocesan Development Office at 508-675-1311.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Career night for Zastudil



Steve King

September 15, 2008

There's just something about high wind and poor weather conditions while playing at Cleveland Browns Stadium that make Browns kickers and punters have performances that defy logic.

Last year it was Phil Dawson kicking two field goals, including one of 49 yards, against the Buffalo Bills in blizzard-like conditions that included a wind that howled steadily at 32 miles per hour and gusted occasionally at much higher speeds than that..

"That was the greatest kick I've ever seen," Browns special teams coordinator Ted Daisher said afterward of the 49-yarder.

He may be saying the same thing now about punter Dave Zastudil, who is the holder for Dawson.

In Sunday night's 10-6 loss to the Steelers, Zastuidil averaged exactly 53 yards on five punts, believed to be the sixth-highest average in Browns history.

Zadstudil's previous best effort with the Browns was a 45-yard average last year at Baltimore against his former team, the Ravens. His top performance overall came in the third game of his rookie season with Baltimore in 2002 when he averaged 52.5 yards in a home contest against the Denver Broncos.

In addition, his career-best 52.8-yard net average on Sunday is a single-game team record dating back to 1970, when opposing return yards were first recorded by the NFL

"Stats-wise, that was the best game I ever had," Zastudil said Monday as the Browns tried to put the loss behind them and get ready for next Sunday's contest against the Ravens. "If someone had told me before the game that I would do what I did, I wouldn't have believed them because of that wind. I didn't think it was possible. I surprised myself. There was definitely someone looking out for me."

Maybe Ryan Pontbriand was his guardian angel.

"His snaps, as usual, were very accurate, right there where they needed to be," Zastudil said.

He didn't have to go reaching for the ball and disrupting his rhythm.

As you might expect, Zastudil was really worried about the conditions before the game.

"Depending on whether the wind was really blowing or not, I was kicking a 10-yarder, then a 40-yarder and then a 15-yarder," he said. "If you kicked it into the teeth of the wind, it wasn't going anywhere, no matter what you did.

"For whatever reason, every time we were kicking during the game, the wind seemed to slow down for a moment, so we hurried up and snapped the ball to get the punt off before it picked up again."

Zastudil said there's no secret to punting well in wind like that, but there are some general guidelines he follows.

"I move up a couple steps so the snap gets to me quicker and has less time to be affected by the wind," he said. "You hold onto the ball a little longer and keep the nose down. You can't try to over-kick it. You just try to hit a solid ball."

And Zastudil did exactly that again and again on Sunday in what he called one of three most difficult conditions he's ever kicked in, along with the Buffalo game and another contest last year at Cincinnati when it was also extremely windy.

All this from a player who was bothered throughout 2007 by a sternum problem and went into this year with Daisher saying the Browns needed him to do better. It's what the club said to Dawson, ironically, heading into 2007 after he struggled down the stretch in '06.

"I feel pretty good now," he said. "I feel strong."

Zastudil's effort was the best by a Brown in 30 years. The five averages ahead of him, in order, belong to Johnny Evans (58.0 against the Seattle Seahawks in 1978), Sam Baker (56.5 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1960), Horace Gillom (54.75 against the New York Giants in 1954), Gary Collins (54.33 against the Dallas Cowboys in 1965) and Dave Mays (54.0 against the Denver Broncos in 1976).

But while all are obviously noteworthy, only the performances by Gillom (four attempts) and Collins (six) were with a lot of attempts. For instance, Evans kicked just once that day, Baker two times and Mays once.

So by having five attempts -- and by doing it against a wind tunnel -- Zastudil's feat gains in its legitimacy and uniqueness.

In addition, in 10 punts this year, he is averaging 46.8 yards, which would be, by far, the best average of his career if it holds up. In six previous seasons, his tops was 44.0 in 2006, his first year with the Browns after signing as a free agent.



September 16, 2008

By Anthony Bialy

The best thing about the Buffalo Bills' defense playing generally well is that it's given safety Donte Whitner the chance to play specifically well, as he's excelling this season at his style of vengeful football. Everyone else doing their jobs and holding their ground allows him to be on the prowl, creating nightmares on Sunday afternoons with his instinctual attacks against two offenses so far. The competence of this 2008 edition gives Whitner the freedom to forge a different path thanks to both his and the group’s respective maturity.

He’s managed six tackles in each of Buffalo’s games, but it’s the way he's been ending plays when he wants to and not when the ball carrier does that makes Whitner such a prize. More notably, he’s getting a chance to roam the field like a focused madman, allowing him to truly come into his own. That’s thanks to not only his own development but also because of the fact he has better talent playing alongside him than was deployed as recently as his rookie season. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is finally using Whitner as a wild card with his other face cards in place.

Whitner's presence is clearly helping Youboty and the others, as he is taking on his unique role as a moderately experienced yet still youthful leader with remarkable adeptness. His presence allows the others to play with confidence, as they know he’ll make his way to the right place on the field. A Consumer affairs major at Ohio State, Whitner is ensuring the ticket-buying public remains very happy with his sense for the direction of plays and taste for annihilation. He’s the exception in the Bills’ carefully crafted scheme, namely in that he is being given some latitude partly thanks to his safety title but also because he’s able to diagnose the offense’s actions so well.

He’s either the head zombie or vampire depending on one’s geek film preference, but the important factor is that Whitner is leading his henchmen to glory in part because the talent around him is rising. The question of who benefits from whom is ultimately irrelevant; the important point is that everyone is benefiting.

Whitner's toughness unquestioned



September 15, 2008

By Chris Brown

BEST DISPLAY OF TOUGHNESS: Donte WhitnerAfter losing his helmet and making a tackle Whitner’s left eye was almost completely swollen shut and needed three stitches, but he came back in the game and finished tied for second in tackles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Packers' Kampman one of the best in the NFL



September 11, 2008

BY NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA

Green Bay left defensive end Aaron Kampman is one of the best in the NFL. He had a sack Monday night against Minnesota, and two in each of his past two games against Detroit.

"The first thing that jumps out on tape is that he never stops," Foster said. "Anytime you're dealing with a guy like that, talented or not, you've got your hands full. In his case, he's very talented and doesn't give up. So you've got to be on your P's and Q's all the way around. He's going to present a challenge, and I'm up for it."

Asked about putting a rookie on Kampman, Marinelli said: "It's tough."

Zastudil "saved the night" for the Browns



By Tony Grossi

September 14, 2008

Punter Dave Zastudil saved the night by having a career quarter. His gust-busting punts of 59, 42, 55 and 51 yards maintained some semblance of field position for the defense.

Zastudil superb against Steelers





By Mary Kay Cabot

September 14, 2008

Zastudil's zest: Dave Zastudil was superb, uncorking punts of 59, 42, 55, 51 and 58 yards. He managed some of the fabulous kicks despite the rain and a slick ball.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Whitner a respected leader and team spokesman



High expectations are in vogue, but pieces must fall into place


By Jerry Sullivan

September 4, 2008


Three months later, Donte Whitner hasn’t softened his position one bit. You’ve seen him play football. Does he strike you as the sort of guy who would guarantee the playoffs and back down later? If anything, the Bills’ strong safety is more certain now.

“Expectations are out the roof,” Whitner said Monday. “Expectations are right out the roof. And that’s how you want it. You want to have expectations. If you go into the season and don’t have expectations, you’re going to get your butt kicked. I’ll tell you that right now.”

Whitner is only 23, but he enters his third NFL season as a respected leader and team spokesman. If he says this team should make the playoffs, you can be sure his teammates are right there with them, tired of all the waiting and the rebuilding and the excuses and ready to make a serious impact in the league.

And yes, that’s the way you want it. You want a team to expect big things of itself. You don’t hope for success. You expect it. The Bills feel they have earned the right to have high expectations. They’ve put in the work. They’ve been through the tough times. They believe they’re ready.

“I’ve heard that you judge a man’s worth by the amount of adversity he’s overcome,” Whitner said. “It’s the same with a team. Last year, we faced more adversity than any team in the NFL. We’ve been through it, but we’re still here. And we’re going to be a good football team.”

Evidently, he’s not alone. The Bills have sold more than 54,200 season tickets, the most since 1991. The Toronto venture has something to do with it. But fans believe this team is ready to compete for its first postseason berth since the 1999 season.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Roaming time for Bills' Whitner



Improved pass rush will benefit Bills safety

By Allen Wilson

September 10, 2008

Donte Whitner looks at how Pro Bowl strong safeties like Bob Sanders of Indianapolis and Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh are used to maximize their impact and wonders, “Why can’t I do the same thing?”

He’ll get his chance this season.

The new additions on the Buffalo Bills’ defense will mean a new, expanded role for Whitner.

With proven run-stuffing defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, versatile defensive tackle Spencer Johnson and solid veteran linebacker Kawika Mitchell strengthening the front seven, Whitner will have more freedom to improvise than he’s ever had before.

“I’m excited,” said Whitner, who had six tackles and a pass breakup during the Bills’ season-opening 34-10 rout of Seattle. “My packages have expanded as far as me blitzing and showing one thing and doing another. I’ll have an opportunity to roam back there, have opportunities for some interceptions and big hits and get guys lined up. I’m enjoying it.”

Entering his third season, Whitner is already established as one of the top strong safeties in the NFL. He has been consistently productive, topping 100 tackles in each of his first two years.

What he hasn’t been is a big-time playmaker in the mold of Sanders and Polamalu, both of whom have the latitude to freelance and wreak havoc all over the field.

Whitner has only two interceptions, six pass breakups and no sacks in his brief career. Those numbers are expected to increase in his new role, where he’ll be near the line of scrimmage on one play and in deep center field on the next.

“When we initially drafted Donte, I wanted him to understand the fundamentals and principles of the defense,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “He’s been in this system for two years now, so as he grows I want to allow him to grow within our defensive system. He’s a very talented young man, so I can take advantage of his talents by moving him into multiple positions and doing different things that enhance our ability to be aggressive.”

The Bills wanted to turn Whitner into an all-purpose defensive threat last season. Fewell wanted to put Whitner in situations where he and free safety Ko Simpson would be interchangeable.

But those plans changed when Simpson was lost for the season with a broken ankle in the opener. Injuries also diminished depth at cornerback, linebacker and on the defensive line.

Because of the Bills’ struggles in stopping the run, Whitner had to play a lot at the line of scrimmage like an extra linebacker. He even lined up as the nickel cornerback on some passing downs.

“Because of all the injuries, we just didn’t have the pieces in place to do the things we wanted to do,” Whitner said. “I played in the box maybe more than I would have if we had all our guys on defense.

“I started at nickel back last year. There are not too many strong safeties you can put at nickel back. We were very limited in what we could do because we didn’t have the bodies.”

Now that the defense is healthy and upgraded with talented reinforcements, the Bills are ready to unleash Whitner by putting him into a position to make the kind of game-changing plays for which Sanders and Polamalu are known.

“I definitely think he has all the attributes to do what Sanders and Polamalu do,” Fewell said. “As I study those guys and different teams throughout the season I view him in that light. If you’re asking do I see Donte’s game expanding to that type of capability, yes, definitely.”

Whitner, who said his expanded responsibilities are similar to what he did at Ohio State, believes he and the rest of the secondary will benefit from the Bills’ improved front seven.

Stroud’s presence up front should make defensive ends Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay more dangerous rushing off the edge. Fewell’s playbook also includes myriad packages designed to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks from all angles.

“If we have tremendous pressure, the quarterback can’t throw the football accurately with all those guys in his face,” Whitner said. “It’s only a certain number of guys who can do that consistently. Other guys are going to have overthrows, low throws, tipped balls, things that come from having a good front seven.

“We’re looking forward to those guys applying a lot of pressure, which gives us an opportunity. Now we don’t have to be perfect. You can maybe take a chance here and there to get a ball.”

Whitner is looking to have the kind of season that leads to Pro Bowl recognition for him and some of his defensive teammates.

In the AFC, Sanders and Polamalu owned the strong safety spots in Hawaii for years.

But if Whitner has the kind of impact season the Bills expect, he might just break up that monopoly.

“The coaches are doing a good job of putting me in position to make things happen,” he said. “My job is to make the most of those opportunities.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Kampman "brings intensity, tenacity"





Cook crams extra hard for Kampman

By JUDD ZULGAD

September 5, 2008

As the Vikings prepare for their season opener Monday night in Green Bay, much of the focus has centered on Artis Hicks substituting for the suspended Bryant McKinnie at left tackle.

The reality is the toughest matchup for the Vikings line might be on the opposite side. That's where right tackle Ryan Cook will face Packers Pro Bowl left end Aaron Kampman. Cook is no stranger to the damage Kampman is capable of inflicting.

Cook was making only the second start of his rookie season two years ago when he went against Kampman in a late-season game at Lambeau Field. Kampman finished with three sacks, including two on bull rushes, and four hurries in a 9-7 victory. He completed that season second in the NFL with 15.5 sacks.

"He's just a big technique and effort guy," Cook said. "He plays all out on every play, and if you don't match that intensity he can definitely take advantage of certain situations and make plays."

Entering his second full season as the Vikings' starting right tackle, Cook is far from a finished product, but he is considered a much more complete player than the guy Kampman abused in December 2006.

In two games against Kampman last season, Cook gave up a sack and four hurries. Darrell Bevell, the Vikings offensive coordinator and former quarterbacks coach with the Packers, knows just how difficult Kampman can be for linemen to handle.

"I think the one thing he has to make sure that he does is he has to match Aaron Kampman's intensity," Bevell said of Cook. "That's the one thing that Aaron brings. He brings intensity. He brings tenacity. He brings effort. He finishes every play.

"He plays with great technique. He knows the opponent's weakness. So that's a big challenge for Ryan Cook to make sure he matches that intensity. He can't think that he is going to ease into a street fight. He is going to have a fight on his hands from the first play until the very last play."

Cook gets his next test Monday night at Lambeau Field. Kampman's 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons are second-most in the NFL to San Diego's Shawne Merriman (29.5).

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bills' Whitner a locker-room leader



By Mark Gaughan

September 4, 2008

Draft for character


Overall, the Bills have a better track record than most teams for avoiding players who get into trouble.

Donte Whitner is one of many examples of the Bills looking for a locker-room leader.

Whitner was the No.‚8 pick in 2006. The Bills stuck to their draft board in taking Whitner No. 8 in 2006, even though defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (now with Baltimore) arguably may have filled a bigger need.

"Besides the football talent, he had great intangibles," Modrak said. "He has a great work ethic. He kept his own notebook on each team they played against at Ohio State. He had the ability to cover man [to man] out of a safety position. He was a relentless player. He kind of clicked off all the right things, including the kind of person he was, and that position is a leadership position."

While Ngata is a force now for the Baltimore Ravens and the Bills recognized his talent, they simply did not think he fit Jauron's defensive scheme. Ngata is a stay-at-home run plugger.

"We wanted Donte a little more," Modrak said. "It wasn't a negative on Haloti. There would have had to have been some adjustments for Haloti. He's not a run-and-chase kind of guy."

The Bills scouting staff has a clear view of what the coaching staff wants, which speaks to the next principle, perhaps the biggest the Bills are trying to embrace.

Tragedy, loss, success help Bills' Whitner mature on, off field



By Tim Graham

September 2, 2008

Donte Whitner helped rock Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson's world in a game last season. His philosophy: "I just want to force teams to pay attention to me on the field. I want those guys to have to game plan for me."

Chad Johnson's teammates kneeled in prayer. The Cincinnati Bengals receiver writhed delicately on the cold Ralph Wilson Stadium turf. He was in too much pain to thrash.

His problem? He made a mistake. He made himself vulnerable in Donte Whitner's neighborhood.

Johnson, arms out, dove for a sinking pass in the closing minutes of a Nov. 4, 2007 loss to the Buffalo Bills. A torpedo screamed for Johnson's ribcage. Whitner, the Bills' bone-jolting strong safety, blasted him.

You can't spell "detonate" without the D, O, N, T or E.


"When a guy gets that football in his hands, you get an opportunity to do something we can't do in public," Whitner said. "If we did, then we'd all be locked up. I try to be as violent and as fast as possible. I've always liked it. It's an adrenaline thing."

Johnson failed to do something Whitner, at an early age, learned nobody should forget to do.

Look both ways.

A near-fatal accident when Whitner was 4 years old drove home that lesson. Then, as he got older, he encountered a series of discouraging episodes that constantly reinforced another truism.

Grow up fast.

Those concepts have combined to make Whitner who he is, and have established his reputation as an emerging NFL star mature beyond his years.

The fast track is the only path he has known. He graduated high school early and left Ohio State early. He's entering his third NFL season, but he didn't turn 23 until the day the Bills reported to training camp.

And this is the year he plans to blow up.

"I just want to force teams to pay attention to me on the field," Whitner said. "I want those guys to have to game plan for me.

"Any player who wants to be disruptive or be a good player in this game, they should want the same thing. I really want to be the best safety in the game of football, and if you don't want to be the best at your position, there's really no reason to be playing. When I come away from this game, I want to be considered one of the best."

Those closest to him don't doubt he's capable.

Whitner not only has the physical skills; he also is known as one of Buffalo's classiest, most dedicated players. He's a leader and highly involved in the community through his Team 20 Foundation.

"I don't like to compare young players to anybody else, but he's a special guy," said Bills assistant George Catavolos, who has coached NFL defensive backs since 1984. "He can do whatever he wants with his future."

That would have been difficult to foresee for Deborah Robinson 19 years ago. For three months she carted her son around their Cleveland neighborhood in a wagon. Little Donte (he has his mother's maiden name) was in a body cast, multiple fractures in both legs. Doctors cautioned Deborah he might not be able to walk normally.

In a decision similar to the one Ocho Cinco lamented last autumn, Whitner dashed after a ball without looking both ways. He ran into the street. A car ran him over.

That wasn't the worst of Whitner's childhood.

He had to become the man of the house when he was 12. His father, Lindsey Robinson, served six years in the Mansfield Correctional Institution for attempted robbery. Whitner, his little brother and his mom lived with his grandmother and three cousins on Cleveland's dodgy East Side.

"I hate to say it, but a lot of his determination, I feel, comes from the anger and resentment and absent love in his life," Lindsey Robinson told the Dayton Daily News shortly after his prison release in 2003. "He took that to heart and put it to something positive."

Look both ways. Grow up fast.

Whitner was a blue-chip recruit at Glenville High, where he played with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Troy Smith, Miami Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and New England Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods.

Whitner graduated several months early to enroll at Ohio State. He was 17, in Columbus and competing for a starting job with the Buckeyes while his Glenville classmates still were horsing around in study hall and drinking their lunchtime milk out of 8-ounce cartons.

He developed a reputation at Ohio State as hard hitter, a relentless worker, a leader. He played three years and left after his junior season. The Bills selected him eighth overall in 2006. Whitner was 20.

"He has a lot of the characteristics you want in a safety," Catavolos said. "He's intense. He's hard-hitting. He's good against the run. He can cover. He can play strong safety, free safety and nickel and he doesn't bat an eye."

Whitner established himself as an NFL talent straight away. He started 14 games as a rookie, and before the flu sidelined him for the meaningless 2007 season finale in Philadelphia, he was the only Bill to play every defensive snap. His 102 tackles ranked third on the team.

"I see a very passionate player," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "He plays with high energy. He plays downhill. He slides all around the field, and he's kind of the spark plug of that defense."

Whitner certainly sparked discussion before training camp, when he guaranteed the Bills will make the playoffs this year.

Young players are supposed to keep their mouths shut. In light of the Bills' 7-9 finish last season -- the eighth consecutive campaign without a playoff berth -- Whitner's guarantee sounds foolhardy.

Many rolled their eyes.

Now Whitner intends to roll some heads.

"We're going to make the playoffs," Whitner reiterated. "I'm not backing down from that guarantee. I feel even stronger about it now than when I made it.

"We'll see what people say at the end of the day."

Whitner knows his guarantee will make him a target for criticism every weekend this fall.

"Scrubs don't make predictions like that," Whitner said. "You have to be an impact player in the league to even open up your mouth and say something like that."

He insisted he's ready for the extra attention because he sees how the Bills' Tampa 2-style defense is morphing with such acquisitions as defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson and linebacker Kawika Mitchell, and the return of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny from a broken forearm.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what you have on the football field," Whitner said. "And with the guys coming together, it's more of a brotherhood than a football team.

"This is the time when it all happens, when you get all the pieces around you, all the players get better and everybody can make plays. We have those pieces in place."

What has Whitner jacked up is that, with a revamped line, the defense can be more aggressive. That means he should have the chance to be a more versatile weapon.

Whitner, who is 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds, doesn't have an NFL sack yet. That might be surprising to those who watched him at Ohio State, where he recorded five sacks and 13 tackles for loss.

"We're going to be a pressure football team," Whitner said. "The way the coaches got me around the football in practice, I'm loving it.

"We feel we can go with man coverage and bring some of those safety blitzes and zone blitzes. You might think I'm coming or I'm not coming. We're doing a lot of things to make plays and be a good defense."

That might keep opposing receivers up at night in the days leading up to a Bills game.

"He's a tough matchup," Dolphins receiver Derek Hagan said. "He's a young guy, but he comes to play. When you see a small safety you expect to run right through him, but he's got a lot of power and he brings it.

"Whenever I'm on the field I'm watching out for the safeties, but he's one of those guys that you know, when you watch film, he'll come up and hit you. He's made his mark on being physical. He's not afraid to hit."

As a burgeoning leader would, Whitner always is looking for ways to stimulate team cohesiveness.

Last year, he played host to Thursday-night film sessions in the basement of his Hamburg, N.Y. home. He brings in a chef and a masseuse. The turnout's always strong.

Not many 23-year-olds would take it upon themselves to do something like that. Or start a charitable foundation. Or buy his mother and grandmother a new house far removed from the gritty city. Or make a haughty guarantee.

"A lot of guys are good at this game, but it's people who aren't scared to take the next step that want to be great," Whitner said. "You have to hold yourself up to high expectations and know what you want and go out and get it."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bowling Green Coach Brandon orchestrates win over #25 Pitt



Bowling Green Pulls a Few Tricks Before Springing an Upset

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


August 31, 2008

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A whistle sounded prematurely, stripping Bowling Green of a possible winning touchdown against No. 25 Pittsburgh, but it was not long before the Falcons got a second chance.

Tyler Sheehan ran 11 yards for a touchdown on a quarterback draw early in the fourth quarter, two plays after Pittsburgh’s fourth turnover, and Bowling Green rallied for a 27-17 victory against the No. 25 Panthers.

The Falcons (1-0), who beat Minnesota in their opener last season, earned their second win over a Bowl Championship Series conference team in two years by bouncing back from a 14-0 deficit. It was the first victory by a Mid-American Conference program at Pittsburgh; Pitt previously was 25-2 over all against the MAC, including 24-0 at home.

“Unless you study the game, you don’t understand the implications of a win like that,” Bowling Green Coach Gregg Brandon said. “We’re not supposed to beat these people.”

Falcons linebacker John Haneline and several teammates said they had read earlier in the week that no MAC team had won at Pitt.

“Everybody just said, ‘Why not us now, why wait?’ ” Haneline said.

Anthony Turner scored on an 8-yard run set up by quarterback Sheehan’s 22-yard completion to tight end Jimmy Scheidler, who earlier scored two touchdowns, to give Bowling Green its first lead at 20-17 with 3 minutes 53 seconds left in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Bowling Green defensive back Kenny Lewis caused Cedric McGee to fumble, then scooped up the ball for an apparent 67-yard scoring return with 13:30 remaining.

An inadvertent whistle brought the ball back to the Falcons 35, and Bowling Green was forced to punt. But on Pitt’s next possession, cornerback Antonio Smith forced another fumble and Angelo Magnone returned it six yards to the Pitt 11.

Sheehan, who was 24 of 40 for 163 yards, scored two plays later.

Pitt rushed for only 46 yards in the final three quarters after outgaining the Falcons by 137-6 in the first quarter.

“We made so many mistakes today and the defense had my number,” Pitt running back LeSean McCoy said. “I’m sure the team is hurt. I’m sure nobody expected this. It’s tough.”

McCoy ran for 1,328 yards last year, the best freshman season by a Pitt runner since Tony Dorsett in 1973, but he was held to 71 yards on 23 carries against Bowling Green. He did not have a run longer than 12 yards.

Pittsburgh, a 13-point favorite, had a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter after McCoy scored on an 11-yard run and Derek Kinder caught a 4-yard pass from Bill Stull (29 of 51, 264 yards).

McCoy’s fumble at the Falcons 48 late in the second quarter led to Scheidler’s 3-yard touchdown catch. The score came on a misdirection play on which everyone except Scheidler pulled right as he broke open in the left flat.

Bowling Green also relied on gadgetry to tie the score, with wide receiver Freddie Barnes lining up at quarterback to throw a 3-yard pass to Scheidler.

Conor Lee’s 36-yard field goal gave Pitt a 17-14 lead on the final play before halftime, but only after Pitt passed up the chance to go for a touchdown.

McCoy did not seem pleased with the conservative play-calling, which came after Pitt punted from the Bowling Green 35 and 34 early in the game.

“It would have been nice to get a touchdown but, you know, we follow the leader,” McCoy said of Coach Dave Wannstedt.

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