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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Puerto Rico Islanders derail Carolina RailHawks 3-1 on aggregate, win USSF D-2 championship

Posted by on Sun, Oct 31, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Puerto Rico Islanders celebrate USSF D-2 championship win Carolina RailHawks
  • Carolina RailHawks
  • Puerto Rico Islanders celebrate USSF D-2 championship win Carolina RailHawks
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK / CARY — Saturday evening began as one of extraordinary positives for the Carolina RailHawks. The club hosted the first league championship in its four-year history before a crowd of 5,074, unofficially the largest attendance for a league match at WakeMed Soccer Park in three years.

Unfortunately, the RailHawks’ successful season and exhilarating playoff run ended in disappointing fashion as Carolina drew 1-1 with the Puerto Rico Islanders in the second leg of the USSF D-2 Pro League championship. When combined with the 2-0 Islanders’ win over the RailHawks last Sunday in Bayamón, the final 3-1 aggregate score earned the eighth-seeded La Tropa Naranja its first league playoff title and an oversized dinner plate forged especially for the winner of this single-season USSF D-2 Pro League.

Just as the home team’s announced “Orange out” fail to materialize because, well, people don’t own many carrot-colored overcoats suited for 40-degree temperatures, so too did the RailHawks’ plan to hold the Islanders’ at bay while chipping away at a two-goal deficit fizzle in a matter of minutes.

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Hurricanes' home shutout streak gets spooky as Penguins win 3-0

Posted by on Sun, Oct 31, 2010 at 11:29 AM

The face mask of Hall of Fame goalkeeper Jacques Plante
  • Horge/ Wiki Commons
  • The face mask of Hall of Fame goalkeeper Jacques Plante
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—Maybe the Canes could make an omelet with all these goose eggs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped handfuls of home-ice frustration into the Carolina Hurricanes' trick-or-treat bags last night, handing them their second straight 3-0 loss before the Raleigh faithful. Pascal Dupuis netted a pair of goals off Sidney Crosby passes, Brent Johnson placidly foiled 33 shots and the Penguin penalty killers snuffed eight Carolina power plays in the kind of efficient road victory that the Canes had authored only a night before against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.

But the RBC Center seems to be possessed; the Canes might need an exorcism. Perhaps the marketing staff should get Max von Sydow to sound the hurricane warning siren as the team takes the ice next Wednesday night against the New York Islanders. Or they could re-freeze the rink with holy water.

As in their opening-night shutout at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, the young Canes had their chances, but each was followed by a withering "Awwww" from the crowd. By the third period, Penguins fans were chanting "Beat the traffic!" and Canes fans were obliging them.

Jiri Tlusty apparently didn't use enough Pert Plus in his recent conditioning stint with the Charlotte Checkers. His miss of a gaping net off the outside of the post just a minute into the third period, when the game was still in reach at 2-0, was emblematic of the game overall. After 47 seconds of a two-man advantage failed to yield any chances, Dupuis capped the scoring with a perfect shot off the far post behind Cam Ward.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shocker! Renfree almost pitches a perfect game as Blue Devils sink host Navy

Posted by on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 8:30 PM

Sean Renfree is apparently back.

Duke quarterback Sean Renfree
Duke’s sophomore quarterback completed his first 16 passes of the game, finishing an unlikely 28-for-30 for 314 yards and a touchdown and running for two more as the Blue Devils stunned homestanding Navy 34-31.

Duke (2-6) snapped a six-game losing streak as well as a 10-game slide against Division I-FBS opposition.

But the Blue Devils almost had a disaster, as the Middies (5-3) scored three touchdowns and made the two-point conversion each time in the fourth quarter.

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Tar Heel comeback foils William & Mary upset bid

Posted by on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 7:37 PM

Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates hugs a wounded Tribe quarterback Mike Paulus after North Carolina comes back to beat William & Mary.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates hugs a wounded Tribe quarterback Mike Paulus after North Carolina comes back to beat William & Mary.
KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL It’s homecoming day in the “Southern Part of Heaven,” and today UNC will take on an old, old rival from back in the Southern Conference days.

The visitor is William & Mary, which was founded in 1693 and is America’s Oldest University. Harvard is older as an institution, but W&M was a university first.

And there are also always some bragging rights on the line here. Most North Carolinians know that UNC is America’s first state university, but since W&M is now public and has been for about a century it is America’s oldest state university. Discuss amongst yourselves.

W&M’s greatest athletic victory ever was probably in a 1978 basketball game, when the Indians beat UNC — Phil Ford’s senior team — in December in Williamsburg. It is worth noting at this point that W&M is one of the few schools that was eligible for the inaugural 1939 NCAA Tournament and has never yet played in one.

And among the great football “victories” the old grads at W&M will talk about was the tie against the Tar Heels with the immortal Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice on the field in Williamsburg in 1948.

(DISCLAIMER: The writer of all this is a W&M alumnus. Just like Thomas Jefferson and Robert Gates and Glenn Close and Jon Stewart, who is having a big day today, and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. And famous Republican Congress folks Eric Cantor and yes, Michele Bachmann. Whatever.)

Anyway, as we come into today’s game the Tar Heels are 4-3 and heavy favorites over the Tribe (6-1), which is 0-12-2 in the series but is ranked No. 4 nationally in the FCS poll and has a chance for a national championship. A high-scoring game is expected. UNC has to win. W&M doesn’t.

In the end the Tar Heels do what they have to do, winning the fourth quarter and surviving 21-17.

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Keys to the game: Carolina RailHawks to meet Puerto Rico tonight

Posted by on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 1:58 PM

Keys to the game for tonight's USSF-D2 Pro League championship. This is the return leg of the two-legged final. The RailHawks lost 2-0 on Sunday in Puerto Rico. The winner is determined by aggregate score, so...

1. The RailHawks must outscore the Islanders by at least two goals. At the end of normal time, it's that simple. If they're level on aggregate after 90, two 15-minute periods will ensue, to be followed by penalty kicks.

2. Can the defense stay organized? Although the patchwork defense has been pretty good overall, they simply cannot afford to make the awful lapses on set pieces they've had in their last two losses. Like against Montreal here and Puerto Rico here (at 4:20).

3. How quickly do the RailHawks go on the offensive? The RailHawks have to find two goals while not yielding. Do they press from the outset? Or do they bide their time, looking to wear down the Puerto Rico defense and find counterattacks? I'm guessing the latter, with an infusion of fresh legs midway through the second half. Both of the previous home victories were return-leg games, and both were won with second-half goals.

4. Who will play right back? Greg Shields is one of the best in the league, but he's been out with injury for six weeks. Devon McKenney was signed to help fill the gap, but he was hurt two weeks ago against Montreal. Cory Elenio, a versatile workhorse, has been playing right back in their stead, but he's not the same threat down the flank. Rennie has held out the possibility that Shields might return to fitness, but this would be a huge game for him to make his first appearance since Sept. 15.

5. The Daniel Paladini effect The team's dynamic midfield playmaker and clutch performer was left off the starting lineup last weekend in Puerto Rico, and remained on the bench, unused. One can only surmise that the atrocious condition of the pitch—and the inelegant long-ball play that resulted—made Rennie feel that Paladini would be ill-suited to the game. Or it could have been something else. Regardless, he'll surely be in the lineup tonight. He's the team's points leader on seven goals and five assists. He's a "give-me-the-ball" kind of player, and the RailHawks will need his confidence and his poise under pressure.

6. Here's my lineup prediction. Guaranteed to be wrong!





——Heinemann — Richardson—-



7. Scouting Puerto Rico

****Jonathan Faña got himself suspended for this game after picking up a boneheaded yellow card last game that put him over the limit for accumulation.
****Second-leading scoring Nicholas Addlery is recovering fitfully from knee surgery. He has missed two games in a row—look for him to start on the bench if he's at all fit. If the Islanders get into trouble, look out for him.
****The team's leading scorer is David Foley, the team's signing from England's League One Hartlepool. He has nine goals and should be on the field.
****Goalkeeper Bill Gaudette is a strong veteran keeper (check out his save of Kupono Low's 35-yard screamer at 7:25 of the video linked above). He's also a shameless but ruthlessly effective time-waster. He'll be formidable at killing off the last few minutes, so the RailHawks had better equalize before he can begin conducting his black arts.

8. Final note: This will be the final game in the history of the USSF-D2 Pro League. Kudos to the U.S. Soccer Federation for holding together second-division play this year. Now, after this game, the hard work of building lower-division soccer in North America resumes.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park. Tickets here.

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Long journey for RailHawks to culminate in biggest crowd of season tonight

Posted by on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 12:15 PM

After the victory over Montreal two weeks ago, the players and coaches huddle on the field.
  • File David Fellerath
  • After the victory over Montreal two weeks ago, the players and coaches huddle on the field.
On the eve of tonight's season finale and USSF-D2 Pro League championship game between the Carolina RailHawks and the Puerto Rico Islanders, I think back to the way the season began with a pratfall at WakeMed Socccer Park.

It wasn't the RailHawks that landed on their butt—it was an expansion team, AC St. Louis, coached by Nicolas Anelka's brother Claude, that became the object of derision in the soccer world. They started that game with 10 players, a condition that remained the same for 30 minutes. In that time, the RailHawks' bright, shiny new signing, Etienne Barbara, scored the only two goals the RailHawks needed.

(Things would get much worse for AC St. Louis before they got better, and they ended the season strongly on the field, thanks in part to a solid year from ex-RailHawk Luke Kreamalmayer and also some fortuitous loans.)

After getting out of the gate in such a strong fashion, the RailHawks sort of settled into the middle of the pack going into the first turn, taking a major bump with a second-round exit from the U.S. Open Cup in June, courtesy of the Charleston Battery. Playing 90 minutes but not scoring that night for the Battery was one Tommy Heinemann. No one knew it then, but the RailHawks' Mr. October (and Mr. September) was on the field that night.

The team's performance got sluggish enough that coach Martin Rennie, after a midseason non-result that saw lots of blown chances, uncharacteristically displayed impatience with his players, saying words to the effect of, "If [our forwards] can't put the ball in the net, we'll find someone who can."

Tom Heinemann celebrates his series-winning goal over the Montreal Impact
  • Carolina RailHawks
  • Tom Heinemann celebrates his series-winning goal over the Montreal Impact
Barbara, signed from the Maltese league at the beginning of the season, was—and is—a solid threat who struggled to link up effectively with his teammates. However, the other top strikers at the start of the season, Sallieu Bundu and Andriy Budnyy, have vanished from view in these last few months. Bundu has nursed injuries and looks to end this season with four goals on 10 appearances. Budnyy, after netting one goal in 22 appearances, has fallen in the depth chart below new mid- and late-season reinforcements.

First of those reinforcements was Allan Russell. He arrived from the Scottish Premier League in early summer and proved to a hardworking player who linked well but was only marginally more productive than Budnyy, with two goals and two assists in 17 appearances to date.

But it would be September before the RailHawks would find their go-to target man, and it would be he guy who helped knock them out of the Open Cup in June.

The 6-foot-4 Heinemann, a 23-year-old talent from St. Louis, joined the RailHawks on loan after the Battery won the USL-2 championship on Aug. 28. In his 11 games in a Carolina uniform (he's played every contest since joining the team), the RailHawks have scored 18 goals, with Heinemann scoring five of them. The RailHawks' record with him on the team is six wins, three losses and two draws.

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I am Mike Vick: Why we should give the sanctimony a rest

Posted by on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 6:46 AM

Michael Vick, seen in 2006 before his legal troubles began
  • Keith Allison/ Wiki Commons
  • Michael Vick, seen in 2006 before his legal troubles began
After eight weeks and an untimely rib injury, Micahel Vick is poised to return to the field this Sunday. If his initial five-game stint is any indication of what we can expect from him, it seems safe to proclaim that Michael Vick is “back.” More than that, he seems to be a much-improved version of the Falcons incarnation we saw four years ago.

What seems equally obvious at this point is that people will either love him or hate him, almost irrespective of how he performs on the field or comports himself in public. But, as a recent piece that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News made clear, the shadow of his arrest and incarceration will likely hang over his head until he leaves the public spotlight.

To those who hold a grudge against Michael Vick and want to see him fail, I would humbly suggest that it’s time to move on. Beyond the typical he’s-paid-his-debt-to-society and everyone-deserves-a-second-chance arguments, I would point out that most of the outrage and vitriol directed at Vick has been largely misdirected and unfair.

Yes, Vick broke the law and, yes, what he did was profoundly stupid given how much he had to lose. The level of disgust that many people have for Vick goes far beyond these things, though. After all, professional football is full of people who break the law and athletes who are reckless with their talents and money is old as professional sports itself.

Obviously, what people get upset about is the cruel manner in which he treated the dogs he owned. America is a dog-loving country after all. Americans spend $41 billion a year on pet dogs and cats, and we do incredibly stupid things like put clothes on them and televise the ludicrous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show live on ESPN, as though canine eugenics is somehow a sporting matter.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Mudcats open 2011 season at home on April 7

Posted by on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 4:27 PM

The Carolina Mudcats have announced their 2011 schedule, which will begin with a five-game homestand against the Mobile Bay Bears at Five County Stadium starting April 7.

The Cincinnati Reds’ affiliate in the Double-A Southern League will host three weekday games including Education Day on April 11 at 11:00 a.m. against Mobile and “Businessperson Specials” on July 7 at noon against Jacksonville and Aug. 25 at 11:00 a.m. again against Jacksonville.

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Wilson runs for three TDs and passes for the winner as Wolfpack knocks off Seminoles

Posted by on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 12:16 AM

N.C. States Russell Wilson scores a touchdown, starting a Wolfpack comeback.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • N.C. State's Russell Wilson scores a touchdown, starting a Wolfpack comeback.
CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM N.C. State plays one of its biggest football games in a very long time tonight as Florida State visits the Wolfpack’s jam-packed house.

If the Wolfpack can win its remaining five games, it will win the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.

If the No. 16 Seminoles win, NCSU, which hasn’t won in the series since 2006, can only hope to finish up a good season on a strong note.

Plenty of bowl scouts are here, as representatives of the Orange, Chick-Fil-A, Champs Sports and Sun Bowls are in a press box which has never been as packed.

Somewhere in the house is former Wolfpack head coach and long-time Seminoles assistant Chuck Amato, seen wearing a custom-made polo shirt with half of it in Wolfpack Red and the other half in Seminole maroon.

And it turns out to be a great night to be a Wolfpacker, as the home team scores in the last three minutes and hangs on for a 28-24 win.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tar Heels strong favorites, Blue Devils underdogs on an odd non-conference day Saturday

Posted by on Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 7:17 PM

Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates receives the snap in the UNC-ECU contest earlier this season.
  • (File Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates receives the snap in the UNC-ECU contest earlier this season.
Saturday is a totally coincidental, late-season non-conference day for two of the Triangle’s three ACC football teams.

Both UNC and Duke will play at 3:30 p.m., with N.C. State of course having the day off following Thursday night’s 28-24 win over Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The Tar Heels (4-3) will be solid favorites over William & Mary (6-1), which is ranked No. 4 in the most recent Division I-FCS poll but has never beaten the Tar Heels and has just two ties and 12 losses in 14 meetings. W&M’s backup quarterback is junior Mike Paulus, a transfer from UNC who has started in place of injured senior Mike Callahan in the Tribe’s wins over the then-top two teams in the FCS — Villanova and Delaware — over the past two weeks.

“Obviously this is a bounce-back week for us in that we lost a tough game on the road,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “Emotionally and psychologically, we’ve got to bounce back and hold ourselves more accountable for the way we play and practice.

“Immediately on watching film your kids start making decisions about the talent level of a team, and instantly I think all of our coaches and all of our players recognized that William & Mary is a very, very well-coached football team — fundamentally, techniques, scheme-wise, you don’t see them making mistakes. They are in the right places. Their kids play very, very well and there’s a reason they’re ranked as high as they are.”

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