Archive for August, 2005

Sneak preview

August 29, 2005

Here’s a column that will appear in Tuesday’s Star…

NASCAR’s playoff system is sort of growing on me.

Growing up near Darlington, I’m something of a NASCAR traditionalist. That means I fear and am naturally opposed to change.

So when NASCAR unveiled the “Race for the Chase” format, I was skeptical. But the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Under the old format, this season would be over. Tony Stewart has a 213-point lead over Jimmie Johnson, and there’s no way he’ll back up that much in 12 races.

As it stands now, he’ll be just one of 10 drivers in a 10-race sprint for the championship. Stewart, Johnson, Greg Biffle and Rusty Wallace officially have spots locked up and Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield and Kurt Busch seem like safe bets to get in as well.

It’s the last three spots that hold the drama.

Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon are 8-10 right now, but Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are all trying to slip in the door as well.

So with stops at California and Richmond left before the chase begins, who’s in and who’s out?

No shot

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the sport’s biggest stars, but he’s 117 points out of 10th place right now. With average finishes of 28.3 at California and 5.7 at Richmond in his last three races at each track, he figures to loose too much ground this week to earn a spot in the final 10.

Dale Jarrett has 78 points to make up, and his average finishes aren’t good either (14.3 at California, 24.3 at Richmond). Maybe he could earn a few bonus points by actually driving the truck…

In the mix

Elliott Sadler has a win to his credit on the left coast, and his average finishes are 10.3 and 12, respectively. He’s only 34 points out, so he has a good chance if he can avoid trouble.

Jamie McMurray is 12 points out of the standings, and after narrowly missing the chase last year, he’s surely motivated to get in this time around. His averages are solid — 7 and 19 — and he doesn’t have much ground to make up.

The same is true of Matt Kenseth, who was simply dominating at Bristol on Saturday.
His averages aren’t great (17.3 and 15), but his four Roush teammates are looking good for the chase, so why not him?

The picks

Carl Edwards is currently eighth in the standings, and in his two races at each track, he’s fared well (5.5 and 13.5). He’s a Roush guy with a good record at these places, so I’m saving him a spot.

Ryan Newman has the best averages of this group, with a sterling 5.7 at California and a 10.7 at Richmond. He’s a great qualifier, which means he may avoid some of the trouble that often crops up towards the rear of the field.

My last pick defies logic, but the conspiracy theorist in me just won’t let me write off Jeff Gordon. His averages are brutal, with a 22.7 at California and a 16 in Richmond, but he has three wrecks figured in there.

I just can’t fathom a scenario in which neither Gordon nor Earnhardt Jr. makes the chase. So, I’m thinking that Gordon finds a way to hang on to 10th place.

Change is bad, remember?

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Bulldogs gear up for 2005

August 11, 2005

Steve Patton is well known for his sense of humor, but the head coach of Gardner-Webb’s football program had his good nature sorely tested in an injury-filled 5-6 campaign last season.

You might guess that his main goal for the 2005 season would be winning a third Big South championship, or perhaps qualifying for the school’s first-ever playoff berth.

While those things are surely on the radar screen, the main blip at the moment is bringing fun back to Bulldog football.

“Whatever happens, I’m going to try not to let it get me down like it did last year,” Patton said of a season that saw numerous starters, including all-conference safety Mario Williams, go down with various injuries. “We’re going to go out and have fun. If the freshmen screw up, they screw up.“I’m just going to have some fun because last year wasn’t fun because of all the injuries.”

When Patton talks about freshmen on this year’s squad, he’s probably discussing the secondary. The preseason two-deep roster is littered with freshmen and sophomores at corner and safety, and Patton knows his defense will be very young in the secondary.

“I don’t know half of them,” Patton joked about the projected starters in the defensive backfield. “I think (GWU Sports Information Director Marc Rabb) made some of those names up, because I don’t know who they are. I would say that at least three freshmen are going to start in the secondary. Not redshirt freshmen, true freshmen.

“We’re going to have a different look. We’ll have some scared rabbits back there for a while, but hopefully they’ll develop and get better as the season goes on.”

Xavier Wallace, a Butler High product who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, and Daniel Cooke, a former standout at Independence, will compete for playing time early at corner and safety, respectively.

Preseason all conference selections Keppy Baucom and Brandon Schweitzer stabilize the front seven for new defensive coordinator Will Holthouser.

Schweitzer, a preseason All America choice by the Sports Network, had 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2004 while splitting time between nose guard and defensive end.

Baucom, a three-time all-league selection at linebacker, led the Bulldogs with 90 tackles last year.

While the defense has its question marks, the offense appears to have plenty of answers for opposing defenses.

Longtime offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo welcomes back eight starters to his spread offense led by senior quarterback Nick Roberts.

Roberts, a Springville, Ala., native, had a rough year as the injuries and lack of depth took its toll on the offense. He threw for 2,410 yards but had 17 interceptions to go along with his 12 scoring tosses. He also ran for 363 yards and six more touchdowns.

Patton believes that Roberts is poised for even better things in 2005.

“Nick’s a really good athlete,” Patton said. “He doesn’t have a great arm, but he does have a nice touch on deep passes. He’s learned to read defenses and he’s very dangerous because he can run a 4.4 forty.”

One thing he’ll have plenty of will be options at wide receiver. Kory Alston, a preseason all-conference choice, caught 42 passes for 769 yards and eight touchdowns last year and Aaron Richardson (35-504) and Vonzell Pittman (36-403) add depth to the receiving corps.

“I heard Coach Pizzo say the other day that this might be the best group of receivers that we’ve had here,” Patton said.”

The two leading rushers from last season, George Pressley and Jermaine Boston, return, but they’ll be pushed for playing time by Middle Tennessee State transfer Kelvin German (6-0, 219).

German provides the squad with a little more size than they’ve had in recent years at the running back position.

Former Crest High standout Martray Littlejohn is also in the mix at running back, and could possibly compete for a kick returning position as well.

While the ball carriers have beefed up, the schedule has trimmed down a bit compared to last season.

Seven home games dot the schedule, including the school’s first Thursday night contest as a division I school on Sept. 8 against NAIA member Bellhaven (Miss.).

The Bulldogs will play two games on television this season as road games against Coastal Carolina and VMI will be on Comcast Sports Network and Fox College Sports.

Trips to Furman and Coastal Carolina and home dates with Wofford and Hampton provide challenges, but Patton clearly intended to lighten the load a bit schedule-wise.

“Last year, we had three of our first five games on artificial turf. I thought that was too many,” Patton said. “I tried to avoid that. I didn’t think with Furman, Hampton and Wofford on the schedule, I didn’t think we needed to play anybody else with more scholarships than us.”

The 2005 season gets under way for Gardner-Webb on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. in Spangler Stadium against NAIA member Union (Ky.).

It’s football time

August 4, 2005

OK, first impressions:

Crest is big and fast. I think the Charger defense will be solid out of the gate. It better be with all the new faces on offense…

Shelby looks solid. Year No. 2 of the Darryl Montgomery era at QB could be interesting. I’m sure he has a bad taste in his mouth after last year’s state championship, so he should bounce back in a big way this season.

I haven’t been up to Lawndale yet, but for my money, the most exciting player in the county is Bulldog quarterback Lance Camp. The junior rushed for 1,164 yards and 19 touchdowns while throwing for 2,273 yards and 14 more scores. Those numbers included a bad stretch against Shelby, North Gaston and East Rutherford early in 2004, so don’t be shocked if he tops last year’s stats.

I haven’t been to Kings Mountain yet either, and honestly, I don’t know much about them. Brandon McClain and a couple of their running backs return, but I think their OL took a big hit with graduation. Time will tell if the Mounties can reverse their recent losing ways.