January 20, 2007


Saints will be big test for Bears’ linebackers


AssociatedPress/Nam Y. Huh
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher will have his hands full taking on the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship on Sunday in Chicago.

AP Football Writer

CHICAGO — Sometimes, Brian Urlacher is not the best linebacker on the field. He’s not even the Chicago Bears’ best linebacker on the field.
It isn’t so infrequent that Lance Briggs on the outside outshines Urlacher in the middle for the NFC North champions. Both will be starting in the Pro Bowl next month.
Obviously, both will be starting Sunday at Soldier Field when the Bears host the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game. Considering how well the New Orleans offense has performed this season, ranking atop the league, Urlacher and Briggs could be very busy.
“I think it’s a showcase for everyone, just the stage it’s on,” said Briggs, who could showcase his skills so much he turns them into big money as a free agent this offseason. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to be on the national scene, everyone to see what you’re capable of. But more importantly, if you do your job along with the other 10 guys on the defense, we’ll be successful. As long as we’re successful, yes, it is a showcase for every person that’s on that field.”
Urlacher almost is expected to dominate on defense, and most opponents gear their offense toward neutralizing him as much as possible. That, however, leaves more opportunities for Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer to make plays from the other linebacker spots.
According to Bears statistics, Urlacher led the team with 185 tackles this season, followed by Briggs with 176. Hillenmeyer had 68, sixth on the team.
But there’s no question who leads the unit — and the entire defense.
“Brian has been teaching me since the moment I got out here,” Briggs said. “The one thing I can remember, you know, is when I was out there, there are things I wasn’t thinking about on the field. Right before the play Brian would spit it out. He would say, ‘Watch out for the short pass,’ and first thing I would do is think, ‘OK.’ I wasn’t thinking about that and the ball was snapped and I was jumping on top of it.
“And besides that, I think the one thing that me and Brian do well is we keep things relaxed. We keep things kind of candid out there on the field. You don’t want to get too uptight. When it comes game time, ‘Lach’ is good about coming into the huddle, tells a joke, everybody gets light. It’s fourth-and-1, it’s the most important play in your life, don’t get too uptight. We know what we’ve got to and we’re going to do it.”
The Saints’ three new linebackers — Scott Fujita, Scott Shanle and Marc Simoneau— don’t have nearly the impact of Chicago’s group. New Orleans’ strength is up front with ends Will Smith and Charles Grant and tackle Hollis Thomas.
But Fujita, who came to New Orleans this season from Dallas as a free agent, has made a slew of critical stops in this turnaround season. Fujita was in on 119 tackles, according to the team, and had 31/2 sacks, more than Urlacher (zero) and Briggs (one) combined.
“One of the things we talked about as a defense, especially throughout the course of the season, just being able to make the play when you’re nervous,” said Fujita, a five-year veteran. “When guys on defense need to make a play, they make them.
“I think it comes down to guys playing their role. It was kind of an interesting offseason, especially at that (linebacker) position, because from the point that I got here there was a lot of criticism that I was hearing, and especially during the preseason, through training camp and the preseason games. There was still a lot of moving parts. And obviously that’s not an ideal situation where you’re trying to build the right 53 guys for your roster.
“But credit to our scout staff and the coaches and everything for finding the right guys to come in and to fit into what they want to do.”
What they want to do is go to the Super Bowl. The linebackers on both sides might have a big say in which team heads to Miami.


Cortland women survive OT scare

GENESEO — This 12th consecutive basketball victory secured by SUNY Cortland women Friday night was the hardest of them all.
The Red Dragons had to overcome an 11-point deficit over the final 4:48 of regulation just to get into overtime before coming away with a 77-72 victory over host Geneseo at Kuhl Gymnasium.
Junior forward Sara Cavanaugh tied a school record for 3-point shots during a 30-point performance for the Red Dragons, shooting 8-of-15 from beyond the arc. That tied the Cortland mark set by Erin Egan during the 2001-02 season against Potsdam.
Cavanaugh also tied her career best with six blocked shots as the Red Dragons improved to 5-0 in the SUNY Athletic Conference and 12-1 overall.
Freshman Jessica Laing added 12 points and 16 rebounds, while sophomore forward Ali Canale had 11 points and nine rebounds, in this Cortland escape.
Meanwhile, Red Dragon men were beaten 64-61 in the nightcap by host Geneseo.
Both teams return home tonight, Oswego visiting Corey Gymnasium. The women get things underway at 6 p.m. in a clash of conference contenders, while the men get started at 8 o’clock.
Cortland 77, Geneseo 72, OT: After leading 40-34 at halftime, Cortland women were in 68-57 dire straights with just under five minutes left to play against Geneseo (2-3 SUNYAC, 7-7 overall).
Cavanaugh made two free throws with 1:11 left to play to pull Cortland within 69-67, and Cortland forced a turnover only to see Laing’s bid for a go-ahead 3-pointer miss the mark.
Geneseo’s Amanda Bihr was sent to the free throw line with 30 seconds remaining and hit the first of two free throws, Laing rebounding the missed shot. The led to Cavanaugh making a 3-point shot off a Byrne assist to tie matters at 70-70.
After a timeout by Geneseo, an Amanda Haney shot by the hosts missed and was rebounded by Byrne with second seconds to go, though after a timeout at 0:04 Cortland could not get a good look at the basket and this game headed into overtime.
After Canale and Haney traded baskets to start the extra five-minute session, Cortland took the lead for keeps on a Byrne 3-point connection.
Neither team did much offensively from there, Cortland adding free throws from Canale and Erin Dabe. Geneseo shot 1-for-8 from the floor and missed four free throws in overtime, going scoreless over the final four minutes.
Katy Irving led Knights with 22 points, with Annie Verdino adding 18 points and nine rebounds.
Geneseo 64, Cortland 61: The Red Dragons shot just 27 percent from the floor in the second half as Geneseo pulled away from a slight 32-31 deficit at the break.
The Red Dragons are 1-4 in SUNYAC play and 5-9 overall, while Geneseo improved to 4-1 in the league with a 10-4 overall mark.
Senior guard Dave Maggiacomo and sophomore forward Carson Niehoff each had 18 points. Maggiacomo had four 3-pointers, while Niehoff grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds.
It was a thee-point play by Niehoff with 1:18 left to play that had Cortland within 61-59. And after a defensive stop, the Red Dragons had a chance to take the lead only to have a Niehoff long-range shot fail to fall.
Tarik Kitson hade a pair of free throws at 0:38 and Nick Kelly added a free throw 15 seconds later to up the Geneseo lead to 64-59 — Niehoff scoring a final lay-up for the Red Dragons in the last second of play.
Kitson finished with 19 points to lead Geneseo.