It’s been a big sports week, friends. Football held its annual awards banquet, Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse got off to fast starts, Softball opened with a win, and Baseball starts this weekend. We even got a little actual football with the XFL.
Let’s get into it.
Army Football Awards Banquet
Army Football held its annual awards banquet last weekend. It should come as no surprise that Firstie CB Elijah Riley won the team’s Most Valuable Player award. Riley was undoubtedly the team’s best player this past season. I think Michigan QB Shae Patterson was the only quarterback to throw Riley’s way a lot in 2019, and on balance, I’m not sure that worked out all that well despite Big Blue’s obvious speed at wide receiver.
Riley was named a captain at the Shrine Bowl and wound up playing more than half the snaps during the game. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes in the NFL Draft and what his personal break-even point is for professional football.
Elijah Riley was all over the @ShrineBowl field this weekend.
⚫️ EAST Team Captain
🟡 32 minutes played
⚫️ 51 snaps
🟡 5 tackles
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) January 21, 2020
A great night to celebrate:
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) February 8, 2020
Lacrosse Starts Hot
Army Men’s Lax got off to a 2-0 start this week, beating #18/19 UMass decisively, 17-4, and NJIT, 19-1. Really, neither game was as close as the scores suggest. In both cases, the Men shut out their opponents for the first half and had most of their starters out early in the fourth quarter. As of this writing, the Black Knights stand #13/14 nationally, and assuming they don’t trip up against Rutgers this weekend, they seem likely to break into the Top 10 shortly.
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) February 8, 2020
The Men are playing well in every phase. Plebe Stevie Grabher has won faceoff after faceoff, immeasurably improving his team’s biggest weakness from a year ago. Meanwhile, the defense looks as good as ever despite the loss of All-American Johnny Surdick. They play an attacking, physical style that makes it hard for opponents to even get shots, much less legitimately good looks on goal. Add in the outstanding play of Yearling Goalie Wyatt Schupler — 13 saves against UMass, one of which was named Patriot League Play of the Week — and so far at least, no one has been able to score on these guys — really, at all.
On offense, well, we were expecting Army to be good. That said, they’ve been better than projected. Yearling Brendan Nichtern facilitates the offense and leads the team in scoring, but really, the points are coming from everywhere. When teams focus on Nichtern, he’s more than happy to dish to a teammate, and when they don’t focus on him, well, that’s when we get the crazy highlight reel plays. It’s been a pleasure to watch, and despite their having played a ranked team in the opener, Army still hasn’t yet been pushed on the field.
.@ArmyWP_MLax goalie Wyatt Schupler's spectacular save to deny UMass on the doorstep is this week's AWPAA Play of the Week.
— ArmyWestPoint Sports (@GoArmyWestPoint) February 10, 2020
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) February 10, 2020
Men’s Lax plays #19/20 Rutgers this Saturday at noon in what will undoubtedly be their toughest game to date this season. The Scarlet Knights were down a little last year, but they’re a perennial powerhouse, and they come into this game with something to prove. After that, the Men travel to Marist on Tuesday, February 18th and to #5 Syracuse next Sunday at 1 pm.
The Syracuse game promises to be a slugfest.
This team has an opportunity to make a legitimate statement over the course of the next ten days. That starts at Michie this weekend.
If you haven’t watched a game yet this season, do yourself a favor and make some time. These guys do not disappoint.
— Army W.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_WLax) February 13, 2020
The Women opened the season yesterday at home against Marist. They started a little slowly on offense but played terrific defense throughout the contest, and it was basically over by the midpoint in the second half. The Women opened with a three-goal run and finished with a second-half shutout. Watching the game, it felt close at times, but the final score told a different story — Army 17, Marist 4.
Army Goalie Maddie Burns was outstanding. I don’t know how many saves she had, exactly, but she seemed to stop everything, even quality one-on-one looks from right outside the crease. Burns basically held the margin for her team when their offense stalled early in the second half, and then Army broke through, and the game was pretty much over after that. The coaching staff might feel differently, but Burns was my MVP.
The Women are at Columbia this weekend. They then host Iona midweek before heading to Hartford and then Monmouth on a two-game road trip. The Women don’t start Patriot League play until March, though, so they have some time to get right before they hit the heart of their schedule. The best teams they’ll face this season are Patriot League foes, so doing well nationally basically just means beating perennial powerhouses Navy and Loyola.
That’s the Women’s next step. Their team is good. They need to find a way to break through and get to great.
On the Diamond
Women’s Softball opened 4-1 over the past week, beating Rutgers and ETSU and splitting a two-game set with Hartford. They’re out to Hawaii this weekend for the Golden State Classic, and folks, that’s good duty if you can get it.
Meanwhile, Army Baseball opens with a three-game set at Duke this Saturday. As has been their practice the past few years, they’ll play the next month or so on the road down south. Baseball’s home opener isn’t until March 21st when they host Holy Cross for a two-game set.
The wait is almost over…
It's game week #GoArmy
✈️ Durham, N.C.
📅 Feb. 14-16 pic.twitter.com/llrCkjV8vp
— Army Baseball (@ArmyWP_Baseball) February 10, 2020
* * *
XFL: Week 1
I don’t know how many of you watched the XFL over the weekend. I listened to two games while driving up to Mount Snow on Saturday and driving back on Sunday, and then my daughter Emma and I watched the St. Louis Battlehawks beat Dallas on Sunday night. Overall, I gotta say that I enjoyed the new league quite a bit.
It’s funny because all the prognosticators picked either Dallas and Tampa as the best teams in the league based on their skill position players, but then we saw the actual games, it became immediately obvious that New York and St. Louis had the best offensive and defensive lines.
Both teams won convincingly.
Up until the New York game, I’d have said that none of the XFL teams had good-enough O-Lines to run a traditional, NFL-style pocket-passing offense. Teams that leaned into that with mobile quarterbacks running zone-read and option concepts had success. This included the DC Defenders and the Houston Roughnecks. In fact, Defenders’ QB Cardale Jones and Houston QB PJ Walker — Army fans will remember Walker from his time at Temple — both played extremely well. Walker might actually be the best player in the entire league. Meanwhile, St. Louis QB Jordan Ta’amu wasn’t quite as good, but his team committed to the run, and he himself ran it enough to keep the Dallas defense honest, and that was really the difference in their game, too.
To my eyes, the only team that ran an offense that actually looked like it belonged in the NFL was the New York Guardians. Head Coach Kevin Gilbride, previously the OC for the NY Giants, very obviously installed his old Giants’ playbook, featuring a pro-style running attack mixed with downfield play-action passing. Guardians’ QB Matt McGloin actually made that work. Whether that was because New York is actually good or because Tampa was just that bad remains to be seen, but it must be said that the Tampa Bay Vipers were actively terrible. Visibly confused on offense and running a disastrous two-quarterback scheme… New York’s defense smoked them, generating a ton of sacks and quarterback pressure and a bunch of costly turnovers. Really, it was like watching a minor-league version of the Tom Coughlin New York Giants at their peak.
I didn’t realize how badly I’d missed that, to be honest.
Power Rankings After Week 1
— XFL Highlights (@XFLPlays) February 12, 2020
The game of the weekend is this Saturday at 2:00 pm — New York at DC. Not only is this arguably the hottest rivalry in the XFL, it also pits two of the nascent league’s better teams. I really hope New York can continue their dominance along the offensive and defensive lines, but DC looked like an entirely better team than Tampa in the league’s opening week. I expect McGloin’s gonna have to run it some to give his team a chance to win.
Anybody else watch any XFL? What did you think?
That’s all I’ve got. Enjoy the weekend!