Rapid reaction: Duquesne 78, Penn State 52

Written by Craig Meyer on .

Well, that was unexpected...Penn State fans who disagree with me on Twitter be damned.

After coasting by Seton Hill and New Orleans to start the season, Duquesne delivered its closest possible thing to a statement for this season Friday night with a 78-52 victory against Penn State that pushed them to 3-0 on the season. I didn't do one of these the first two games because...well, there really wasn't a whole lot to be drawn from those wins, both of which followed a familiar script. But expect them from now on for any game I cover in person.

And we're off.

Turning point: The run started in the first half, so it may have been then, but the Dukes made their first five shots of the second half, all of them 3s, to push what was an 11-point lead coming out of halftime to a 22-point advantage that, even then, you had a hard time believing could be undone. It was an emphatic final punch of a 20-2 run that visibly flattened Penn State and took it out of the game with a good amount of time to spare.

Game ball: Though he didn't have much to say about it afterward -- damn you and your guarded personality, DC -- it has to be Derrick Colter. The senior guard tied a career-high with 26 points and made six of his nine 3-pointers and, most important, helped push the pace against a team that didn't want to get in a track meet with the Dukes. Simply put, he set the tone for a night in which little went wrong.

What it means: It's early in the season, a caveat I'll use probably more than you all care to stomach, but in this tiny little vacuum in which we inhabit right now, this feels pretty important. The Dukes could only prove so much against teams like Seton Hill and New Orleans, and they didn't do anything particularly revelatory in those, but against a Big Ten team, albeit Penn State, a 26-point win is a statement. Jim Ferry has spoken a lot to me and others in the media about how this is going to be a turnaround season. The evidence we have so far to back that up is naturally pretty thin with just three games, but Duquesne looked like a team poised to make a big leap. They were in a trance offensively, they were as aggressive and intense on defense as I've ever seen them and they completely undressed the kind of opponent who has beaten them consistently the past three years. By the end of the season, this win may stand as nothing more than a thumping of a really bad team, but for the time being, it feels like something more.

What's next: A matchup with Pepperdine, a team that, despite the lack of a major-conference pedigree, will be the Dukes' toughest opponent yet. That will be followed by two more games in the Gulf Coast Showcase against opponents TBD.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Live Friday WPIAL semifinal blog - Penn-Trafford wins thriller, 38-34

Written by Mike White on .

Live blog from the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal between Pine-Richland and Penn-Trafford. For scores and notes on other games, look to the right of this blog at the Twitter account of @PGVarsityXtra. If you have a score, note or photo from other games, tweet it with #wpial and tag @PGVarsityXtra.


Tyler Bruno catches 20 yard TD pass to win it

10:08 Timeout. P-T has first and 10 at P-R 20 with 13 seconds left.


Pine-Richland gets a break. 4th down and 4 pass to Saige Simpson. Too far but interference called on P-T's Jonah Lisbon. Jimmy Graf scores 6 yard TD run

9:57 Timeout 1:08 let. Fourth and 4 for Pine at P-T 28.


First play after McDonough INT, Laffoon scores on 5-yard run

9:46 McDonough hurt on play. Bringing out cart for him. But he looks to be OK.

9:43 Big play by Penn-Trafford Colin McDonough. Intercepts Phil Jurkovec at 26 and returns the ball to the 5.

9:43 Ouch. Penn-Trafford drives  to 10 but Jonah Lisbon fumbles and Matt Hampson recovers for P-R

9:33 Penn-Trafford third down conversion rate has been excellent.


It only takes 6 plays to go 75 yards. Big 39 yd pass from Jurkovec to Matthew Zoeller. Jim Graf scores 1-yard run.


9:35 Brett Laffoon tough dude too. Scores on 1-yard run, one play after he ran over defender. 4:50 left in third.

9:16 Penn-Trafford converts on fourth down and late hit by Brandon Humphrey. Puts ball at P-R 10.

9:11 Laffoon has Penn-Trafford on  move.

9:08 Fourth and 5 for P-R. Jurkovec pass incomplete in end zone. Big stop for P-T.

9:05 Yes, Phil Jurkovec is tough dude. Has P-R on move.  Love run he just had.

9:00 Brett Laffoon 190 yards passing in first half.

Central Valley leading Mars 27-21. Mars putting up a fight. Not surprised. 

Central Catholic handling Woodland Hills 17-0

HALFTIME: Pine-Richland 20, Penn-Trafford 14


77 yards in seven plays capped by Jimmy Graf 1-yard TD run.

8:32 Can any defense come up with a stop? No punts in game yet.

8:28 And here come Pine-Richland. 6 plays now at P-T 1.


Jonah Lisbon gets out of backfield and catches 14 yd TD pass. PAT good.

8:22 Penn-Trafford now at P-R 14.

8:16 Fourth and 2 at own 41 and P-T goes for it. Laffon completes pass for 8 yards. Some confidence in his team by coach Ruane.

Vecchio is close to breaking another big pass play.

8:12 That was only fifth INT in two years for Brett Laffoon.


Defense struggling, but Saige Simpson gives pickup with INT of overthrown short pass by Laffoon. Returns it 55 yards for TD. PAT good.

8:07 Penn-Trafford OL is dominating.

8:01 Big play by Tyler Bruno to break up pass on third down. Fourth and goal for P-R and Rams run option, but Colin McDonough trips up Graf at 3.


But Pine-Richland faces a third-and-goal from the 6.

7:54 And now here goes P-R on the move. Inside P-T territory.


Another drive for P-T. Nick Tarabella 19 yard field goal.

7:50 Penn-Tra moving again. Down to Pine 2.

7:43 I knew it before. But Tim Vecchio one of best players in WPIAL. Great high school player.


Impressive drive for Pine-Richland. 90 yards in 10 plays. Jurkovec couple big passes. Jimmy Graf scores on 6-yard yard run.


Third play of the game, Vecchio gets behind DB and catches 59-yard TD pass from Brett Laffoon.

7:30 Game time. Penn-Trafford receive.


It's the No. 1 scoring team in Class AAAA (Penn-Trafford) vs. the No. 2 scoring team (Pine-Richland). Plus, it's not often - if ever - you see a WPIAL game matching two quarterbacks who have thrown for 2,000 yards. But that's what you have in Brett Laffoon of Penn-Trafford and Phil Jurkovec of Pine-Richland.

That being said, I think the difference in this game might be who runs the ball better, whether with a running back or Jurkovec.

And now off the track of the game. Forgive the typo errors. Another dang open air press box and it's cooooolllld. And I'm right in the front row. Makes it hard on the fingers to type. Not to sound like a sissy. 

But love the barbecue beef in the press box. Good stuff. 

And glad to see Penn Hills now has stands on both sides of field. Hate places with stands on one side. This is the third year for it.

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Players eager to get "bye weeks" - 11-20-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

With sagging television ratings and a lack of enthusiasm from players, the NHL has made some drastic changes to its All-Star Game format.

This season's game will feature a three-on-three tournament between teams comprised of players from the league's four divisions. Each game will be 20 minutes long and will feature at least one player from all 30 teams. Players from the winning divisional team will split a pot of $1 million.

In recent years, a traditional 60-minute regulation game was played between teams which were drafted from a pool of all-stars two days prior to the game. The change, which was worked out by the NHL and NHLPA, was necessary for a variety of reasons.

“The All-Star Game should generate maybe a little more ratings,” said Penguins center Nick Bonino, the team's representative to the NHLPA. I think [the league was] unhappy with the ratings. The skills competition got pretty good ones. They kept that. [The player draft] Friday night, they scrapped because no one really watched it. Same with the [traditional format of the] All-Star Game. So this maybe gives a little more awareness to three-on-three overtime format. Hopefully fans can see a little more skill and some wide open ice.”

The games often times amounted to little more than a game of shinny by the world's best players. There was little in the way of hard skating or physical play.

“I watched last year's [game],” said center Sidney Crosby. “It's tough. You can tell there's not a ton of intensity. You wouldn't really expect it to be in an All-Star Game. I think something to switch it up is probably not a bad idea.”

As a concession in changing the game, the NHL agreed to grant teams a five-day “bye-week” from next seasons' schedule. Teams will not play games for a period of at least five days and players will be excused from all team activities such as practices during that time span.

The NHL's bye weeks would be similar to the NFL's format which gives groups of teams bye weeks throughout the season.

“You see football, they have a bye week and they can kind of recover,” said Bonino. “We play a lot of games. Some teams coming right in before the All-Star break will get games right before then right after. I think some teams will get seven days. I think they just wanted to make a level playing field with rest there.”

ESPN first reported the deal which is still being ironed out.

“I don't know if it's been fully accepted yet,” Bonino said. “I know it's in talks with the league but all of it's on a one-year basis. So it's kind of a trial period to see how the All-Star Game goes, see how the bye week goes. If we do it, then we can negotiate from there.”

According to Bonino, the bye weeks are expected to take place in either January or February.

“I like that a lot,” said Crosby. “At the end of the day, you kind of get those breaks. We get those in October. We get a long period of time without games in October. I'm sure it will end up having to be maybe an extra back-to-back [set of games] because of that somewhere. But I think every team, to know you're going to get that, is a nice luxury to have.”

(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


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Comeau still limited by wrist - 11-20-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


In his one and only season with the Penguins, right winger Blake Comeau showed off some scoring touch by netting 16 goals in 61 games during 2014-15.

Were it not for a wrist injury which cost him 20 games, Comeau might have reached the 20-goal plateau and matched or even surpassed his career-best of 24.

Despite the injury, which he suffered two days prior to Christmas, Comeau was able to take advantage of his production with the Penguins and signed a three-year contract worth a total of $7.2 million with the the Avalanche this past offseason. 

Prior to last night's game at Consol Energy Center, Comeau talked about his wrist, his time with the Penguins and joining the Avalanche.


How is your wrist?

"It's still affects me to this day. I can't do push-ups. But I tape it up and go [play]. Just doing some heavy lifting this summer, you could feel it a little bit. I've got a plate that's going to be in there the rest of my life. So it's probably going to be affected for a while but I'm getting used to it. I don't really feel it too much when I'm on the ice."

What do you do to work around it?

"I did a lot of grip stuff this summer just trying to make sure I get that back. A lot of single-arm stuff where I had to hold some weights in my hand. Other than that basically it's just I think it's something I have to deal with. Maybe some arthritis down the road, who knows. It sucks but I can't say it's affected me too much right now."

There was quite a bit of change this past offseason with the Penguins, including yourself. Did you anticipate nearly half the roster would overturn?

"I think being in Pittsburgh, there's obviously high expectations. You want to win the Stanley Cup and I think anything less than that is a failure. That was a fun thing to be a part of as a player. As a player, you want to be somewhere where the organization wants to win. And I think losing out in the first round like we did, I think that was disappointing for everyone. Can't blame management and everyone else for making the changes. I enjoyed my time here. I was hoping I would be able to come back. We were talking a little bit. It just didn't work out. Like I said, I got a great opportunity to play here. I felt like I gained a lot of confidence from my year here last year and thankful for the opportunity I had."

You were able to produce while playing quite a bit on the second line with the Penguins. How much did that help in terms of the contract you got from the Avalanche?

"I feel like that was important. What was important to me was trying to some term. The last five deals were one-year deals. Not so much just for me. I got a family now. It's tough for your wife and kid to be bouncing around every year. So that was important. And I thought Colorado was a good fit. They've got a young, really good team. I think they were second most man-games lost last year and they still finished with 90 points. A lot of talent on this team. We've been playing better lately and hopefully we'll get going."

You mentioned the term of the deal. How vital is that for a player?

"It's nice. I was on a one-year deal in Columbus and I remember I tore my MCL up. Missed a couple months. That weighs on you. You want to be in the lineup. You want to prove you can be a player in the legaue. Once you get a little bit of stability, I feel like I can play... I think 'loose' is a good word but I'm not pressing as much. I'm a more confident player right now than I was two or three years ago. And a lot of that credit is last year. I felt like I proved to myself and everyone else that I could get back to the way I was [with the Islanders] and it was huge for me."

You only have one goal so far this season in 19 games. What isn't working with regards to your productivity?

"I've got to get my shot totals up. I think those are down quite a bit. It's obviously frustrating when we haven't won but I think me and Carl and Jarome have had some chemistry the last few games and if I'm not scoring, there's a lot of little things I'm doing. A big role on the penalty kill. Trying to play physical like I always do. I think if I get back to shooting more, the goals will start coming."

(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

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Reaching across the aisle: Kansas

Written by Craig Meyer on .


West Virginia will play perhaps its most overmatched opponent since FCS Liberty when it takes the field Saturday against Kansas, which is one of two winless FBS teams at 0-10 and is playing about 20 guys below the FBS scholarship limit.

To find out a little more about the Jayhawks, I caught up via email with Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. You can find Rustin's work here and follow him on Twitter at @RustinDodd.

A lot has been made about Kansas' bizarre scholarship situation. For David Beaty and the Kansas team itself, what has been the most difficult aspect of it?

In short, depth. The Jayhawks are starting former walk-ons at some spots, and once you get beyond the starters and parts of the two-deep, you're getting down to former walk-ons, true freshmen and inexperienced players. At the moment, KU has around 64 scholarship players or so, and when you're that low, the usual attrition of injuries really takes a toll.

As you see it, and based on how this team has done lately, is the close loss to TCU an aberration or a sign that things are getting turned around?

I think it's a little of both. I think there are signs that David Beaty is laying a solid foundation -- the players continue to play hard, even during all the losing, he's continued to recruit, and he's instilling a solid culture. The defense, which is really inexperienced, has made strides as well. In that sense, the TCU result was a positive. But it was also sort of a fluky game. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin was injured early, and for whatever reason, KU has had TCU's number the last four years -- they've been competitive almost every year.

But is it a sign that Kansas will be competitive in these last two weeks against West Virginia? We'll see. The Jayhawks have such a slim margin for error, and their offense has struggled to score points. If they can back up the TCU performance with another solid outing against West Virginia, that could be more telling.

Fish Smithson is a name West Virginia fans are going to be hearing a lot come Saturday. How much of a revelation has he been this year and what exactly changed for him?

Smithson is really solid. He's not a tremendous athlete, but he's a smart football player and a sure-handed tackler. He was a junior college transfer last season, and he played quite a bit. But KU had a veteran secondary, so he never cracked the starting lineup. Fortunately for Kansas, he's a junior college player that had three years of eligibility remaining. So he'll be back at Kansas next season.

Ryan Willis wasn't the Jayhawks' starting QB at the beginning of the season, but, as a freshman, he's been thrust into that role. What kind of development have you noticed from him as the season has gone on?

Willis has perhaps been the biggest bright spot this season, and that might say as much about Kansas' recent quarterback play as it does about Willis. He was a top recruit -- a top-20 pro-style quarterback, according to Rivals -- and he has a big arm and solid accuracy. He's still learning the system and the finer points of playing quarterback at the college level. Sometimes, for instance, he holds onto the football too long, and he's had to play under heavy duress this season. But in the grand scheme, he looks like he could be answer moving forward at the position.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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