Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Underrated Rivalry

Ok, so no one sings about their fight song.

Every Georgetown worth his saxa knows the Boola-Boola from those "loyal fellows up at Yale", the Navy Yell, the "Cornell", etc. We even can give a "chu chu, rah rah" with the best of the Holy Cross rooters. But somehow, somewhere, "Ray Bucknell" never made it into the nomenclature of Georgetown rivals and their songs. But after 10 years, these two schools now share a lot more on the football field than they do in the fight song business, not for losing records but for the promise of a better decade ahead.

And after 22 prior meetings dating back to 1904, perhaps this has finally become a rivalry, if an underrated one.

The two schools first met on the gridiron on what is now Copley Lawn, the erstwhile "Georgetown Field", on November 12, 1904, a 12-0 Georgetown shutout behind two touchdowns from GU Hall of Famer James (Hub) Hart (D'1904). The Bucknellians returned the favor a year later at Georgetown, with an 18-0 shutout of its own.

Three games are among the most notable of the series. It took a game at Georgetown on Nov. 25, 1916 to set records that endure even to this day, thanks to Georgetown's first All-America selection, RB Johnny Gilroy.

"Whatever hope the Bucknell football eleven had of holding Georgetown to a close score today was confined strictly to the first period," wrote the New York Times. "At the end of the opening quarter the Blue and Gray led by only six points, but when the battle ceased Georgetown had a margin of 78, and the Lewisburg (Penn.) team had been unable to get within striking distance of their opponent's goal."

"Bucknell never got farther than the 30 yard line," wriote Morris Bealle in his 1947 history of the program on Georgetown's 78-0 win, still in the 10 largest margins of victory in school history. Gilroy scored on five touchdowns (three of them kickoff returns, two on interception returns) and kicked extra points on six of the the Hilltoppers' 12 touchdown scores in a wet and rainy game. The offensive output by Gilroy put him at the top of rushers nationwide and he finished the season in 1916 as the leading rusher in America. No, not the East, or the small colleges. Everywhere.

Weather factored heavily in the second of three great games between the schools, a muddy and rainy 3-2 Bucknell win at Griffith Stadium that cost the 1925 Hilltoppers an undefeated season.

In retrospect, it's hard to understate how good the 1925 Georgetown team really was, having outscored opponents 281-19 and surrendering just two touchdowns all season. Georgetown posted seven shutouts in nine wins that season, but Bucknell would be the spoiler.

The teams played intermittently through 1938 but the schools were going in different directions--Bucknell was transitioning into a small college program, Georgetown a major college one. The importance of the Hoyas' Oct. 21, 1939 win by the Hoyas, 13-7 at Lewisburg's Memorial Stadium was not lost on the Georgetown head coach, who was the team captain during that fabled loss 14 years earlier: Jack Hagerty. It was the 11th straight game without a loss for the nationally ranked Hoyas, and 12 more were to follow through the 1940 season.

The two schools did not meet for over 60 years until Georgetown has committed to join the Patriot League, and Bucknell joined the line of PL schools that beat up the Hoyas pretty good in its opening two years in the league.

After dropping each of its first 10 Patriot games, none worse than a bitter 69-0 loss at Lehigh to open the 2002 season, Georgetown met Bucknell at Harbin Field on Oct. 26, 2002. Here's an excerpt from the game recap:

Senior David Paulus threw five second half touchdowns as Georgetown overcame a 17 point halftime deficit in a 32-31 win over Bucknell and its first conference win since joining the Patriot League in 2001. The win was improbable given the turns of the game, which was a study in contrasts between the struggles of recent performances and the promise of better tomorrows.

In prior league games, the Hoyas had consistently dug themselves in a hole in the first quarter, having been outscored 127-19, and things started off poorly on Saturday. The Bison (2-5) opened the game with a 43 yard pass and scored within the first two minutes of play, 7-0. Three series later, Bucknell drove 58 yards in 11 plays to the Georgetown 22, but were stopped on downs. The teams trade punts again until punt returner Luke McArdle fumbled at the Georgetown 24, setting up a Bucknell field goal to trail 10-0.

After Georgetown punted on its next series, Bucknell drove 70 yards in ten plays to increase the lead to 17-0 with 3:55 to play in the half. With under two minutes to play, the Hoyas had two net yards in total offense. But in a sign of the second half fireworks to come, Paulus led the Hoyas on a nine play, 59 yard drive in only 1:14, without a third down in the drive. The Hoyas advanced to the 11 yard line with :04 to play, but a 28 yard field goal was blocked at the end of the half.

To its credit, the team did not give up. Though the Hoyas were a combined 0-12 in games trailing at the half over the last two seasons, the next 30 minutes would make some new history.

Georgetown opened the second half with a six play, 64 yard drive, where Paulus was 4-4 for 60 yards, including a 34 yard pass to Walter Bowser for the TD, 17-7. The Bison answered with a drive deep into Georgetown territory at the Georgetown 26, but on a fourth and four, the Bison were stopped a yard short and turned the ball over on downs. Whatever momentum was short-lived--on its next series, Paulus fumbled at the Georgetown 20 and the Bison converted in four plays to lead 24-7.

Late in the quarter, the Hoyas forcing a Bucknell punt deep in its territory and returned the ball to the BU 46. Paulus found McArdle open on two passes in only 18 seconds, and the Hoyas had cut the lead to 24-14. After holding the Bison to one first down in its next series, Paulus started at mid field and found McArdle on two 20 yard passes, the last for his third TD. The extra point was missed, but the score was now 24-20.

Midway in the fourth, the Hoyas began a drive at its 15. On a fourth down and one at its own 24, Georgetown went for it and was stopped at the line of scrimmage. Bucknell took the gift and fired a 25 yard TD pass to lead 31-20 with eight minutes to play. Would the drive cost the Hoyas a chance to win?

Paulus did not quit. On the next series, he opened with a 34 yard play to McArdle, and rushed for another 14 to put the Hoyas in the red zone. Paulus' fourth TD pass was a 17 yard strike to William Huisking with 5:41 to play, and Georgetown closed to 31-26, failing on a two point conversion. After Bucknell was stopped at the Georgetown 38, Bison punter Billy Windle landed a 19 yard punt that gave GU another chance with 3:06 to play.

A 16 yard pass to Walter Bowser got the Hoyas to midfield, but time was fleeting. On 3rd and 1 with 1:50 to play, Paulus rushed for four yards to keep the drive alive. On the next series, the Hoyas faced 4th and 6, where Paulus found McArdle for seven. With under a minute remaining, Georgetown faced a third test at fourth down, where Paulus took it 10 yards and got out of bounds, saving the day yet again.

Georgetown faced third and two with 19 seconds to play and no timeouts. Paulus found Bowser in single coverage across the end zone and connected for a 19 yard TD, 32-31. Once again, a two point conversion failed.

Bucknell's last hope was a long kickoff return, but the Georgetown defense would hear nothing of it. Freshman Mehdi Hassan stopped Bucknell returner Antwan Kennedy at the Bucknell 11, and the Bison settled for a six yard pass to end the game.

The Hoyas put up 307 yards in the second half with only one punt in its eight second half series. Paulus finished 31-48 for 350 yards and no interceptions, with his 31 completions setting a new team record. Luke McArdle's 14 receptions for 188 yards set a new single game record for receptions, while his 188 yards was 21 yards more than the entire GU offense contributed a year earlier against Bucknell. Defensively, Matt Fronczke and Andrew Clarke combined for 24 tackles and the Hoya defense held the Bison to 2 for 12 on third down conversions and 0 for 2 on fourth.

In the intervening years, close finishes have been regular occurrences: in 2005, a 19-16 overtime win for the Hoyas at Bucknell, matched two years later on the same field. For its part, the Bison have won each of the last three in Washington and none were easy, which is exactly what rivalry games should be.

Naturally, of course, these aren't true rival schools in an athletic sense--outside football, there aren't a lot of contacts and neither student body gets too worked up over the other. Outside of a 1987 first round game, the schools haven't played a series in  basketball since 1935. But in a Patriot League dominated by one (and only one) rivalry, the ability for these two schools to build a healthy series between the two bodes well for the future, a future that, scholarships notwithstanding, should expect each to be more competitive in the 2010's than they collectively displayed in the 2000's.

What each school does have with each other is mutual respect. You can't expect Lehigh or Colgate, a combined 17-0 against Georgetown since 2001, to show the Hoyas much if any respect. But this series, 6-3 to Bucknell in the decade and 12-9-1 to the Bison overall, has the ingredients of a good series: competitive play, close finishes, and a little history behind it. Saturday's game should be no different.

Plus, don't forget the Bucknell colors: orange and blue. If that can't start a rivalry, nothing can.