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The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)

#1 Parkersburg South 81     Lewis County 59

#5 Robert C. Byrd 63     #3 Fairmont Senior 52

#8 Notre Dame 68     #9 Tucker County 66


►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Sectional Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)

Calhoun County 61     Doddridge County 49

Grafton 72     Philip Barbour 55

Harman 55     South Harrison 41

#6 Lincoln 66     Liberty 33

Grafton 72     Philip Barbour 55

Valley Wetzel 56     Tyler Consolidated 46


►  Area High Schools Girls Basketball Sectional Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)

St. Marys 79     #10 Trinity 74 (OT)



The Gilmer Free Press

►  MEC Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)


No. 4 West Liberty 95, Wheeling Jesuit 92 | Final Stats

Indiana Faithfull hit a pair of free throws with 7.6 seconds left to snap a 92-92 deadlock and lift No. 4 West Liberty to a 94-92 revenge win against Wheeling Jesuit in a mutual regular-season finaleon Saturdayat the McDonough Center.
The hosts shot nearly 60 percent from the floor in the first half with Ben Siefert draining a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes of the half to send WJU into the locker room with a 57-42 halftime lead. WJU remained in front, 87-78, with four minutes to go, but would not hit another shot from the field. This allowed the Hilltoppers to rally and eventually Faithfull’s game-winning free throws.

Seger Bonifant scored 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half – including a 3-for-3 showing from the 3-point arc to lead WLU (25-2, 20-2). Devin Hoehn added 18 points, C.J. Hester weighed in with 14 points and seven rebounds while Joe Lococo tossed in 11 points.

JustinFritts paced Wheeling Jesuit (19-9, 14-8) with 21 points – 18 of them in the first half – and Moseh finished with 19 points. Haywood Highsmith had 14 points and 11 rebounds while Kyle Ritz and Eric Siefert each scored 13 points.


Fairmont State 64, Shepherd 60 | Final Stats

Nick Harney scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Fairmont State to a 64-60 win over Shepherd on Saturday at the Butcher Center.

Fairmont State improves to 19-9, 16-6, whileShepherd falls to 14-14, 9-13 in MEC play.

Caleb Davis added 13 points for the Falcons, while Jamel Morris tossed in 12.

Ryan McTavish led the Rams with 14 points, while guard Austin Cunningham had 13 points and four assists.Morgan McDonald and Naim Muhammad each had nine points.


Glenville State 75, West Virginia Wesleyan 49 | Final Stats

Glenville State raced past West Virginia Wesleyan, 75-49, on Saturday afternoon at the Waco Center.

Reggie Williams led the Pioneers (18-10, 14-8) with 14 points, and Donte Morales chipped in 13 and Sedric Nady finished with 10.

The Bobcats (11-17, 9-13) were paced by 12 points and seven rebounds from Tanner McGrew. Austin Shell added 11 points and seven rebounds.


Charleston 87, West Virginia State 71 | Final Stats

The University of Charleston picked up an 87-71 win over West Virginia State in the final game of the Eddie King Gymnasium.

The Golden Eagles (19-9, 14-8) also earned a first-round bye in next week’s MEC Tournament. WVSU dropped to 6-24 and 6-16 in the league.

Octavius Green led the way for UC with 19 points, and Vincent Dillard and Tino DiTrapano each netted 12.

WVSU was led by 19 points from Damion Harris and 17 from Markee Mazyck.


Notre Dame 109, Urbana 98 | Final Stats

Notre Dame’s Oliver Megins hit a three-pointer as time expired to force overtime and help the Falcons to a 109-98 win over Urbana on Saturday afternoon at Murphy Gymnasium.

NDC (15-13, 11) outscored the Blue Knights (6-22, 3-19) by a 17-6 margin in the extra session to earn the victory.

Tyree Gaiter scored 27 points to go with 11 assists to lead Notre Dame. Will Vorhees added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Lawrence DeArmond finished with 20.

Urbana’s Myles Busby led all scorers with 31 points to go with 12 rebounds, and Carlas Jackson scored 27 points.


Concord 74, UVa-Wise 50 | Final Stats

Concord had four players finish in double figures on Saturday to defeat UVa-Wise 74-59 in the Prior Center.

The Mountain Lions (20-8, 15-7) were led by Mike Boyd who finished with a team-high 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Aaron Miller added 16 points and six rebounds, Rob Reed finished with 14 points and Jametrius Wade added 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Matt Dayled the way for the Cavaliers (2-23, 1-21) finishing with a game-high 22 points and six rebounds.Philip Owens IIadded with 19 points and five assists.


►  MEC Women’s Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)


Shepherd 82, Fairmont State 75 | Final Stats

Shepherd erased a 14-point second half deficit with a 25-7 run over nine minutes to help it to an 82-75 win over Fairmont State and a share of the Mountain East Conference championship.

The Rams (20-8, 17-5)were led by seniors Gabby Flinchum who scored a team-high 21 points and Rachel Johnson who contributed 17.Morgan Arden tossed in 12 points and added four assists. Briana Vaden had 11 points, while Cara Mason added 10 points, six rebounds, and a game-high five assists.

The win gave Shepherd just their fourth 20-win season in program history after registering just four a season ago. The Rams are the No. 2 seed in next week’s MEC Tournament.

Fairmont State (21-7, 15-7) was led by Emily Lohr had a game-high 24 points to lead the Falcons. Hailey Garrett added 21 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.


West Liberty 60, Wheeling Jesuit 48 | Final Stats

West Liberty clinched a share of the Mountain East title with a 60-48 win over rival Wheeling Jesuit on Saturday.

With the win, the Hilltoppers (20-8, 17-5) earn the top seed in next week’s MEC Tournament by virtue of tiebreakers. Wheeling Jesuit (18-8, 15-7) saw its eight-game winning streak snapped.

Kailee Howe led WLU with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. Kierra Simpson had 12 points to go with 13 rebounds, and Hillary Southworth had 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.

WJU was led by 12 points from Jaila Bryant and 10 more off the bench from Jaana Motton.


Charleston 71, West Virginia State 60 | Final Stats

Charleston earned a piece of the Mountain East Conference title with a 71-60 win over West Virginia State on Saturday afternoon at Eddie King Gymnasium.

UC (22-6, 17-5) had to rally from a six-point halftime deficit to claim the victory. The Golden Eagles were led by 20 points from Nichole Perry, and Kiara Johnson had 20 rebounds and 17 points in the win. Monet Saunders chipped in 15 points.

WVSU (8-19, 6-16) was paced by Deyahnna Styles who scored 21 points, pulled down six rebounds and handed out eight assists. Alexus Hobbs contributed 13 points for the Yellow Jackets.


Notre Dame 88, Urbana 77 | Final Stats

Martha Nagbe and Kelsey Miller each scored 20 points to help Notre Dame pull away from Urbana, 88-77, on Saturday afternoon at Murphy Gymnasium.

Lexi Hassing scored 11 and Molly Ritz finished with 10 in the victory for NDC (17-11, 13-9).

Kennedy Boggs scored 15, Stefanie Davis scored 14 and Brittany Atkinson added 12 for the Blue Knights (1-27, 1-21).


Glenville State 104, West Virginia Wesleyan 55 | Final Stats

Glenville State forced 27 turnovers to help it to 104-55 win over West Virginia Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon at the Waco Center.

Five players reached double figures for the Pioneers (14-12, 12-10), led by 25 from Kayla Tibbs. Keyanna Tate scored 16 points, Briana Smythe had 14, Julie Bishop netted 12 and Tayana Stewart finished with 10. GSC shot 52 percent from the floor in the win.

Alexa Mortenson paced WVWC (4-22, 3-19) with 17 points and Mari Steward added 11.


Concord 65, UVa-Wise 48 | Final Stats

Concord used an 11-0 run to break a 34-34 tie mid-way through the second half to post a 65-48 win over UVa-Wise at the Prior Center Saturday.The win secured the eighth seed in next week’s Mountain East Conference Tournament for the Mountain Lions and secured a season-series sweep of the Cavaliers.

With the win, Concord improved to 8-19 overall and 8-14 in the league. UVa-Wise fell to 9-19 overall and 8-14 in conference play.

Concord’s Kylie Molisee finished the game 6-of-9 from the floor and grabbed 10 rebounds as she tied teammate Melea Smith for game-high point honors with 14. Jacqueline Kestner also registered a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Danielle Catron added 10 points and seven boards off the bench.

Taylor Sandidgewas the only Cavalier to finish in double figures as she went 5-6 from the free throw line to score 10 points.SeniorKatie Jo Dockeryposted nine points, seven rebounds, and three assists in her final home game.


►  Men’s Basketball Tournament Field Set

The seedings and pairings for the Mountain East Conference men’s basketball tournament have been set after the final day of regular season play today.

Regular season champion West Liberty, along with Fairmont State, Concord and Glenville State earn the top-four seeds, respectively, and a first-round bye. Glenville State (fifth), Wheeling Jesuit (sixth), Notre Dame (seventh) and Shepherd (eighth) will have a first round home game on Tuesday evening. West Virginia Wesleyan is seeded ninth, West Virginia State is 10th, Urbana is 11th and UVa-Wise is 12th.

MEC Tournament Seeds
1. West Liberty (25-2, 20-2)
2. Fairmont State (19-9, 16-6)
3. Concord (20-8, 15-7)
4. Charleston (19-9, 14-8)
5. Glenville State (18-10, 14-8)
6. Wheeling Jesuit (19-9, 14-8)
7. Notre Dame (15-13, 11-11)
8. Shepherd (14-14, 9-13)
9. West Virginia Wesleyan (11-17, 9-13)
10. West Virginia State (6-24, 6-16)
11. Urbana (6-22, 3-19)
12. UVa-Wise (2-25, 1-21)

First Round Games (Tuesday, March 03)
#12 UVa-Wise at #5 Glenville State, 7:30 PM
#11 Urbana at #6 Wheeling Jesuit, 7 PM
#10 West Virginia State at Notre Dame, 7:30 PM
#9 West Virginia Wesleyan at Shepherd, 7 PM


►  Women’s Basketball Tournament Field Set

The seedings and pairings for the 2015 Mountain East Conference Tournament have been finalized after the conclusion of today’s action.

Three teams split the regular season championship with West Liberty, Shepherd and Charleston tying atop the standings with identical 17-5 records. The Hilltoppers earned the top seed via tiebreakers, with Shepherd seeded second and Charleston seeded third. Wheeling Jesuit earned the fourth and final first-round by earning the tiebreaker over Fairmont State.

After FSU in fifth, Notre Dame finished sixth, Glenville State was seventh and Concord earned the right to the the final first-round home game by claiming the No. 8 seed. UVa-Wise is seeded ninth, West Virginia State is 10th, West Virginia Wesleyan is 11th and Urbana is 12th.

The first round games will be played on Tuesday, March 03.

MEC Tournament Seeds
1. West Liberty (20-8, 17-5)
2. Shepherd (20-8, 17-5)
3. Charleston (22-6, 17-5)
4. Wheeling Jesuit (18-8, 15-7)
5. Fairmont State (21-7, 15-7)
6. Notre Dame (17-11, 13-9)
7. Glenville State (14-12, 12-10)
8. Concord (8-19, 8-14)
9. UVa-Wise (9-19, 8-14)
10. West Virginia State (8-19, 6-16)
11. West Virginia Wesleyan (4-22, 3-19)
12. Urbana (1-27, 2-21)

MEC First Round Games
#12 Urbana at #5 Fairmont State, 5 PM
#11 West Virginia Wesleyan at #6 Notre Dame, 5:30 PM
#10 West Virginia State at #7 Glenville State, 5:30 PM
#9 UVa-Wise at #8 Concord, 7 PM



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Baylor cruises past West Virginia in top-20 matchup

Taurean Prince scored 20 points off the bench and Rico Gathers recorded a double-double as Baylor won handily, 78-66, and never trailed in a top-20 matchup against injury-depleted West Virginia.

The 19th-ranked Bears (22-7, 10-6 Big 12) have won four in a row, including consecutive wins over ranked opponents for the first time in school history. They were in control from start to finish Saturday and only committed eight turnovers—nearly 13 less than West Virginia’s opponents coming in.

Gathers totaled 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Royce O’Neale chipped in with 18 points and seven assists in the convincing victory.

West Virginia was without leading scorer Juwan Staten due to a knee injury and lost starting guard Gary Browne three minutes into the game when his ankle was rolled up on during a loose ball scrum.

Jevon Carter led the 20th-ranked Mountaineers (22-7, 10-6) with 25 points.

Both teams trail Big-12 leading Kansas by 1 1/2 games with two left in the regular season. West Virginia plays at Kansas on Tuesday.

The Bears shot a blistering 65.4% from the field in a lopsided first half. They scored nine of the game’s first 11 points, led by as many as 19 and brought a 45-29 cushion into the break.

West Virginia committed nine turnovers in the first half, the last leading to Gathers’ rim-rattling windmill dunk that ignited the home crowd.

The Mountaineers cleaned up their mistakes in the second half, and Baylor cooled off considerably. Still, the deficit never dipped below nine, and Baylor pulled away for good with an 11-3 run. Prince and O’Neale both hit 3- pointers during the string, and the lead grew to 20 down the stretch.

Game Notes

Baylor upended No. 12 Iowa State on Wednesday ... Carter was making his first career start ... The Mountaineers have beaten Baylor just once in seven meetings, including an 87-69 loss in Morgantown earlier this month ... Baylor outscored West Virginia at the foul line 22-8 ... Baylor shot 33% from the field in the second half ... West Virginia shot 40.3% overall.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)


Final Score: (1) Kentucky 84, (18) Arkansas 67

Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles each scored 18 points and No. 1 Kentucky stayed unbeaten with a 84-67 dismantling of 18th- ranked Arkansas. Lyles shot 8-for-10 from the floor, while Harrison converted all eight of his free throws tries for Kentucky (29-0, 16-0 SEC), which is three wins shy of matching the longest win streak in program history. The Wildcats won 32 straight from 1953 to 1955. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker contributed 14 and 10 points, respectively off the bench, and Willie Cauley- Stein finished with seven points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Arkansas (23-6, 12-4) got 17 points and nine rebounds from Michael Qualls and 15 points from Bobby Portis, but lost its three-game win streak in this series.


Final Score: (2) Virginia 69, Virginia Tech 57

Malcolm Brogdon had 19 points and eight rebounds as No. 2 Virginia defeated Virginia Tech 69-57 on Saturday afternoon. Darion Atkins posted 16 points and six rebounds, while Anthony Gill added 16 points and five boards for the Cavaliers (27-1, 15-1 ACC), who have won eight straight and are a win away from clinching their first ever back-to- back outright ACC titles. Point guard London Perrantes, who tallied 11 points and six assists, returned from a brief one-game absence for Virginia following a scary collision with Brogdon against Florida State on Sunday. Adam Smith netted 19 points to lead the Hokies (10-19, 2-14).


Final Score: BYU 73, (3) Gonzaga 70

Kyle Collinsworth finished with 20 points and eight rebounds as BYU pulled off a memorable upset over third-ranked Gonzaga for a 73-70 win on Saturday. Gonzaga suffered just its second loss of the season and had three lengthy winning streaks come to an end. The Bulldogs entered the game with a school-record 22 straight wins, the nation’s longest home winning streak at 41 games in a row and 22 consecutive conference victories. Skyler Halford scored 14 points, while Chase Fischer and Tyler Haws netted 13 and 10 points, respectively, for the Cougars (23-8, 13-5 WCC), who won their first game over a team ranked third or higher since a win over No. 2 UCLA on Nov. 27, 1981. Byron Wesley paced Gonzaga (29-2. 17-1) with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Domantas Sabonis scored 12 with eight boards in the loss.


Final Score: (4) Duke 73, Syracuse 54

Justise Winslow and Duke kept on rolling, with the freshman forward pouring in a season-best 23 points to lead the fourth-ranked Blue Devils to a 73-54 triumph over Syracuse. Duke (26-3, 13-3 ACC) also turned in a strong effort on defense in posting its ninth consecutive win and keeping its ACC regular-season title hopes alive. The Blue Devils held the Orange to 30.6 percent shooting, including a 3-of-20 performance from 3-point range, and forced 15 turnovers. Winslow has averaged 16.6 points and 8.9 rebounds over Duke’s run. Syracuse (18-11, 9-7) failed to build on the momentum gained from Tuesday’s 65-60 win over No. 9 Notre Dame, largely due to its offensive woes and inability to contain Winslow or Jahlil Okafor, who contributed 13 points and 14 rebounds to the rout. Quinn Cook added 17 points for Duke. Tyler Roberson’s 16 points and nine boards paced the Orange, with Trevor Cooney and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije finishing with 13 and 12 points, respectively.


Final Score: (6) Villanova 78, Xavier 66

Dylan Ennis posted 16 points, five rebounds and five assists and No. 6 Villanova went into Cintas Center and knocked off Xavier 78-66 to win its 10th straight game. Ryan Arcidiacono had 15 points and Kris Jenkins went 4-for-7 from distance for 14 for Villanova (27-2, 14-2 Big East), which wrapped up the Big East regular- season crown with Saturday’s win. The Wildcats had already earned a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, which will take place from March 11-14. Jalen Reynolds made all six of his shots to lead Xavier with 15 points, and Trevon Bluiett netted 12. Dee Davis tallied seven points, nine assists and six rebounds in the setback. Xavier (18-12, 8-9) had won nine of its last 11 games at home against ranked opponents.


Final Score: (7) Arizona 63, (13) Utah 57

Kaleb Tarczewski had 13 points and six rebounds to lead No. 7 Arizona to a 63-57 victory over 13th-ranked Utah on Saturday. Stanley Johnson posted 12 points and 11 rebounds and Gabe York added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-3, 14-2 Pac-12), who claimed a share of the Pac-12 title with the victory. Delon Wright scored 17 points with five rebounds and Jordan Loveridge added 10 points and six boards for the Utes (22-6, 12-4), who have lost two of their last three games.


Final Score: (8) Kansas 69, Texas 64

Perry Ellis boosted his claim for Big 12 Player of the Year with another dominant performance, as No. 8 Kansas held off Texas 69-64 to remain unbeaten at home. Ellis tallied 28 points and 13 rebounds for the Jayhawks (23-6, 12-4 Big 12), who improved to 14-0 at Allen Fieldhouse this season. It was Ellis’ third straight 20-point game. Kelly Oubre Jr. finished with 15 points and nine rebounds and sealed the win with a pair of late free throws. Frank Mason III added 12 points. The Longhorns (17-12, 6-10) were projected to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, but uneven offensive performances have contributed to them dropping four straight games and eight of 11.


Final Score: (11) Wichita State 74, (10) Northern Iowa 60

Ron Baker had 17 points, Fred VanVleet scored 13 and Wichita State won a showdown with Northern Iowa on Saturday to capture the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for the second year in a row. Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton and Evan Wessel added 11 points each the No. 11 Shockers led by as much as 18 in a 74-60 win over the 10th- ranked Panthers to extended their home winning streak to 32 games. Wichita State will again be the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which starts Thursday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. It was the first time in 50 years that the Shockers won back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles.


Final Score: Kansas State 70, (12) Iowa State 69

Wesley Iwundu scored four of his 11 points in the final 43 seconds, including a dunk off a stolen inbounds pass that gave Kansas State a dramatic 70-69 win over No. 12 Iowa State on Saturday. Down 12 with under 10 minutes remaining, Kansas State took the lead with a 20-6 run that was punctuated by Iwundu’s block on Georges Niang, which led to a layup at the other end for the sophomore forward. Later, Iwundu jumped Georges Niang’s pass on the Kansas State side of the court and broke to the basket to dunk with 16 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats the lead. After a foul stopped play at the other end, Naz Long airballed a 3-pointer at the buzzer for Iowa State.

Final Score: (14) Maryland 66, Michigan 56

College Park, MD (SportsNetwork.com) - Melo Trimble posted 19 points and five assists as 14th-ranked Maryland beat Michigan 66-56 on Saturday afternoon. Dez Wells chipped in 13 points and six rebounds on Senior Day, helping the Terrapins complete a perfect home record in conference play for the first time since the 2001-02 season. Jake Layman scored 10 points for Maryland (24-5, 12-4 Big Ten), while former Wolverine Evan Smotrycz grabbed nine rebounds. The Terrapins notched their fifth straight win and closed to within 1 1/2 games of first-place Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings with two to play. Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin each had 15 points for the Wolverines (14-14, 7-9), who have dropped six of their last seven games.


Final Score: (15) North Carolina 73, Miami-Florida 64

Brice Johnson had 22 points and 11 rebounds as No. 15 North Carolina pulled away late to defeat Miami-Florida 73-64 on Saturday afternoon. Marcus Paige netted 15 points, while J.P. Tokoto added 10 points and 10 boards for the Tar Heels (20-9, 10-6 ACC), who had dropped five of their last seven games coming in. Sheldon McClellan and Ivan Cruz Uceda poured in 11 points apiece for Miami (18-11, 8-8), which had won three of its last four games prior to Saturday.


Final Score: (16) Oklahoma 67, TCU 60

Buddy Hield scored 21 points and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds to help No. 16 Oklahoma come back to beat TCU 67-60 on Saturday. TaShawn Thomas scored six of his 15 points in a crucial 8-1 surge that gave the Sooners (20-8, 11-5 Big 12) the lead for good. Oklahoma got 10 points apiece from Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins. The Horned Frogs (17-12, 4-12) scored just nine points in the final 10 minutes as Oklahoma pulled ahead. Kyan Anderson and Trey Zeigler each scored 16 to lead TCU.


Final Score: (17) Louisville 81, Florida State 59

Wayne Blackshear scored 18 points and No. 17 Louisville rolled to an 81-59 win over Florida State on Saturday to cap a tumultous week. Montrezl Harrell added 16 points and Anton Gill scored 14 for the Cardinals (23-6, 11-5 ACC), who have won three in a row, the last two while dealing with the situation surrounding Chris Jones. Jones, the talented senior guard who was dismissed from the team last Sunday, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of felony rape and sodomy in a case involving the alleged assault of two women last weekend. The Cardinals shot over 48 percent in the first half to lead by 10 at the break and went up by as much as 26 points in the second half. Quentin Snider added 11 points in the win and Terry Rozier scored 10. Montay Brandon scored 13 points to lead Florida State (15-15, 7-10), which has lost three in a row. The Seminoles got 12 points each from Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Devon Bookert and 11 from Boris Bojanovsky. It was the first meeting between the teams since Florida State beat Louisville 76-69 in the Metro Conference title game on March 9, 1992. The teams were both members of the Metro Conference from 1976-91. Louisville joined the ACC this season.


Final Score: (19) Baylor 78, (20) West Virginia 66

Taurean Prince scored 20 points off the bench and Rico Gathers recorded a double-double as Baylor won handily, 78-66, and never trailed in a top-20 matchup against injury-depleted West Virginia. The 19th-ranked Bears (22-7, 10-6 Big 12) have won four in a row, including consecutive wins over ranked opponents for the first time in school history. They were in control from start to finish Saturday and only committed eight turnovers—nearly 13 less than West Virginia’s opponents coming in. Gathers totaled 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Royce O’Neale chipped in with 18 points and seven assists in the convincing victory. West Virginia was without leading scorer Juwan Staten due to a knee injury and lost starting guard Gary Browne three minutes into the game when his ankle was rolled up on during a loose ball scrum. Jevon Carter led the 20th-ranked Mountaineers (22-7, 10-6) with 25 points.


Final Score: Dayton 59, (22) VCU 55

Dayton received 19 points from Jordan Sibert and held on down the stretch to earn a 59-55 victory over 22nd-ranked VCU in an Atlantic 10 clash with major ramifications. The win, the Flyers’ fifth in six games, enabled Dayton (22-6, 12-4 A-10) to keep a share of first place in the tight conference race with two to go in the regular season. The Flyers entered Saturday’s matchup in a four-way tie with VCU, Davidson and Rhode Island for the A-10’s top spot. Dayton will host Rhode Island, which downed La Salle earlier in the day, on Tuesday. VCU (21-8, 11-5), meanwhile, continued its recent downward spiral. The Rams owned a comfortable lead atop the A-10 in late January after getting off to a 7-0 start, but have since gone 4-5 in league play. Kendall Pollard added 16 points and six rebounds for the Flyers, but fouled out with under five minutes remaining and the Rams began to draw closer after trailing 51-45 at the time of the disqualification.


Final Score: (23) Butler 67, DePaul 53

Kellen Dunham scored 24 points and No. 23 Butler continued its push for the second seed in the Big East tournament with a 67-53 victory over reeling DePaul. Roosevelt Jones had 16 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Bulldogs (21-8, 11-5 Big East), who hold a one-game lead over Georgetown for the conference’s No. 2 seed. Kameron Woods posted 14 points and six rebounds for a Butler team that pulled away in the second half with a 26-3 run. Jamee Crockett was the lone player to reach double figures in scoring for DePaul, finishing with 20 points. The Blue Demons (12-18, 6-11) suffered a season high-tying sixth consecutive defeat.


Final Score: Boise State 56, (24) San Diego State 46

Derrick Marks had 18 points and five rebounds as Boise State took a 56-46 win over No. 24 San Diego State in a critical Mountain West Conference matchup. James Webb III scored 16 points with 12 rebounds for the Broncos (22-7, 12-4), who have won four straight to move into a tie with San Diego State for first place in the conference. Winston Shepard had 16 points while J.J. O’Brien added eight points for the Aztecs (22-7, 12-4), who had a school-record 29-game home winning streak snapped.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)


Final Score: Washington 99, Detroit 95

John Wall had 22 points and six assists as the Washington Wizards snapped their six-game losing streak following a 99-95 win over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night. Nene posted 21 points and seven rebounds, while Marcin Gortat added 16 points and 17 boards for the Wizards, who led by as many as 21 in the third quarter before holding the Pistons off down the stretch. Greg Monroe tallied 21 points and 10 rebounds and Spencer Dinwiddie supplied 20 points and eight helpers for Detroit, which has lost three in a row.


Final Score: Atlanta 93, Miami 91

Paul Millsap scored 22 points, Dennis Schroder added 16 with 10 assists and the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks downed the Miami Heat 93-91 on Saturday night. The Hawks, who are already on the brink of clinching a postseason berth, nearly squandered an 18- point lead but pulled away for their fourth straight victory. Though they committed 20 turnovers, they forced 23 and limited Miami to 39.5 percent shooting. Kent Bazemore and John Jenkins tallied 15 and 12 points, respectively, for an Atlanta squad playing without regulars Al Horford (personal), Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic—the last three all getting the night off on the second of a back-to-back. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 22 points, while Hassan Whiteside pulled down 24 rebounds and scored 14 points in the club’s second straight loss.


Final Score: New York 103, Toronto 98

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half, Andrea Bargnani had 19 and the New York Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors 103-98 on Saturday. Alexey Shved tallied 15 points with five assists off the bench for New York, winners in two straight following an eight-game slide. Louis Williams scored 22 points to lead the Raptors, who have lost a season-high five straight games. Jonas Valanciunas added 16 and eight rebounds in defeat. Toronto was without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who was given the night off to rest. He is considered day- to-day.


Final Score: Memphis 101, Minnesota 97

Marc Gasol had 27 points and 11 rebounds as the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 101-97 on Saturday night. Mike Conley netted 17 points, Jeff Green added 13 and Zach Randolph pulled down 11 boards for the Grizzlies, who blew a 15-point third quarter lead, but Conley bailed them out with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 30.3 seconds left. Andrew Wiggins poured in 25 points for Minnesota, which has dropped three of its last four games.


Final Score: Brooklyn 104, Dallas 94

Deron Williams scored 12 of his 25 points in the third quarter to lead the Brooklyn Nets past the Dallas Mavericks, 104-94, on Saturday. Williams went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and pulled down six rebounds for the Nets, who have won four straight in Dallas. Thaddeus Young tallied 16 points and eight rebounds. Joe Johnson contributed 15 points and eight boards for Brooklyn, which went 3-5 on its eight-game road trip. Mason Plumlee and Jarrett Jack each scored 14 points, with Plumlee also pulling down 10 boards. Dirk Nowitzki ended with 20 points and six rebounds for the Mavericks, who have lost two in a row. Devin Harris added 14 points and Al- Farouq Aminu and Monta Ellis had 12 points apiece.


Final Score: San Antonio 101, Phoenix 74

The Phoenix Suns, not the San Antonio Spurs, looked like they were the ones finishing up a nine-game road trip on Saturday. Kawhi Leonard scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Spurs took the listless Suns to the woodshed in a lopsided 101-74 victory. The Suns set a franchise low for scoring in a half (24) and were on pace for record lows in points and shooting percentage before San Antonio took its foot off the gas in the fourth quarter. They shot 29.8 percent overall. The Spurs led by 34 after three, and their regulars were given well-deserved rest in closing out an otherwise disappointing 4-5 road trip in winning fashion. Marcus Morris scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter for the Suns, who failed to build off an emotional overtime victory over the Thunder on Thursday.


Final Score: Utah 82, Milwaukee 75

Trey Burke had 23 points and six assists as the Utah Jazz beat the Milwaukee Bucks by an 82-75 margin on Saturday. Burke went 5-of-10 from beyond the arc for the Jazz, who have won 13 in a row against Milwaukee in Salt Lake City. Derrick Favors added 16 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Khris Middleton ended with 18 points and six rebounds for the Bucks, who have lost four of five. Michael Carter-Williams contributed 16 points and four steals.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  White Sox ace Sale out with broken foot

Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale is expected to miss three weeks with a broken foot that could affect his availability for Opening Day.

Sale suffered an avulsion fracture on the lateral side of his right foot in an accident at home on Friday, the White Sox announced Saturday.

The left-hander underwent X-rays Saturday morning at Banner Estrella hospital near the team’s spring training facility in Glendale.

His status for Opening Day will be clearer once the swelling in his foot goes down and further tests are performed, the White Sox said.

They begin the season April 6 in Kansas City.

Sale, 25, had a 2.17 ERA in 26 starts last season with a 12-4 record and 208 strikeouts in 174 innings. He ranked fifth in the majors with a 0.97 WHIP and finished third in voting for the AL Cy Young Award.

He went on the disabled list for the first time in his career on April 22 with a flexor muscle strain in his left arm, missing a month.

Sale is 44-29 with a 2.76 ERA in 165 career games for the White Sox, including 85 starts. He has been a starter for the past three seasons after pitching out of the bullpen from 2010-11.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Saturday, February 28)


Final Score: Florida 5, Buffalo 3

Jaromir Jagr got all the headlines prior to his Panthers debut, but it was Brandon Pirri starring for Florida on Saturday after missing the previous nine games with an upper-body injury. In just 83 seconds, Pirri scored a pair of power play goals to get Florida on track to a 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Florida also received goals from Nick Bjugstad, Scottie Upshall and Derek MacKenzie while Jagr was scoreless with three shots on goal. Roberto Luongo was not busy and made 11 saves to help the Panthers improve to 1-1-0 on their seven-game homestand. The Sabres lost their first two-game winning streak in 2015 despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead with first-period goals from Cody Hodgson and Andrej Meszaros. Torrey Mitchell also lit the lamp for Buffalo. Michal Neuvirth allowed four Panthers goals but made 42 saves in the setback.


Final Score: Detroit 4, Nashville 3

Tomas Tatar and Alexey Marchenko each scored third-period goals to rally the Detroit Red Wings to a 4-3 win over Nashville and deal the Predators their first home losing streak of the season. Drew Miller added a goal and an assist and Jonas Gustavsson came up with 37 saves to help the Red Wings prevail against a Nashville team that owns the NHL’s best home record at 26-5-1. The Predators were coming off a 4-2 setback to Minnesota Thursday at Bridgestone Arena, however, and Saturday’s result marked the first time this season the Western Conference leaders have dropped back-to-back games in regulation. Pekka Rinne stopped just 21-of-25 shots in this one, failing to protect a 3-2 lead he was given on consecutive second-period goals from Matt Cullen, Mike Fisher and Shea Weber.


Final Score: Carolina 5, NY Islanders 3

A four-goal second period boosted the Carolina Hurricanes in their 5-3 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday. Jay McClement scored two goals for his first multi-goal game since a 2010 hat trick, Brad Malone tallied a goal and an assist, and Justin Faulk and Michal Jordan also scored in Carolina’s third straight win. Cam Ward made 21 saves in the victory. The Islanders lost a two-game winning streak after Chad Johnson allowed all five Carolina goals on 41 shots. Michael Grabner, Nikolay Kulemin and John Tavares scored New York’s goals.


Final Score: New Jersey 2, Columbus 0

Cory Schneider made 33 saves and Andy Greene netted the deciding goal in the New Jersey Devils’ 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Schneider backstopped the Devils to their fifth win in seven games by posting his second shutout in six days, having turned aside 38 chances in Monday’s 3-0 triumph over Arizona. Travis Zajac added an empty-net score in the final minute that sealed the Blue Jackets’ fifth loss in a row. Curtis McElhinney stopped 17-of-18 shots for Columbus.


Final Score: Boston 4, Arizona 1

Tuukka Rask stopped 31 shots to lead the Boston Bruins in a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand all scored for the Bruins, who have won three of four following a six-game losing streak. Martin Erat had the only goal of the game for the Coyotes, who have lost nine in a row. Mike Smith was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 20 shots, while Louis Domingue turned aside all 14 shots he faced.


Final Score: Montreal 4, Toronto 0

Carey Price turned in another solid performance between the pipes as he posted his sixth shutout of the season in the Montreal Canadiens’ 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. Price made 30 saves and improved to 10-0-1 over his last 11 starts, last losing in regulation on Feb. 3 against Buffalo. He leads the NHL with 36 wins. David Desharnais scored twice, while Manny Malhotra and Tomas Plekanec and also lit the lamp in Montreal’s fourth straight win. Jonathan Bernier allowed three goals on 22 shots for the Maple Leafs, who had their two-game winning streak came to an end.


Final Score: Philadelphia 4, NY Rangers 2

In his first start since Feb. 8, Steve Mason made 34 saves to lead the Flyers to a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday. Mason made 16 of those saves in the third period to end Philadelphia’s two-game losing streak and stay firmly in the playoff race. Matt Read, Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds scored goals for the Flyers, and the winner came early in the third period when Michael Del Zotto scored short- handed. The Rangers lost their 10-game point streak despite goals from J.T. Miller and John Moore. Cam Talbot made 30 saves in the loss.


Final Score: Minnesota 3, Colorado 1

Devan Dubnyk stopped 33 shots to lead the Minnesota Wild in a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula had a goal and an assist, while Jason Pominville also scored for the Wild, who have won five of their last six. Maxime Talbot had the only goal of the game for the Avalanche, who had won three of four coming into the game. Semyon Varlamov allowed all three goals on 32 shots in defeat.


Final Score: St. Louis 2, Edmonton 1

Paul Stastny scored the game-winning goal with 5:40 left in regulation to lift the St. Louis Blues to a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Stastny also assisted on Dmitrij Jaskin’s marker and Brian Elliott made 21 saves for the Blues, who were coming off a 2-1 shootout win over Winnipeg on Thursday. Justin Schultz supplied Edmonton’s lone goal and Ben Scrivens allowed both goals on 27 shots in defeat.


Final Score: Ottawa 4, San Jose 2

Mike Hoffman scored two goals in the third period to lift the Ottawa Senators over the San Jose Sharks, 4-2, on Saturday. Mark Stone also lit the lamp in the final stanza for the Senators, who have won a season-high five straight games. Erik Karlsson also scored. Andrew Hammond made 28 saves and has now won the first five starts of his NHL career. He entered Saturday’s contest on a two-game shutout streak. Tommy Wingels and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who have lost eight in a row at home. Antti Niemi stopped 27-of-30 shots.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Nishikori, Ferrer to meet in Acapulco final

Kei Nishikori and David Ferrer will meet in the final of the $1.4 million Mexican Open on Saturday.

Both players won their Friday semifinal matches in three sets, as the top- seeded Nishikori outlasted fourth-seeded Kevin Anderson, and the second-seeded Ferrer pummeled qualifier Ryan Harrison after falling behind early.

Nishikori broke Anderson’s serve twice in the final set en route to a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory, moving him into uncharted territory in the ATP rankings. As it stands, the Japanese star will enter next week ranked no less than No. 4 in the world.

Anderson was last year’s runner-up in this event to Grigor Dimitrov.

Harrison, who has never reached an ATP final, won a lengthy first set but wound up dropping the final 12 games as Ferrer went on to win 4-6, 6-0, 6-0 on the hardcourts at the Fairmont Acapulco Princess.

Nishikori has won seven of the 10 all-time meetings against Ferrer, including a straight-set triumph in the round-of-16 at the Australian Open last month.

Ferrer captured three straight Acapulco titles from 2010-12 and was the runner-up to fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal in 2013.

This year’s champion will earn $343,000.


►  Federer beats Djokovic in Dubai final

Roger Federer posted a 6-3, 7-5 victory over top-seeded Novak Djokovic in the final of the Dubai Championships on Saturday.

The second-seeded Swiss star won the tournament for the second straight year and seventh time overall.

After fighting off two set points to level the second set at 5-5, Federer broke Djokovic’s serve in the next game and then saved a break point to capture his 84th career title and second of 2015. He also won the season- opening event in Brisbane.

“I think the first set belonged to me; whereas the second set belonged to him more,“ Federer said. “He created many more opportunities. I struggled to get into his service games more frequently. It seemed like the moment I wasn’t serving great he created chances for himself and put a lot of pressure on me.“

The 33-year-old Federer swatted 12 aces and saved all seven break points he faced while improving to 20-17 lifetime against Djokovic.

Djokovic, 27, lost for the first time in five Dubai finals.

“I thought it was a good match,“ Djokovic said. “I thought there wasn’t much difference, a few points decided a winner.“

Federer or Djokovic have won the Dubai title 11 of the last 13 years.


►  Nadal to meet Monaco in Buenos Aires final

Rafael Nadal is a step closer to another clay court title after beating Carlos Berlocq in the semifinals of the Argentina Open on Saturday.

The top-seeded Nadal battled to a 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 win over the local favorite Berlocq and will try to win his 46th career clay court title Sunday at Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.

Nadal, who has 64 titles overall, will face another Argentine favorite, past Buenos Aires winner Juan Monaco.

Monaco defeated 2011 champion Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-4 in two hours and 27 minutes and is chasing his ninth career title. He captured the Buenos Aires crown in 2007.

Nadal is 5-1 all-time against Monaco, with the only loss coming at the 2007 ATP Masters tournament in Cincinnati when he retired during the second set because of knee and wrist injuries.

Sunday’s winner will collect $91,050.


►  Safarova wins Qatar Open

Czech Lucie Safarova beat two-time champion Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-3 to win the Qatar Open on Saturday.

Safarova broke the Belarusian to begin the match and again for a 5-4 lead. She then saved a break point before serving out the opening set.

The 28-year-old Safarova offered Azarenka four break point opportunities in the second set and saved all of them. She won the first three points in the ninth game and converted on her third match point.

Safarova captured her sixth career title and first since winning the Bell Challenge in Quebec City in September 2013.

Saturday’s win marked her first in seven head-to-head meetings with Azarenka, who won this tournament in 2012 and 2013.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Harrington leads by 1 at halted Honda Classic

Padraig Harrington finished up his second round and took a 1-shot lead on Saturday before third-round play was suspended due to inclement weather.

The second round was concluded earlier Saturday morning and only a few groups were able to tee off for the third round before rain and heavy winds halted play at 12:51 PM After a lengthy delay, play was called for the day. Players are scheduled to get back out on the course at 10 AM Sunday.

Harrington, who will have to wait until Sunday to start his third round along with most of the 71 players who made the cut, fired a second-round 4-under 66 to take the outright lead at 7-under 133 through 36 holes on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa.

“I feel like I’ll have to play better or at least up to the way I played maybe my first 27 holes,“ Harrington said about what he has to do in the final two rounds. “You keep your head on, you get it up and down when you need to. It will be a tough weekend no matter what.“

The three-time major champion has five career wins on the PGA Tour, but he has not won since the 2008 PGA Championship. Harrington also won the British Open the same year.

Patrick Reed, who finished his second round on Friday, is alone in second at 6-under 134 following two straight 67s. Ian Poulter (64) and Brendan Steele (69) are tied for third at 5-under 135 through two rounds, while Luke Donald (67) sits one shot further back in fifth at minus-4.

First-round leader Jim Herman carded a 2-over 72, dropping him into a tie for sixth with Russell Knox (68). Defending champion Russell Henley (70), who had just teed off to start his third round before play was called, is tied for 38th at 3-over 143 after narrowly making the cut.

Harrington, starting his second round on the back nine, began with a pair of pars on 10 and 11 before rolling in his first birdie of the day on the par-4 12th.

Following three more pars from 13, Harrington surged as he made the turn, making three birdies in a four-hole stretch on 16, 17 and one.

Harrington tripped to his first bogey on No. 3, but he rebounded in a big way by draining three straight birdies from No. 4, vaulting him to a 3-shot lead.

That advantage quickly shrunk to just one, however, as Harrington finished bogey-bogey on eight and nine. Despite the poor finish to his round, Harrington still held the outright lead through 36 holes.

“Certainly for the first 27 holes I was really feeling very positive about my game,“ said Harrington after his second round. “I struggled coming home. That was disappointing ... Disappointed as I said about my finish, but I’m in a good place going through to the weekend.“

Steele held a 2-shot lead through four holes of his second round before play was suspended due to darkness on Friday. The 31-year-old was on fire when he finally started his round on Friday, draining four straight birdies from No. 1 to grab the lead.

When he got back underway Saturday morning, Steele began to struggle right away as he made a bogey on five. He rebounded with a birdie on six, but he then tripped to a pair of bogeys on seven and eight.

Steele made the turn with a birdie on nine, but that was his last gain of the day. Steele made eight pars on the back nine to go along with a double-bogey on 16 and he finished the day tied for third.

Poulter got off to a roaring start in his second round, making birdies on three and five. He also holed out from 116 yards for eagle on the par-4 fourth.

Poulter got to 5-under for his round with another gain on eight. Following five straight pars from nine, Poulter traded a birdie on 14 for a bogey on 15. He finished up with pars on 16 and 18 to go along with a gain on 17.

NOTES: A total of 24 players had completed at least one hole of their third rounds ... In eight events this season, Harrington has five missed cuts and he missed one secondary cut. Harrington’s best finish was a tie for 56th at last week’s Northern Trust Open ... World No. 1 Rory McIlroy missed the cut after finishing 36 holes at 7-over 147 ... The cut fell at 4-over 144. Other big names who missed the cut were Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Billy Horschel and Dustin Johnson.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Harvick wins another Xfinity Series race at Atlanta

Kevin Harvick won a Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the third year in a row after holding off his fellow Sprint Cup Series competitor and reigning Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano in the closing laps of Saturday’s Hisense 250.

Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champion, led 101 of 163 laps, driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. He claimed his 45th career victory in the Xfinity Series. Harvick now holds the record for most Xfinity wins at this 1.54-mile racetrack with four.

Logano started on the pole and led the first 49 laps before Harvick took over the top spot during a round of green-flag pit stops. Logano, though, pulled ahead of Harvick and reclaimed the lead on lap 127.

The third and final caution for fluid on the track late in the race set up the last round of pit stops. Harvick edged Logano out of the pits to retain the lead and then held it for the final 27 laps.

“That (final) pit stop is what won this race,“ Harvick said. “Joey probably had a little bit better of a car the second half of a run, so it really played out for us there at the end as we were able to have that short run and take off.“

On Friday, Logano and Harvick placed 1-2 in qualifying for Sunday’s 500-mile Sprint Cup race at Atlanta. But Harvick will have to start from the rear of the field in that event due to an engine change. He blew the motor in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet during Saturday’s final practice.

Logano started gaining on Harvick in the closing laps of the Xfinity race but experienced a bad vibration on his No. 22 Team Penske Ford due to a loose wheel. He wound up finishing 1.2 seconds behind Harvick.

“That was as close as anyone’s been to beating Kevin here in a long time,“ said Logano, who led a total of 59 laps. “I was starting to catch him, and then I had this huge vibration. I think the left-rear (tire) was loose. At that point, I was just trying to survive and hope the left-rear didn’t pass me. Overall, we had a fast race car, but we just came up a little bit short.“

Ty Dillon finished third, followed by Chris Buescher and Chase Elliott, the defending Xfinity champion.

Paul Menard, Brian Scott, Matt Kenseth, Regan Smith and Kyle Larson completed the top-10.

Erik Jones, substituting for the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, placed 13th. Busch suffered a compound fracture of his right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot during an accident in last Saturday’s Xfinity season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. He underwent surgery on his right leg in Daytona Beach, Florida and then had an operation on his left foot in North Carolina. Busch was hospitalized six days before his release on Friday. His return to racing is not known at this time.

Ryan Reed, who claimed his first career Xfinity win at Daytona, finished 16th.

Buescher and Dillon share the lead in the point standings, while Reed is eight points behind them.


►  Crafton dominant in Truck Series race at Atlanta

Two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton won at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first time with a dominating performance in Saturday’s Hyundai Construction Equipment 300.

The 200-mile truck race capped off a NASCAR doubleheader at this 1.54-mile racetrack. Earlier in the day, Kevin won the 250-mile Xfinity Series event here.

Crafton, who started 15th, led 85 of 130 laps in his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota. Erik Jones, running a full-schedule in the series for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season, led 37 of the first 44 laps before Crafton passed him and took command from there.

Crafton crossed the finish line nearly nine seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Ty Dillon, for his sixth win in his 340th consecutive and career truck start. His first win at Atlanta came in his 14th attempt. The series did not compete here the previous two seasons.

Last year, Crafton became the first driver to win back-to-back championships in the 20-year history of the Truck Series.

Dillon won the last truck race at Atlanta in August 2012. He is now a regular in Xfinity.

Ben Kennedy, the pole sitter, finished third, followed by Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick, who won the February 20 truck season-opener at Daytona.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Frampton keeps IBF belt with TKO of Avalos

Carl Frampton stopped challenger Chris Avalos in the fifth round to retain his IBF Super Bantamweight title in his hometown.

Frampton hit Avalos with a flurry of combinations to prompt referee Howard John Foster to halt the scheduled 12-round bout at 1:33 of the fifth.

The title defense was the first for Frampton (20-0, 14 KO) of the belt he won from Kiko Martinez with a unanimous decision in September.

Avalos (25-3) entered the fight with six straight victories, the last three by knockout, and was the IBF’s top-ranked contender.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Rooney’s brace powers United past Sunderland

Wayne Rooney scored a pair of second-half goals on Saturday as Manchester United cruised to a 2-0 victory over 10-man Sunderland at Old Trafford.

With fellow striker Robin van Persie picking up an injury in last week’s loss against Swansea City, United manager Louis van Gaal deployed Radamel Falcao in the No. 9 role with captain Rooney playing in an attacking midfield spot.

Rooney found the back of the net in the 66th and 85th minutes to lift United into third place in the Premier League on 50 points, two ahead of Arsenal and five behind rivals Manchester City, both of which play on Sunday.

The Sunderland defense held firm and kept United off the score sheet in the first half, but the Red Devils broke the deadlock in the 66th minute when Falcao broke free into the penalty area and was hacked down by Sunderland defender Wes Brown, resulting in a penalty for United and a straight red card to Brown.

Rooney entered the match in a bit of a slump as he had gone eight straight contests without a goal, but confidently headed to the spot and blasted his penalty low into the left corner with pace, leaving Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon with no chance to make a save.

Rooney completed his double five minutes from time when he was in the correct spot in front of goal to smash home a rebound effort to seal an important three points for Van Gaal’s side.

For Sunderland, the defeat keeps the Black Cats in 16th place in the Premier League with 25 points, just three clear of the bottom three.

Elsewhere in the Premier League on Saturday, Crystal Palace maintained its unbeaten away record under manager Alan Pardew on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over West Ham United at Upton Park.

The Eagles opened the scoring through Glen Murray in the 41st minute and Scott Dann doubled the advantage early in the second half, while Murray added a second goal in the 63rd minute.

The Hammers pulled one back in the 76th minute through Enner Valencia after Murray was sent off for a second yellow-card offense, but the hosts were unable to salvage anything as the club’s dream of a top-four finish slipped further out of reach.

Swansea City claimed its second consecutive win in league play on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Burnley thanks to an own goal by Burnley defender Kieran Trippier.

Newcastle United rebounded from a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City last week with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa at St. James’ Park. Papiss Cisse collected the only goal of the match in the 37th minute.

Peter Crouch’s tally 18 minutes from time held up as the winner to give Stoke City a 1-0 result over Hull City, while Saturday’s final fixture saw West Bromwich Albion knock off Southampton, 1-0, thanks to a goal in the second minute of play from Saido Berahino.


►  Motherwell snaps skid with win over Inverness

Motherwell put an end to a lengthy winless run in league play on Saturday with a 2-1 victory over Inverness at Fir Park.

Motherwell started the day at the foot of the table in the Scottish Premier League, and while the victory keeps them in that position, some confidence from the win could allow the club to put together a run of positive form.

After a scoreless opening half, Louis Laing gave the home side the lead in the 48th minute. Edward Ofere collected an equalizer in the 76th minute, but Lionel Ainsworth netted the winner five minutes from time to give Motherwell its first win since a 1-0 result over Partick Thistle on December 27.

Also in the Scottish Premier League on Saturday, Partick Thistle claimed a 2-0 victory over Dundee United on the strength of goals from Stephen O’Donnel and a Jaroslaw Fojut own goal, while Jamie Reckord’s 67th-minute tally handed Ross County a 1-0 victory over Dundee.

Steven Thompson struck just past the hour mark to lift St. Mirren to a 1-0 win over Hamilton, while St. Johnstone and Kilmarnock played to a scoreless draw.


►  Dortmund downs Schalke in Revierderby

Borussia Dortmund’s ascent up the Bundesliga table continued on Saturday with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Schalke at Signal Iduna Park in the latest edition of the Revierderby.

It’s been a massive struggle for Jurgen Klopp’s team in league play for most of the campaign as the club has been rooted to the bottom of the table for a significant chunk of time.

But it seems Dortmund is rounding into form just in time as Saturday’s win is the club’s fourth straight to move to 10th place.

It was a tight affair until the final quarter-hour and the home side finally broke the deadlock with 12 minutes to play as Pierre Emerick Aubameyang fired it past Schalke goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther.

The hosts doubled the lead in the 79th minute through a goal from Henrik Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus wrapped up all three points with a goal four minutes from time.

With the win, Dortmund moves to within eight points of fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen for a Champions League qualification place.

Also in the Bundesliga on Saturday, Simon Rolfes’ 33rd-minute tally handed Leverkusen a 1-0 win over Freiburg at the BayArena, while Christian Gentner and Lars Stindl traded goals as Hannover and Stuttgart played to a 1-1 draw at the AWD Arena.

Salomon Kalou scored two minutes from time to lift Hertha Berlin to a 1-0 victory against Augsburg, while Kevin Volland and Eugen Polanski scored second-half goals to power Hoffenheim to a 2-0 win against Mainz.

In Saturday’s final Bundesliga fixture, Alexander Meier netted a pair of goals to lift Eintracht to a 2-1 win over Hamburg.


►  Lyon stumbles against Lille

Lyon wasted an opportunity to widen their lead atop the Ligue 1 table on Saturday as the club stumbled to a 2-1 defeat against Lille at the Grand Stade Lille Metropole.

Lyon entered the contest holding a two-point lead over second-place Paris Saint-Germain, but Saturday’s result opens the door for the two-time league champions to claim the top spot if they defeat Monaco on Sunday.

Things got off to a flying start for Lyon as Corentin Tolisso found the back of the net after just three minutes and took the lead into the intermission, but Lille seized control in the second half.

Idrissa Gana Gueye connected for the equalizer in the 57th minute and Marcos Lopes scored the winning tally just three minutes later.

Lyon pushed numbers forward looking to get a least a point out of the match, but an equalizer never came as Lille held on for an important three points.

The victory moves Lille into eighth place in Ligue 1 on 35 points.

Also in the French top flight on Saturday, Abdoulaye Doucoure’s 36th-minute tally held up as the winner to give Rennes a 1-0 victory over Lens, while Francois Bellugou and Gianni Bruno lifted Lorient to a 2-0 win over Bastia.

Gilles Sunu buried the winning strike in the 73rd minute to help Evian to a 2-1 result against Metz, while Max-Alain Gradel and Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro traded goals as Toulouse and Saint Etienne played to a 1-1 draw.

In Saturday’s final match, Isaac Kiese Thelin and Gaetan Charbonnier swapped goals as Bordeaux and Reims finished level at 1-1.


►  Messi, Suarez lead Barca over Granada

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez found the back of the net in the second half on Saturday as Barcelona ran out 3-1 winners over Granada at Los Carmenes.

The Catalan club suffered a shock 1-0 defeat against Malaga last week in La Liga play, but rebounded from that setback a few days later as Suarez netted a pair of goals to help Barcelona claim a 2-1 win over Manchester City in the Champions League.

Saturday’s affair against strugglers Granada caused Barcelona little trouble as Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring in the 25th minute and Suarez, the former Liverpool man, doubled the lead four minutes into the second half.

Granada pulled one back in the 53rd minute when Fran Rico dispatched a penalty kick, but Messi scored with 20 minutes to play to ensure all three points went the way of Barcelona.

The result pulls the Catalan club to within one point of rivals Real Madrid for the top spot in La Liga, while Granada remains in the relegation zone with 19 points from 25 matches played.

Also in La Liga on Saturday, Alberto Bueno powered home an impressive four goals in a span of 15 first-half minutes at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas as Rayo Vallecano rolled to a 4-2 win over Levante, while Almeria and Deportivo played to a scoreless draw.

In Saturday’s final fixture, Sergi Darder, Juanmi and Ricardo Horta all found the back of the net to lead Malaga to a 3-2 win over Getafe.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SUNDAY, MARCH 01, 2015
National Basketball Association
LA Clippers at Chicago, 1:00 PM - ABC
Cleveland at Houston, 3:30 PM - ABC
Portland at Sacramento, 6:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, California, DSS
Philadelphia at Indiana, 6:00 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, FS-Indiana, DSS
Golden State at Boston, 6:00 PM - CSN-Bay, New England, DSS
Charlotte at Orlando, 6:00 PM - SportSouth, FS-Florida, DSS
Oklahoma City at LA Lakers, 6:30 PM - ESPN
New Orleans at Denver, 8:00 PM - FS-New Orleans, Altitude, DSS
National Hockey League
Los Angeles at Winnipeg, 4:00 PM - FS-West, TSN3, DSS
Columbus at Pittsburgh, 5:00 PM - FS-Ohio, ROOT-Pittsburgh, DSS
Tampa Bay at Florida, 5:00 PM - SunSports, FS-Florida, DSS
Toronto at Washington, 7:00 PM - CITY, CSN-DC, DSS
Anaheim at Dallas, 8:00 PM - NBCSN
St. Louis at Vancouver, 9:30 PM - FS-Midwest, SNET-Pacific, DSS
College Basketball
SMU at Connecticut, 2:00 PM - CBS
Fairfield at Niagara, 2:00 PM - Time Warner Sports
Iona at Saint Peters, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Quinnipiac at Manhattan, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Marist at Rider, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Oregon State at California, 3:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
South Florida at Houston, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Marquette at Providence, 3:30 PM - FS1
Michigan State at Wisconsin, 4:00 PM - CBS
Siena at Monmouth, 4:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Pittsburgh at Wake Forest, 6:30 PM - ESPN U
Oregon at Stanford, 7:00 PM - FS1
Purdue at Ohio State, 7:30 PM - Big Ten Network
Arizona State at Colorado, 8:30 PM - ESPN U
Washington State at UCLA, 9:30 PM - FS1
Women’s College Basketball
Texas at West Virginia, 1:00 PM - ESPN 2
Louisville at Virginia, 1:00 PM - RSN, FOX, ESPN3.com
Maryland at Northwestern, 1:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Seton Hall at Butler, 1:00 PM - Big East Digital Network
Indiana at Rutgers, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Wisconsin at Penn State, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
VCU at Richmond, 2:00 PM - CBSSN
Notre Dame at NC State, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Texas A&M at LSU, 2:00 PM - ESPN U
Ole Miss at Miss State, 2:00 PM - FSN, ESPN3.com
Maine at New Hampshire, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Minnesota at Iowa, 3:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Alabama at Auburn, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Arkansas at Missouri, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Georgia at Florida, 3:00 PM - SEC Network
North Carolina at Duke, 3:00 PM - ESPN 2
Florida State at Miami-Florida, 3:00 PM - RSN, FOX, ESPN3.com
Drake at Missouri State, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Stanford at Oregon, 4:00 PM - ESPN U
Marquette at DePaul, 4:00 PM - CBSSN
Ohio State at Nebraska, 5:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Utah at Arizona, 5:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
South Carolina at Kentucky, 5:00 PM - ESPN 2
Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 5:00 PM - SEC Network
International Soccer
Valencia CF vs. Real Sociedad de Futbol, 5:55 AM - beIN Sports
Liverpool vs. Manchester City, 7:00 AM - NBCSN
FC Nantes vs. EA Guingamp, 7:55 AM - beIN Sports
Arsenal vs. Everton, 9:00 AM - NBCSN
Chelsea FC vs. Tottenham Hotspur FC, 10:55 AM - beIN Sports
Sevilla FC vs. Club Atletico de Madrid, 1:30 PM - beIN Sports
Real Madrid CF vs. Villarreal CF, 2:55 PM - beIN Sports
MASL
Oxford City vs. Dallas, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Golf
LPGA - Honda LPGA Thailand, 1:00 AM - Golf Channel
EUROPEAN - Joburg Open, 5:00 AM - Golf Channel
PGA - Honda Classic, 1:00 PM - Golf Channel
PGA - Honda Classic, 3:00 PM - NBC
Auto Racing
SPRINT CUP - Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500, 12:30 PM - FOX
Track and Field
U.S. Indoor Championships, 4:00 PM - NBCSN

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The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Expect Sherman on Sunday

When it comes to Richard Sherman and playing in the Super Bowl there is no right or wrong answer unless you are talking about the math itself.

“You’ve gotta time your conception a little better, I would say,“ Jets wide receiver Eric Decker quipped Friday on WFAN Radio.

Sherman’s girlfriend, Ashley Moss, is pregnant and due to give Seattle’s All- Pro cornerback a son in the coming days but if the baby decides to make a break for it early on Sunday, Sherman will be forced to choose between his teammates and his duty as a father.

“I think he’s going to be a disciplined young man and stay in there until after the game,“ Sherman joked on Thursday. “He’s going to do his father his first favor and stay in there for another week or two.“

Sherman’s current quandary signals a sharp generational shift.

Years ago there would have been no discussion—you play if it’s a Week 4 game never mind the Super Bowl but things have changed in today’s society and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made sure to give his star a wide berth.

“Whenever our players have a personal family issue that comes up, it’s always about the family first,“ Carroll said on Friday morning.

Moss told one television station that Sherman will be suiting up on Sunday no matter what.

“He’s very locked in; football comes first,“ Moss told Seattle’s KING 5.

Sherman has hedged far more, though.

“I’ve thought about the possibility of his coming during the game or coming before the game,“ Sherman said earlier this week. “We have things in place in case that happens. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

“I would not like to miss the birth of my first kid,“ he added. “Hopefully, and God willing, we won’t have to cross that bridge.“

Others don’t think it should be a choice.

“I couldn’t miss (the birth of a child),“ Decker said. “That’s the Super Bowl of my life.“

Decker’s wife, country singer Jessie James Decker, gave birth to their first child last March.

Pro golfer Hunter Mahan famously passed on a chance for a huge pay day when he left the 2013 Canadian Open while leading after his wife went into labor before the final round.

Phil Mickelson was also prepared to leave the 1999 U.S. Open early despite being in the hunt for what would have been his first major tourney win.

Golfers, though, are independent contractors and their decisions aren’t going to impact 52 other men who have fought and clawed through 18 games to play on football’s biggest stage.

“This opportunity is rare in itself and unique in itself,“ Carroll said of playing in the Super Bowl.

And that’s why the easiest prop bet on Super Bowl Sunday is Sherman suiting up for the Seahawks despite a hyperextended elbow and the potential stork visit.

“I guess we’ll have a Super Bowl baby,“ Moss said when asked what will happen if she goes into labor, “and if you see Richard heading for the locker room right after it hits zero in the fourth quarter, don’t be surprised.“



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, January 31)


#5 Gilmer County 80     Wirt County 40

#2 Bridgeport 64     #5 Robert C. Byrd 57

#6 Lincoln 74     Frankfort 65

North Marion 65     Webster County 58 (OT)

Tygarts Valley 63     Greenbrier West 48

Weirton Madonna 63     Clay-Battelle 54

St. Marys 59     Meadow Bridge 42


►  Area High Schools Girls Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, January 31)


#7 Charleston Catholic 43     #8 Notre Dame 30

#5 Logan 79     #10 Buckhannon-Upshur 46

Parkersburg South 84     Parkersburg 79

St. Marys 62     Clay-Battelle 52


►  Big Atlantic Classic

Friday’s Results

Game 13 — Wyoming East 72, Oak Hill 42 (girls co-consolation)

Game 14 — Parkersburg South 83, Princeton 76 (boys AAA)

Game 15 — Martinsburg 57, Shady Spring 49 (boys AAA)

Game 16 — Greenbrier East 80, Hampshire 64 (boys AAA)

Game 17 — Woodrow Wilson 56, Washington 36 (boys AAA)


Saturday’s Results


Game 18 — Huntington 95, Oak Hill 19 (girls co-consolation)


Game 19 — Princeton 69, Shady Spring 61, 2 OT (boys AAA co-consolation)


Game 20 — Washington 46, Hampshire 40 (boys AAA co-consolation)


Game 21 — Westside 63, Scott 50 (boys AA championship)


Game 22 — Morgantown 56, Greenbrier East 42 (girls co-championship)


Game 23 — Parkersburg South 53, Martinsburg 52 (boys AAA co-championship)


Game 24 — St. Albans 65, George Washington 44 (girls co-championship)


Game 25 — Greenbrier East 65, Woodrow Wilson 64 (boys AAA co-championship)


►  Shootout at the Big House - At Charleston Civic Center

Monday, February 09

10:00 AM — Man vs. Paden City (boys)

11:30 AM — Liberty Raleigh vs. St. Marys (boys)

1:00 PM — Webster County vs. Petersburg (boys)

2:30 PM — Parkersburg vs. Oak Hill (boys)

4:00 PM — George Washington vs. Hurricane (girls)

5:30 PM — South Charleston vs. Logan (girls)

7:00 PM — Magnolia vs. Valley Fayette (boys)

8:30 PM — Woodrow Wilson vs. Wesley Christian, Ky. (boys)


Tuesday, February 10

10:00 AM — Lincoln County vs. Chapmanville (girls)

11:30 AM — Lincoln County vs. Clay County (boys)

1:00 PM — Chapmanville vs. Williamstown (boys)

2:30 PM — Ravenswood vs. Point Pleasant (boys)

4:00 PM — Nitro vs. Charleston Catholic (boys)

5:30 PM — Parkersburg South vs. Logan (girls)

7:00 PM — Parkersburg South vs. Logan (boys)

8:30 PM — George Washington vs. Perry Central, KY (boys)

10:00 PM — Huntington Prep vs. team TBA (boys)


Wednesday, February 11

10:00 AM — Greater Beckley Christian vs. St. Joseph (girls)

11:30 PM — Greater Beckley Christian vs. St. Joseph (boys)

1:00 PM — Ripley vs. Westside (boys)

2:30 PM — Frankfort vs. East Fairmont (boys)

4:00 PM — Scott vs. Buffalo (boys)

5:30 PM — Wyoming East vs. Robert C. Byrd (boys)

7:00 PM — South Charleston vs. Elkins (boys)

8:30 PM — Parkersburg vs. Spring Valley (girls)



The Gilmer Free Press

►  MEC Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, January 31)


Glenville State 82, Shepherd 76 | Final Stats

Glenville State got past Shepherd, 82-72, on Saturday at the Butcher Center.

With the game tied at 70-70 with 2:30 to go, the Pioneers (16-4, 12-2) scored the next six points, capped by a Sedric Nady three-pointer that helped GSC pick up the victory. Both teams shot over 50% from the field, and Glenville State hit 12 threes while Shepherd made 11.

GSC’s Dontre Morales scored 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. Nady finished with 20 and Brett Morris scored 12.

Ryan McTavish scored 26 points to lead Shepherd (11-9, 6-8). Austin Cunningham had 18 and Morgan McDonald scored 10 points and had six rebounds.


Wheeling Jesuit 93, West Virginia State 89 | Final Stats

Wheeling Jesuit withstood a late charge from West Virginia State to pick up a 93-89 win over West Virginia State.

The Cardinals (11-7, 7-6) were led by 26 points from Justin Fritts. Eric Seifert scored 18 and Kyle Ritz tallied a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds as WJU won its fifth-straight.

Markee Mazyck scored a game-high 27 points, 26 of which came in the second half, before fouling out. Damion Harris had 18 points and Dominic Phillips scored 12 as West Virginia State dropped to 3-18 overall and 3-10 in conference play.


Fairmont State 86, West Virginia Wesleyan 76 (OT) | Final Stats

Fairmont State needed overtime to pick up its league-best sixth-straight win, 86-76, over West Virginia Wesleyan at Joe Retton Arena.

After trailing by 14 early in the second half, WVWC battled all the way back to take a 66-63 lead with 1:07 to go after a Garrett Grantham layup. FSU forced overtime as Nick Harney laid it in with seven seconds left.

In the overtime session, Fairmont State hit 10-of-12 free throws and forced WVWC to go just 2-for-10 from the field to secure the victory.

FSU (14-6, 11-3) was led by 25 points and eight rebounds from Harney and 24 points from Jamel Morris. Shammgod Wells had 17 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Tanner McGrew scored 26 points and pulled down 15 rebounds for WVWC (8-12, 6-8). Grantham finished with 19 points and seven assists and Anthony Richards contributed 11.


#10 West Liberty 83, Charleston 65 | Final Stats

C.J. Hester scored 26 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead No. 10 West Liberty to an 83-65 win over Charleston on Saturday at Eddie King Gymnasium.

Seger Bonifant scored 17 and Devin Hoehn added 12 as West Liberty improved to 17-2 overall and 12-2 in league play.

Octavius Green came off the bench and scored 19 points to lead UC (14-6, 9-5). Jevonte Hughes contributed 14 points and Chris Evans tallied 11 points and five assists.


Concord 85, Notre Dame 72 | Final Stats

Concord broke a halftime tie by opening the second half on a 27-10 run to claim an 85-72 win over Notre Dame on Saturday at the Carter Center.

Aaron Miller scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half, to lead Concord (13-6, 9-5). Terry Hopewell scored 17 points and pulled down 16 rebounds, and Rob Reed added 17 points. Mike Boyd dished out eight assists to go with eight points.

Notre Dame (10-10, 6-8) was paced by 24 points from Tyree Gaiter. Lawrence DeArmond had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Will Vorhees scored 16.


Urbana 76, UVa-Wise 64 | Final Stats

Urbana snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 76-64 win over UVa-Wise on Saturday at the Prior Center.

Urbana (5-15, 2-12) shot 48% from the field, committed just 10 turnovers and out-rebounded UVa-Wise, 41-34. Rodney Clark Jr. led a balanced attack for the Blue Knights with 14 points, and Carlas Jackson scored 12. Doug Hilson and Myles Busby each contributed 10 points.

Philip Owens led UVa-Wise (1-18, 0-14) with 21 points. Matt Day registered a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.


►  MEC Women’s Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, January 31)


West Virginia State 77, Wheeling Jesuit 74 | Final Stats

A 10-0 run midway through the second half sparked West Virginia State to a 77-74 win over Wheeling Jesuit.

The Yellow Jackets (6-12, 4-9) were led by 23 points and 11 rebounds from Shealyn Shafer. Alexus Hobbs added 16 points and seven rebounds and Aurreshae Hines added 10 points off the bench. WVSU shot 50% from the field and had just 13 turnovers in the game. 

Wheeling Jesuit (11-6, 8-5) had 22 points and five assists from Jaila Bryant in the losing effort. Jaana Motton had 10 points to go with nine rebounds, and Breanna Butler tallied 15.


West Liberty 90, Charleston 83 | Final Stats

West Liberty held off Charleston, 90-83, on Saturday afternoon at Eddie King Gymnasium

The Hilltoppers (13-7, 10-4) had a 10-point advantage at halftime and increased it to 16 points with 15:52 left, but Charleston (15-5, 10-4) fought its way back into the game, eventually drawing even at 72-72 with 5:27 left. WLU regained control of the game by scoring 13 of the game’s next 17 points to take the win.

West Liberty’s Liz Flowers poured in 27 points, and Kailee Howe scored 24 and dished out 11 assists. Hillary Southworth added 17 points for the ‘Toppers.

Kiara Johnson registered a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. LeAnne Ross finished with 18 points, and Nichole Perry scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half to help spark the comeback.


Glenville State 77, Shepherd 66 | Final Stats

An 11-0 run midway through the second half broke a close game open as Glenville State picked up its fourth-straight win, 77-66, on the road at Shepherd.

Kayla Tibbs led all scorers with 19 points for Glenville State (10-8, 8-6). Keyanna Tate had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Brittany Jackson contributed 11 points.

Shepherd (13-7, 10-4) was paced by 15 points from Cara Mason. Briana Vaden had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Gabby Flinchum came off the bench to score 12.


Fairmont State 62, West Virginia Wesleyan 53 | Final Stats

Holding a narrow 52-51 with under three minutes left, Hailey Garrett scored eight of Fairmont State’s 10 points in a 10-0 run as the Falcons came away with a 62-53 win over West Virginia Wesleyan.

Garrett finished with 24 points and eight rebounds to lead FSU (16-4, 10-4). Hallie Gunnoe and Emily Lohr each added 14 in the victory.

Mari Stewart scored 21 and Adrian Cunningham finished with 10 points for the Bobcats (2-15, 2-12).


UVa-Wise 75, Urbana 58 | Final Stats

Blair Harding scored 29 points and pulled down 13 rebounds to lead UVa-Wise to a 75-58 win over Urbana on Saturday at the Prior Center.

The Cavs (7-13, 6-8) forced 23 turnovers in the game and out-rebounded the Blue Knights 44-39. Taylor Sandidge scored 15 points and Kayla Carey added 12 for UVa-Wise in the win.

Urbana (1-19, 1-13) was led by 15 points apiece from Kennedy Boggs and Tori Purk. Kate Francisco had 13 points to go with five rebounds and four assists.


Notre Dame 76, Concord 62 | Final Stats

Notre Dame shot 50% from the field and Martha Nagbe went for 26 points to lead the Falcons to a 76-62 win over Concord.

In addition to 26 points, Nagbe had seven rebounds and four assists for NDC (13-7, 9-5). Kelsey Miller had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and Lexi Hassing chipped in 10 points.

Kylie Molisee had 20 points and Jacqueline Kestner had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Concord (5-13, 5-9).



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Credit the Mountaineers with another 26 turnovers

Coach Tubby Smith hoped Texas Tech might better handle No. 17 West Virginia’s press the second time around.

Instead, the Red Raiders committed 26 turnovers, including 10 during a 6 1/2-minute span of the second half when the Mountaineers seized control on their way to a 77-58 romp Saturday.

“Awful. Just awful,” Smith said. “It was like we never saw it before.”

In fairness to Texas Tech’s flustered ballhandlers, West Virginia (18-3, 6-2 Big 12) has made numerous opponents look awful. The national leaders in steals grabbed 10 more and enjoyed a 33-9 edge in points off turnovers thanks to their tenacious press.

“It’s uncomfortable to play against,” said Bob Huggins. “If you were walking down the street and somebody just got in your face about 3 inches away for a few blocks, would that bother you? No one wants to play against that.”

Devin Williams scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half when West Virginia turned a six-point lead into a blowout. He also grabbed eight rebounds, sharing the team-high with Jonathan Holton.

Daxter Miles added 12 points and point guard Juwan Staten contributed 11 points and five assists as the Mountaineers surpassed last season’s win total before the end of January.

West Virginia opened the second half on a 16-2 run lined with transition layups and dunks fed by a flurry of turnovers. During one sequence Texas Tech coughed up the ball on five of seven possessions.

“We got inside their heads,” Miles said. “I heard them telling other players to come get the ball.”

Added Staten: “At halftime we talked about if you have a team down, you’ve got to put them away.”

Pressing company: Riddled by 22 turnovers earlier this month during a loss to West Virginia in Lubbock, Texas Tech (11-11, 1-8) aimed to be stronger and smarter with the basketball in the rematch. But the mistakes simply repeated themselves, with six Red Raiders committing at least three turnovers.

“We were overwhelmed by West Virginia’s pressure,” Smith said. “They stay after you. It reminds me of a team Billy Donovan had at Florida and some of the teams Rick Pitino coached at Louisville. They’re always attacking.”

From hot hand to forgotten man: Texas Tech guard Robert Turner scored 18 first-half points, keeping the deficit to 37-31, but was shut out during the final 20 minutes, smothered by the defense of WVU’s Gary Browne.

“We put Gary on him and said don’t let him catch it,” Huggins said.

After nearly matching his season-high of 19 points during the first half, Turner was 0-of-2 shooting after that in an additional 10 minutes.

Forward Aaron Ross scored 13 and Isaiah Manderson added 10 for Texas Tech, which was held to 16 fewer shot attempts overall and trailed by 21 points in the second half.

Browne finished with 10 for West Virginia, which led wire-to-wire and shot an atypical 51% in the second half.

Scuffling: After West Virginia ran off 12 unanswered to build a 30-14 lead, Turner was sent sprawling on a breakaway layup by Mountaineers forward Brandon Watkins. That led to a scuffle after which Texas Tech center Norense Odiase was ejected.

Along with Odiase’s technical, Ross was assessed a flagrant technical for swinging an elbow on a rebound, one of Texas Tech’s 15 first-half fouls.

The 31 first-half points must have felt like an avalanche after the Red Raiders managed only 36 in their previous loss at Oklahoma, setting a record for scoring futility in a Big 12 game.

Next up: West Virginia encounters the meat of its Big 12 schedule during the final regular-season 10 games, facing opponents with an average RPI of 26. That stretch starts Tuesday at Oklahoma.


►  Huggins: Team leaders rebuilt culture of commitment

West Virginia has won three straight games and six out of eight in the Big 12, which according to RPI calculations, is the deepest league in college basketball.

An NCAA tourney berth seems all but assured, after a two-year absence, and if grander dreams are your thing, the Mountaineers might—I say might—make a charge at Kansas for the conference championship.

Bob Huggins has fixed things, it appears, and he credits players being more committed and more immersed in the sport. After whipping Texas Tech 77-58 on Saturday, leadership commendations went to point guard Juwan Staten and forward Devin Williams, an inside-out duo who rebuilt the program from inside out.

“Leadership is not doing as I say, it’s doing as I do,” Huggins said. “Those are two guys who spend an enormous amount of time in the gym. So then you can get on somebody else about not improving and not working hard.

“That’s the culture we had here … and then we lost it.”

Blame Deniz Kilicli’s electric guitar. The Turkish forward enjoyed the Final Four as a freshman, a 13-19 sendoff as a senior and passion for music that spanned both. He was a multi-dimensional guy, but to hear Huggins tell it, basketball and rock-n-roll don’t mix.

“We had some guys who would rather go play in a band than they would play basketball,” the coach said. “When they’re your leaders and they can’t wait to sprint out of here to pick up a guitar … it creates the wrong culture.”

To be clear, this was Huggins appraising Kilicli, not bashing him, because the coach developed a somewhat paternal affinity for the big kid with the hook shot. “I love him to death and he’s one of my favorite people of all-time,” said Huggins, who just wished that Kilicli and others on the past two teams loved basketball more.

“I’ve had guys where that was their self-being, and when they didn’t play well they were miserable. Just miserable,” Huggins said. “But they did something about it.”

Things aren’t so miserable now. Starting 18-3 with a top-20 RPI makes all signs point up. The roster was recalibrated with players who are more single-minded. None of them have taken the stage at 123 Pleasant; their stage of preference arrives in March.

Huggins wants hobbies on hold. And as this West Virginia outfit transforms devotion into development, winning is the music they appreciate most.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, January 31)


Final Score: (1) Kentucky 70, Alabama 55

Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns each scored 12 points in the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats’ 70-55 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Wildcats (21-0, 8-0 SEC), who are off their best start since beginning 23-0 in 1965-66, became the lone unbeaten team left in the country after No. 2 Virginia lost to fourth-ranked Duke on Saturday. Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Kentucky, which shot 58.5% from the field.


Final Score: (4) Duke 69, (2) Virginia 63

No. 4 Duke missed 10 of its first 11 looks from behind the arc and trailed by nine points late in the second half. Then the shots started falling. Quinn Cook made three 3-pointers in the final 4:38, Tyus Jones put the game away with a deep 3 with 10 seconds left and the Blue Devils went into Charlottesville and rallied late to stun No. 2 Virginia, 69-63, handing the Cavaliers their first loss of the season. Jones finished with 17 points while Cook and Justise Winslow netted 15 apiece for the Blue Devils (18-3, 5-3 ACC), who were primed to fall three games back in the ACC standings before closing the game on an 11-0 run. Malcolm Brogdon paced Virginia (19-1, 7-1) with 17 points, and Justin Anderson added 11.


Final Score: (3) Gonzaga 82, Memphis 64

Przemek Karnowski scored 17 points with six rebounds as No. 3 Gonzaga extended a pair of winning streaks with an 82-64 win over Memphis on Saturday. The Bulldogs (22-1) have won their last 15 games since their lone blemish on the season, a 66-63 overtime loss to Arizona on December 6, and are undefeated in their last 38 games at home, the longest current streak of its kind in the nation. Kyle Wiltjer had 15 points and seven boards, Domantas Sabonis netted 13 points with 11 rebounds and Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the win. Nick King paced the Tigers (13-8) with 13 points and four steals and Austin Nichols provided 12 points in defeat.


Final Score: (5) Wisconsin 74, Iowa 63

Frank Kaminsky scored 24 points and Nigel Hayes added 14, leading fifth-ranked Wisconsin to a 74-63 victory over Iowa on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Josh Gasser and Sam Dekker each chipped in 11 for the Badgers (19-2, 7-1 Big Ten), who have won four straight since a stunning loss at Rutgers on January 11. Kaminsky, who missed the game against the Scarlet Knights because of a concussion, also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds on Saturday while making half of his field goal attempts and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. Wisconsin has won 12 of its last 13, including a season sweep of Iowa. The Badgers rolled to an 82-50 rout of the Hawkeyes just 11 days ago in Madison and have won five straight in the series. Aaron White scored 15 to lead Iowa (13-8, 4-4), which has lost three in a row. White had played just seven minutes in last week’s loss to Purdue because of a stinger.


Final Score: (7) Villanova 68, DePaul 55

Ryan Arcidiacono scored all of his 18 points in the second half to lead No. 7 Villanova to a 68-55 win over DePaul on Saturday. JayVaughn Pinkston went 10-for-10 from the free throw line on his way to 14 points, Darrun Hilliard added 11 points and Daniel Ochefu posted seven points with 12 rebounds in the win. The Wildcats (19-2, 6-2 Big East) have won six of their last seven contests. Billy Garrett Jr. netted 14 points and was the only double-figure scoring effort for the Blue Demons (11-12, 5-5), who have lost three straight.


Final Score: Pittsburgh 76, (8) Notre Dame 72

Robinson made a tough go-ahead runner in the lane with 12 seconds remaining as Pittsburgh took down No. 8 Notre Dame 76-72 in a wild finish on Saturday afternoon. The Fighting Irish nearly pulled off an improbable comeback when Jerian Grant shook off a slow start and went on a personal 9-0 run inside the final three minutes. Grant’s two free throws with 31.2 seconds left gave Notre Dame a 72-71 lead, but Robinson drove right, gained some space with a spin move and scored over Pat Connaughton for what proved to be the deciding bucket. Grant passed up a shot at the other end with Steve Vasturia open in the corner, and Vasturia’s shot was off the mark. Jamel Artis grabbed the rebound, made two free throws, and Pitt stole the ensuing inbounds pass to end its three-game losing streak. Artis finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, and Robinson added 15 points with 10 assists for the Panthers (14-8, 4-5 ACC), who shot 68% from the field in the second half and 59% overall. Demetrius Jackson led Notre Dame with 15 points, Grant chipped in with 14, and Vasturia and Zach Auguste each netted 12 in a losing cause. Notre Dame (20-3, 8-2) had won five in a row—four in comeback fashion—and was fresh off a signature victory over No. 4 Duke.


Final Score: (9) Kansas 68, Kansas State 57

Ellis had 16 points and 12 rebounds in the ninth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks’ 68-57 win over the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday. Wayne Selden Jr. added 14 points and four blocks for the Jayhawks (18-3, 7-1 Big 12), who have won four in a row and sit atop the Big 12 standings. Brannen Greene tallied 11 points off the bench. Thomas Gipson and Marcus Foster each scored 19 points for the Wildcats (12-10, 5-4), who have lost three of four.


Final Score: (10) Louisville 78, (13) North Carolina 68 (OT)

Montrezl Harrell had 22 points and 15 rebounds and No. 10 Louisville rallied from 18 down in the second half to beat No. 13 North Carolina 78-68 on Saturday. Louisville outscored the North Carolina 53-25 over the last 22 1/2 minutes of the game to snap a six-game Tar Heels winning streak that began with a one-point victory over the Cardinals in Chapel Hill on January 10. Terry Rozier added 22 points and 10 rebounds, scoring eight in overtime to help Louisville (18-3, 6-2 ACC) pick up its third consecutive win since a loss to Duke two weeks ago. Chris Jones scored seven of his 17 points in overtime for the Cardinals. Marcus Paige had 15 points to lead North Carolina (17-5, 7-2) and J.P. Tokoto added 11 with 11 rebounds. Brice Johnson had two points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. The Tar Heels shot 43.3% from the field, down from a 50.8% mark during their winning streak. They are 0-3 all-time against the Cardinals in Louisville, also losing games in 1929 and 1999.


Final Score: (18) Northern Iowa 70, (12) Wichita State 54

Northern Iowa and Wichita State played the first Missouri Valley game between ranked opponents in 33 years. And it was the 18th-ranked Panthers who picked up a solid home win to snap No. 12 Wichita State’s 27-game regular-season winning streak in conference. Seth Tuttle scored a career-high 29 points with seven rebounds as Northern Iowa defeated Wichita State, 70-54, on Saturday. The Panthers (20-2, 9-1 MVC) made 60% of their field goals and converted 5-of-7 shots from beyond the arc in their ninth straight win. Fred VanVleet led the Shockers (19-3, 9-1) with 18 points and Ron Baker chipped in with 12 points on just 2-of-10 shooting from 3-point range.


Final Score: Richmond 64, (14) VCU 55

Kendall Anthony scored 22 points, and the Richmond Spiders upset cross-town rival No. 14 VCU, 64-55, on Saturday. The Spiders (12-9, 5-3 Atlantic 10) handled the Rams’ Havoc defense in a 42-point second half. The Rams shot just 40.7% overall and made just 3-of-20 attempts from 3-point range. Terry Allen added 15 points and seven rebounds for Richmond. VCU (17-4, 7-1) saw its 12-game winning streak come to an end. Treveon Graham paced the Rams with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting and seven boards. Briante Weber chipped in 11 before leaving late in the game with a knee injury.


Final Score: (15) Iowa State 83, TCU 66

Georges Niang poured in 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, leading 15th-ranked Iowa State to an 83-66 victory over TCU on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. Monte Morris contributed 16 points and six assists for the Cyclones (16-4, 6-2 Big 12), who were coming off a three- point win on Monday against Texas and extended their home winning streak to 19 consecutive games. Iowa State owns the 10th-longest home winning streak in the country. Bryce Dejean-Jones also scored 16 points and Dustin Hogue added 12 in the victory. Each of the Cyclones’ first seven conference games had been decided by single digits, but Iowa State used a couple of second- half runs to make it a laugher after leading by only two at halftime. Trey Zeigler scored 14 points for TCU (14-7, 1-7), which has lost four in a row. The Horned Frogs were 13-0 before conference play began in January.


Final Score: (17) West Virginia 77, Texas Tech 58

Devin Williams contributed 18 points with eight rebounds in 17th-ranked West Virginia’s 77-58 win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Daxter Miles Jr. chipped in with 12 points and Juwan Staten scored 11 with five assists for the Mountaineers (18-3, 6-2 Big 12), who have won three straight and four of their last five. Robert Turner supplied 18 points for the Red Raiders (11-11, 1-8), while Aaron Ross and Isaiah Manderson went for 13 and 10, respectively, off the bench in the loss.


Final Score: (20) Baylor 83, (19) Texas 60

Kenny Chery totaled 23 points thanks to a 5- of-7 performance from long range, and Royce O’Neale added 20 with eight rebounds as No. 20 Baylor topped 19th-ranked Texas, 83-60, at the Ferrell Center. Taurean Price and Johnathan Motley each contributed 13 points for the Bears (16-5, 4-4 Big 12), while Rico Gathers clocked in with eight points and 15 boards as the Bears won for the third time in their last four. Jonathan Holmes had 17 points for the Longhorns (14-7, 3-5), who received 16 points and 10 assists from Isaiah Taylor in a losing effort.


Final Score: (21) Georgetown 67, Creighton 40

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Jabril Trawick nearly outscored Creighton by themselves, combining for 39 points as No. 21 Georgetown cruised to a 67-40 victory over the cold-shooting Bluejays. Smith- Rivera totaled 24 points, Trawick added 15 and the Hoyas (15-6, 7-3 Big East) emphatically rebounded from Tuesday’s home loss to Xavier with a stout defensive showing. Creighton (10-13, 1-9) followed up its first Big East win with its worst shooting performance of the season. The Bluejays shot an embarrassing 21% (11-for-53) from the floor and did not have a single player score in double figures. Avery Dingman led the way with eight points.


Final Score: (22) Indiana 72, Rutgers 64

James Blackmon Jr. scored 20 points with five rebounds to help No. 22 Indiana in a 72-64 win over Rutgers on Saturday. Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams each netted 14 points for the Hoosiers (16-6, 6-3 Big Ten), with Williams adding 11 rebounds in the win. Indiana snapped its two-game losing streak. Myles Mack did all he could for the Scarlet Knights (10-13, 2-8), scoring 24 points and handing out eight assists.


Final Score: (24) Oklahoma 64, Oklahoma State 56

Jordan Woodard led four Oklahoma players in double digits with 17 points as the No. 24 Sooners rebounded from a big early deficit and downed rival Oklahoma State, 64-56, at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Buddy Hield picked up 15 points, Ryan Spangler 13 with nine rebounds and six assists while TaShawn Thomas poured in 12 for the Sooners (14-7, 5-4 Big 12). Phil Forte recorded 15 points for the Cowboys (14-7, 4-5). Le’Bryan Nash had 12 and Anthony Hickey added 10 points for the hosts.


Final Score: (25) Butler 72, Marquette 68 (OT)

Andrew Chrabascz had 30 points and seven rebounds to lead No. 25 Butler to a 72-68 victory over Marquette on Saturday. Kellen Dunham posted 17 points, Alex Barlow scored 15 with five rebounds and five assists, and Kameron Woods had 18 rebounds for the Bulldogs (16-6, 6-3 Big East), who have won three straight. Matt Carlino and Duane Wilson each scored 18 points, Luke Fischer added 12 points and six rebounds and Juan Anderson had 10 and eight for the Golden Eagles (10-11, 2-7), who have lost their past five.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Saturday, January 31)


Final Score: Sacramento 99, Indiana 94

Rudy Gay scored 31 points, DeMarcus Cousins had another double-double and the Sacramento Kings snapped an eight- game losing skid with a 99-94 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. Darren Collison scored 23 points with five rebounds and five assists, and Cousins overcame his worst shooting night of the season to post 20 points and 19 rebounds. The trio of Gay, Collison and Cousins combined for nearly 75% of Sacramento’s points. Cousins shot 6-for-24 from the floor and turned the ball over four times before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. C.J. Miles and David West had 17 points apiece to lead Indiana, while George Hill gave 14, six boards and four assists in limited minutes off the bench.


Final Score: Dallas 108, Orlando 93

In the absence of Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis scored 25 points and handed out 13 assists to help the Dallas Mavericks top the Orlando Magic, 108-93, on Saturday. Just 1 1/2 minutes into the game, Rondo went down with a head injury and would not return. Leading by as much as 27, the Mavericks’ edge was cut to as little as five in the fourth quarter before they pulled away again. Tyson Chandler added 20 points and nine rebounds for Dallas in its second straight win, and Dirk Nowitzki netted 11 points. Orlando lost its eighth straight game despite a 17-point, 16-rebound effort from Nikola Vucevic. Evan Fournier and Willie Green each scored 15 points.


Final Score: Toronto 120, Washington 116 (OT)

Kyle Lowry scored seven of his 23 points in overtime and the Toronto Raptors escaped with a 120-116 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night. The Wizards rallied from 21 points down with 14 minutes left in the game, tying the score on Paul Pierce’s 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining in regulation. Washington’s only lead in the game came 56 seconds into overtime on a free throw by Pierce. But Lowry scored four points during a quick 6-0 run that put the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors ahead for good on the way to a sixth consecutive win—their third winning streak of that length this season. It came a day after Toronto led Brooklyn by 17 points in the third quarter but needed overtime to knock off the Nets 127-122 Friday night. Lou Williams added 19 points in this one for Toronto, Amir Johnson scored 17, Patrick Patterson had 16 and DeMar DeRozan netted 15 with 10 rebounds. Greivis Vasquez added 12 points to finish off six Raptors players in double figures. John Wall flirted with a triple-double, scoring 28 points with 12 assists and eight rebounds for the Wizards, who have dropped two in a row and four of the last six. Bradley Beal added 26 points in the loss, Pierce scored 19 and Nene had 16 points. Kris Humphries added 10 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.


Final Score: Atlanta 91, Philadelphia 85

Al Horford had 23 points and 11 rebounds and the Atlanta Hawks held on to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 91-85 on Saturday night for their 19th consecutive win. The NBA-leading Hawks wrapped up a perfect 17-0 January, but it came harder than expected. They had to battle to stay ahead down the stretch despite leading by 21 points in the second quarter and 15 in the third. Michael Carter-Williams, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jerami Grant scored 13 points apiece for the Sixers, who were attempting to win three consecutive games for the first time this season.


Final Score: Detroit 114, Houston 101

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and D.J. Augustin each scored 28 points as the Detroit Pistons beat the Houston Rockets 114-101 on Saturday night. Augustin added 12 assists for one of three double- doubles by the Pistons. Greg Monroe had 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Andre Drummond finished with 11 points and 16 boards. Kyle Singler scored 14 points and Anthony Tolliver supplied 12 for Detroit, which snapped a four-game losing streak and ended a seven-game skid against Houston. James Harden left the game late in the second quarter with a bruised left knee, but returned for the Rockets at the start of the second half and went on to score 26 points with nine assists and seven rebounds. Donatas Motiejunas had 21 points and Trevor Ariza added 15 for the Rockets, who had won four games in a row. Josh Smith missed eight shots while scoring just seven points in his first game against the Pistons since they waived him in December.


Final Score: Memphis 85, Oklahoma City 74

Durant was not effective in his return after a two-game absence, and the Memphis Grizzlies’ tough defense shut down the Oklahoma City Thunder, 85-74, on Saturday. Durant and Russell Westbrook each shot 5-of-16 for Oklahoma City, losers in four of its last five. The Grizzlies were led by their frontcourt duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Randolph paced the game with 21 points and 18 rebounds, and Gasol added 15 points, 12 boards and five assists. In his own return from a two-game absence, Mike Conley scored 10 points for Memphis, which has won six in a row.


Final Score: Cleveland 106, Minnesota 90

In his first game in Minnesota since being traded, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love got the boos he expected when he was introduced before the game. Love, who was booed every time he touched the ball, had 14 points and 17 rebounds in Cleveland’s 106-90 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. After playing his first six NBA seasons for the Timberwolves, Love was dealt to Cleveland as part of a three-team deal in the offseason. Minnesota acquired Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two No. 1 overall picks in the draft. Wiggins himself a career night in a losing cause, scoring 33 points on 14- of-25 shooting. The 19-year-old matched the franchise record for most points by a teenager. All storylines aside, it was LeBron James who stole the show in the fourth quarter. James scored 16 of his 36 points in the final frame for the Cavaliers, who have won 10 in a row. Thaddeus Young ended with 19 points for the Timberwolves, who fell to 8-39 on the season. Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin had 14 points apiece, with Pekovic also pulling down 12 rebounds.


Final Score: Milwaukee 95, Portland 88

Jared Dudley scored 18 points with six rebounds to power the Milwaukee Bucks in a 95-88 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. O.J. Mayo finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, John Henson supplied 14 points, eight boards and four blocks while Brandon Knight and Jerryd Bayless each netted 11 in the Bucks’ third straight win. Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard each scored 19 points apiece for Portland, which has lost three in a row.


Final Score: Charlotte 104, Denver 86

Cody Zeller had 21 points and the Charlotte Hornets rolled to a 104-86 win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 17 points and 13 rebounds and Al Jefferson and Jason Maxiell each scored 14 for the Hornets, who missed all 11 of their 3- point attempts but led by as many as 36. Danilo Gallinari had 15 points to lead the Nuggets, who have lost nine of their last 10.


Final Score: LA Clippers 105, San Antonio 85

Blake Griffin posted 31 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, and the Los Angeles Clippers got back on track with a 105-85 win over the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Paul had 20 points and six assists and DeAndre Jordan led a dominant effort on the glass with 19 rebounds. The Clippers, who improved to 2-1 on their season-long eight game road trip, outrebounded the Spurs 56-36. They were coming off a 108-103 loss to the Pelicans on Friday. San Antonio, which took the first two games in the season series, stumbled out of the gate and never recovered as its three-game win streak was snapped.


Final Score: Golden State 106, Phoenix 87

Steph Curry tallied 25 points and seven assists as the Golden State Warriors snapped a two-game slide with a convincing 106-87 win over the Phoenix Suns. Klay Thompson netted 22 points and Leandro Barbosa added 14 in his second straight strong bench effort for Golden State, which endured its third two-game losing streak of the season but has still not dropped three straight games. Draymond Green added 11 rebounds and four assists while Harrison Barnes and Andre Igoudala gave 13 and 12 points, respectively. Markieff Morris posted his second straight double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix, which hadn’t been away from home since an overtime loss to Memphis on January 11. The Suns have dropped three of five overall and lost three straight road games.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Saturday, January 31)


Final Score: Montreal 1, Washington 0 (OT)

Max Pacioretty scored the game’s only goal with 1:52 remaining in overtime to lift the Montreal Canadiens past the Washington Capitals 1-0 on Saturday afternoon. Pacioretty’s goal, coupled with Carey Price’s second consecutive shutout, ended Washington’s seven- game winning streak in Montreal and sent the Canadiens to a fifth straight victory. Price followed up his whitewash of the Rangers on Thursday with 36 saves. He improved to 10-1-1 since December 20, thanks in part to Pacioretty chipping in Tomas Plekanec’s centering feed in OT. Plekanec was skating down the right boards when he sent a backhand on net that a lunging Pacioretty got enough of to send over Braden Holtby’s left shoulder. Holtby, who was coming off his own shutout of the Penguins, made 29 saves in an otherwise stellar performance.


Final Score: Detroit 4, NY Islanders 1

Petr Mrazek stopped 22 shots and the Detroit Red Wings grabbed a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday. Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Ericsson each lit the lamp for the Red Wings, who rebounded from a loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday to win for a seventh time in their past eight games. Lubomir Visnovsky had the only goal of the game for the Islanders, who have dropped their past two contests. Chad Johnson allowed all four goals on just 19 shots in the loss.


Final Score: Ottawa 7, Arizona 2

Robin Lehner made 35 saves, and the Ottawa Senators scored four goals in a 5 1/2 minute span in their 7-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday afternoon. Milan Michalek and Mark Stone each scored in the closing minutes of the second period, and Bobby Ryan and Jean- Gabriel Pageau added goals very early in the third period. Ottawa also got goals from Mike Hoffman, Erik Karlsson and Mika Zibanejad to win for the second time in three games. Marc Methot tallied a career-high three assists. Mike Smith allowed five Senators goals on 20 shots against him before getting the hook in the third period. Zbynek Michalek and Sam Gagner scored Arizona’s goals as the Coyotes fell to 1-3-2 on their ongoing eight- game road trip.


Final Score: Boston 3, Los Angeles 1

Brad Marchand scored two goals to lift the Boston Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. Chris Kelly tallied the game-winning goal late in the third and Tuukka Rask made 30 saves for the Bruins, who were coming off a 5-2 win over the Islanders on Thursday. Jordan Nolan lit the lamp and Jonathan Quick stopped 30-of-32 shots for the Kings, who have dropped five of their last six games.


Final Score: New Jersey 3, Florida 1

Keith Kinkaid made 26 saves to backstop the New Jersey Devils to a 3-1 win over visiting the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. Kinkaid was bidding for his first NHL shutout, but allowed a goal to Brandon Pirri with 1:29 remaining. Steve Bernier had scored an empty-net goal a minute earlier to seal the Devils’ third win in four games. Jaromir Jagr and Mike Cammalleri had first-period goals for New Jersey, which registered just one shot in the second and two in the third. Roberto Luongo stopped 11 shots as the Panthers suffered their sixth loss in seven games.


Final Score: NY Rangers 4, Carolina 1

Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots to lead the New York Rangers in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Chris Kreider, Dan Boyle, Dominic Moore and Rick Nash all lit the lamp for the Rangers, who snapped a two-game slide. Brad Malone had the only goal of the game for the Hurricanes, who have dropped their last two games. Cam Ward allowed all four goals on 37 shots in the loss.


Final Score: Philadelphia 1, Toronto 0

Michael Del Zotto recorded the game’s lone goal and Steve Mason stopped 30 shots as Philadelphia claimed a 1-0 decision over Toronto on Saturday. Mason made his 100th career appearance for the club a memorable one, recording his second shutout of the season and 25th career whitewash for the Flyers, who have won a season-high four straight games. James Reimer made 17 saves for the Maple Leafs, whose losing skid reached nine consecutive outings.


Final Score: Dallas 5, Winnipeg 2

Klingberg had two goals and two assists in the Dallas Stars’ 5-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. Shawn Horcoff, Patrick Eaves and Jason Spezza also lit the lamp for the Stars, who have won two in a row since a two-game skid. Kari Lehtonen made 38 saves. Dallas went 4-for-8 on the power play, while Winnipeg went 0-for-2. Andrew Ladd and Toby Enstrom scored for the Jets, who have lost three straight for the first time since a season-high four-game slide from October 11-19. Michael Hutchinson gave up all five goals on 32 shots.


Final Score: Tampa Bay 3, Columbus 1

Ben Bishop turned aside 34 shots to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Cedric Paquette, Brett Connolly and Valtteri Filppula each lit the lamp for the Lightning, who have won five of their last six games. Ryan Johansen had the only marker for the Blue Jackets, who have lost three of their last four. Curtis McElhinney allowed all three goals on 34 shots in defeat.


Final Score: Calgary 4, Edmonton 2

Lance Bouma scored twice in a four-goal third period which lifted Calgary over Edmonton, 4-2, at the Saddledome. Paul Byron and Sean Monahan also tallied while Mikael Backlund and David Jones chipped in two assists each for the Flames, who had lost two of three coming in and have now taken six of eight overall. Jonas Hiller stopped 17-of-19 shots for the victory. Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot scored for the Oilers, who have dropped five of their last eight. Ben Scrivens made 29 saves in the setback.


Final Score: San Jose 2, Chicago 0

Antti Niemi stopped 31 shots as the San Jose Sharks blanked the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 on Saturday night. Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson each had a goal and one assist for the Sharks, who have won three straight and improved to 5-1-1 in their last seven games. Antti Raanta made 18 saves for Chicago, which dropped two of three games in California. The Blackhawks were coming off Friday’s 4-1 win over Anaheim after beginning the stretch with Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Los Angeles.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Serena wins another Aussie crown

Serena Williams is again the Australian Open champion.

The top-seeded American earned her sixth Aussie Open title and 19th career Grand Slam championship with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) triumph over Maria Sharapova on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena.

Williams won in Melbourne for the first time since 2010, finishing the match with an ace in the second-set tiebreaker on her third championship point. She now owns the second-most women’s Grand Slam titles in the Open Era, surpassing legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Only Steffi Graf has more with 22.

“Standing here with 19 majors is something I never thought would happen,“ said Williams during the trophy ceremony.

Sharapova was trying for a second Australian Open title. She fell to 2-17 lifetime against Williams and has lost the last 16 meetings.

“I haven’t beaten her in a really long time, but I love playing her because you want to play the best,“ said Sharapova. “And she’s the best.“

The 33-year-old Williams notched her 65th career title and has captured the last two Grand Slam events, taking the U.S. Open crown last September.

Williams had a break point opportunity in the opening game of the match when Sharapova fired a backhand wide. A double fault quickly gave Williams the early advantage.

The players were locked at 30-30 in the sixth game when rain forced the closing of the roof.

Williams, who was bothered by a cold and a cough, hardly seemed affected by the wait, following an ace with a strong forehand winner to complete the hold for a 4-2 lead. She actually threw up during the delay.

“I guess there’s a first time for anything,“ said Williams about vomiting. “I think in a way that just helped me—I felt better after that. My chest was really stuck at that point.“

A double fault gave Williams three break points in the next game, but she only needed one as Sharapova fired a backhand long. Sharapova broke back, but Williams responded to the poor service game with a break at love to take the first set.

Williams continued her strong play into the second set with a hold at love, then had two more break points in the next game. Sharapova, though, regrouped and managed to save both before holding.

Each player had a break chance midway through the second set, but Williams failed to convert her opportunity with a wide backhand in the sixth game and Sharapova sent a forehand wide in the seventh game.

Another Sharapova forehand error gave Williams her first championship point in the 10th game, but the Russian came up with a big serve that Williams barely returned. Sharapova followed with a blistering forehand that drew applause from the American.

“The match definitely got tough in the second set,“ said Williams. “Maria started playing a lot better. She started being a little more aggressive. I think I got a little more passive. Was just trying to get the ball back in play. But I also started serving better in the second set because I knew if I wasn’t having my groundstrokes where I wanted them to be, I knew I could serve it out.“

After Williams held with an ace, Sharapova held at love to force the tiebreak.

Sharapova won the first point of the tiebreak with a forehand return winner, but Williams won the next four to take control. At 6-4, Sharapova came up with a forehand that Williams could not return to save a second championship point.

Williams then blasted what appeared to be an ace to win the title, but it was ruled a let. She dropped her racket in disbelief, then followed with the same serve. This one did not tip the tape and she dropped her racket again, but in exultation.

“I thought after the let, ‘Man, I am not meant to win this tournament.‘ I had a couple of match points. She played great on those match points,“ said Williams, who excitedly jumped around the court after winning.

Sharapova fell to 5-5 all-time in Grand Slam finals, including 1-3 against Williams. The only victory came in the 2004 Wimbledon title match. Williams also beat Sharapova for the 2007 Australian Open crown and for the 2013 French Open title.

“It’s always tough getting to a final stage of an event where it’s down to two players and you end up the one that’s going home with the smaller trophy, there’s no doubt about it,“ Sharapova lamented. “No matter how you played, well or not, whatever the score line is, it’s always tough. But it will be all right.“

The 27-year-old Sharapova’s lone Australian Open championship came in 2008 against Ana Ivanovic. She also lost the 2012 final against Victoria Azarenka.


►  Bolelli and Fognini capture Australian Open men’s doubles

Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini won the men’s doubles title on Saturday at the Australian Open.

The Italian duo came away with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the French tandem of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in the final. They became the first Italian pairing to win a Grand Slam doubles crown since Nicola Pietrangeli and Orlando Sirola captured the French Open title in 1959.

It’s the third overall doubles title for Bolelli and Fognini, who teamed for trophies at Umag in 2011 and Buenos Aires in 2013.

Herbert and Mahut were trying to give France its first men’s doubles title in Melbourne since Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro claimed the 2004 crown.


►  Australian Open Men’s Doubles Tennis Update – January 31

Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia

Total Prize Money: $2,600,000

SATURDAY’S FINAL MATCH

S.Bolelli/F.Fognini defeated P.Herbert/N.Mahut, 6-4, 6-4


►  Australian Open Women’s Tennis Update – January 31

Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia

Total Prize Money: $14,000,000

FINAL MATCH

Serena Williams (1) defeated Maria Sharapova (2), 6-3, 7-6 (7-5)
SEMIFINAL MATCHES

Serena Williams (1) defeated Madison Keys, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2
Maria Sharapova (2) defeated Ekaterina Makarova (10), 6-3, 6-2
QUARTERFINAL MATCHES

Serena Williams (1) defeated Dominika Cibulkova (11), 6-2, 6-2
Maria Sharapova (2) defeated Eugenie Bouchard (7), 6-3, 6-2
Ekaterina Makarova (10) defeated Simona Halep (3), 6-4, 6-0
Madison Keys defeated Venus Williams (18), 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
FOURTH ROUND MATCHES

Serena Williams (1) defeated Garbine Muguruza (24), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
Maria Sharapova (2) defeated Peng Shuai (21), 6-3, 6-0
Simona Halep (3) defeated Yanina Wickmayer, 6-4, 6-2
Venus Williams (18) defeated Agnieszka Radwanska (6), 6-3, 2-6, 6-1
Eugenie Bouchard (7) defeated Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2
Ekaterina Makarova (10) defeated Julia Goerges, 6-3, 6-2
Dominika Cibulkova (11) defeated Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
Madison Keys defeated Madison Brengle, 6-2, 6-4
THIRD ROUND MATCHES

Serena Williams (1) defeated Elina Svitolina (26), 4-6, 6-2, 6-0
Maria Sharapova (2) defeated Zarina Diyas (31), 6-1, 6-1
Simona Halep (3) defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-4, 7-5
Madison Keys defeated Petra Kvitova (4), 6-4, 7-5
Agnieszka Radwanska (6) defeated Varvara Lepchenko (30), 6-0, 7-5
Eugenie Bouchard (7) defeated Caroline Garcia, 7-5, 6-0
Ekaterina Makarova (10) defeated Karolina Pliskova (22), 6-4, 6-4
Dominika Cibulkova (11) defeated Alize Cornet (19), 7-5, 6-2
Yanina Wickmayer defeated Sara Errani (14), 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Venus Williams (18) defeated Camila Giorgi, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1
Peng Shuai (21) defeated Yaroslava Shvedova, 7-6 (9-7), 6-3
Garbine Muguruza (24) defeated Timea Bacsinszky, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0
Victoria Azarenka defeated Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (25), 6-4, 6-4
Julia Goerges defeated Lucie Hradecka, 7-6 (8-6), 7-5
Madison Brengle defeated Coco Vandeweghe, 6-3, 6-2
Irina-Camelia Begu defeated Carina Witthoeft, 6-4, 6-4
SECOND ROUND MATCHES

Serena Williams (1) defeated Vera Zvonareva, 7-5, 6-0
Maria Sharapova (2) defeated Alexandra Panova, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5
Simona Halep (3) defeated Jarmila Gajdosova, 6-2, 6-2
Petra Kvitova (4) defeated Mona Barthel, 6-2, 6-4
Agnieszka Radwanska (6) defeated Johanna Larsson, 6-0, 6-1
Eugenie Bouchard (7) defeated Kiki Bertens, 6-0, 6-3
Victoria Azarenka defeated Caroline Wozniacki (8), 6-4, 6-2
Ekaterina Makarova (10) defeated Roberta Vinci, 6-2, 6-4
Dominika Cibulkova (11) defeated Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-2, 6-0
Sara Errani (14) defeated Silvia Soler-Espinosa, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3
Venus Williams (18) defeated Lauren Davis, 6-2, 6-3
Alize Cornet (19) defeated Denisa Allertova, 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 6-2
Coco Vandeweghe defeated Samantha Stosur (20), 6-4, 6-4
Peng Shuai (21) defeated Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-1, 6-1
Karolina Pliskova (22) defeated Oceane Dodin, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4
Garbine Muguruza (24) defeated Daniela Hantuchova, 6-1, 1-6, 6-0
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (25) defeated Kai-Chen Chang, 6-1, 7-5
Elina Svitolina (26) defeated Nicole Gibbs, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6)
Madison Keys defeated Casey Dellacqua (29), 2-6, 6-1, 6-1
Varvara Lepchenko (30) defeated Ajla Tomljanovic, 6-1, 7-6 (7-1)
Zarina Diyas (31) defeated Anna Schmiedlova, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6
Yanina Wickmayer defeated Lara Arruabarrena, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
Bethanie Mattek-Sands defeated Kristina Mladenovic, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6)
Caroline Garcia defeated Stefanie Voegele, 6-3, 6-4
Carina Witthoeft defeated Christina McHale, 6-3, 6-0
Irina-Camelia Begu defeated Katerina Siniakova, 7-5, 6-4
Yaroslava Shvedova defeated Monica Puig, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6)
Madison Brengle defeated Irina Falconi, 6-1, 6-3
Camila Giorgi defeated Tereza Smitkova, 6-1, 6-4
Lucie Hradecka defeated Polona Hercog, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
Julia Goerges defeated Klara Koukalova, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2
Timea Bacsinszky defeated Anna Tatishvili, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-2
FIRST ROUND MATCHES

Serena Williams (1) defeated Alison Van Uytvanck, 6-0, 6-4
Maria Sharapova (2) defeated Petra Martic, 6-4, 6-1
Simona Halep (3) defeated Karin Knapp, 6-3, 6-2
Petra Kvitova (4) defeated Richel Hogenkamp, 6-1, 6-4
Lucie Hradecka defeated Ana Ivanovic (5), 1-6, 6-3, 6-2
Agnieszka Radwanska (6) defeated Kurumi Nara, 6-3, 6-0
Eugenie Bouchard (7) defeated Anna-Lena Friedsam, 6-2, 6-4
Caroline Wozniacki (8) defeated Taylor Townsend, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2
Irina-Camelia Begu defeated Angelique Kerber (9), 6-4, 0-6, 6-1
Ekaterina Makarova (10) defeated An-Sophie Mestach, 6-2, 6-2
Dominika Cibulkova (11) defeated Kirsten Flipkens, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1
Camila Giorgi defeated Flavia Pennetta (12), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3
Madison Brengle defeated Andrea Petkovic (13), 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3
Sara Errani (14) defeated Grace Min, 6-1, 6-0
Timea Bacsinszky defeated Jelena Jankovic (15), 6-1, 6-4
Yaroslava Shvedova defeated Lucie Safarova (16), 6-4, 2-6, 8-6
Carina Witthoeft defeated Carla Suarez Navarro (17), 6-3, 6-1
Venus Williams (18) defeated Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, 6-2, 6-2
Alize Cornet (19) defeated Zhang Shuai, 6-3, 6-2
Samantha Stosur (20) defeated Monica Niculescu, 6-4, 6-1
Peng Shuai (21) defeated Tatjana Maria, 6-4, 7-5
Karolina Pliskova (22) defeated Evgeniya Rodina, 7-5, 6-1
Yanina Wickmayer defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (23), 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
Garbine Muguruza (24) defeated Marina Erakovic, 7-5, 6-0
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (25) defeated Timea Babos, 6-4, 6-4
Elina Svitolina (26) defeated Jana Cepelova, 6-3, 7-5
Caroline Garcia defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova (27), 6-4, 6-2
Kristina Mladenovic defeated Sabine Lisicki (28), 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
Casey Dellacqua (29) defeated Yvonne Meusburger, 6-4, 6-0
Varvara Lepchenko (30) defeated Vitalia Diatchenko, 6-3, 6-3
Zarina Diyas (31) defeated Urszula Radwanska, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
Julia Goerges defeated Belinda Bencic (32), 6-2, 6-1
Oceane Dodin defeated Alison Riske, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-3
Roberta Vinci defeated Bojana Jovanovski, 7-5, 6-1
Monica Puig defeated Arina Rodionova, 6-0, 6-3
Magdalena Rybarikova defeated Ana Konjuh, 6-4, 6-4
Bethanie Mattek-Sands defeated Duan Ying-Ying, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Jarmila Gajdosova defeated Alexandra Dulgheru, 6-3, 6-4
Kiki Bertens defeated Daria Gavrilova, 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 6-2
Stefanie Voegele defeated Pauline Parmentier, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2
Anna Schmiedlova defeated Chanelle Scheepers, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2
Alexandra Panova defeated Sorana Cirstea, 7-5, 6-0
Christina McHale defeated Stephanie Foretz Gacon, 6-4, 1-6, 12-10
Katerina Siniakova defeated Elena Vesnina, 6-2, 7-5
Ajla Tomljanovic defeated Shelby Rogers, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0
Johanna Larsson defeated Alla Kudryavtseva, 6-4, 6-3
Coco Vandeweghe defeated Francesca Schiavone, 6-2, 6-2
Irina Falconi defeated Kaia Kanepi, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5
Tereza Smitkova defeated Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 6-1, 6-1
Lauren Davis defeated Aleksandra Krunic, 6-1, 7-5
Silvia Soler-Espinosa defeated Annika Beck, 7-5, 6-4
Lara Arruabarrena defeated Renata Voracova, 6-1, 6-2
Polona Hercog defeated Wang Qiang, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
Klara Koukalova defeated Storm Sanders, 7-5, 6-4
Mona Barthel defeated Donna Vekic, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
Madison Keys defeated Lesia Tsurenko, 6-3, 7-5
Kai-Chen Chang defeated Zheng Jie, 6-1, 6-2
Victoria Azarenka defeated Sloane Stephens, 6-3, 6-2
Tsvetana Pironkova defeated Heather Watson, 6-4, 6-0
Denisa Allertova defeated Romina Oprandi, 6-0, 6-2
Daniela Hantuchova defeated Zheng Saisai, 6-4, 6-4
Anna Tatishvili defeated Kimiko Date-Krumm, 7-5, 6-4
Vera Zvonareva defeated Ons Jabeur, 6-2, 6-3
Nicole Gibbs defeated Olivia Rogowska, 6-4, 6-1



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Texas Red is favored for season debut San Vicente Stakes

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red is the 9-5 morning line favorite for Sunday’s $200,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park as he begins his 3-year-old season

Texas Red, trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by the trainer’s brother Kent, will start the seven-furlong race from post 4 in the eight-horse field.

Co-owned by his trainer, Texas Red won the Juvenile on November 01 by 6 1/2 lengths as a 13-1 longshot, just his second win in five starts. The son of Afleet Alex has earned $1,192,300.

Keith Desormeaux has plans to bring the colt along quickly leading to the Kentucky Derby on May 02.

“I’m thinking about wheeling him back pretty quickly in the Risen Star on (February 21) and then we’ll have a little gap between the Risen Star and the $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby (on April 04),“ the trainer said.

“It’s still on schedule. It’s always been kind of a tentative schedule, like with all things concerning racehorses,“ Desormeaux continued. “It seems like the best plan for me at this point. It’s kind of quick, but I like the way it feels. If I can get him (to Fair Grounds) a week early, that would be perfect. I’ll be at the mercy of whoever is going to fly us and their schedule.

“For him to overcome the fact that he’s not really built to be an early horse - that’s what makes him great and that’s also what makes us so excited about this year. If he can do what he did as a juvenile, what can he accomplish as a 3-year-old?“

The 2-1 second choice is Lord Nelson owned by Peachtree Stable and trained by Bob Baffert. The chestnut colt will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano from the rail post.

Lord Nelson has two wins from four starts and has earnings of $129,571. He was fourth in the FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita last September 27 but came back on October 13 with a win in the track’s Speakeasy Stakes. He was the 7-5 favorite for Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes but finished fifth to El Kabeir.

Trainer Peter Miller’s Serbian Syclone is the 3-1 third pick for the San Vicente. The colt, owned by Rockingham Ranch, will be ridden by regular rider Elvis Trujillo from post 2.

Serbian Syclone was eighth first time out but has won his last two races going gate to wire by a combined 8 1/2 lengths. He tries stakes company for the first time in the seven-furlong event.

Here is the field for the San Vicente in post position order: Lord Nelson, Rafael Bejarano, 2-1; Serbian Syclone, Elvis Trujillo, 3-1; Jazzy Josh, Flavien Prat, 15-1; Texas Red, Kent Desormeaux, 9-5; Punctuate, Martin Garcia, 9-2; Magic Taste, Omar Santos, 50-1; Bench Warrant, Tyler Baze, 12-1 and Sir Samson, Joe Talamo, 15-1.

Post time for the 74th San Vicente is approximately 4:30 PM ET.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  McIlroy moves 4 clear at Dubai Desert Classic

Rory McIlroy recorded his second straight bogey-free round on Saturday and his 6-under 66 on day three has moved him four shots clear heading into the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

McIlroy finished his third round at 20-under-par 196, which is four strokes better than Morten Orum MadSenator McIlroy has nine career wins on the European Tour, with four of them coming last season. The five-time major champion earned his first professional victory at this event back in 2009.

“To be bogey-free again today was important to me, especially when you’re going out with the lead,“ said McIlroy. “I’m very happy. I feel like I could be a little bit more but I’m not going to complain. I’m four ahead going into the final day, so I’ve put myself in a great position to win tomorrow.“

After shooting a 63 on Friday, Madsen matched McIlroy with a 66 of his own on day three and moved into sole possession of second place at 16-under 200. Two shots further back is 23-time tour winner Lee Westwood (69) at 14-under 202.

Two-time defending champion Stephen Gallacher, first-round leader Bernd Wiesberger, Andy Sullivan and Danny Willett all fired matching, 2-under 70s and are tied for fourth at 13-under 203.

McIlroy, last year’s British Open and PGA Championship winner, started the day with a 1-shot lead and quickly widened the gap. The 25-year-old Ulsterman jumped out to a fast start when he drained birdies on one, three and five to go along with pars on two, four and six.

Following the par on No. 6, McIlroy poured in back-to-back gains on seven and eight before finishing his front nine with a par on nine.

Making the turn with a 4-shot lead, it seemed as if McIlroy would extend his advantage even more on the back nine, but he slowed down a bit down the stretch. McIlroy made eight straight pars from No. 9 and saw his lead whittled down to three when Madsen birdied the last.

McIlroy broke the par streak when he drained a birdie putt from about 15 feet on the par-4 17th, moving his advantage back to four.

Now on the par-5 18th, a hole he had birdied in 14 of his last 18 rounds prior to Saturday, McIlroy found the water with his second shot and was in danger of making bogey. McIlroy remained calm, however, as his fourth shot landed about 10 feet from the hole and he knocked that in for par to make it 36 straight holes without a bogey.

“Not to make any mistakes makes it that much harder for anyone else,“ McIlroy said. “Just to get that up-and-down on the last was big for momentum going into tomorrow ... I just have to go and try and play similar golf to the way I have the first three days.“

Madsen, who holds the week’s low round with his 63 Friday, also went bogey- free and may stand the best chance of catching McIlroy on Sunday. Madsen started with a pair of pars on one and two before making his first birdie on No. 3. He then wrapped four more pars on four, five, seven and eight around a gain on No. 6.

The 26-year-old from Denmark made the turn in style with back-to-back birdies on nine and 10. Following his fifth gain of the day on 13, Madsen rattled off four straight pars from 14 before closing with a birdie at the last to pull within three of McIlroy at the time.

Three shots behind McIlroy to start the day, Westwood had a strong start to his round before struggling a bit in the middle. Westwood made a pair of birdies on two and three, but he made a mess of No. 9 and settled for double- bogey as the Englishman made the turn at even par.

A birdie on 10 got Westwood back into red figures and he traded a bogey on 12 for a birdie on 13. Westwood finished well to give himself an outside shot going into Sunday as three pars from 14 preceded back-to-back birdies on 17 and 18, putting him six strokes behind McIlroy.

NOTES: McIlroy’s last bogey came on the par-4 ninth hole, his last, in the first round ... McIlroy finished his third round just one shot off of Gallacher’s 54-hole record of 195. Gallacher also tied the tournament record of 266 that year in his first of two consecutive victories here ... McIlroy has finished runner-up in each of the last four events he has played in ... Madsen is seeking his second victory on tour, with his lone win coming at the South African Open Championship last season ... Westwood’s last win was at the Maybank Malaysian Open last year.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Elliott, Scott among those inducted into NASCAR HofF

Bill Elliott, a former Sprint Cup Series champion, and Wendell Scott, the first African-American to win a race in NASCAR’s premier racing circuit, were among the sixth five-member class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night.

Joe Weatherly, a two-time Cup champion, Fred Lorenzen, who won 26 races in the sport’s top series, including the Daytona 500 and the World 600 (Charlotte) in 1965, and Rex White, a former premier series champion as well, were also inducted during the two-hour ceremony, which was held at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Known as “Awesome Bill From Dawsonville (Georgia),“ Elliott had an illustrious 37-year career as a driver in NASCAR. His 44 wins rank him 16th all-time and his 55 poles rank eighth. He won the Cup Series championship in 1988 and scored victories in the Daytona 500 in ‘85 and ‘87. In addition, Elliott won NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” Award a record 16 times.

Elliott was introduced by driver Kasey Kahne and inducted by his former car owner Ray Evernham.

“It’s just an honor to be here,“ Elliott said. “At a young age, I dreamed of doing this, and I knew as time went on, my dad was so involved in racing, he had such a love for the sport. I’ve always said he was such a Ford fanatic, if you cut him, he bled Ford blue. That’s just the way the man was. He was just so involved.“

Elliott’s induction occurred one day after his 19-year-old son, Chase, the reigning Xfinity Series champion, was named as the replacement driver for Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after Gordon departs from the team following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

Scott was the first African-American to race full-time in NASCAR’s top series. His only win in the series came in December 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. Scott recorded 147 top-10 finishes in 495 starts during his 13-year on the premier circuit. Prior to that, he had won more than 100 races at local tracks, including 22 races at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Virginia, in 1959, en route to capturing both the Sportsman Division and NASCAR Virginia Sportsman championships. He died in 1990.

Members of Scott’s family attended the induction ceremony. His sons, Wendell Jr. and Franklin, honored him, while Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, introduced Scott.

“Wendell Scott fulfilled his destiny, and now we can proudly say that he is the first African-American inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame,“ Franklin Scott said. “We must carry his legacy to even greater heights with the same selflessness, honor, integrity, humility and perseverance that were his trademark.“

Weatherly’s titles in the Cup Series came in 1962 and ‘63. He also won 25 races during his career in the series. A decade earlier in 1952-53, Weatherly won 101 events in the NASCAR Modified division, claiming that title in ‘53. He competed in NASCAR’s short-lived Convertible Division from 1956-59, winning 12 times. Weatherly died in 1964 as a result of a racing accident at Riverside, California.

“Uncle Joe was a very competitive driver,“ said Joy Barbee, who is Weatherly’s youngest niece. “He was one of NASCAR’s first big stars, as his 25 wins and back-to-back championships in 1962 and 1963 will attest.

“In those days, the races were not televised in our home, and my mother would listen to them on the radio, but she sure got to know the local sportswriter at the newspaper. She knew exactly what time the races were over, and she would call the newspaper, and she would ask who won, and when she hung up the phone and she was crying and she was jumping with excitement, we knew that there was a ‘W’.“

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup titleholder, introduced Weatherly, while Bud Moore, who was inducted into the second class in the NASCAR HofF in 2011, inducted him.

Lorenzen got his start in NASCAR as a mechanic with the famed Holman-Moody team in 1960, but he was elevated to lead driver by the end of the year. He won three races in only 15 starts the following season. Lorenzen’s best overall season came in 1963, posting six wins, 21 top-five finishes and 23 top-10s in 29 starts. Despite missing 26 races that season, he finished third in the standings.

Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart introduced Lorenzen. Amanda Gardstrom, who is Lorenzen’s daughter, inducted him.

“Our dad’s story began as a childhood dream,“ said Lorenzen’s son, Chris, who accepted the induction on behalf of his father. “All dad could think about was that he had to find a way to become a race car driver. He proceeded to live his life doing everything possible to make that dream come true. He always believed that anything is possible if you work hard enough and you put your mind to it, no matter what.“

Competing in the Cup Series during the 1950’s and 60’s, White was a short- track specialist in an era in which those tracks dominated the schedule. Of his 28 career wins in the series, only two came on tracks longer than one mile in length. White finished among the top-five in nearly a half of his 233 races and outside the top-10 only 30% of the time. He won six times during his 1960 championship season.

Reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick introduced White.

“Words can’t express how honored I am to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with the other Hall of Fame members, especially the 2015 fellow inductees,“ White said. “No driver wins a championship by himself. Nobody enters the Hall of Fame alone. I am a symbol of a team effort, my first race in 1953 until now. This effort spans 62 years.“

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 01, 2015
National Football League - Playoffs
Super Bowl Pregame, 1:00 PM - NBC
New England vs. Seattle (Super Bowl XLIX), 6:30 PM - NBC
National Basketball Association
Miami at Boston, 1:00 PM - SunSports, CSN-New England, DSS
LA Lakers at New York, 2:00 PM - Time Warner, MSG, ESPN
National Hockey League
Arizona at Montreal, 1:00 PM - CITY, RDS, DSS
St. Louis at Washington, 1:00 PM - NBCSN
Nashville at Pittsburgh, 2:00 PM - FS-Tennessee, ROOT-Pittsburgh, DSS
Minnesota at Vancouver, 3:30 PM - FS-North, SNET-Pacific, DSS
College Basketball
Miami-Florida at Florida State, 12:30 PM - ESPN U
Oakland at Youngstown State, 12:30 PM - MASN, ESPN3.com
Cincinnati at East Carolina, 1:00 PM - CBSSN
Michigan at Michigan State, 1:00 PM - CBS
Marist at Canisius, 2:00 PM - Time Warner Sports
Fordham at Dayton, 2:00 PM - FS-Ohio
Manhattan at Monmouth, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Utahat USC, 2:30 PM - ESPN U
Connecticut at Houston, 3:00 PM - CBSSN
California at Washington, 3:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Women’s College Basketball
Penn State at Rutgers, 12:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 1:00 PM - FS-South, Florida, Detroit+, San Diego
Texas at TCU, 1:00 PM - FS-Southwest+
Arizona at Colorado, 1:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Miami-Florida at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Georgia at Kentucky, 1:00 PM - SEC Network
Boston College at North Carolina, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Kansas at Baylor, 2:00 PM - SportSouth, FS-Detroit, Midwest, Southwest
Connecticut at Temple, 2:00 PM - ESPN 2
Arkansas at Alabama, 2:00 PM - SEC Network+
Virginia at Clemson, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Michigan at Nebraska, 3:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Wisconsin at Illinois, 3:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Auburn at Texas A&M, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Miss State at Tennessee, 3:00 PM - SEC Network
Florida at Vanderbilt, 4:00 PM - SportSouth, FS-Florida, Detroit, Southwest
Iowa at Maryland, 4:00 PM - ESPN 2
Minnesota at Northwestern, 4:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
South Carolina at Ole Miss, 4:30 PM - ESPN U
International Soccer
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa, 8:30 AM - NBCSN
Udinese Calcio vs. Juventus FC, 8:55 AM - beIN Sports
CAF Orange Africa Cup of Nations, Quarter-Finals, 10:55 AM - beIN Sports
Southampton vs. Swansea City, 11:00 AM - NBCSN
Sevilla FC vs. RCD Espanyol, 12:55 PM - beIN Sports
FC Barcelona vs. Villarreal CF, 2:55 PM - beIN Sports
Golf
EUROPEAN - Dubai Desert Classic, 4:00 AM - Golf Channel
PGA - Phoenix Open, 3:00 PM - CBS
Tennis
Australian Open (Men’s Final), 3:00 AM - ESPN

Sports News   141225

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  WKU survives late CMU surge in Bahamas Bowl

Brandon Doughty threw for 483 yards and five first-half touchdowns as Western Kentucky rolled out to a huge lead then shook off a shocking final series of plays to a 49-48 victory over Central Michigan in the inaugural Bahamas Bowl.

Doughty completed 31 of his 42 tries for the Hilltoppers (8-5), with Anthony Wales and Leon Allen adding a rushing score apiece.

Willie McNeal led his club with 153 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, while Jared Dangerfield, Mitchell Henry Antwane Grant and Joel German each contributed a TD grab.

Cooper Rush tossed seven TDs—four of them to Titus Davis including an improbable score with one second remaining—and 497 yards on 28-of-45 attempts for the Chippewas (7-6).

Davis ended up with seven catches for a game-high 202 yards, Courtney Williams recorded touchdowns on two of his three receptions and Anthony Garland added a scoring grab. Martez Walker totaled 69 yards on nine carries.


►  Rice routs Fresno State at Hawaii Bowl

Driphus Jackson had three touchdown passes, including two in a 19-second span in the opening quarter, to guide Rice to a 30-6 rout of Fresno State at the Hawaii Bowl.

Dennis Parks piled up 109 receiving yards and a TD for the Owls (8-5), who lost their first three games, but bounced back to post an eight-win season for only the ninth time in school history.

Jackson finished 15-of-24 for 318 yards, and also ran the ball 13 times for 41 yards. Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull each had scoring grabs for Rice, which amassed 463 yards of offense.

Brian Burrell threw a pair of interceptions for the Bulldogs (6-8), who suffered their first loss to Rice in seven all-time meetings. Fresno State, which also began the season 0-3, has lost its last six bowl games.

Burrell was 10-of-20 for 44 yards, and Zack Greenlee ended 7-of-18 for 49 yards in defeat.

James Hairston kicked a 21-yard field goal to cap the game-opening offensive series.

Fresno State stopped Jackson on a 4th-and-2 run, and the Bulldogs tied the contest on Kody Kroening’s 44-yard field goal.

Jackson connected with Parks on a 53-yard gain, and two plays later Taylor caught a 14-yard pass in the middle portion of the end zone. Hairston pushed the extra point try wide right to leave Rice with a 9-3 lead with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.

On the ensuing play from scrimmage, J.T. Blasingame picked off Burrell’s long pass at the Rice 31. Hull then made an adjustment on an underthrown ball from Jackson at the Fresno State 30 and raced to the end zone for a 69-yard TD and a 16-3 cushion.

Kroening’s 40-yard field goal had the Bulldogs within 10 with 8:53 remaining in the half, but Fresno State failed on a 4th-and-1 from the Rice 18 later in the period. Greg Watson was stuffed for a 3-yard loss on a reception as he was met hard by Bryce Callahan.

Rice’s defense continued to shine when Brian Nordstrom blocked Kroening’s 44- yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter.

The Owls expanded their lead to 23-6 on Jackson’s 40-yard TD pass to Parks with 6:18 left in the third. Parks fought off two defenders down the left sideline.

Callahan picked off Burrell at the Rice 12 to end Fresno State’s next drive; and the Bulldogs failed on a 4th-and-4 from the Rice 41 early in the fourth when Greenlee threw incomplete under heavy pressure from Nordstrom.

On the next play, Jackson found Darik Dillard down the left sideline for a 58- yard gain. Dillard was rewarded with a 1-yard TD run up the middle on the next play to expand the difference to 30-6 with 10:07 remaining.

Game Notes

Jowan Davis had 46 yards rushing for Rice, while Marteze Waller gained 76 yards for Fresno State ... The Owls have won 25 games since the start of the 2012 season (25-15), the most over a three-season stretch in school history ... Rice head coach David Bailiff matched Jess Neely for the most seasons with eight or more wins with three. Bailiff won 10 games in both 2008 and 2013 ... Rice kept an opponent out of the end zone for the first time since a 28-6 victory over Memphis on October 08, 2011.


►  College Football Bowl Game Resuts

(Wednesday, December 24)


Final Score: Western Kentucky 49, Central Michigan 48

Brandon Doughty threw for 486 yards and five first-half touchdowns as Western Kentucky rolled out to a huge lead then shook off a shocking final series of plays to a 49-48 victory over Central Michigan in the inaugural Bahamas Bowl. Doughty completed 31 of his 42 tries for the Hilltoppers (8-5), with Anthony Wales and Leon Allen adding a rushing score apiece. Willie McNeal led his club with 155 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, while Jared Dangerfield, Mitchell Henry, Antwane Grant and Joel German each contributed a TD grab. Cooper Rush tossed seven TDs—four of them to Titus Davis including an improbable score with no time left—and 493 yards on 28-of-45 attempts for the Chippewas (7-6), who scored the final five touchdowns of the game in a 34-0 fourth quarter. That included a 75-yard wild sequence on the final play where there were three laterals. CMU then failed on the two-point conversion.


Final Score: Rice 30, Fresno State 6

Driphus Jackson had three touchdown passes, including two in a 19-second span in the opening quarter, to guide Rice to a 30-6 rout of Fresno State at the Hawaii Bowl. Dennis Parks piled up 109 receiving yards and a TD for the Owls (8-5), who lost their first three games, but bounced back to post an eight-win season for only the ninth time in school history. Jackson finished 15-of-24 for 318 yards, and also ran the ball 13 times for 41 yards. Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull each had scoring grabs for Rice, which amassed 463 yards of offense. Brian Burrell threw a pair of interceptions for the Bulldogs (6-8), who suffered their first loss to Rice in seven all-time meetings. Fresno State, which also began the season 0-3, has lost its last six bowl games. Burrell was 10-of-20 for 44 yards, and Zack Greenlee ended 7-of-18 for 49 yards in defeat.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Extra Points: O-Line remains Broncos’ Achilles’ heel

The quarterback is the epicenter in every NFL city, the first player commented on and evaluated, be it positive or negative.

And when that signal caller happens to be Peyton Manning, any blip, no matter how slight, in a career defined by consistency is going to be overblown.

To be fair to those currently questioning Manning, he is obviously far closer to the end of his brilliant career than the beginning with a medical record that includes four neck surgeries so it’s not exactly out of bounds to be on the lookout for what is the inevitable decline for every player.

Manning has looked mortal in recent weeks, almost like an actual 38-year-old man with Monday’s four-interception implosion in Cincinnati serving as the main course for the haters.

“Nobody’s worried about him, he’s fine,“ wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said of Manning. “If he wasn’t fine, he wouldn’t be playing.“

Fine is a relative term in the NFL.

The 38-27 setback against the Bengals was Manning’s first quadruple INT game since 2010 and helped assure that the road to AFC championship would go through Foxbrorough and not the Rocky Mountains, a potential death blow when it comes to the fairytale ending of Manning walking off stage left with the Lombardi Trophy.

Manning finished 28-for-44 for 311 yards and two touchdowns against Cincinnati, but his four picks resulted in a terribly poor and unManning-like 61.8 passer rating.

“We have to find a way to learn from this,“ a dejected Manning said.

All four of Denver’s losses have come on the road this season and 11 of Manning’s 15 interceptions have come away from Mile High. Meanwhile, six of those 11 picks came at the hands of the Bengals and Patriots, two teams the Broncos may have to beat if they plan on being in Glendale come February.

John Elway overhauled his defense following the Super Bowl XLVIII collapse against Seattle last season and bringing in players like DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib and T.J. Ward has certainly helped on that side of the ball as evidenced by Denver’s current standing as the third-ranked stop unit in all of football.

What Elway didn’t address, however, was the offensive line, the team’s real Achilles’ heel against both the Seahawks and Cincinnati on Monday night.

“We gave up two sacks and we lead the whole National Football League in sacks per pass (play),“ Broncos coach John Fox said when discussing his much- maligned OL on Tuesday. “We did not coach well enough and we did not play well enough. They had a better night than we did.“

The thought in Denver was the return of star left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed most of the ‘13 campaign with a Lisfranc injury would be enough. The plan was for Chris Clark, who replaced Clady at LT last season, to bump over to the right side with Orlando Franklin moving inside to left guard opposite solid right guard Louis Vasquez.

And if the ‘12 version of Clady, who allowed just one sack the entire season, showed up this time around all of that might have worked but the former All- Pro has been average at best this season despite the reputation-generated Pro Bowl nod he received on Tuesday night.

The ‘14 Clady has been playing at a level nowhere near the AFC’s best left tackles—Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and the Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth—and one high-profile, scouting-based website has him rated as the 45th best tackle in the NFL.

Clark, meanwhile, couldn’t carry his own water at right tackle before being replaced by Paul Cornick, who also faltered, leaving the Broncos to make wholesale changes, kicking Vasquez outside, moving Manny Ramirez from center to right guard and inserting veteran pivot Will Montgomery.

The lack of consistency has hurt but the bigger issue has been the athleticism or lack thereof, as the Denver O-Line has trouble getting to the second level in the running game, and Vasquez struggles mightily against speed on the outside as evidenced by Carlos Dunlap’s big game on Monday night.

No one covers for a mediocre offense line better than Manning, a signal caller who possesses a lightning-quick release as well as a football IQ that is off the charts.

Manning can and does vary his snap count better than just about any other QB who has ever played the game but eventually a defense is going to get its chances against a stationary target and the lack of consistent pass protection has left Manning a battered and bruised mess with the playoffs looming.

Perhaps no team ticketed for the postseason needs a first-round bye more than the Broncos and they can lock that up with a Week 17 win as a two-touchdown favorite over 3-12 Oakland or a Bengals loss at Pittsburgh.

A rested and relatively healthy Manning is the difference between a deep playoff run and one-and-done.

“I learned a long time ago it doesn’t matter how you start the race it’s how you finish,“ said Fox. “We’ll step back from (Monday night), we’ll learn from it, we’ll analyze and decipher went wrong and hopefully get it fixed.“

WEEK 17 (All Times Eastern)

Cleveland (7-8) at Baltimore (9-6) (-9), Sunday, 1 PM - An awful Week 16 loss in Houston against a Texans team playing its fourth quarterback this season left the Ravens in desperate straits, needing a win along with a San Diego loss at Kansas City to reach the postseason. The Browns have shut down Johnny Manziel for the season due to a hamstring injury and could also be without Brian Hoyer (shoulder) leaving rookie Connor Shaw and the recently- signed Tyler Thigpen as the options at the QB position.

Ravens 23, Browns 10


Jacksonville (3-12) at Houston (8-7) (-10), Sunday, 1 PM - The Texans are still alive after upsetting Baltimore last week behind Case Keenum after the Texas native was brought back off the St. Louis Rams’ practice squad when injuries befell Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tom Savage. Houston needs to beat the Jags and hope the Chargers lose at Kansas City and the Ravens lose at home to Cleveland.

Texans 17, Jaguars 13


San Diego (9-6) at Kansas City (8-7) (-2 1/2), Sunday, 1 PM - Both the Chargers and Chiefs remain alive for the final playoff berth in the AFC. San Diego controls its own destiny and will advance to the postseason with a win, while Kansas City can qualify for the playoffs with a win along with losses by both Baltimore and Houston.

Chiefs 20, Chargers 17


Dallas (11-4) (-6 1/2) at Washington (4-11), Sunday, 1 PM - The Cowboys are the NFC East champions and will attempt to earn a first-round bye in Week 17. Dallas will secure the week off with a win combined with losses by both Seattle and Arizona.

Cowboys 31, Redskins 17


New York Jets (3-12) at Miami (8-7) (-6), Sunday, 1 PM - It was in Sun Life Stadium last December when Woody Johnson surprised most observers by giving Jets coach Rex Ryan a reprieve after a meaningless 20-7 Week 17 win over Miami. Fast forward one year and New York is 3-12 entering Week 17 and Ryan has already filed his change of address form and is deciding between Mayflower and Atlas. The Dolphins, meanwhile, haven’t played postseason football since the 2008 season and last Sunday, on the day they were officially eliminated for the sixth straight season, Ross decided to bring back lame-duck coach Joe Philbin for another year despite a tenure that defines mediocrity.

Dolphins 24, Jets 14


Chicago (5-10) at Minnesota (6-9) (-6 1/2), Sunday, 1 PM - The two afterthoughts in the NFC North finish their seasons and a battle to avoid the cellar of the division. The Vikings can at least hang their hat on the development of rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who has an impressive 105.7 passer rating over his previous fours starts. The embattled Jay Cutler will be back under center for the Bears after a concussion ended Jimmy Clausen’s one-game tenure. Despite all his troubles, Cutler always plays well against Minnesota, winning seven of his past eight starts against the Vikings with 20 TD passes in those games.

Vikings 20, Bears 17


Buffalo (8-7) at New England (12-3) (-4), Sunday, 1 PM - The Pats have already earned the No. 1 spot in the AFC but history says Bill Belichick will still use his starters at times in the regular-season finale. This is the fourth time under Belichick that the Pats’ seed was set going into Week 17 and he has rested a few starters and taken others out early in the past.

Patriots 26, Bills 21


Philadelphia (9-6) at New York Giants (6-9) (-3), Sunday, 1 PM - The Eagles’ December collapse was completed last weekend when a loss at Washington eliminated them from the NFC playoff picture. The Giants continue to enjoy the talents of star rookie wideout Odell Beckham, Jr., who has 79 catches, the most ever by a player in his first 11 NFL games. Despite missing four contests, OBJ leads all rookies with 1,120 receiving yards and is tied for the rookie lead with 11 receiving TDs.

Giants 30, Eagles 24


New Orleans (6-9) (-4) at Tampa Bay (2-13), Sunday, 1 PM - The biggest and perhaps only storyline here is the Bucs’ ineptness. One more loss and Tampa Bay will secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Saints 24, Buccaneers 13


Indianapolis (10-5) (-7) at Tennessee (2-13), Sunday, 1 PM - The Colts are on the verge of finishing perfect in the AFC South for a second consecutive season and need to recapture a little mojo after a 42-7 drubbing at the hands of Dallas last weekend. Overall Indy has won six straight over the 2-13 Titans and both head coach Chuck Pagano and QB Andrew Luck have never lost to Tennessee.

Colts 27, Titans 14


St. Louis (6-9) at Seattle (11-4) (-13), Sunday, 4:25 PM - Seattle has the edge in the NFC with one week to play. With a win, the Seahawks will lock up the NFC West and a first-round bye. Meanwhile, as long as the Detroit-Green Bay game does not end in a tie, the Seahawks will secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second year in a row.

Seahawks 20, Rams 13


Arizona (11-3) at San Francisco (7-8) (-6), Sunday, 4:25 PM - Arizona has secured a playoff berth and can still win the NFC West and earn a first-round bye with a win and a Seattle loss. If that scenario comes to fruition and Green Bay also loses, Arizona will be the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

49ers 23, Cardinals 10


Oakland (3-12) at Denver (11-4) (-14 1/2), Sunday, 4:25 PM - Denver has already clinched the AFC West and can earn a first-round bye with a win. The Broncos can also secure a first-round bye with a Cincinnati loss.

Broncos 30, Raiders 13


Carolina (6-8-1) at Atlanta (6-9) (-4), Sunday, 4:25 PM - The NFC South will be decided when the Falcons host the Panthers. The winner advances to the postseason, becoming only the second team to win a division with a record under .500 (Seattle, 2010), while the loser’s season comes to an end. Carolina is attempting to become the first team to repeat as NFC South champions since the division was established in 2002.

“We have a game at home and if you win, you’re in,“ said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. “We are where we are and we’re excited about our chances.“

“We’re prepared for this moment,“ Carolina quarterback Cam Newton countered, “and hopefully we’ll seize it.“

Falcons 24, Panthers 16


Detroit (11-4) at Green Bay (11-4) (-7 1/2), Sunday, 4:25 PM - The Lions and Packers are both in the postseason but the NFC North is still up for grabs. The winner here will claim the division title and also earn a first-round bye. The NFC North champion can also secure the No. 1 seed with some help—Green Bay would need a Seattle loss, and Detroit would need both Seattle and Arizona to lose. This game will also mark the first time since the 1993 season in which two teams with at least 11 wins will play each other in the regular- season finale to determine a division champion (Dallas at New York Giants, January 2, 1994).

“I think playing in a playoff-type game is exactly how you want to go into the playoffs,“ said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. “It’s great that we’re playing for the division title. I think this is exactly how you’d want it. I know this is the way I’d prefer it.“

Packers 33, Lions 20


Cincinnat1 (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh (10-5) (-3 1/2), Sunday 8:30 PM - The final game of the 2014 regular season will decide the AFC North division. Both the Bengals and Steelers have already clinched a playoff berth but the division crown along with an all-important home playoff game are at stake.

“They know us and we know them,“ said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “It’s a big football game. It’s going to be a good, classic AFC North football game. How else would you want it? I know our guys are excited.“

Steelers 27, Bengals 21


►  Wilson, Matthews, Bosher claim NFC’s best of Week 16

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Atlanta punter Matt Bosher were chosen as the NFC’s top players for Week 16 of the NFL season.

Wilson was the top offensive player for the second time this season and the fourth time in his career, leading the Seahawks to a 35-6 win at Arizona that has the defending Super Bowl champions in position for the top seed in the NFC playoffs. He threw for 339 yards with two touchdowns and ran for 88 yards with a score, leading a Seahawks offense that generated a franchise-record 596 total yards.

Matthews claimed the defensive award for the fourth time in his career, helping the Packers claim a playoff spot in a 20-3 win at Tampa Bay. He notched six tackles, four of which resulted in losses, and 2 1/2 sacks, leading a Green Bay defense that limited the Buccaneers to just 109 total yards.

Bosher picked up the special teams honor after four of his five punts finished inside the 20-yard line in Atlanta’s 30-14 win at New Orleans. He averaged 44.2 yards per punt and the Falcons allowed zero punt return yards in the dominating victory that has them a win away from the NFC South title.

Other offensive nominees included Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who had 15 catches for 115 yards in a loss to Washington; San Francisco running back Frank Gore, who had 158 rushing yards with a touchdown in an overtime loss to San Diego; and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 18-of-20 passes for 218 yards with four touchdowns in a 42-7 romp over Indianapolis.

Defensive consideration went to Giants defensive end Kerry Wynn, who had a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and three tackles in a victory over St. Louis; and Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who had a sack, six tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the win over the Eagles.

Redskins kicker Kai Forbath was considered for the special teams award after his 26-yard field goal with five seconds to play gave Washington a win over the Eagles.


►  Rivers, Kirkpatrick, Bullock earn AFC weekly honors

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and Houston kicker Randy Bullock were selected as the AFC’s top players for Week 16 of the NFL season.

Rivers earned the offensive award for the sixth time in his career with 356 yards passing and four touchdowns in San Diego’s 38-35 overtime win against San Francisco. He helped the Chargers overcome a 21-point deficit, tying for the largest comeback in franchise history.

Kirkpatrick claimed the defensive honor, helping Cincinnati secure a playoff spot with two interceptions of Denver’s Peyton Manning in the Bengals’ 37-28 win over the Broncos on Monday. He picked off Manning on each of Denver’s final two drives, returning the first interception 30 yards for a touchdown while the second came with just over a minute left to seal the victory.

Bullock converted each of his six field goal tries in Houston’s 25-13 win over Baltimore to nab the special teams award. The victory kept the Texans alive in the AFC playoff race.

Other offensive nominees included Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who completed 35-of-47 passes for 396 yards with four touchdowns in a 37-35 win over Minnesota; Cincinnati running back Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 147 yards with a touchdown against the Broncos; and Houston’s Arian Foster, who compiled 119 scrimmage yards and threw a touchdown pass in the win over the Ravens.

Defensive consideration went to Jacksonville linebacker Khalil Mack, who recorded 15 tackles in a 21-13 win over Tennessee; and Houston’s J.J. Watt, who notched eight tackles and a sack against Baltimore.

Miami’s Terrence Fede was up for the special teams award after his blocked punt resulted in a safety and the winning points against the Vikings.


►  9 Broncos selected to Pro Bowl

The Denver Broncos had an NFL-high nine players named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday night, while four teams were shut out among the initial selections.

For the second year in a row the two teams will be selected via a draft, a setup that replaced the old AFC-NFC format.

Hall of Fame wide receivers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin were selected in July as alumni captains for the game, which will be held January 25 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, site of the Super Bowl a week later.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Tennessee Titans did not have a player named among the initial selections.

Quarterback Peyton Manning led the nine Broncos selected, making the Pro Bowl for an NFL-high 14th time.

Two of Manning’s favorite targets, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, also were named. Another, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, did not make it despite a career season.

Among the other apparent snubs were Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

New England quarterback Tom Brady was named to his 10th Pro Bowl, leading five Patriots who were selected.

The four other quarterbacks picked were Dallas’ Tony Romo, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.

Romo’s Cowboys garnered six selections, second-most behind Denver. Green Bay, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Seattle joined New England with five players picked.

It will be the third Pro Bowl played in the same city as the Super Bowl and first since 2010.

It’s only the second time since the Pro Bowl was first played at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii in 1980 that the game will be held elsewhere.

The game will return to Hawaii in 2016.

In January, Jerry Rice’s team beat the one captained by fellow Hall of Famer Deion Sanders 22-21 in Honolulu.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Rockets award McHale three-year extension

The Houston Rockets have agreed to a three- year extension with head coach Kevin McHale that will run through the 2017-18 season.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey relayed the news via Twitter Wednesday morning, with the Rockets confirming the agreement shortly afterward.

“Very excited about Coach McHale’s extension,“ Morey tweeted. “He is the winningest coach in Rockets history and knows what it takes to win championships.“

Though the Rockets did not reveal financial terms of the new contract, Yahoo! Sports reported the pact to be worth close to $13 million.

McHale was in the final season of the original four-year deal the Hall of Fame player signed to become Houston’s head coach in June of 2011.

The 57-year-old’s long-term status with the organization had been unclear entering this season, with the Rockets losing in the first round of the playoffs in each of the previous two years. However, Houston got off to a 9-1 start and ranks among the Western Conference’s top teams with a 20-7 overall record.

McHale owns a 153-104 record in his three-plus seasons with the Rockets and guided the team to a 54-win campaign in 2013-14, the franchise’s largest victory total since 2007-08. His .595 winning percentage is the highest in club history.

“Kevin is an integral part of the Rockets family,“ said Rockets owner Leslie Alexander. “He embodies the leadership, passion, knowledge, and team-first qualities we need as we continue our pursuit of bringing another NBA Championship to the City of Houston and Rockets fans all over the world.“

A three-time NBA champion, McHale previously spent two separate stints as the Minnesota Timberwolves’ head coach, compiling a 39-55 record with that franchise.


►  Josh Smith signing with Rockets

Former Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith said Wednesday that he will sign with the Houston Rockets, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle.

The Pistons waived Smith on Monday, less than two years into a four-year, $54 million contract. According to the Chronicle, the Rockets are expected to announce the signing either Thursday or Friday, once they are able to clear a roster spot.

Smith averaged 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds this season for the 5-23 Pistons, who hold the league’s third-worst record.

The 29-year-old will once again play with Dwight Howard, who is one of Smith’s closest friends and a former AAU teammate.

The Pistons acquired Smith as a free agent after the 2012-13 season. During his time with Detroit, Smith averaged 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

For his career, Smith has averages for 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 781 games with the Atlanta Hawks and Pistons.


►  Pistons obtain Tolliver from Suns

The Detroit Pistons have acquired veteran forward Anthony Tolliver from the Phoenix Suns in a 1-for-1 trade announced by both teams on Wednesday.

The Suns will receive second-year forward Tony Mitchell in the swap.

Tolliver’s acquisition comes two days after the struggling Pistons surprisingly waived forward Josh Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer, with nearly three years remaining on his contract.

The 29-year-old Tolliver’s strength is his perimeter shooting, having made 102 shots from 3-point range in 247 attempts (41.3%) with Charlotte last season. He averaged 6.1 points over 64 games with the then-Bobcats in 2013-14, but has seen just 11.3 minutes per game of playing time over 24 contests since signing with the Suns in the offseason.

Tolliver averaged 3.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and made 38.7% of his 3- point tries during his brief time with Phoenix.

Mitchell was a second-round pick (37th overall) of Detroit in 2013 and appeared in 21 games with the Pistons as a rookie, scoring 22 points and grabbing 26 rebounds.

The 22-year-old North Texas product did not play for Detroit this season, but averaged 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in six games for Grand Rapids of the NBA Development League.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Braves come to terms with RHP Grilli

The Atlanta Braves have come to terms with right-handed pitcher Jason Grilli on a two-year contract with a club option for 2017.

Grilli has 45 saves over the last two seasons, including 33 for the Pirates in 2013. The 38-year-old had a combined 1-5 mark with a 4.00 ERA and 12 saves in 62 appearances for Pittsburgh and the Angels this past season.

He was dealt to the Angels on June 27 for pitcher Ernesto Frieri.

In 12 seasons, Grilli has compiled a 22-32 mark with a 4.16 ERA and 50 saves playing for the Marlins, White Sox, Tigers, Rockies, Rangers, Pirates and Angels.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Stricker recovering from back surgery

Steve Stricker, who has battled a balky back for several years, had outpatient back surgery on Tuesday and is home recovering.

The surgery was to “relieve issues stemming from acute and chronic L5 radiculopathy’ according to a statement on PGATour.com.

Stricker, a 12-time PGA Tour winner, has played just 24 official events over the past two seasons. That was by design so he could spend more time with his family.

He skipped the FedExCup playoffs due to the bulging disc in his back.

Stricker returned to play in Tiger Woods’s Hero World Challenge and the Franklin Templeton Shootout. After playing those two events, doctors told Stricker that he would continue to have hip and quad pain if he did not undergo the surgery.

The 47-year-old will rest and rehab his back over the next six weeks. After that time, Stricker will be able to begin practicing and doctors expect all restrictions will be lifted after eight weeks.

“I’m very excited to get back to practicing and competing in 2015 and expect to be 100% physically, which really excites me,“ said Stricker, whose last win was at the 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. “I’ve been limited the last several years and I’m confident the procedure will allow me to perform at the level I expect from myself.

“I don’t have a target date for a return to the PGA Tour at this point, that will very much depend on how my body responds to the surgery and rehab.“

Prior to scaling back his schedule the last two years, Stricker had eight victories from 2009-12. He finished inside the top-20 on the FedExCup points standings each year from 2007-14.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


THURSDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2014


National Basketball Association
Washington at New York, 12:00 PM - CSN-DC, MSG, ESPN
Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 2:30 PM - ABC
Cleveland at Miami, 5:00 PM - ABC
LA Lakers at Chicago, 8:00 PM - TNT
Golden State at LA Clippers, 10:30 PM - TNT


College Basketball
Diamond Head Classic, 1:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Diamond Head Classic, 4:00 PM - ESPN U
Diamond Head Classic, 6:30 PM - ESPN 2
Diamond Head Classic, 8:30 PM - ESPN 2

Sports News   141223

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Marshall’s Doc Holliday: “It’s time to go play”

“The only thing you remember is when you win ‘em,” said Doc Holliday, Marshall University’s head football coach, of bowl games as his 12-1 team prepared to face Northern Illinois University (11-2) in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday night.

Including the Boca Raton Bowl, Holliday has now been a part of 24 total bowl games.

“The ones I remember are the ones you have great feelings about that you walk out of here with a win, so you’ve got to separate the fun from the preparation and now it’s all business,” Holliday said on MetroNews “Talkline.”

Kickoff for Marshall University, the Conference USA champion, and NIU, the Mid-American Conference champion, is set for 6 PM Tuesday at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton — located within sight of the Atlantic Ocean. The game will be televised on ESPN.

The two teams last met on October 06, 2001. Marshall won that game 37-15 and leads the series against the Huskies 2-0.

“It’s a great matchup. There’s a lot of excitement. The stadium’s sold out down here, believe it or not, it’s hard to get tickets and it’s a beautiful venue,” Holliday said.

Steve Cotton, the play-by-play announcer for the Thundering Herd, talked with MetroNews from Boca Raton on Monday’s “Morning News.” “I’ve been to a few bowl games over the years and this has been the best bowl week experience I’ve been a part of,” Cotton said.

“The players seem to be having a great time and, of course, there are 28 Floridians on Marshall’s roster.”

The Herd’s bowl headquarters since Friday has been the historic Boca Raton Resort and Club, a Waldorf Astoria property that dates back to 1926. Since then, every U.S. president has stayed at the resort at least once.

The game comes less than a week after the death of Marshall University President Stephen Kopp who died from a heart attack at the age of 63. As a tribute to Kopp, the players will wear decals with Kopp’s initials, “SJK,” on their helmets during the game.

When asked about rumors that he was among those being considered for the head coaching position at Pitt, Holliday said he was only focused on preparing the Herd for Tuesday’s game.

“We’ve had a great week of preparation and our kids have done a great job while they’re down here, we’ve got a great challenge and we’re only concerned about making sure this team is prepared the best to go play,” Holliday said.

“It’s time to go play and just see what happens.”



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Which Heisman winner reaches the championship game?

Back in 1964, Navy’s Roger Staubach and Notre Dame’s John Huarte quarterbacked their teams against one another with the Fighting Irish shutting out the Midshipmen, 40-0.

What did these two players have in common? Both were Heisman Trophy winners, although Huarte would not receive the award until after the season.

On January 4, 2005, Jason White and his Oklahoma Sooners played Matt Leinart and his USC Trojans in the Orange Bowl. Both quarterbacks already had won the Heisman but the point differential was almost similar as the Trojans won 36.

Approximately four years later, two more Heisman Trophy winners met as another Oklahoma quarterback, Sam Bradford, squared off against Florida’s Tim Tebow in the BCS Championship Game. The one-loss Gators defeated the one-loss Sooners, 24-14.

Fast forward to this season and there are two more Heisman Trophy winners taking on one another, this time in the 2015 Rose Bowl. The victor moves on to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against either Alabama or Ohio State.

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota has been on fire all season long but has been most effective since November 8 when the Ducks defeated Utah. The junior has thrown 12 touchdown passes with zero interceptions since then, leading Oregon to 193 points - the largest four-game total in the team’s 12-game FBS schedule.

The Ducks also have put it together defensively allowing just 17 points per game over their last five contests. The defense gave up an average of 28 points per game in its first seven FBS matchups.

They will need their defense to stay on course against an explosive Florida State offense and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. The sophomore had an off season in 2014 but still threw for 3,559 yards - ninth best in FBS play.

When discussing Winston, most people talk about his propensity to turn the ball over (17 interceptions in 2014). However, only one quarterback with at least 12 interceptions completed a higher percentage of passes than his 65% and that was Boise State’s Grant Hedrick.

It is true Winston has not performed as well as he had in 2013 but it has been clear since the first game of this season that the talent at Florida State is nowhere near the level it was last year. Moreover, Winston should be given a ton of credit for keeping the Seminoles unbeaten despite so many close finishes.

The key to this matchup is not at quarterback or even at running back where both teams possess tremendous freshmen (Royce Freeman at Oregon and Dalvin Cook at Florida State). The game will be won by the team with the better defense.

It is difficult to judge which team that is, especially since Oregon plays in a more offensive-minded conference which skews the numbers in Florida State’s favor. To wit, the Seminoles have allowed fewer yards, fewer yards per play and fewer yards per carry.

However, Oregon has given up fewer yards per pass attempt and, surprisingly, the Ducks have allowed fewer points even with seven of their 13 games against top 50 offenses. Florida State played just three contests against top 50 offenses. Oregon does have to deal with the absence of cornerback Ifo Ekpre- Olomu as the senior is out with a knee injury, which even things out a bit.

When all is said and done, look for the Ducks and Mariota to get the best of Florida State and Winston with a 38-31 victory.

ALABAMA AND OHIO STATE MEET IN SUGAR BOWL

Which team will play Oregon for the title? Alabama seems to be the logical choice as the Crimson Tide have been in the AP top four all but two weeks of the season while the Buckeyes, outside of the first week, did not see the top 10 until week 12.

Despite its high ranking, Alabama had just four easy wins since the end of September. In the five other games, the Tide had three victories (and one loss) by a touchdown or less. The other matchup was an 11-point win over Auburn, a game they trailed heading into the fourth quarter.

Ohio State made it this far due to its dominating 59-0 performance over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Cardale Jones threw three touchdown passes and Ezekiel Elliott did his best Melvin Gordon impersonation with 220 yards on 20 carries for the 12-1 Buckeyes.

One thing is for certain - Ohio State will not shut out Alabama. Blake Sims, for all his faults, is one hundred times better than Joel Stave. Furthermore, Alabama’s offense is the best one Ohio State has faced outside of the possible exception of Michigan State.

Ohio State’s offense will be unable to keep up with the Crimson Tide, especially with Jones leading the way for the Buckeyes. It is one thing to get the job done against Wisconsin up 24-0 just 16 minutes into the contest, but it will be a completely different scenario against an Alabama defense ranked 4th in the country in scoring defense.

Expect a blowout in the Sugar Bowl as Alabama wins, 35-23.


►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Monday, December 22)


Final Score: Memphis 55, BYU 48 (2-OT)

The inaugural Miami Beach Bowl turned into a Miami Beach brawl. Before actual punches were thrown, Memphis beat BYU 55-48 in a double-overtime thriller on Monday, taking the lead on Paxton Lynch’s 11- yard touchdown pass to Roderick Proctor, then sealing the win with an interception. But the Tigers’ celebration was interrupted by an ugly on-field melee in which players from both teams exchanged blows, leaving some bloodied and threatening to overshadow the first football game played inside Marlins Park. And what a game it was. BYU scored 17 straight points off turnovers in the fourth quarter to take a 45-38 lead, but Memphis tied the score on Lynch’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Keiwone Malone with 45 seconds left in regulation. In the first overtime, BYU’s Jordan Leslie was close to scoring a touchdown when he squeezed the ball against his right shoulder pad while falling into the end zone. But the ball touched the ground and the Cougars settled for Trevor Samson’s 45-yard field goal. Lynch and the Tigers lost 12 yards on their first overtime possession before Jake Elliott hammered through a 54-yarder to tie the score. Proctor’s sliding catch in the right side of the end zone gave Memphis lead and the game ended on a turnover when DaShaughn Terry intercepted Christian Stewart’s overthrown pass, sparking a celebration on the field that turned into a fight. Lynch accounted for all seven Memphis touchdowns, throwing for four of them and rushing for three. He passed for 306 yards and threw three interceptions, but the Tigers (10-3) won in their first bowl appearance since the 2008 season. Malone had two touchdown receptions and Alan Cross caught the other as Memphis picked up its seventh consecutive win. Stewart passed for 348 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions for BYU (8-5), which fell to 6-4 in its 10th consecutive bowl game under coach Bronco Mendenhall. Leslie, Mitchell Juergens and Mitch Mathews had touchdown catches and Paul Lasike rushed for two scores.


►  Memphis tops BYU in 2OT bowl thriller

The inaugural Miami Beach Bowl turned into a Miami Beach brawl.

Before actual punches were thrown, Memphis beat BYU 55-48 in a double-overtime thriller on Monday, taking the lead on Paxton Lynch’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Roderick Proctor, then sealing the win with an interception.

But the Tigers’ celebration was interrupted by an ugly on-field melee in which players from both teams exchanged blows, leaving some bloodied and threatening to overshadow the first football game played inside Marlins Park.

And what a game it was.

BYU scored 17 straight points off turnovers in the fourth quarter to take a 45-38 lead, but Memphis tied the score on Lynch’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Keiwone Malone with 45 seconds left in regulation.

In the first overtime, BYU’s Jordan Leslie was close to scoring a touchdown when he squeezed the ball against his right shoulder pad while falling into the end zone. But the ball touched the ground and the Cougars settled for Trevor Samson’s 45-yard field goal.

Lynch and the Tigers lost 12 yards on their first overtime possession before Jake Elliott hammered through a 54-yarder to tie the score.

Proctor’s sliding catch in the right side of the end zone gave Memphis lead and the game ended on a turnover when DaShaughn Terry intercepted Christian Stewart’s overthrown pass, sparking a celebration on the field.

The brawl appeared to start with Memphis defensive lineman Martin Ifedi and BYU offensive lineman Tejan Koroma, but many other players were involved.

In the clearest example of how bad it got, BYU defensive back Kai Nacua punched Memphis tight end Alan Cross from behind as Cross was being held by one of his coaches.

The blow was captured live on the TV broadcast, which also showed that Nacua was bleeding from a cut below his left eye.

Elsewhere, Memphis offensive lineman Chase Johnson was seen swinging his helmet at a BYU player and Cougars linebacker Harvey Langi appeared to throw several rapid punches at an opponent.

“It’s not who we are. It’s not what we want to represent,“ said Memphis coach Justin Fuente. “I hope it doesn’t take away from an incredible football game on both sides.“

Lynch accounted for all seven Memphis touchdowns, throwing for four of them and rushing for three. He passed for 306 yards and threw three interceptions, but the Tigers (10-3) won in their first bowl appearance since the 2008 season.

Malone had two touchdown receptions and Cross caught the other as Memphis picked up its seventh consecutive win.

Stewart passed for 348 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions for BYU (8-5), which fell to 6-4 in its 10th consecutive bowl game under coach Bronco Mendenhall. Leslie, Mitchell Juergens and Mitch Mathews had touchdown catches and Paul Lasike rushed for two scores.

“It seemed like one long game of the same game,“ Mendenhall said. “Of one team scoring, the other answering, one team trying to separate, the other closing ... back and forth. Basically a dead-even game.“

BYU trailed 17-14 after a back-and-forth first quarter but had a 28-21 lead at halftime after turning a Lynch interception into Lasike’s 3-yard touchdown.

Memphis took the lead with two touchdowns in the third quarter, including Lynch’s 1-yard run on the opening possession.

Later, Manoa Pikula’s interception set up Samson’s 23-yard field goal and the Cougars tied the score after Memphis return man Joe Craig was stripped on the ensuing kickoff and Lasike scored from seven yards out.

They took a 45-38 lead on Zac Stout’s 19-yard interception return with 7:48 left in regulation.

Lynch had almost 10 seconds to make his game-tying throw, working his way toward the right sideline behind good protection before finding Malone near the middle of the end zone for the 5-yard score.

Stewart’s long pass to Leslie on the last play of regulation was knocked down by Andrew Gaines near the Memphis 5-yard line as time expired.

Game Notes

BYU fell to 13-19-1 in bowl games while Memphis improved to 5-3 ... It was the first-ever meeting between the teams.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NFL flexes Bengals-Steelers into primetime for Week 17

The NFL announced Sunday night that the AFC North showdown between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers will be the NBC primetime game for Week 17.

The league leaves the primetime spot open for Week 17 and makes their decision for the game when most of the Week 16 slate has been complete in order to schedule the best game.

The winner of the game will win the North. Pittsburgh has already clinched a playoff spot, while the Bengals can still play themselves out of the postseason with consecutive losses. Cincinnati, which currently leads the division, plays the Denver Broncos on Monday night.


►  NFL Game Results

(MONDAY, DECEMBER 22)


Final Score: Cincinnati 37, Denver 28

Jeremy Hill rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown and Dre Kirkpatrick posted two interceptions as the Cincinnati Bengals clinched a playoff spot for fourth straight season with a 37-28 win over the Denver Broncos on Monday. Andy Dalton completed 17-of-26 passes for 146 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Bengals (10-4-1), who will battle Pittsburgh for the AFC North title on Sunday night. Jermaine Gresham caught nine passes for 62 yards and a score and Giovani Bernard also hauled in a TD pass in the win. Peyton Manning struggled throughout, picked off four times while finishing with 311 yards and two scores on 28-of-44 passing for the Broncos (11-4), who had a four-game win streak come to an end. C.J. Anderson rushed for 83 yards and a score on 18 carries, Emmanuel Sanders had two scores to go with 70 yards on six catches and Demaryius Thomas finished with seven catches for a game-high 115 yards in defeat. New England clinched the first overall seed in the AFC due to Denver’s loss.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Boys Area High School Basketball Game Results

(MONDAY, DECEMBER 22)

#8 Tug Valley 64     #2 Notre Dame 52


►  Girls Area High School Basketball Game Results

(MONDAY, DECEMBER 22)

Bridgeport 64     Trinity 46



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Staten, WVU crush Wofford

Juwan Staten tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds as No. 18 West Virginia rolled over Wofford, 77-44, on Monday.

West Virginia’s full-court pressure was too much for Wofford in the early going. The Mountaineers forced five turnovers during an 18-2 start.

Jonathan Holton and Jaysean Paige both hit 3-pointers during the run, which stretched more than seven minutes.

Holton and Elijah Macon scored 11 points apiece for the Mountaineers (11-1), who forced 21 turnovers for the game.

“We’ve lost the last few years before Christmas and I’ve been absolutely miserable,“ said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “They have been great.“

Jevon Carter netted 10 points, Paige and Gary Browne both had nine and West Virginia connected on 19-of-23 from the free throw line.

Spencer Collins and Karl Cochran were the lone Terriers to reach double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Wofford (9-3) stumbled out of the gate and never really threatened, finishing an abysmal 11-for-41 from the field.

“They’re very good, very good in areas I was worried about,“ said Wofford coach Mike Young.

Wofford, which had won four straight and nine of its last 10 games, only made five field goals in the first half and trailed 42-20 at the break.

WVU’s defense made another statement in the opening stages of the first half, holding Wofford without a field goal until Collins’ 3-pointer at 13:32.

That cut the deficit to 51-25, but Carter countered with a jumper that sparked an 11-0 run.

The spread reached 40 with just under four minutes to play.

Game Notes

West Virginia is off to its best start since 2009-10, when it opened 12-1 and went to the Final Four ... WVU won the rebounding margin, 37-27 ... West Virginia outscored Wofford 32-6 in the paint ... Wofford fell to 0-20 all-time against Top-25 teams.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Men’s Basketball Associated Press Top 25

1. Kentucky
2. Duke
3. Arizona
4. Louisville
5. Virginia
6. Wisconsin
7. Villanova
8. Gonzaga
9. Texas
10. Kansas
11. Wichita State
12. Iowa State
13. Washington
14. Utah
15. Maryland
16. Notre Dame
17. St. John’s
18. West Virginia
19. Oklahoma
20. North Carolina
21. Ohio State
22. Baylor
23. Northern Iowa
24. Colorado State
25. TCU


►  Men’s Basketball Coaches Poll

1. Kentucky
2. Duke
3. Arizona
4. Louisville
5. Virginia
6. Wisconsin
7. Villanova
8. Gonzaga
9. Texas
10. Kansas
11. Wichita State
12. Iowa State
13. Washington
14. Utah
15. Maryland
16. Notre Dame
17. West Virginia
18. Ohio State
19. St. John’s
20. Oklahoma
21. North Carolina
22. Baylor
23. San Diego State
24. Northern Iowa
25. Colorado State


►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Monday, December 22)


Final Score: (6) Wisconsin 68, California 56

Nigel Hayes recorded a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds and No. 6 Wisconsin went into Haas Pavilion and shut down the California Golden Bears en route to a 68-56 victory. Cal came in averaging over 70 points per game but succumbed to Wisconsin’s vaunted defense, which limited the Bears to 38.9 percent shooting. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky each donated 14 points and combined for 14 rebounds for the Badgers (11-1), winners of four in a row following their lone loss against No. 2 Duke. Tyrone Wallace led Cal (10-2) with 17 points while Jordan Mathews added 15 in the loss, the team’s first in eight games.


Final Score: Temple 77, (10) Kansas 52

Temple took the subway to play Kansas. An early run and an unrelenting second half carried it the rest of the way. Will Cummings had 19 points and the Owls rolled to a 77-52 upset of No. 10 Kansas on Monday night, shooting better than 58 percent from the field for its first win over the Jayhawks in exactly 19 years. The game was never close, with Cummings sparking a 12-2 run at the start and the Owls (8-4) pulling away to lead by as many as 30 down the stretch. It came 19 years to the day after Temple’s last win over the Jayhawks, also a big upset. The Owls beat No. 1 Kansas 74-66 in overtime on Dec. 22, 1995, during what was the inaugural Jimmy V Classic in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jayhawks (9-2) entered this one riding eight consecutive wins since their 32-point loss to Kentucky on Nov. 18. Only Frank Mason III scored double figures with a game-high 20, including 13 in the first half to keep Kansas from being run out of the building.


Final Score: (11) Wichita State 80, Loyola Marymount 53

Darius Carter and Tekele Cotton both scored 12 points in a balanced effort for No. 11 Wichita State, which disposed of Loyola Marymount 80-53 in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic. Ron Baker had 11 points and Zach Brown added 10 off the bench for Wichita State (9-1), which got points from 13 different players. The Shockers await the winner of the final game of round 1 between Nebraska and host Hawaii. Evan Payne scored a game-high 15 points, which included a pair of highlight reel dunks, and Ayodeji Egbeyemi dropped 13 for Loyola Marymount (3-7).


Final Score: (13) Washington 66, Tulane 57

Nigel Williams-Goss had 14 points and nine assists as No. 13 Washington defeated Tulane 66-57 on Monday night. Robert Upshaw posted 11 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, while Shawn Kemp Jr. added 16 points for the Huskies (11-0), who improved to 5-0 at home this season. Dylan Osetkowski tallied 12 points and nine boards off the bench to lead Tulane (9-2), which had its nine-game winning streak snapped.


Final Score: (16) Notre Dame 91, Northern Illinois 66

Pat Connaughton recorded his second straight double-double and No. 16 Notre Dame crushed Northern Illinois, 91-66, on Monday. Connaughton, two days after posting 19 points and 14 rebounds in a rout of Purdue, poured in 21 points behind five 3-pointers and grabbed 10 boards in the Fighting Irish’s eighth consecutive win. All five Notre Dame (12-1) starters scored in double figures, with Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson each checking in with 16 points, and Jerian Grant and Steve Vasturia adding 11 and 10, respectively. Darrell Bowie’s 15 points paced Northern Illinois (4-5), which fell for the fourth time in five games.


Final Score: (17) St. John’s 66, Long Beach State 49

Chris Obekpa had 16 points, six blocks and eight rebounds as No. 17 St. John’s routed Long Beach State 66-49 on Monday night. Phil Greene IV posted 16 points and four steals, while Sir’Dominic Pointer added 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Red Storm (10-1), who moved to 8-0 at home this season. Mike Caffey netted 13 points to lead Long Beach State (5-8), which fell to 0-7 on the road.


Final Score: (18) West Virginia 77, Wofford 44

Juwan Staten tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds as No. 18 West Virginia rolled over Wofford, 77-44, on Monday. West Virginia’s full-court pressure was too much for Wofford in the early going. The Mountaineers forced five turnovers during an 18-2 start. Jonathan Holton and Jaysean Paige both hit 3-pointers during the run, which stretched more than seven minutes. Holton and Elijah Macon scored 11 points apiece for the Mountaineers (11-1), who forced 21 turnovers for the game. Jevon Carter netted 10 points, Paige and Gary Browne both had nine and West Virginia connected on 19-of-23 from the free throw line. Spencer Collins and Karl Cochran were the lone Terriers to reach double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Wofford (9-3) stumbled out of the gate and never really threatened, finishing an abysmal 11-for-41 from the field.


Final Score: (19) Oklahoma 85, Weber State 51

Ryan Spangler and Jordan Woodard scored 15 points apiece and No. 19 Oklahoma set an NCAA record in a dominating 85-51 win over Weber State on Monday. TaShawn Thomas added 13 points while Buddy Hield and Dinjiyl Walker scored 10 apiece for the Sooners (8-3), who rebounded easily from Saturday’s 69-67 loss to nationally ranked Washington in Las Vegas. The wire-to-wire win over Weber State included a 39-0 run in the first half—the most consecutive points ever scored against a Division I opponent.


Final Score: (21) Ohio State 93, Miami-Ohio 55

Kam Williams led No. 21 Ohio State with 18 points and the Buckeyes rolled to an easy wire-to-wire win over the Miami-Ohio RedHawks, 93-55, Monday. Ohio State (10-2) went on a 17-0 run in the first half, and the game was never close from there. Marc Loving scored 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds, and D’Angelo Russell added 15 points with nine assists. Keita Bates-Diop chipped in 12 points with seven boards, and Jae’Sean Tate scored 10. The RedHawks (3-8) were paced by L.J. Livingston’s career-high 17 points off the bench. He shot 7-of-8 from the field and grabbed eight boards. Geovonie McKnight was the RedHawks’ only other scorer in double figures with 10 points.


Final Score: (22) Baylor 70, Southern 66

Baylor was tested Monday, but the 22nd- ranked Bears survived with a 70-66 win over the visiting Southern Jaguars. Johnathan Motley led Baylor (10-1) with 19 points, and Rico Gathers added 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Southern (3-10) remained winless against D-I opponents this season. Adrian Rodgers paced the Jaguars with 26 points, making 9-of-17 shots from the field. Trelun Banks contributed 13 points and had seven assists.


Final Score: (24) Colorado State 75, Charleston Southern 54

Daniel Bejarano contributed 15 points with eight rebounds and six assists in 24th-ranked Colorado State’s 75-54 win over Charleston Southern. The Rams (12-0) set the record for the longest single-season winning streak in school history while also winning their seventh straight at Moby Arena. John Gillon supplied 14 points off the bench and Stanton Kidd added 13 in the win. Charleston Southern (5-5) completed a winless three-game road trip and has now lost four straight away from home. The Buccaneers opened the season with an overtime win at Ole Miss. Saah Nimley led all scorers with 18 points in the loss.


Final Score: (25) TCU 80, Grambling State 39

Kyan Anderson had game-high 17 points as No. 25 TCU handled Grambling State, 80-39, on Monday. Chauncey Collins scored 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting and Charles Hill Jr. supplied nine points and five rebounds for the Horned Frogs (12-0), who are off to their best start in program history. A’Torri Shine was Grambling State’s lone scorer in double digits and Richard Freeman netted eight for the Tigers (2-8). who have dropped their last three games.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Horford, Aldridge are NBA Players of the Week

Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford and Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge were named the NBA Players of the Week on Monday.

Horford led the Hawks to a perfect 3-0 week, averaging 18.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.7 blocks.

Aldridge helped the Trail Blazers to a 4-0 mark last week, posting point- rebound double-doubles in all four games. He averaged 26.3 points, 14.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.25 steals and 1.25 blocks.


►  NBA Game Results

(Monday, December 22)


Final Score: Charlotte 110, Denver 82

Al Jefferson scored 22 points for the Charlotte Hornets on their way to a 110-82 win over the Denver Nuggets. The Hornets never trailed in their third straight win. Jefferson was joined by four other Hornets in double figures, including Kemba Walker with 18 and nine assists. P.J. Hairston added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson missed his third game with a pelvic sprain. Ty Lawson paced Denver with 18 points and made both of its 3-pointers. The Nuggets shot just 2-of-18 from long distance as they had their two-game winning streak snapped. Alonzo Gee chipped in 15 points for Denver.


Final Score: Chicago 129, Toronto 120

Jimmy Butler continued his torrid stretch on Monday night, but didn’t eclipse the 30-point mark this time. Butler had 27 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and four assists as the Chicago Bulls recorded a 129-120 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. He scored a career-high 35 points in a victory over New York on Thursday, then followed it up with a 31-point, 10-rebound performance against Memphis. Derrick Rose netted 29 points, Pau Gasol posted 14 points and nine rebounds and Aaron Brooks poured in 17 points off the bench for the Bulls, who have won six of their last seven games. Kyle Lowry tallied 34 points and six boards, while Jonas Valanciunas added 20 points and nine rebounds for Toronto, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.


Final Score: Houston 110, Portland 95

James Harden padded his NBA scoring lead with 44 points as the Houston Rockets manhandled the LaMarcus Aldridge-less Portland Trail Blazers, 110-95, on Monday. The Blazers upended the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs last season, but without Aldridge, who sat with an illness, Portland had no one step up to match Harden’s production. Harden only played 32 minutes, shot 14-of-26 from the field and only missed one of his 13 free throw attempts to tie his season-best point total. He added seven assists and five steals for good measure.


Final Score: Utah 97, Memphis 91

Alec Burks scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Utah Jazz came away with a 97-91 victory over the suddenly struggling Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Gordon Hayward chipped in 21 points and Derrick Favors had 15 along with seven rebounds to help the Jazz send the Southwest Division-leading Grizzlies to a season-high third straight loss. Memphis was without top rebounder Zach Randolph for a second consecutive game due to a swollen knee, while defensive stopper Tony Allen missed his fourth in a row with an eye abrasion.


Final Score: Atlanta 105, Dallas 102

The Atlanta Hawks are proving that they can do just fine without their starting point guard. Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 22 points starting in place of Jeff Teague to lead the Hawks to a 105-102 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Teague missed his third straight game with a strained left hamstring. Atlanta has won four straight and closed an impressive three-game road trip that also included wins over Cleveland and Houston. Kyle Korver supplied 18 points, Al Horford had 17 and Paul Millsap deposited 13 points with 12 rebounds in the win. Monta Ellis led the Mavs with 18 points on 8-of-22 shooting and Dirk Nowitzki added 16. Dallas had its three-game winning streak snapped. Rajon Rondo, making his second start as a member of the Mavs, contributed the first double-double for his new club with 13 points and 11 assists.


Final Score: San Antonio 125, LA Clippers 118

Tony Parker scored 26 points and Tim Duncan posted his third straight double-double to help the San Antonio Spurs get back in the win column with a 125-118 decision over the Los Angeles Clippers. Duncan went for 21 points and 12 rebounds, Boris Diaw added a season-high 23 points off the bench and Manu Ginobili scored 19 with 10 assists for the Spurs, losers of an unlikely four straight games before this win. The Spurs assisted on 37 of their 49 baskets and shot a season-high 63.6 percent from the field. Chris Paul scored 25 points and Blake Griffin had 22 in LA’s fourth straight road loss. The Clippers were up by eight early on following DeAndre Jordan’s layup, but lost their lead late in the first quarter and never led again.


Final Score: Golden State 128, Sacramento 108

Klay Thompson scored 25 points to lead the Golden State Warriors in a 128-108 rout of the Sacramento Kings on Monday. Justin Holiday had a career-high 18 points, Festus Ezeli posted a career-high 15 points with eight rebounds and Stephen Curry checked in with 12 points and 11 assists for Golden State. The Warriors have won two straight since Memphis halted their 16-game winning streak last Tuesday. Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights each chipped in 12 points. Golden State improved to 10-1 at home this season in winning its sixth straight over the Kings. Sacramento could not build off of Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers that snapped a five-game skid. DeMarcus Cousins finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead the Kings, while Darren Collison and Omri Casspi tallied 17 and 16 points, respectively.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Twins extend Hughes

The Minnesota Twins agreed to terms with starting pitcher Phil Hughes on a new five-year contract extension on Monday.

Hughes, who was originally signed to a three-year contract last winter which would have paid him $8 million in both 2015 and 2016, will now earn $9.2 million in 2015, $9.2 million in 2016, $13.2 million in 2017, $13.2 million in 2018 and $13.2 million in 2019.

Hughes, 28, went 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 32 starts last season, his first with the Twins. He set a major league record with an 11.63 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio and made news when he finished one-third of an inning shy of a $500,000 bonus.

In his final start of the season, rain forced the Twins’ game against Arizona into a delay after eight innings, forcing Hughes from the game one out shy of 210 innings and the bonus. The club offered Hughes a shot at the bonus by allowing him to work out of the bullpen in one of the remaining games, but he refused.

Hughes has a career record of 72-60 with a 4.32 ERA over 214 games in eight seasons with the Yankees and Twins.


►  Giants officially re-sign Romo

The San Francisco Giants officially re-signed right-handed relief pitcher Sergio Romo to a two-year contract on Monday.

The deal is reportedly worth $15 million.

Romo’s numbers dipped in 2014 as he finished the year with 23 saves, a 3.72 earned run average and a 6-4 record over 64 games.

The 31-year-old Romo, who has been a part of all three of the Giants’ World Series teams since 2010, has racked up 78 saves, a 2.51 ERA and a 31-21 record over 405 games spanning seven seasons with San Francisco.

The right-hander has also gone 3-1 over 25 career postseason appearances, registering a 2.11 ERA and four saves.


►  Pirates win bidding process on SS Kang

The Pittsburgh Pirates submitted the highest bid for the negotiating rights to Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang.

The Pirates now have 30 days to try and work out a contract with Kang.

Kang, 27, hit .356 with 40 home runs and 117 RBI over 117 games last season for the Nexen Heroes.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Penguins send three home to be tested for mumps

The Penguins announced Monday that forwards Brandon Sutter and Steve Downie and goaltender Thomas Greiss were sent back to Pittsburgh to be tested for mumps.

The Penguins play at the Florida Panthers on Monday. The three players will be placed in isolation until test results are known.

Sidney Crosby, Beau Bennett and Olli Maatta have all tested positive, though Crosby is back in the lineup.


►  NHL Game Results

(Monday, December 22)


Final Score: Washington 2, Ottawa 1

Braden Holtby’s outstanding performance between the pipes kept the Washington Capitals on a roll with a 2-1 decision over the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center. Holtby recorded 38 saves in a game in which the Capitals were outshot by a 39-23 count, with Nicklas Backstrom accounting for the deciding goal on a power play late in the second period to help Washington earn a point for a ninth straight outing. The Caps are 7-0-2 during the surge. Jay Beagle also scored for Washington, with Mike Green assisting on both Capitals’ markers. Erik Condra had the lone goal for Ottawa, which received 21 saves from Craig Anderson.


Final Score: Nashville 5, Columbus 1

Pekka Rinne made 30 stops and Nashville broke open the game with three goals in a span of 2:14 early in the third period to claim a 5-1 victory over Columbus at Nationwide Arena. Craig Smith scored twice, Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson and Seth Jones once each for the Predators, winners of three straight and five of their last six. Alexander Wennberg produced a late tally for the Blue Jackets, who lost for just the second time in their last 10 outings. Sergei Bobrovsky was on the hook for four goals on 30 shots in defeat. Curtis McElhinney stopped four of five shots faced in the game’s final 12 minutes.


Final Score: Florida 4, Pittsburgh 3 (SO)

Aleksander Barkov provided the lone goal of a seven-round shootout as Florida claimed a 4-3 decision over Pittsburgh on Monday. After Simon Despres had his chance deflected away by Roberto Luongo to open the final round, Barkov faked a move from forehand to backhand up the middle and casually flipped a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury which ended the game. Jimmy Hayes scored twice in regulation and Jussi Jokinen once for the Panthers, while Luongo came up with 24 saves. Florida has endured four shootouts in its last six contests, lasting a total of 35 rounds. Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling and Evgeni Malkin lit the lamp for the Penguins, and Fleury stopped 34 shots.


Final Score: Vancouver 7, Arizona 1

Alex Burrows had two goals and the Vancouver Canucks broke out of a scoring slump in a big way, rolling to a 7-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. After mustering just 10 goals over their previous six games, the Canucks put up three in the first period to back a 38-save effort from Ryan Miller. Three of Vancouver’s scores on the night came on the power play, where the club had gone 1-of-22 over its last seven outings. Daniel Sedin and Brad Richardson had a goal and an assist in the rout, with Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and Shawn Matthias also lighting the lamp for the Canucks. Mike Smith lasted just over a period for Arizona before being pulled after letting up four goals on 11 shots. Devan Dubnyk stopped 26-of-29 chances in relief. Oliver Ekman-Larsson accounted for the Coyotes’ lone goal as the visitors dropped their seventh game in the last eight.


Final Score: Anaheim 3, San Jose 2 (OT)

Ryan Kesler tallied at the 58-second mark of overtime, just after a power play expired, giving Anaheim a 3-2 victory over San Jose at Honda Center. San Jose’s Brent Burns committed a high-sticking infraction in the final 67 seconds of regulation, and Antti Niemi made a lunging glove stop on Kesler with 23.8 on the clock to help get his team beyond regulation. Niemi was powerless to stop Kesler’s second chance, an overpowering slapshot from the left circle which rippled the net under the crossbar on the far side. Rickard Rakell netted his first NHL regular- season goal and Cam Fowler also lit the lamp for the Ducks, who were coming off a 6-2 loss in Ottawa which concluded a five-game road trip. Frederik Andersen came up with 30 saves for the win.


Final Score: Calgary 4, Los Angeles 3 (OT)

Mark Giordano scored the game-winning goal with 53 seconds left in overtime, Johnny Gaudreau tallied his first career hat trick and the Calgary Flames erased a three-goal deficit for a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday. Jonas Hiller made 31 saves while Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman each supplied two assists for the Flames, who halted an eight-game skid for their first win since Dec. 4. Marian Gaborik, Jamie McBain, and Trevor Lewis each scored for the Kings, who had their two- game win streak come to an end. Jonathan Quick stopped 24-of-28 shots in defeat.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  2014 Golf Year In Review

The 2014 golf season got off to roaring start for one player and another player dominated the late part of the schedule, while several others were great throughout.

The 2014 schedule started in late 2013 and Jimmy Walker was the story early on as he won three times between October and February. Patrick Reed won a pair of events and declared himself a top-5 player, and promptly went into a tailspin.

Reed went 12 more events, and nearly five full months, before his next top-10 finish. He did play well at the Ryder Cup, but he couldn’t help the United States win the cup back.

After Bubba Watson won the Masters for a second time, Martin Kaymer returned to the winners circle for the first time in three years as he won the Players Championship and followed that with a resounding win at the U.S. Open.

The week after Kaymer won his second major at Pinehurst No. 2, Michelle Wie won her first major at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer dominated the majors on the Champions Tour as they both won two majors.

The story of the year was Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman went on a magical run through July and August that saw him win three straight events—the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship.

After posting a 2-1-2 record at the Ryder Cup, McIlroy cruised down the stretch. He finished second in his final three events, and seemingly didn’t play well at times during those events.

As McIlroy dominated, there was plenty of talk about Tiger Woods, but that was all there was. Woods was held to eight events due to back spasms and back surgery. His best finish was a tie for 25th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he finished 20 strokes behind McIlroy.

While Wie won her first major, like Woods, she also missed time due to an injury. That led to a three-way battle for player of the year on the LPGA between Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park and Lydia Ko. All three won three times with Lewis claiming the Vare Trophy (lowest scoring average) and the money title.

Let’s look at the top performers of the season:


PLAYER OF THE YEAR—RORY MCILROY

Every great season has its bumps in the road. After collecting his first win of 2014, Rory McIlroy went on a four-event run in which his best finish was a tie for 14th.

McIlroy followed that with one of the best stretches of golf by any player in over a decade. Starting in the middle of July with the Open Championship, he played nine events the remainder of the season.

In those nine, McIlroy posted three wins (including two majors) and three second-place finishes. The other three results were a tie for fifth, a share of eighth and a tie for 22nd, which was one of just five finishes outside the top-15 all season.

McIlroy won the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship in three consecutive starts. He now owns three legs of the career grand slam with the Masters being the only major he has yet to win. Let the hype for Augusta begin.

With his win at Valhalla, McIlroy started with three straight rounds in the 60s, marking the third time he has done so en route to winning a major championship.

For the year, McIlroy had four wins in 24 worldwide starts. He also notched five runner-up finishes among his 10 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes.

In 2012 and 2014, McIlroy combined for nine worldwide wins and he earned over $16.3 million on the PGA Tour in those two seasons.

LPGA stalwarts Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park and Lydia Ko, three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos Ortiz and Champions Tour leading money winner Bernhard Langer were all considered.


TOURNAMENTS OF THE YEAR—U.S. OPEN and U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN

For the first time in history, one course hosted major championships in consecutive weeks, and both provided plenty of storylines other than the course itself.

Martin Kaymer dominated Pinehurst No. 2 the first two rounds and cruised to victory at the U.S. Open Championship. Kaymer opened with a pair of 65s to grab a 6-shot lead at the halfway point.

The German played the final 36 holes at a more U.S. Open-like 1-over par, but he did more than enough in the first two rounds en route to winning by eight strokes.

Kaymer torched the course thanks to a hot putter, which he used every chance he had to putt from off the green. And the plan worked to perfection.

Michelle Wie didn’t have it as easy, but Wie finally claimed her first major championship a week after Kaymer’s domination at Pinehurst.

Wie shared the lead entering the final round, and she closed with an even-par 70 to hold off Stacy Lewis for the title. Lewis had an impressive eight birdies in the final round, but Wie did enough for the win.

After Lewis had climbed within one, Wie poured in a big eagle putt on the 10th to push her lead back to four shots, and hung on down the stretch.

Pinehurst was set up well to host two majors in back-to-back weeks and two worthy champions walked away with the trophies.

Two other major championships—PGA Championship and Senior British Open—as well as the BMW International Open were also considered.


ROOKIE OF YEAR—LYDIA KO

After winning two LPGA events as an amateur, it was only a matter of time before Lydia Ko earned her first professional title on the LPGA Tour. She waited until her ninth tour start in 2014 to get it done.

In what turned out to be a three-player battle, Ko beat Stacy Lewis and Jenny Shin to win the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.

The victory was Ko’s fourth top-10 finish of the season, and she would go on to post 15 top-10s overall. Ko, Lewis and Inbee Park all won three times in 2014.

Ko wrapped up the season with back-to-back 68s, which helped her get into a playoff at the CME Group Tour Championship. On the fourth playoff hole, Ko made par to secure her third title of the season.

The 17-year-old didn’t miss a cut in 26 starts, finished third on the money list and third in both top-5 and top-10 finishes.

Brooks Koepka, Scott Dunlap and Chesson Hadley were also considered.


GOOD YEAR

- Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park and Lydia Ko all won three times on the LPGA Tour and battled for Player of the Year honors. Lewis narrowly claimed the award thanks in part to topping the money list and winning the Vare Trophy. Lewis was the first American since Betsy King in 1993 to win Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy and the money title in the same season.

- Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer both won twice in the 2014 season, and each claimed their second major championship title. Watson won his second Masters title and Kaymer rolled to victory at the U.S. Open.

- Rickie Fowler failed to win in 2014, but had top-5 finishes in all four majors and shared the third-most top-10 finishes (10) on the PGA Tour.

- Bernhard Langer dominated the Champions Tour from beginning to end. He won the season-opener in Hawaii for the first of his five victories. He was a playoff winner at the Senior Players Championship and he dominated the Senior British Open Championship, which he won by a Champions Tour record 13 strokes. Langer posted 18 top-10 finishes in 21 starts, finished outside the top-20 once in 21 events and earned over $3 million.

- Colin Montgomerie won for the first time in the United States, and won his first major championship, two in fact, of his career. Sure, they came on the Champions Tour, but a win is a win. He ended in the top-16 at all five majors and won the European Senior Tour Order of Merit in just six starts, four of which he won.

- Jay Haas won for the first time since the 2012 season and he finished second to Bernhard Langer in top-5 and top-10 finishes. Haas was also third on the money list.

- Carlos Ortiz and Adam Hadwin were the only two multiple winners on the Web.com Tour in 2014. Ortiz won three times and became the 10th player to gain the battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour.


BAD YEAR

- Due to a lingering back issue that led to surgery, Tiger Woods played in only eight events. He went winless for the third season of his career and his best finish was a share of 25th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

- Ian Poulter had been 12-3 in the Ryder Cup and 4-0 in his four singles matches, but he went 0-1-2 at Gleneagles, which followed an atypical year for the Englishman. He managed a pair of runner-up finishes, but overall collected just five top-10 finishes in 24 starts.

- Phil Mickelson went winless for the first time since 2003 and waited until the PGA Championship to post his one and only top-10 finish of the season.

- Seven-time PGA Tour winner Joey Sindelar notched a single top-10 finish, a tie for 10th at the SAS Championship, in 23 starts on the Champions Tour. Through seven full years on the senior circuit, Sindelar remains winless with four runner-up finishes, two of which came at the then named-Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, which is a team event.

- Former women’s world No. 1 Ai Miyazato did not record a single top-10 finish and she missed seven cuts in 22 starts in 2014. Miyazato finished 86th on the money list.


►  McIlroy ends year atop world rankings

There was not much change to the men’s world rankings as there were just two changes inside the top 20 this week.

Rory McIlroy finished the year as the No. 1 ranked player as he holds a comfortable lead atop the rankings.

Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson all stayed put as Nos. 2-4. The lone change to the top 10 saw Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose swap spots, with Garcia moving up one to No. 5.

Jim Furyk, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer all remained the same at Nos. 7 through 12. FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel exchanged places with Phil Mickelson, moving Horschel up one to No. 13 and Mickelson down a spot to No. 14.

Graeme McDowell, Hideki Matsuyama, Victor Dubuisson, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson and Chris Kirk rounded out the top 20 once again from No. 15.

With this being the final world ranking for 2014, several players earned invitations to the 2015 Masters for ending this season in the top-50 in the rankings. Among that group were Joost Luiten, Stephen Gallacher, Shane Lowry, Mikko Ilonen and Danny Willett, who moved from 51 to 50 this week.


►  Ko jumps Lewis into No. 2 spot in world rankings

Despite not playing last week, 17-year- old Lydia Ko jumped Stacy Lewis and is No. 2 in this week’s world rankings.

Ko, who trailed Lewis by 0.01 average points last week, fell 0.14 average points, while Lewis dropped 0.18 average points, allowing Ko to move up a spot to No. 2.

That was the only change inside the top 20 this week as Inbee Park remained the No. 1 player in the world. After Ko and Lewis, Suzann Pettersen, Shanshan Feng, Michelle Wie, So Yeon Ryu, Hyo-Joo Kim, Karrie Webb and Lexi Thompson rounded out the top 10 from No. 4.

Kyu Jung Baek, Anna Nordqvist, Cristie Kerr, Azahara Munoz, Sun Ju Ahn, Mi Rim Lee, Na Yeon Choi, Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer and In Gee Chun all stayed put and they are Nos. 11 through 20.


►  Top amateur Henderson turns pro

Brooke Henderson, the top-ranked amateur female golfer in the world, has turned pro.

IMG said in a news release Thursday that the 17-year-old Canadian has signed on for representation and also inked a deal with the golf equipment company Ping.

Henderson has won more than 50 tournaments as an amateur and has competed on the LPGA Tour eight times since 2012. She was the low amateur in June’s U.S. Women’s Open, finishing in a tie for 10th place.

After turning pro, Henderson became the top-ranked Canadian in women’s golf.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2014


National Basketball Association
Minnesota at Cleveland, 7:00 PM - FS-North, Ohio, DSS
New Orleans at Indiana, 7:00 PM - FS-New Orleans, Indiana, DSS
Boston at Orlando, 7:00 PM - CSN-New England, FS-Florida, DSS
Chicago at Washington, 7:00 PM - CSN-Chicago, DC+, DSS
Philadelphia at Miami, 7:30 PM - CSN-Philadephia, SunSports, DSS
LA Clippers at Atlanta, 7:30 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, SportSouth, DSS
Denver at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM - Altitude, YES, DSS
Portland at Oklahoma City, 8:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, DSS
Charlotte at Milwaukee, 8:00 PM - SportSouth, FS-Wisconsin, DSS
Dallas at Phoenix, 9:00 PM - FS-Southwest, Arizona, DSS
Golden State at LA Lakers, 10:30 PM - CSN-Bay, Time Warner, DSS


National Hockey League
Nashville at Boston, 7:00 PM - FS-Tennessee, NESN, DSS
Philadelphia at Minnesota, 7:00 PM - TCN-Philadelphia, FS-North+, DSS
Washington at NY Rangers, 7:00 PM - CSN-DC, MSG, DSS
Toronto at Dallas, 7:00 PM - SNET-Ontario, FS-Southwest+, DSS
Montreal at NY Islanders, 7:00 PM - RDS, MSG+2, DSS
Carolina at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - FS-Carolina, MSG+, DSS
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, 7:30 PM - ROOT-Pittsburgh, SunSports, DSS
Buffalo at Detroit, 7:30 PM - MSG-Buffalo, FS-Detroit, DSS
Arizona at Edmonton, 8:00 PM - SNET-West, DSS
St. Louis at Colorado, 8:00 PM - NBCSN
Winnipeg at Chicago, 8:30 PM - TSN3, CSN-Chicago+, DSS


College Basketball
SE Louisiana at South Florida, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Massachusetts at BYU, 2:00 PM - BYUtv
Diamond Head Classic, 2:30 PM - ESPN U
Detroit at Arizona State, 3:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Diamond Head Classic, 4:30 PM - ESPN U
Wagner at Cincinnati, 7:00 PM - FS-Ohio, ESPN3.com
CS Northridge at Louisville, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
Holy Cross at Pittsburgh, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Sacred Heart at Rutgers, 7:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Stanford at Texas, 7:00 PM - ESPN 2
NJIT at Villanova, 7:00 PM - FS1
Texas Southern at Auburn, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+
Georgia Tech at Dayton, 8:00 PM - CBSSN
Jacksonville at Mississippi State, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+
Diamond Head Classic, 9:00 PM - ESPN 2
Las Vegas Classic, 9:00 PM - FS1
South Dakota State at Utah, 9:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Arizona at UNLV, 10:00 PM - CBSSN
Diamond Head Classic, 11:30 PM - ESPN U
Las Vegas Classic, 11:30 PM - FS1


College Football
Marshall vs. Northern Illinois (Boca Raton Bowl), 6:00 PM - ESPN
Navy vs. San Diego State (Poinsettia Bowl), 9:30 PM - ESPN

Sports News   141219

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Mountaineers add 6-foot-3 cornerback Rasul Douglas as early enrollee

Rasul Douglas, a rangy 6-foot-3 cornerback from Nassau (NY) Community College, committed and signed with West Virginia on Wednesday, representing a quality defensive pickup for the 2015 class.

A four-star prospect according to Scout.com and 247 Sports, and a three-star prospect on the Rivals board, Douglas should be on hand for spring practice, where he could begin battling Terrell Chestnut for the starting job opposite Daryl Worley.

Douglas, who retains two years of eligibility, held offers from Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee, though his finalists boiled down to Louisville and Rutgers.

“Douglas is an extremely physical cover corner,” said Keenan Cummings, Rivals senior writer for WVSports.com. “That physical play translates not only in his coverage skills but also with helping to drop down and stop the run. Douglas isn’t afraid to put his shoulder down and take on a running back in the hole or lay a big hit on smaller receivers on the outside. The bigger corner uses his size to man up wide receivers but also has the speed to keep up.”

Rivals currently ranks West Virginia’s class No. 21 for 2015.

Douglas became the second early enrollee from the juco ranks to sign a national letter of intent with WVU on Wednesday, following defensive end Larry Jefferson.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Bears to start Clausen over Cutler

With two games left in a dreadful season, the Chicago Bears are reportedly benching their starting quarterback.

The Bears plan to start Jimmy Clausen over Jay Cutler in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, ESPN.com reported Wednesday.

Cutler has started all 14 games in his sixth season for the Bears, completing 66.1% of his passes for 3,640 yards, 28 touchdowns and an NFL-high 18 interceptions.

He has fumbled 12 times, losing six to lead the league in overall turnovers.

Clausen, who was signed to a one-year contract in June, hasn’t started a game since 2010 for the Carolina Panthers. He has thrown nine passes in three games for Chicago (5-9) this season, completing three.

Before this season, the former Notre Dame star hadn’t appeared in an NFL game since playing 13 for the Panthers as a rookie after he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.


►  Chargers try to stay alive against Niners

For the first time in four seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers won’t be going to the postseason.

Owners of two straight losses, the San Diego Chargers are in danger of joining them.

The Chargers hope to stay alive in the playoff hunt this Saturday night when they visit the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium.

San Diego used a three-game winning streak to move into the postseason picture in the AFC, but a pair of losses to the best the conference has to offer as taken the club out of the driver’s seat.

The Chargers had their win streak halted with a 23-14 loss to the New England Patriots on December 7 and were then bested by the Denver Broncos 22-10 this past Sunday.

At 8-6, the Chargers are tied with Kansas City and Buffalo at one game back of Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the two wild card positions. That means San Diego will likely need to win this Saturday and in its regular-season finale at the Chiefs, plus get help, to reach the playoffs.

The Chargers, without running back Ryan Mathews due to an ankle injury, were held to 288 total yards of offense in the loss to the Broncos. Philip Rivers completed 24-of-41 pass attempts for 232 yards, completing a touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates while also throwing two interceptions.

Kicker Nick Novak also missed a pair of field goal attempts, further deflating an offense that had managed just 216 total yards a week earlier versus the Patriots.

“It was a tough two-game stretch against the best teams in the conference and we’re not in their company yet,“ said Rivers. “We’re just not. That doesn’t mean we can’t be or that I think we can’t beat them. I believe we can.“

The Chargers hope to get on track Saturday and deal the 49ers a fourth loss in a row. San Francisco has lost twice to division-rival Seattle twice over that span, including a 17-7 setback on the road this past Sunday that, along with Detroit’s win over Minnesota, knocked the 49ers out of the playoff picture.

San Francisco had reached the NFC Championship Game in each of its first three seasons under Harbaugh, including one Super Bowl appearance.

Now, there is continued speculation that Harbaugh won’t even return as the team’s coach next season.

“I’m aware of it and I understand what it means,“ 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of his team missing the postseason. “We’ll never give in, keep fighting.“

San Francisco lost running backs Frank Gore (concussion) and Carlos Hyde (ankle) to injury during the game and also saw rookie linebacker Chris Borland depart with his own ankle injury.

Seattle allowed 178 yards to San Francisco in the first half, but clamped down and limited the 49ers to a meager 67 over the final 30 minutes.

The Seahawks outscored the 49ers 14-0 in the second half.

Colin Kaepernick completed 11-of-19 passes for 141 yards for the 49ers, while getting sacked six times.

Sunday was the seventh time in their last eight contests that the 49ers failed to score more than 17 points.

“It is difficult,“ Kaepernick told San Francisco’s website of missing the postseason. “That’s our expectation: that we’re going to get to the playoffs and we’re going to make a run. To not get that opportunity this year is not something that we’re used to.“

The all-time series between the Niners and Chargers is even at 6-6, though that does not include San Francisco’s victory over San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX.

The Chargers have won three straight over the Niners, including a 34-7 decision in the most recent meeting in 2010. Rivers posted a 150.5 passer rating in that game, throwing for 273 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

San Francisco’s offense was held to 192 total net yards.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Both teams come in hobbling, having lost several key players last Sunday.

San Diego, which has the 12th-ranked passing offense in the league, will be without wide receiver Keenan Allen, who has been ruled out due to a broken collarbone and ankle injury sustained in the third quarter against the Broncos. He leads the Chargers with 77 catches and 783 yards to go along with four touchdown receptions.

“There’s no doubt it hurts,“ Rivers said of losing Allen. “You know how I am with any injury we’ve had over the years and dealt with. I never want to slight the player that we’re losing, but at the same time, you don’t want to slight the guys who are going to be stepping up. So we’ll miss him.“

Those expected to step up include wideouts Eddie Royal, Malcom Floyd and Seyi Aijrotutu, while Gates is always a factor as well.

Gates needs just two more TD catches to tie Don Hutson (99) for ninth place in league history.

San Diego is averaging just 82.6 rushing yards per game, 31st in the league, and there is a good chance Mathews is out again this weekend, while Rivers did not practice on Tuesday and Wednesday because of injury.

Rivers, though, expects to play on Saturday and extend his streak of 142 straight starts. He is 2-0 as a starter versus the Niners with 607 passing yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 130.1 passer rating.

“I hate not practicing,“ Rivers told San Diego’s website. “But I think at some point you’ve got to do what’s best for me and the team. Practicing today wouldn’t have been beneficial moving toward Saturday ... Where we are in the season, and what I can get done in the walk through, it’s not a major concern.“

San Diego’s ninth-ranked defense wasn’t immune to injury either, with inside linebacker Donald Butler going on injured reserve because of a dislocated elbow sustained versus the Broncos. He was second on the club with 73 tackles and also had three fumble recoveries.

The Chargers will be going up against a Niners offense that may be without its top two running backs in Gore and Hyde. The latter already doesn’t expect to play, while Gore must pass concussion protocol.

With those two sidelined from practice this week, San Francisco signed Phillip Tanner, leaving him and Alfonso Smith as the only healthy running backs available.

San Francisco’s ranks 13th on the ground, with Gore posting 804 yards on 204 carries with three touchdowns. He also is scheduled to be a free agent as season’s end.

“Frank obviously has been a huge asset to this team,“ said Kaepernick. “He’s been a great player, a great leader on this team, and we want to win as many games as we can for him and everyone.“

Perhaps the bigger blow is the loss of Borland, the team’s leading tackler with 107. He helped fill the void left by injured linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman and Nick Moody is expected to start in his place on Saturday.

Moody, in his second season, stepped in for Borland versus the Seahawks and had five tackles. Saturday could mark his first NFL start.

“It felt real good,“ Moody said on the Niners’ website of getting into the game, “especially knowing that the guys had confidence in me.“

San Francisco did come up with five sacks versus the Seahawks and still rank third in total defense with 307.1 yards allowed per game. Defensive tackle Tank Carradine picked up the first two sacks of his career, while linebacker Ahmad Brooks notched his team-leading sixth sack.

Defensive tackle Ray McDonald also had a sack, but the Niners opted to release the troubled player on Wednesday after police announced he is the suspect in a sexual assault case.

The 49ers stuck with McDonald after he was arrested in August on charges of domestic violence, which were dropped on November 10 due to insufficient evidence, and he has not been arrested for the current charges as the investigation is ongoing, but San Francisco still decided to terminate his contract.

“Ray has demonstrated a pattern of poor decision-making that is no longer going to be tolerated,“ San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Niners are the definition of a lame duck right now and reports have already surfaced of Harbaugh being offered a massive deal to become head coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

Couple that distraction with continued struggles by Kaepernick, who has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three straight and four of his last five, and this has all the makings of a blowout loss in front of a frustrated fanbase.

The Chargers still have a ton to play for and their goal will be to keep Rivers healthy and intact for hopefully a big Week 17 meeting at Kansas City. Though banged up, San Francisco can still bring heat on the quarterback and not having Mathews or Allen will impact the Chargers offense as well.

San Francisco should be loose, but that may not be a good thing given its inability to put up points right now.


►  Teddy returns to South Beach as Vikings visit Dolphins

Mike Zimmer is approaching the waning days of what he hopes is the first of many years as the Minnesota Vikings head coach. Joe Philbin is likely in the death throes of his three-year stint in Miami.

Such is life in the NFL where 6-8 is considered progress in one city and being a tick better at 7-7 is a disappointment in another.

The Dolphins and their lame-duck head coach will try to halt a two-game losing streak on Sunday when they host a Vikings team excited about the development of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native.

Philbin’s ultimate fate was probably sealed last weekend when Miami faltered in the second half and was doused by AFC East-rival New England, 41-13, in Foxbrorough.

Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes during a 24-point third quarter, as the Patriots clinched their sixth straight division title.

Ryan Tannehill completed 29-of-47 passes for 346 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for Miami, which had beaten New England in the season opener 33-20 but saw its already slim playoff hopes dashed further with the second straight loss.

The Dolphins outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half back in September but had the tables turned this time to the tune of 27-0 in the final 30 minutes of this one.

“We have to play 60 minutes of football,“ Philbin said. “You can’t make the mistakes that we made.“

Miami is technically still alive in the postseason race but must win its final two games—against Minnesota and the New York Jets—and receive plenty of help elsewhere to get in.

“I believe in the players,“ Philbin said. “I have confidence in the players. We have an outstanding locker room.“

The Vikings, meanwhile, had 10-4 Detroit on the ropes last weekend but faltered thanks in large part to a blocked, fourth-quarter field goal.

The Lions’ Matt Prater hit his late field goal to lift Detroit to a 16-14 victory over Minnesota in the NFC North matchup.

Bridgewater went 31-for-41 for 315 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Vikings, who had won their previous two coming into the game.

Leading by one Minnesota went on an impressive long drive that covered 75 yards over 18 plays and ate up 11 minutes, but the team came away empty as Blair Walsh’s 26-yard field goal was blocked by Jason Jones. Detroit then countered with the march that won the game, culminating with Prater’s 33-yard field goal for a 16-14 lead with 3:38 to play.

The Vikings had chances, getting the ball back near midfield thanks to a big return from Cordarrelle Patterson, but Patterson fell on a fourth down passing play to give the ball back to Detroit.

Minnesota forced a punt and got the ball back with 45 seconds, but they were only able to get to midfield and Walsh’s 68-yard field goal attempt fell well short to end the game.

“We led almost all the way, but we can’t turn the ball over twice and we can’t miss field goals,“ Bridgewater said. “We’re just going to continue to try to get better.“

The Dolphins lead their all-time series with Minnesota by a 6-4 margin, winning the last two. The teams haven’t played since September 19, 2010 when Miami edged the Vikings, 14-10, in Minneapolis. They haven’t tussled in South Florida since 2006.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Philbin has been the definition of mediocre as the Dolphins coach, compiling a 7-9 record in 2012 and upping that to 8-8 last season before settling in at 7-7 with two weeks left in the current campaign.

A 5-3 start and some improvement by Tannehill has many thinking Miami was ready to take the next step this season but that’s been tempered in the last two weeks as the Dolphins have been outscored by a 69-26 margin in losses to playoff- caliber teams, Baltimore and New England.

“Players were disappointed. Coaches are disappointed. Owners are disappointed. “I think that’s understandable,“ Philbin admitted.

The main issue has been the offense which can’t get the running game going and hasn’t topped 16 points in any game during the month of December. The Dolphins have mustered only 71 yards on the ground per game this month, making the team one-dimensional and easy to figure out especially when it falls behind.

With opposing defenses content to pin their ears back Tanneheill has been sacked 10 times during Miami’s two-game skid.

The Vikings’ strength, meanwhile, is its defense, not a surprise considering Zimmer’s reputation as a blitz doctor. Minnesota has improved from 31st in the NFL to 11th in defense in one-year under Zimmer, who is on the verge of turning young players like defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Shariff Floyd, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes into stars. Safety Harrison Smith, meanwhile, is already entrenched as one of the NFL’s best.

The unit has continued to be stingy despite being without Floyd and Barr recently due to knee injuries, holding Detroit to a season-low 233 yards.

Offensively Minnesota isn’t very dynamic because of the year-long absence of Adrian Peterson due to off-the-field issues. Things are starting to click for Bridgewater, though, who will be aiming for a third straight game with a completion percentage over 70.0 and more than 300 yards passing.

“The good thing is Teddy is getting a lot of these experiences,“ Zimmer said. “The on-the-job training he’s getting I really believe will bode well for him in the future and for us as an organization and as a team.“

Bridgewater, meanwhile, is excited for his chance to play in South Florida.

“I’m pretty loved back home in Miami and a lot of people tell me that I’m a role model in my community,“ Bridgewater said Wednesday. “So it’ll be amazing to see how many turn out there and get to see me play in person for the first time for some people.“

The Vikings may have found something in first-year receiver Charles Johnson, a lengthy and speedy target who has an innate feel for running routes and creating separation. Johnson has quickly become Bridgewater’s favorite target, snaring 20 balls for 355 yards and two TDs over his last five games.

The Dolphins’ defense is talented but has stalled recently, forcing just five turnovers in the past six games as the pass rush has slowed. Miami has also struggled against the run in recent weeks because of injuries at the linebacker position.

“Part of my job is to get the team to play up to their potential each and every week,“ Philbin said. “To that degree, certainly I feel like we could do better.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Vikings are headed in the right direction but still haven’t figured out how to close in tight games. Figure on the growing pains to continue here on the road as Miami wins a field-gal game late.

“Right now what’s relevant is getting our team to play up to their potential for 60 minutes against the Minnesota Vikings,“ the embattled Philbin said. “That’s really all that is important to me right now.“


►  Packers are back to torture Lovie

Midwesterners heading to Florida at this time of year aren’t unique.

What’s a trifle more rare, however, is a Sunshine State football team that’d rather be elsewhere.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter their Week 16 matchup with the visiting Green Bay Packers having lost seven consecutive games at Raymond James Stadium, including all six this season. The stretch of home futility is the franchise’s longest in exactly 37 years, when the expansion version lost its first 13 games on home turf before breaking through to beat the St. Louis Cardinals on December 18, 1977.

“We’ve come close quite a few times at home,“ Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “Once we get it going, instead of talking about getting that first win we should be talking about, ‘Hey, we haven’t lost at home.‘ We realize we have a couple of more opportunities, but what better week than (against Green Bay)?“

Tampa Bay’s wins this season came at Pittsburgh and Washington in weeks 4 and 11, respectively, but the 27-7 defeat of the Redskins has since been followed by four straight losses in which it has scored 13 points twice and 17 points twice. The Bucs have gotten past 17 points just three times in the other 10 games and are third from last in the NFL in total offense, with an average of 305.9 yards per week.

It’s the opposite for the Packers, who have posted 31.1 points and 383.6 yards per week, while Tampa Bay has been gashed for weekly averages of 26.2 points and 366.6 yards - both 25th in the league.

Smith was zero for his last six against Green Bay while coaching the Chicago Bears, including a 21-14 loss in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in January 2011. The Packers haven’t faced the Bucs since a 35-26 home win in Week 11 of the 2011 regular season.

He’ll have a slightly easier day this time around in the absence of Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who’s lost for the remainder of the season with a sprained right knee.

“Of course you want to finish the games with your guys, but you have to look at the bigger picture, and that’s my overall health,“ McCoy said. “I think we have a lot of great - not good, great - ahead of us for this team, this organization. A big part of that will be my health.“

Considering the Bucs’ inability to win at home, something will have to give when it comes to Green Bay, which has gone just 3-4 in seven 2014 road games compared to a pristine 7-0 slate at Lambeau Field.

The Packers dropped a surprising 21-13 verdict last week at Buffalo, a defeat that both ended a five-game win streak and dropped them into a tie with Detroit atop the NFC North. The Lions were 19-7 winners when the teams played at Ford Field in September and could clinch the division title this weekend with a win against Chicago coupled with a Green Bay loss to Tampa Bay.

If both Detroit and the Packers win this week, the crown will be worn by the winner of their Week 17 game in Green Bay. The Packers can stay in contention for the No. 1 overall seed in the conference if they beat the Bucs and Seattle wins at Arizona.

Green Bay at least secures a playoff berth - its sixth straight - with a win, and a loss by either Dallas or Philadelphia.

“Everything is right in front of us,“ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We win out, we still win the North.“

Rodgers completed just 17-of-42 passes - the 25 incompletions were a career- high - against the Bills, who picked him off twice while holding him to 185 yards. It was the first game this season in which he hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass, and put a dent in what had been a league-best 119.0 passer rating.

“It wasn’t my best day by any stretch of the imagination,“ he said. “I’ve got to play better for us to win, and I expect more of myself.“

All five of Rodgers’ interceptions have come in road games, and he’s failed to exceed 210 yards four times in those seven starts. He has 12 TD passes away from home, compared to 23 at Lambeau. The last four road games have resulted in losses to New Orleans and Buffalo and three-point victories over Miami and Minnesota.

“This is a road game we have to have,“ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who can pass Vince Lombardi on the all-time Green Bay wins list (including postseason). “We clearly understand the importance of winning in December, and we need to take it up a notch as a football team.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Getting Rodgers Right

As mentioned, Green Bay’s MVP candidate heads into the weekend after the worst statistical game of his accomplishment-rich career, the loss to the Bills in which he finished with an anemic 34.3 passer rating. Though the Bucs don’t present much of a threat when it comes to wins and losses, it’s worth noticing that Rodgers has started twice in Tampa Bay (in 2008 and 2009) and lost both games.

Remember When

Another week, another chance for Tampa Bay fans to look back when they think about running back Doug Martin. The now third-year man took the league by storm as a rookie and scored 12 times while amassing 1,454 yards. But he played just six games in 2013 and has 369 rush yards this year while still battling injuries. A good sign: He comes in this week off of 2014’s best game - 96 yards against Carolina.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and the fact that Rodgers hasn’t ever won in Tampa Bay is worth mentioning. But that’s about all. Outside of those wins in the Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris eras, the Bucs have precious little to bank on this time around. Regardless of venue, the Packers have more on the line, more to look forward to and are just better by every pertinent measure.


►  ‘Johnny Sequel’ Manziel tries again vs. Panthers

It can’t possibly go worse, can it?

The much-anticipated starting debut of Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel was a bigger bomb than “47 Ronin,“ the Keanu Reeves fantasy action film regarded by Hollywood as the biggest Box Office bust in history.

“Johnny Football” will get his second opportunity on Sunday against a 5-8-1 Carolina Panthers team still in the thick of the NFC South race.

The harshest of Manziel’s critics didn’t expect what happened last weekend when the lightning rod proved to be an abject mess in his first NFL start, completing 10-of-18 for 80 yards with two first-half interceptions as Cleveland’s playoff hopes nosedived in a similar trajectory to Manziel’s stock with a 30-0 setback to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals.

“There were flashes but they were brief,“ Browns coach Mike Pettine said in a laughably kind review of Manziel’s performance.

Seemingly every Bengals defender got a chance to flash the former Heisman Trophy winner’s signature money-sign celebration to the FirstEnergy Stadium crowd, essentially mocking Manziel for his inability to get anything done offensively.

“Of course, he kind of brought that on himself,“ Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry quipped.

The Browns made the switch from the limited Brian Hoyer to Manziel to provide a spark in an effort to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. However, that spark was never fanned.

In his first 30 minutes, Manziel was 4-for-9 for 22 yards and a 12.0 passer rating and things never really turned around as Cleveland, which has lost three in a row, ran only 38 offensive plays (the fewest by any team in a game this season), totaled 107 yards of total offense and had six three-and-outs.

“I saw the field fine today, but when it came down to it, I just need to throw the ball and let it rip, and I didn’t do a very good job of that,“ Manziel understated.

About the only positive you could take from Manziel’s performance was the fact he didn’t make any excuses.

“Nobody wants to win (in the locker room) more than I do, and it’s tough to come out there and lay an egg like that,“ Manziel said. “I’m not using the rookie excuse. I needed to play better.“

The Panthers, meanwhile, kept hope alive in Week 15 by topping lowly Tampa Bay, 19-17, to win for the first time in seven games despite being without star quarterback Cam Newton, who was injured in a car accident earlier in the week.

Derek Anderson filled in for Newton and threw for 277 yards and a touchdown.

Newton suffered two transverse process fractures in his lower back in a two- car accident on December 9 near the team’s stadium. Anderson, who also started for Newton in the Panthers’ Week 1 win at Tampa Bay, completed 25-of-40 passes.

“Everything was not as clean as we would’ve liked it.“ Anderson said. “It wasn’t perfect by any means ... overall I’m very happy with the win.“

Greg Olsen matched a career-high with 10 receptions for 110 yards and Kelvin Benjamin added 104 yards on eight receptions for Carolina, which is percentage points behind the New Orleans Saints (6-8) for first place in the division with two games to play.

After Cleveland the Panthers will finish their schedule at Atlanta, which is 5-9 and also in the mix in the NFC South. The Saints and Falcons play each other in New Orleans on Sunday, and the Saints will close the regular season at Tampa Bay in Week 17.

The Panthers need to win their final two games and have the Saints lose once to repeat as division champions.

Carolina leads its all-time series with the Browns by a 3-1 margin but the two teams haven’t met since November 28, 2010 when Cleveland got its only win, a 24-23 triumph in the Buckeye State. The clubs haven’t met in the Queen City since 2006, a 20-12 Panthers win.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Panthers are playing a wait-and-see game with Newton but signs point to him giving it a go on Sunday. Newton was able to practice by Wednesday and reports said he was moving well and looking relatively pain free, just eight days since his accident.

“He looked like he threw the ball well, but again, a lot depends on how he feels tomorrow,“ Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He went through all the team drills. He went through all the individual drills. He did all we had slated for him.This is a young man who is very strong-willed and very tough.“

The hope is that Newton continues to progress without any setbacks. Rivera hopes to make a final decision on his status by Friday.

“The biggest factor will be whether or not (team doctors) tell me he can protect himself,“ Rivera said. “I don’t want to put a guy out there if he can’t protect himself. By that I mean being able to run out of the way, scramble out of the way to stay alive, keep the play alive, by being able to get out of the way.“

Whether its Newton or Anderson under center, expect them to keep feeding Olsen, who has 20 catches in his last two games and is tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with 81 receptions and ranks second with 960 yards.

“If I see him one-on-one with a guy that I know can’t cover him, I have a lot of confidence in what (Olsen’s) going to do,“ Anderson said.

Making things tougher for the Cleveland defense are injuries to cornerbacks Joe Haden (shoulder) and Justin Gilbert (concussion), who are both iffy for this contest.

Manziel, meanwhile, called his first chance at solving an NFL defense “very humbling” and the Browns are hoping his struggles serve as a wake-up call when it comes to off-the-field preparation.

“I think it’s too small a sample size,“ Pettine said when asked to project Manziel’s future. “When you look at how we played around him, I think it’s very unfair to judge what somebody’s career is going to be like off of their first start. That type of game humbles all of us.“

Manziel, however, is trying to stay away from the negativity.

“I’m not really listening to any outside noise or what anybody else has to say,“ he said. “I know that I need to play better and if I don’t, people are going to continue to say things like that.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Panthers get a big break here in a must win game with Manziel starting, which strikes many as a general manager forcing a first-round pick on a first- year coach with little cachet. Pettine understands Manziel is simply not ready to play an NFL game yet so the Browns ate behind the 8-ball for the final weeks.

Whether Newton or Anderson starts, Carolina should do enough to stay in the NFC South race for at least one more week.

“It’s a race, but we play Cleveland next. That will be the focus,“ Rivera said. “We’ve got to get things going in the right direction.“


►  Steelers seek to lock up playoff berth vs. Chiefs

With apologies to Paul Revere and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, winning is most certainly a “two if by land” proposition for the modern-day Kansas City Chiefs.

The 2014 Chiefs have lived and died based on the fortunes of running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, who’ve combined for 1,388 yards on the ground and scored 21 of the team’s 36 touchdowns.

It’ll be the same scenario for Week 16, when Kansas City visits Pittsburgh, whose run defense has allowed 183 yards and one score in its last two games. Davis had a pair of touchdowns in the Chiefs’ 31-13 defeat of Oakland last week, while Charles is listed probable to face the Steelers after dinging up an ankle and undergoing a concussion test after a hard hit.

“Every game from here forward is a playoff game. We’re taking that mindset into every game,“ Davis said. “For me, it’s just a dream to be in the NFL. To make the big plays and help this team win is just huge all around.“

Meanwhile, the drought continues for the Chiefs wide receivers, who’ve now gone 17 games across two seasons without a touchdown, matching Denver (1971-72) and Cleveland (2008-09) for the longest streaks since the AFL-NFL merger. Quarterback Alex Smith has 18 TD throws, including five each to Charles and tight end Travis Kelce and four to another tight end, Anthony Fasano.

The two Browns teams involved in Cleveland’s streak were a combined 9-23, while the two Broncos teams were 9-18-1.

“The fact that they’re still winning games and haven’t been able to have passing touchdowns like that, it shows that they’re a very resourceful team,“ Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said.

Both Pittsburgh and Kansas City will need some success this week to stay playoff relevant.

The Steelers, at 9-5, are tied for second with Baltimore in a competitively muddled AFC North, each sitting a half-game behind Cincinnati. The Bengals play Monday night against Denver - which has already clinched the AFC West ahead of the Chiefs - while Baltimore heads to Houston.

Pittsburgh finishes the regular season with Cincinnati next weekend. The Steelers beat the Bengals, 42-21, in Week 14, then came back and won at Atlanta, 27-20, last Sunday.

A win against the Chiefs and Pittsburgh will clinch at least a wild-card berth.

“The last couple of games have been playoff games for us,“ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We’ve had to take that approach and that mindset because of how important every game was where we were record wise, seed-wise whatever you want to call it. We’ve kind of had that mentality for the last couple of weeks that it’s time to get hot and play our best football. So we’re just going to continue to try to do that.“

Kansas City was in prime playoff position about a month ago, before a three- game losing skid that was only halted by the win against the Raiders. The Chiefs are now among a gaggle of AFC teams at 8-6 or better and will finish the season against another, San Diego, next weekend.

“Every game is playoff mode,“ Charles said. “Every game, you’ve got to come with it.“

Pittsburgh’s offense have been the league’s most prolific through 14 games, thanks to an eight-game stretch in which it’s averaged 424.9 yards and 33.1 points. The Steelers are 6-2 during that run.

“We’re trying to stack wins,“ cornerback William Gay said. “Playing against good opponents and just putting everything on the line.“

The driving force has been the trio of Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has already exceeded 4,400 passing yards and he’s completed a career-best 67.2% of his passes. His 29 touchdowns are three shy of his high watermark, set in 2007.

Brown’s 115 catches are tops in the NFL and a franchise record for a single season. He’s two yards from surpassing the 1,499-yard franchise record he established last year, and one more TD catch will make him the fourth Pittsburgh receiver to haul in 12 in a season, joining Hines Ward (2002), Louis Lipps (1985) and Buddy Dial (1961).

Bell has 76 catches of his own, far exceeding the previous team best by a running back - 51 by John L. Williams in 1994. His 2,043 yards from scrimmage are also a franchise record.

Bettering the numbers won’t be a cake walk against the Chiefs, whose pass defense is No. 2 in the league with an average allowance of 199.2 pass yards per week.

“It’s a good defense. We have to look at a lot more film because they get after the passer (and are) good in the secondary,“ Roethlisberger said. “This is going to be one of our toughest tasks of the year.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

A Multi-Toned Bell

Pittsburgh’s Week 15 foe, Atlanta, came in with an all-in strategy to stop the run, and they were successful in limiting Bell to just 47 yards on 20 rushes. Problem is, the run is not the only thing with which Bell can hurt a defense. He caught five passes for 72 yards - including a 44-yard catch and run - and will be a vital element regardless on which way the Chiefs attack.

Disrupt “Big Ben’s” Timing

The Steelers have seen Roethlisberger sacked 32 times in 14 games, which doesn’t sound terrific, but is still on pace to be Ben’s lowest number for a season in which he started at least 14 games. Keeping that pace could be an issue, however, if the league’s co-leader in sacks, Justin Houston, gets clear to add to his 17. He and fellow outside linebacker Tamba Hali have 23 combined.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s probably not a preview of the AFC Championship Game. In fact, there’s a far better chance that the team that loses this game won’t even make the playoffs at all. What it is, though, is a meeting of two teams with significant talent on both sides of the ball. The difference, it seems, comes in the fact that the Steelers have more Plan Bs when the Plan As don’t work. That’s what’ll matter here.


►  Saints plan to ground Falcons in NFC South race

The playoffs start early in The Big Easy on Sunday when the New Orleans Saints play host to the Atlanta Falcons in a game that will go a long way in determining who represents the downtrodden NFC South in the postseason.

The Saints lead the NFL’s worst division at 6-8 with two games to play but both Carolina (5-8-1) and Atlanta (5-9) remain in the mix with NOLA and the Falcons controlling their own destinies.

If either the Saints or the Falcons can win out, they will win the division and host a first-round playoff game. After this contest New Orleans will close the regular season at Tampa Bay in Week 17, while Atlanta will host the Panthers.

Carolina, meanwhile, entertains Johnny Manziel and Cleveland this week and needs to win their final two games and have the Saints lose once to repeat as division champions.

New Orleans can clinch the South for the first time since 2011 with a victory over the Falcons and a Carolina loss to the Browns.

“It sets us up for no bigger game than what’s coming up against Atlanta,“ Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.

“We all understand where we’re at,“ Atlanta coach Mike Smith countered. “We know we control our own destiny. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does. The first thing we have to do is go down and play very well and win the game in New Orleans.“

The Saints took over first place for now thanks to an impressive 31-15 win over the stumbling Bears in Chicago on Monday night.

Brees threw three touchdown passes in what was his 200th career game, completing 29-of-36 passes for 375 yards and setting an NFL record with his ninth straight season with at least 4,000 yards passing.

“I think there’s a sense of urgency that we need to create each week, and we need to be mindful of how important that edge is to play well,“ Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Josh Hill caught two scores, Marques Colston finished with five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown and Mark Ingram ran for a late score.

“We were pretty balanced and able to make some plays in the passing game,“ said Brees. “It was a great team effort.“

The Falcons, meanwhile, suffered their second straight tough loss against a prolific offense, losing to Pittsburgh 27-20 as Le’Veon Bell scored twice and set the Steelers franchise record for yards from scrimmage.

Bell did not find much running room against an uncharacteristically stingy Atlanta front, but he did reach the end zone twice among 20 carries for 47 yards. He also made five catches for 72 yards and broke Barry Foster’s single- season Steelers record for yards from scrimmage with 2,042.

Matt Ryan threw for 310 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Falcons, who were coming off a 43-37 shootout loss in Green Bay.

Harry Douglas filled in admirably for an injured Julio Jones, making 10 catches for 131 yards. Jones, who was coming off a career-high 259 yards against the Packers, was unable to play through a hip pointer injury he suffered late in a loss to the Packers.

“We felt we had lots of chances to have a different outcome,“ said Smith.

Atlanta leads the all-time series by a 47-43 margin, including a 37-34 overtime win back in September at the Georgia Dome when Ryan threw for a franchise-record 448 yards and three TDs, and Matt Bryant booted a game- winning 52-yard field goal in the extra frame.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Brees has been the Falcons biggest nemesis ever since he came to New Orleans from San Diego back in 2006. The veteran signal caller has amassed a 7-1 mark over Atlanta in the Superdome, compiling a stellar 103.8 passer rating in those contests.

Of course Atlanta is hardly the only team that has had a difficult time containing Brees, who leads NFL with 43,091 passing yards and 314 TD passes since he took over the Saints.

The veteran destroyed the Bears, who rank 31st in the NFL in passing defense, on Monday night and the Falcons have the only secondary giving up more yardage than Chicago, a league-worst 292.5 yards per game.

‘I think we’ve shown a couple times we can handle adversity, let’s make sure we can handle success, too,“ Brees said. “The tendency after success is to relax, and it’s not time to relax.“

Brees threw for 333 yards in the loss in Atlanta earlier this season but was outdone by Ryan’s Herculean performance, which may have to happen again here.

Ryan has been putting up big numbers recently, tossing for 1,046 yards and eight TDs over the last three weeks but has also been throwing the game- changing pick at inopportune times.

“We know what’s in front of us,“ Ryan said. “We know what we’ve got to do. It’s a playoff-type mentality. We’ve got to win next week. We’ve got to have the best week of practice that we’ve had this year and prepare as best we can.“

Getting Jones, perhaps the best receiver in all of football, back should help. The All-Pro is second in the NFL with 1,428 receiving yards despite missing last week’s game.

“It’s tough when (Jones is) not in,“ Ryan said. “He’s such a special player.“

New Orleans’ defense hasn’t been much better than the Falcons’ this season but did show a little life in Chicago, stopping a four-game string in which they had allowed at least 400 yards. The Saints’ stop unit limited Jay Cutler and Co. to 278 total yards while amassing seven sacks and three interceptions.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Facing a Payton-coached team in the Superdome used to foreshadow certain demise but the Saints’ 19-game run with the veteran coach on the sideline in NOLA ended against San Francisco on November 8. Since then the Saints have lost three more in what used to be their cozy confines. Conversely they have won their only two on the road over that span.

Translation: you never know what to expect with this New Orleans team. If anything, though, the Falcons are even less consistent and just don’t have the horses on defense to contend with Brees.

“You want to be playing for a lot at the end of the season and we are right now,“ Brees said. “No bigger game than the one coming up.“


►  Clausen set to take over Bears against playoff-hungry Lions

The Detroit Lions are still in the mix to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC heading into the postseason. Then again, there’s also a slim chance they’ll be out of the playoff picture altogether.

Detroit takes another step toward a playoff berth and its first-ever NFC North crown, as it goes after a fourth straight win in a road test against the hapless Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

The Lions can clinch their second playoff spot in four years before they even take the field on Sunday if Philadelphia loses to Washington on Saturday.

A win over the Bears would net the same result for the Lions, who could also clinch their first division crown in 21 years with a win coupled with a Green Bay loss to Tampa Bay.

“It’s right there in front of us,“ defensive end Jason Jones said.

Everything broke right for the Lions in Week 15. First, the Buffalo Bills pulled off an upset of the Packers, then Matt Prater’s late field goal helped the Lions pull out a 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings to move them into a tie atop the division with the Packers.

Detroit actually holds the tiebreaker over Green Bay at the moment given its win over the Packers earlier in the year. The Lions will visit Lambeau Field in Week 17, likely with a chance at securing their first division title since winning the NFC Central in 1993.

“We’re not taking any game for granted, any play for granted,“ said Matt Stafford, who threw for a season-low 153 yards in the win over the Vikings. “It’s not going to be pristine every time, but we’re going to fight tooth and nail for wins and that showed up again today.“

It’s the first time the Lions reached 10 wins in the first 14 games of the season since the Lions started 10-4 in 1991.

Chicago, meanwhile, is no such playoff position after a lifeless, 31-15, shellacking at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

And now the team is in complete disarray.

Shortly after the loss reports started to circulate that head coach Marc Trestman may be out of a job at the end of the season. Then, on Wednesday it leaked that the Bears would bench starting quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen, who hasn’t started a game since 2010.

“The bottom line is that this is a business based on winning and losing,“ Trestman said. “We can’t sugarcoat it. We are disappointed that we’re not playing well enough to win.“

Cutler turned in another subpar performance against the Saints as he threw for just 194 yards on 17-of-31 passing with two touchdown passes and three interceptions for the Bears, who have dropped their last three games.

“Overall, I just feel that we need passion to come from certain places and I don’t think the passion is always there all the time,“ Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said.

The Lions have won three straight over the Bears including a Thanksgiving Day triumph when Stafford threw for 390 yards and two scores. They haven’t won consecutive contests in Chicago since a six-game run from 1968-73

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Detroit only managed 233 total yards versus the Vikings, but could be in store for a big bounce back this week considering the Bears have given up 35.3 points and 438.0 yards over their three-game slide.

Chicago’s defense has given up a league-high 409 points, 19 more than the Tennessee Titans, who have allowed 390. In fact, they’ve given up 251 points in the first half alone.

To put that into perspective, three teams haven’t surrendered that many in 14 full games, led by the Lions with 238 and followed by the Seahawks (242) and Cardinals (244).

Speaking of the Lions’ second-ranked defense, they haven’t allowed more than 17 points in three straight games and five of the last six.

That doesn’t figure to change against a Bears team that will go with Clausen, who has completed three of his nine pass attempts this season.

Before this season, the former Notre Dame star hadn’t appeared in an NFL game since playing 13 for the Carolina Panthers as a rookie after he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Cutler, meanwhile, has started all 14 games in his sixth season for the Bears, completing 66.1% of his passes for 3,640 yards, 28 touchdowns and an NFL-high 18 interceptions.

He has fumbled 12 times, losing six to lead the league in overall turnovers.

“Our whole football team isn’t where it needs to be,“ Trestman said. “Nobody’s happy about it. Jay’s not happy about it. We all can do better.“

Even without Cutler the Bears still have some offensive firepower with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Bennett and running back Matt Forte.

“You look at a guy like Alshon Jeffery,“ safety Glover Quin said. “He can make tough catches. He can go deep on you. You look at Bennett. He can move the chains. You look at Forte. He’s a Pro Bowl player. He’s a big-time running back.

“You look at all those things. They can throw it. They can catch it. They can run it.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s all there for the Lions taking. All they need to do is win and they are in the playoffs. With a regular season-ending game in Green Bay next week, the Lions know they’d be better off taking care of business this week.

As for the Bears, well, what can you say. They looked like a team that had packed it in last week. Now, they’ll have a quarterback who hasn’t started a game in four years. It’s getting ugly in Chicago and it figures to be worse after Sunday.


►  Revis returns as Patriots search for first-round bye

If you focus on the math, it’s nearly a “why bother?“ proposition.

The New England Patriots have been held to fewer than 21 points exactly twice in 14 games this season.

Meanwhile, the New York Jets average just 16.4 points, and have been held to 20 or fewer to 10 times.

So when an 11-win New England team - fresh off clinching its 12th AFC East title in 14 seasons - heads to MetLife Stadium to meet a three-win New York team, it’s understandable that nearly everyone but Jets coach Rex Ryan considers a Patriots victory a done deal.

“It’s not hard for me to do,“ Ryan said. “I’m a confident person, and I think I’m a decent football coach and I think people who know the game realize that. So, I don’t worry about it.“

Ryan, by most accounts, is playing out the string of a six-year tenure that’s likely to end shortly after the Week 17 finale in Miami. But he has managed to keep his team relevant in some areas, particularly the run game, where New York trails only Seattle with a 166.6-yard weekly ground average.

The Jets gashed New England for 218 rush yards in a two-point loss in Foxborough in Week 7, and their per-carry average of 4.74 yards is third in the league behind the Seahawks and Green Bay.

And, then, well ... there’s Geno Smith.

The second-year quarterback could also be in the final days of an underwhelming run as starter. New York is second-to-last in the league with a weekly passing average of 168.9 yards, and Smith has thrown two touchdown passes and two interceptions in three games since regaining the starting role from Michael Vick, though his passer rating in those games is a pedestrian 78.2.

It won’t help Sunday that his new favorite target - in-season trade acquisition Percy Harvin - is still questionable with the sprained left ankle he suffered two weeks ago at Minnesota. He played in last week’s 16-11 win at Tennessee, but had no catches and managed a single run for 10 yards.

If he plays, he’s like to get a dose of New England cornerback Darrelle Revis, who returns to New York for the second time - and first with the Patriots - since he was traded prior to the 2013 season.

“I’ll probably just approach it like I did when I played with Tampa last year,“ Revis said. “Just treat it like another game.“

Revis and the Patriots defense have been on their best behavior, regardless of opponent, for the better part of 10 weeks since a 41-14 loss to Kansas City in late September. In fact, New England has held foes to an average of 19 points since that loss, going 9-1 while defeating high-end opposition like Indianapolis (42-20 win) and Denver (43-21 win), and losing close to Green Bay (26-21).

The Colts, Broncos and Packers are three of the top five scoring offenses in the NFL.

“We have to play our best football to win,“ defensive end Chandler Jones said. “I truly believe that.“

Two more victories - against the Jets, then at home with Buffalo in Week 17 - would give the Patriots home-field advantage for the length of their stay in the AFC playoffs. And if New England wins and Denver loses at Cincinnati on Monday night, the top seed will be clinched prior to next week.

Four of the last five games between the Patriots and Jets have been decided by three points or fewer, and New York won in overtime, 30-27, when New England traveled to New Jersey last season.

“I know the records are what they are, but we don’t look at it like that,“ quarterback Tom Brady said. “We lost going into the Meadowlands last year.“

Brady was held without a TD pass in that game - the only time that’s happened to him in his last 25 regular-season starts. And in the last three games with the Jets, the Patriots have been limited to averages of 283.3 yards and 22.3 points.

“They’ve got a real good defense,“ Brady said. “We’re anticipating their best game.“

Of course, New England faced the seventh-ranked defense in the league last week against Miami and scored 41 points. That rout continued a stretch of seven games - since the initial meeting with the Jets this season - in which the Patriots have been at or near the top of the league with 36.4 points (first) and 419.9 yards (third) per game.

The usual game-week angst between the teams was toned down Monday when Ryan suggested New England’s Bill Belichick was a “first-ballot Hall of Fame coach” when he retires, though Belichick ultimately responded in his typical low-key persona.

“It’s a very flattering comment, but it sounds like Rex is just buttering me up,“ he said. “I know they’re working hard, like they always do, to play us very competitively. We’ve really had a hard time with them, including the last time we played them. We’re going to have to do a good job getting ready to go here, stopping a team that runs the ball well, that stops the run well, that’s got a lot of explosive guys in the kicking game, that’s well-coached, that’s though (and) that beat us down there last year.

“We have our work cut out for us.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Grounded and Pounded

The fundamental task of establishing the edges and containing them will be front and center for the Patriots defense against the bruising Jets run game. The interior is manned by Vince Wilfork, Sealver Silga, Alan Branch and Dont’a Hightower, and if the outside holds up as well, it could force the game into the oft-scattershot hands of Smith at quarterback.

Move Those Chains

If they want to stay close with New England throughout 60 minutes, the Jets have to be successful in not only extending their own drives, but in getting the Patriots off the field on third downs. Shane Vereen was able to burn them too many times in the first game, while the defense was turning its attention to Rob Gronkowski. Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount also provide diverse options for Brady.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s the same old story for the Jets these days. If they come in prepared and revved-up, then play their best game with few or no mistakes, they’ll have a chance to hang with the Patriots and maybe win at the end. But with any deviation from that script - read: mistakes by Smith, misfires by the defense - it’s got the chance to get ugly in a big way. That’s more likely the script here, in Rex’s final Jersey appearance.


►  Bills hunt for rare Oakland win

Just when you start to believe in the Oakland Raiders, they give reason not to.

Of course, the reality is that the Raiders’ 2014 season was a lost cause long before their visit to Kansas City last weekend. But when they got within just four points in the third quarter - after having won two of three games coming in - there was at least some reason for middling optimism.

Less than five minutes later, though, those positive thoughts were a distant memory.

Three Chiefs touchdowns in a stretch of 4 minutes, 42 seconds - including one after a fumbled snap by quarterback Derek Carr—started the death spiral toward an eventual 31-13 loss, which plunged the Raiders to 2-12 on the season as they head into a Week 16 home game with the Buffalo Bills.

Oakland had 10 penalties in the defeat, and its 103 infractions for the season are eighth in the league.

“You can’t do those kind of things in any football game,“ Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano said. “But you certainly can’t do those things when you’re on the road and in an environment like that, and kind of feed their ego with false starts and with penalties and then turn it into a game that you have to throw the football as much as we had to throw the ball with that kind of pass rush.“

Carr completed less than half of his 56 passes against Kansas City, while totaling 222 yards and connecting for a touchdown alongside four sacks. He’s been slightly better at home in his rookie season, including 10 TDs and just three interceptions in his last five games at the O.co Coliseum.

The Bills haven’t won a game in Oakland since 1966 and haven’t beaten the Raiders franchise on the road since a victory in Los Angeles in 1991. That theme continues for Buffalo overall, as it strives to end a postseason drought - the longest in the league—that stretches back 15 years to 1999.

A 21-13 win over visiting Green Bay last week ensured that the Bills would finish at .500 for the first time since they went 9-7 in 2004. Jumping from respectability to the playoffs, however, will take a little more.

Buffalo is last among the nine AFC teams who’ve registered eight or more wins - thanks to a 4-6 in-conference record and losses to fellow 8-6 teams Kansas City and San Diego. A berth would not only require a win in Oakland, but a follow-up victory at New England, where it is 0 for its last 13 efforts.

The defeat of the Packers saw Buffalo snuff the offensive of the most-prolific scoring team in the league and prompt a career-high 25 incompletions, a career-worst 34.3 passer rating and two interceptions from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Bills haven’t allowed a passing TD in six of its last seven games and its pass defense - which yielded 210.1 yards per week - is No. 5 in the league.

The Green Bay win came a week after a loss to Denver in which Buffalo gave Peyton Manning a forgettable stat line that included 14 completions, two interceptions, 173 yards and no touchdowns.

“We have to obviously continue to play like that but once we do that, now the mark is set,“ cornerback Corey Graham said. “Now you got to expect that every week from everybody and that’s what we got to do. We’ve got to make sure we’re locked in and ready to go every week.“

The offense could certainly use the same swagger.

The Bills got four field goals, a safety and a punt return touchdown against the Packers, which didn’t help the 31st-best ratio of touchdowns (20) to red- zone possessions (49). Quarterback Kyle Orton completed 14-of-27 passes for 158 yards and an interception, alongside three sacks.

No wide receiver or tight end caught more than two passes.

“We’ve got to do a better job,“ Buffalo coach Doug Marrone said. “We’ve got to protect better, got to run routes better, we’ve got to get a better rhythm.“

A boost could arrive in the form of running back C.J. Spiller, who broke his collarbone in Week 7 and hasn’t played since. He’s second among all running backs since 2010 with a 5.0-yard average per carry, and is listed as probable against the Raiders.

“He’s a guy who’s made plays in the past,“ Marrone said. “Any time you can bring back someone who’s a potential playmaker obviously helps.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Crash the Carr

The Bills enter the game with 49 sacks and they’ll face an opponent in the Raiders who’s not exactly erected fortress-like walls around Carr all year, and allowed four sacks in last week’s loss to Kansas City.

Thus, it’ll be incumbent upon Oakland’s Latavius Murray, who had 59 yards against the Chiefs, to be effective enough to draw containment attention from Buffalo ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes.

Sling it to Sammy

A common denominator in Buffalo’s six losses this season has been the limited production of Sammy Watkins, who’s scored just one TD and exceeded 100 yards in one game as well. Raiders cornerback Tarell Brown has surrendered just one TD among the 42 passes completed in his direction in 2014, and help from veteran safety Charles Woodson should keep the game from becoming a Watkins showcase.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

OK, Coach Marrone, it’s your move. The Bills have gone from long-term laughingstock to having the dreaded “trap game” label hung on them. Its incumbent on the second-year boss to make sure his team handles the cross- country trip to meet an inferior foe, on the Sunday prior to a visit to the perennial AFC East powerhouse that could be the final obstacle to a January return. Score one for preparation.


►  Seahawks sign LB Wright to 4-year extension

The Seattle Seahawks signed linebacker K.J. Wright to a four-year extension, the team announced Thursday.

Wright has a team-leading 96 tackles this season with a career high-tying two sacks and three forced fumbles.

He has started 54 games since the Seahawks drafted him in the fourth round in 2011, compiling 339 tackles, 6.5 sacks and one interception.

“K.J. is the epitome of a team guy,“ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in a statement. “We are excited to reward a player of his caliber for all the hard work he has put in over the years to become an important piece of our defense.“

Wright has appeared in four playoff games, starting three.


►  NFL Game Results

(THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18)


Final Score: Jacksonville 21, Tennessee 13

Jordan Todman’s 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter highlighted the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 21-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. Blake Bortles completed 13-of-26 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown for the Jaguars, who scored 21 straight points after falling behind 10-0. Todman carried the ball five times for 71 yards for Jacksonville (3-12), which avenged a 16-14 loss to these Titans on October 12. Toby Gerhart rushed for 53 yards and a score on 12 carries. Tennessee turned back to Charlie Whitehurst due to injuries and he connected on 24-of-35 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown. Leon Washington caught seven passes for 62 yards and a score. Bishop Sankey carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards for the Titans (2-13), who have lost nine in a row.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  The fantasy snoozer

As Terrell Owens would want, fantasy owners are getting the popcorn ready.

This week, there are seven different time slots spanning over four days, with a break Friday, fantasy owners can root for their stars.

On Saturday night alone, there are eight key fantasy players in action, with the potential for more, in deeper leagues. Studs such as LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are all playing along with key fantasy role players like Mark Sanchez, Alfred Morris and DeSean Jackson. That’s not even counting defenses, kickers or injured players who might still make an impact like Frank Gore and Ryan Mathews.

To conclude fantasy championship week, owners will see if players like Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson, Jeremy Hill, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, and Julius Thomas can take them to the fantasy promise land. The Monday night Denver at Cincinnati matchup has the potential to set up really fun scenarios.

Perhaps one owner will be rooting for Demaryius Thomas, but he is playing against Manning. That owner would be nervously excited on every Broncos drop back.

What about owners in multiple championships? An owner could have Anderson in one league and play against him in another.

Maybe an owner has Anderson and Sanders in one league and Demaryius Thomas in another while also playing against Manning.

You get the point. The possibilities are endless. Santa Claus isn’t the only reason why this is the most wonderful time of the year.

With all these scenarios, owners just want the week to start already! Thank goodness it finally begins on Thursday ... sort of.

Tennessee at Jacksonville is perhaps the worst prime time matchup in the history of the NFL. Neither team has a playmaker which makes both squads just flat out boring.

Titans and Jaguars fans, I look forward to your angry letters.

Blake Bortles and Charlie Whitehurst are QB2 ... at best. Listening to the Nutcracker on repeat sounds less torturous than watching those two quarterbacks “duke” it out.

Some called Bishop Sankey this year’s Eddie Lacy. He was more like this year’s Johnathan Franklin.

Jacksonville’s leading rusher in 2014 was a collegiate quarterback, and he is hurt; that’s about all owners need to know there.

Speaking of hurt, the Titans top two wide receivers, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, will likely not be available for owners. Not that they were lining up to use them. The duo has combined for 1,131 receiving yards this season, or Antonio Brown’s total through 11 games.

In all likelihood, owners who advanced to the championship don’t have a player in Thursday night’s game. If you advanced to the final round with Bortles as one of your quarterbacks, you might be the next Joe Gibbs, Houdini or the luckiest man on the planet. Testing that luck in the lottery this weekend is probably a good idea.

Anyway, good luck to owners in Week 16.

Make sure the lineup is set for Thursday, I guess, but you can probably wait until Saturday. Thursday can be spent spinning the dreidel or lighting the Christmas tree without having to check your fantasy football app.

As for my rooting interest Thursday, Marqise Lee is 151 yards away from becoming the fourth Jacksonville wide receiver to reach the 500-yard mark. The Jaguars could become the only team in the NFL without a 800-yard receiver, but four 500-yard receivers.

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.  ~~  Dave Holcomb ~~



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Thursday, December 18)

#10 Gilmer County 66     South Harrison 37

Calhoun County 65     Braxton County 51

Roane County 58     Doddridge County 44

Preston 80     Lewis County 55

#1 Robert C. Byrd 62     East Fairmont 43

#4 Bridgeport 94     Liberty 36

Buckhannon-Upshur 65     North Marion 57

Lincoln 58     Elkins 44

#6 Fairmont Senior 74     Philip Barbour 40

Clay County 70     Webster County 54



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Thursday, December 18)


Final Score: (2) Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Tyus Jones scored 21 points and No. 2 Duke stayed unbeaten with a 66-56 win over Connecticut on Thursday. Jones made 9-of-10 from the free throw line and handed out a game-high three assists for the Blue Devils (10-0), who have won all 10 games this season by at least 10 points. All five Duke starters reached double figures, while the Blue Devils didn’t receive a single point from three bench players that logged minutes. Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor scored 12 points apiece and Amile Jefferson went for 11 points and 13 rebounds. Duke is 10-0 for the 19th time in school history. Ryan Boatright scored 22 for UConn (4-4), which hadn’t lost four non-conference regular season games since the 1986-87 season.


Final Score: (6) Virginia 70, Cleveland State 54

Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon each netted 16 points as sixth-ranked Virginia remained unbeaten with a 70-54 win over Cleveland State. Anthony Gill added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Cavaliers (10-0), who overcame a slow start from a 12-day layoff to shoot 50 percent from the field and move to 10-0 for the first time since 2000-01. Trey Lewis was the lone Cleveland State (5-6) player to score in double figures, finishing with 18 points while hitting 4-of-9 attempts from 3-point range.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Resuts

(Thursday, December 18)


Final Score: Chicago 103, New York 97

Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 35 points and dished out seven assists to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 103-97 win over the New York Knicks on Thursday night. Pau Gasol contributed 20 points with seven rebounds and Aaron Brooks added 18 points off the bench for Chicago, which played its ninth game of the season without star point guard Derrick Rose. Rose missed the contest with an illness and his status for Friday’s game at Memphis is uncertain. The Bulls, who improved to 5-4 without Rose this season, have won four of their last five games overall. New York, meanwhile, was without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony, who missed the game to rest his sore left knee. Tim Hardaway Jr. picked up the slack to lead the Knicks with 23 points, while Amar’e Stoudemire chipped in with 16 points and six rebounds. New York has lost seven straight at the United Center and three straight overall, as well as 13 of its last 14 games.


Final Score: New Orleans 99, Houston 90

Anthony Davis tallied 30 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, and the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Houston Rockets, 99-90, on Thursday. Jrue Holiday finished with 16 points and 10 assists and played his best basketball down the stretch to help the Pelicans win their second straight game. Holiday scored half of his points and dished out three assists in the final period. Ryan Anderson and Dante Cunningham contributed 16 and 15 points, respectively, off the bench, and Omer Asik grabbed 11 boards for New Orleans. James Harden paced Houston with 21 points and Dwight Howard posted his third double-double since returning to the court after missing 11 games with a knee injury.


Final Score: Milwaukee 108, Sacramento 107

Not even the return of DeMarcus Cousins could help the Sacramento Kings find the win column. Brandon Knight scored 20 points and O.J. Mayo and Jared Dudley each chipped in 19 to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 108-107 win over the scuffling Kings on Thursday night. Milwaukee, which has won three of its last four, made 56.5 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. Cousins, who returned from a 10-game absence due to viral meningitis, had a chance to win it in the closing seconds, but his jumper was off the mark as the buzzer sounded. He finished with game highs of 27 points and 11 rebounds in just under 33 minutes in the Kings’ fifth straight loss. Sacramento went 2-8 in Cousins’ absence and fell to 0-2 under interim coach Tyrone Corbin, who relieved Michael Malone of the head coaching duties this week.


Final Score: Golden State 114, Oklahoma City 109

Steph Curry stuffed the stat sheet and six Warriors scored in double figures as Golden State got back in the win column with a 114-109 decision over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Curry posted a game- high 34 points with nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals for Golden State, which lost its franchise-high 16-game win streak in Memphis on Tuesday. Klay Thompson scored 19 points and Draymond Green flirted with a triple- double, tallying 16, nine assists and nine boards for the Warriors. Thunder star Kevin Durant scored 30 points in the first half but didn’t play in the second after suffering a sprained right ankle just before halftime. Russell Westbrook picked up some of the slack, netting 33 points with eight assists but shooting just 11-for-30 from the field. The Thunder were 7-1 over their last eight games with Durant in the lineup. The reigning MVP missed the first 17 games of the season following foot surgery.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Volquez heading to Kansas City

The Kansas City Royals and pitcher Edinson Volquez have reportedly agreed to a two-year contract.

According to CBSSports.com and MLB.com, the deal is worth $20 million.

Volquez spent 2014 in Pittsburgh and had one of the best seasons of his 10- year career with a record of 13-7 and a 3.04 ERA in 32 games, all but one as a starter.

The 31-year-old right-hander was 9-12 with a 5.71 ERA for the Padres and Dodgers in 2013. He owns a career mark of 66-59 with a 4.44 ERA in 191 games, including 185 starts with Texas, Cincinnati, San Diego, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Volquez had his best season with the Reds in 2008, posting a mark of 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA.

The American League champion Royals have been in need of another starting pitcher with the loss of James Shields to free agency.


►  Rays set to deal Myers to Padres in deal with Nationals

Wil Myers is reportedly heading from Tampa Bay to San Diego as part of an 11-player trade that also involves the Washington Nationals.

According to MLB.com, the Padres will acquire Myers, the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year, along with catcher Ryan Hanigan and minor league pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo from Tampa Bay. The Rays will receive catcher Rene Rivera, first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith from the Padres, as well as outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott from Washington, while the Nationals will pick up pitcher Joe Ross and a player to be named later, said to be shortstop Trea Turner, from the Padres.

The deal is pending physicals.

Myers, who just turned 24 years old, is the centerpiece of the trade.

The Rays acquired Myers from Kansas City prior to the 2013 season in the deal that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals.

Myers, in 88 games as a rookie, batted .293, hit 13 homers and drove in 53 runs to help Tampa Bay to a wild card berth. A wrist injury slowed him down in 2014 when he played just 87 games and hit six homers with 35 RBI and batted only .222.

Hanigan hit just .218 in 84 games last season, his first in Tampa Bay after playing the first seven years of his career in Cincinnati. The 34-year-old veteran, who has played more than 100 games in a season just once, is a career. 256 hitter with 25 homers and 172 RBI in 558 games.

The Padres have been somewhat busy since the start of Winter Meetings last week, signing pitcher Brandon Morrow while adding outfielder Matt Kemp in a trade from the Dodgers. The Kemp deal has yet to be officially announced.

Tampa Bay has also undergone a major shakeup since the departures of head of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon. Matt Silverman, Friedman’s replacement, has traded pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta, as well as outfielder Matt Joyce and infielder Sean Rodriguez.

The Rays, who also released veteran catcher Jose Molina, will hope Rivera can help behind the plate. The 31-year-old native of Puerto Rico played in a career-high 103 games last season with the Padres and batted .252 with 11 homers and 44 RBI.

Burch appeared in 10 games in 2013, including seven starts, and was 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA, but missed most of last year with a forearm injury, while Bauers played at Single-A in 2014. Ott was also a Class-A player last year in Washington’s organization, while Souza could be the key piece for the Rays.

Souza was the International League’s top player in 2014 for Washington’s Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, batting .350 with 18 homers and 75 RBI in just 96 games. The 25-year-old played in 21 games for the Nationals last year and hit two homers in 23 at-bats while also making a tremendous catch to preserve Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the final day of the season.

The Nationals will pick up a former first-round pick in Ross, a 21-year-old right-hander who has not pitched above Double-A since he was chosen 25th overall in 2011.

Turner can’t officially be traded until next June, as league rules mandate that a draft pick cannot be dealt until a full year after he was selected. He was the 13th overall pick last June and could be Washington’s shortstop of the future with Ian Desmond set to be a free agent after next season.


►  A’s acquire De La Rosa from Arizona

The Oakland Athletics acquired pitcher Eury De La Rosa from the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash considerations on Thursday.

In 25 games with Arizona last season, De La Rosa went 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA. The 24-year-old left-hander allowed just two home runs in 36 2/3 innings and held right-handed hitters to a .233 batting average.

De La Rosa is 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA in 44 career appearances over two seasons with the Diamondbacks.

The Dominican native began the 2014 season at Triple-A Reno and compiled a 2.52 ERA and .224 opponents batting average in 36 relief appearances with the Aces before he was promoted to Arizona on July 5.

To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the A’s designated pitcher Fernando Rodriguez for assignment and also released pitcher Jorge De Leon, who was designated for assignment December 09.


►  Kemp trade on hold over medicals

The San Diego Padres are considering whether or not to finalize or void their agreed-upon trade for Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp due to results over the outfielder’s physical, according to a report from USA Today.

Sources told USA Today that Kemp’s physical revealed arthritis in both of his hips, with the Padres still trying to determine whether the condition will impact the remainder of the 30-year-old’s playing career.

The Padres and Dodgers had set a deadline for Thursday to complete the deal, in which Los Angeles would send Kemp and backup catcher Tim Federowicz to San Diego in exchange for catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland and minor league hurler Zach Elfin.

Los Angeles is also believed to be sending the Padres $32 million towards the remaining $107 million Kemp is owed on his contract, which runs through 2019.

The snag also impacts the Dodgers’ pending trade with Philadelphia involving Jimmy Rollins, as Elfin was to be sent to the Phillies for the veteran shortstop.

Kemp has been hampered by hamstring issues in two of the last three seasons, missing 51 games in 2012 and 73 in 2013. The 2011 National League MVP runner- up did play in 150 games this past season, batting .287 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI.

Padres first-year general manager A.J. Preller has been aggressive this offseason in trying to improve an offense that was the worst in the majors in 2014. In addition to the potential Kemp trade, Preller reportedly has swung a deal to acquire 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers from Tampa Bay as part of a three-team swap that also involves the Washington Nationals.


►  Royals reach deal with P Medlen

The Kansas City Royals have signed pitcher Kris Medlen to a two-year contract with a mutual option for the 2017 season, with the hope that the Tommy John surgery recipient will be able to contribute during the second half of the upcoming year.

Medlen put together a strong 2013 campaign for the Atlanta Braves, winning a career-best 15 games with a 3.11 earned run average in 32 games (31 starts). The right-hander missed all of last season, however, after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during a spring training outing.

The Braves declined to offer Medlen a contract earlier this month, in large part due to his injury history. The 29-year-old also underwent a Tommy John procedure that sidelined him for the majority of the 2011 season.

Medlen has been a quality pitcher when healthy. His .674 winning percentage (31-15) since 2010 ranks only behind a pair of Cy Young Award honorees, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, over that stretch, and he sports a 2.95 ERA over 152 appearances (61 starts).

According to the Kansas City Star, Medlen will receive $8.5 million guaranteed over the life of the deal. He is slated to earn $2 million next season, but can earn an additional $4 million based on games started and innings pitched.

Medlen will make $10 million in 2017 if he and the Royals both exercise the option year. Kansas City will pay a $1 million buyout if either side declines.

The signing is the second by the reigning AL champion Royals involving a starting pitcher in as many days, with the club reportedly inking Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million contract on Wednesday.

Kansas City is not expected to re-sign last year’s staff ace and current free agent James Shields.

Infielder Johnny Giavotella was designated for assignment to create room for Medlen on the 40-man roster.

Giavotella hit .238 with four homers and 45 RBI over 125 games with the Royals across the last four seasons, but appeared in just 26 games in the majors over the last two.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Thursday, December 18)


Final Score: Florida 2, Philadelphia 1 (SO)

Dave Bolland scored in the sixth round of the shootout to lift the Florida Panthers over the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 on Thursday night. The Panthers needed an NHL-record 20 rounds to pick up a shootout victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek kept the shootout going when he scored in the third round. Florida’s Brandon Pirri had scored in the first. Scottie Upshall lit the lamp in regulation for the Panthers, who got 25 saves from Roberto Luongo. Voracek also scored the only goal for the Flyers, who fell to 0-5 in shootouts this season. Steve Mason stopped 31-of-32 shots.


Final Score: Pittsburgh 1, Colorado 0 (OT)

Blake Comeau scored at 2:24 of overtime to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 1-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was back in the lineup after missing three games with the mumps. Teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, who tested negative for the virus, made 29 saves to earn his career-high and league- leading sixth shutout of the season and help Pittsburgh improve to 4-0-2 in its last six games. Rookie Calvin Pickard played superbly for the Avalanche, making 47 saves, including 19 in the third period to force extra time.


Final Score: Carolina 4, Toronto 1

The Carolina Hurricanes snapped a six-game losing streak, scoring two special-teams goals in a 4-1 win over the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night. While Toronto eyed its longest winning streak in more than 11 years, Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Chris Terry and Justin Faulk, who scored while the Hurricanes were short-handed. Andrej Sekera’s power play tally in the third period restored the two-goal lead and Cam Ward finished with 25 saves as the Hurricanes ended the 0-6 skid. Dion Phaneuf scored for the Maple Leafs, who had a six-game winning streak snapped and lost for just the third time in their last 13 (10-2-1). They haven’t won seven in a row since an eight-game streak from Nov. 22-Dec. 6, 2003. Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on 36 shots and had a personal four-game winning streak stopped.


Final Score: Washington 5, Columbus 4 (OT)

Eric Fehr’s goal 42 seconds into overtime lifted the Washington Capitals to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Columbus, halting the Blue Jackets’ seven-game win streak. Michael Chaput’s first career NHL goal had given Columbus a 4-3 lead with 4:25 remaining in regulation, but Troy Brouwer answered for the Capitals just 1:25 later to send the game into extra time. Fehr, Jason Chimera and Karl Alzner each recorded a goal and an assist for Washington, which earned a point for a seventh straight outing. The Caps are 5-0-2 over that stretch, which included an overtime loss to the Blue Jackets in Washington a week ago. Nick Foligno scored twice and assisted on another for Columbus, which received 31 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky in defeat.


Final Score: Anaheim 2, Montreal 1

Frederik Andersen made 23 saves and the Anaheim Ducks beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on Thursday night for their eighth win in nine games. Hampus Lindholm and Matt Beleskey scored for the Ducks, who were coming off a 6-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday, which snapped their seven-game winning streak. Beleskey’s winner came 8:33 into the third period, his 15th goal of the season. David Desharnais scored for the Canadiens, who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Carey Price gave up two goals on 23 shots.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Champions Tour announces 2015 schedule

The Champions Tour announced its 2015 schedule Wednesday and it will feature 26 tournaments.

Just like in 2014, the 2015 slate will begin in Hawaii on January 23 for the Mitsubishi Electric Championship and the schedule will run through the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Arizona, which will be held from November 5-8.

The schedule is up one event from 2014 with the addition of the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, which will be played from March 20-22. Also, the Pacific Links Hawaii Championship will be moved to Tianjin, China and will be called the Pacific Links China Championship. That event will be played September 18-20.

The Regions Tradition will once again serve as the first major championship of the season, running from May 14-17. The Senior PGA Championship will be played the week after in Indiana on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick.

Three weeks after the Senior PGA is the Constellation Senior Players Championship, the season’s third major, held at Belmont Country Club in Boston from June 11-14. Two weeks later is the U.S. Senior Open Championship from June 25-28 and will be contested at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif.

About a month later, the Champions Tour will head overseas for the fifth and final major of the season, the Senior Open Championship. It will be played on the Old Course at Sunningdale Golf Club in Berkshire, England from July 23-26.

Ten events separate the Senior Open Championship from the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, which will be held on the Cochise Course at Desert Mountain Club for the second straight year.


►  Inverness to host 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur

The United States Golf Association announced on Wednesday that Inverness Club was selected to host the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

This is the first time Inverness Club, located in Toledo, Ohio, will play host to the U.S. Junior Amateur and it will be the eighth USGA event contested there. The championship will be held from July 15-20.

“Inverness Club has enjoyed a storied history, having hosted seven USGA championships over the past century,“ said Daniel B. Burton, USGA vice president and Championship Committee chairman. “By hosting this championship in 2019, the club will become the first to have a U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Junior Amateur.“

Inverness has also hosted four U.S. Opens, two U.S. Senior Opens in 2003 and 2011, and the 1973 U.S. Amateur. The most recent U.S. Open to be held at Inverness was in 1979, when Hale Irwin won by two shots over Gary Player and Jerry Pate.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2014


National Basketball Association
Utah at Orlando, 7:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, FS-Florida, DSS
Charlotte at Philadelphia, 7:00 PM - SportSouth, CSN-Philadelphia, DSS
Minnesota at Boston, 7:30 PM - FS-North, CSN-New England, DSS
Toronto at Detroit, 7:30 PM - SNET One, FS-Detroit+, DSS
Brooklyn at Cleveland, 7:30 PM - YES, FS-Ohio, DSS
Washington at Miami, 7:30 PM - CSN-DC, SunSports, DSS
Portland at San Antonio, 8:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, FS-Southwest, ESPN
Chicago at Memphis, 8:00 PM - WPWR, SportSouth, DSS
LA Clippers at Denver, 9:00 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, Altitude, DSS
Oklahoma City at LA Lakers, 10:30 PM - FS-Oklahoma, Time Warner, ESPN


National Hockey League
Tampa Bay at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - TVA, SunSports, MSG, DSS
Anaheim at Ottawa, 7:30 PM - FS-West, RDS, TSN5, DSS
NY Islanders at Detroit, 7:30 PM - MSG+, FS-Detroit, DSS
Boston at Winnipeg, 8:00 PM - NESN, TSN3, DSS
Dallas at Calgary, 9:00 PM - FS-Southwest+, West, DSS


College Basketball
Wilberforce at Youngstown State, 1:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Jackson State at Tulane, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Siena at Radford, 6:00 PM - Big South Network
Case Western at Bucknell, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Eastern Kentucky at Miami-Florida, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Stillman at Alabama, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Bethune-Cookman at Mercer, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Niagara at Buffalo, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Clemson at South Carolina, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
St. Mary’s (CA) at St. John’s, 7:00 PM - FS1
Tennessee Tech at Tennessee, 7:00 PM - FSN
Furman at Florida Gulf Coast, 7:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Chattanooga at Middle Tennessee, 8:00 PM - American Sports Network, MASN
Seattle at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Pan American at Creighton, 9:00 PM - FS2
Alabama A&M at Marquette, 9:00 PM - FS1
Ark-Pine Bluff at Texas Tech, 9:00 PM - FS-Southwest+, FCS-Central
Eastern Washington at California, 10:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Idaho State at Utah State, 10:05 PM - Mountain West Network
Arizona at UTEP, 11:00 PM - FS1


Women’s College Basketball
Ohio Valley at Youngstown State, 11:00 AM - ESPN3.com
Campbell at Stetson, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Northern Colorado at Florida Gulf Coast, 4:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Belmont at Mercer, 5:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Savannah State at Florida State, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
DePaul at Connecticut, 7:30 PM - SNY, ESPN3.com


College Football
NAIA Football Championship, 3:00 PM - ESPN U
Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
Sam Houston State at North Dakota State, 8:00 PM - ESPN 2

Sports News   141213

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Cam-less Panthers try to stay in the hunt

When you’re 2-11, it becomes a challenge to find positives.

But here’s one: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are effective at stopping opposing running backs.

They’ve allowed just 3.94 yards per carry through 13 games and permitted just one 100-yard rusher.

And the first time they faced this week’s opponent - the Carolina Panthers - running back Jonathan Stewart was held to only 20 yards on nine carries in a 20-14 Carolina win in Week 1.

Stewart comes in with a little more momentum this time around, having romped for 155 yards overall, 69 of which came on a single touchdown run, during last week’s defeat of New Orleans. In his last two games, Stewart has gained 240 yards and averaged a scintillating 7.5 yards per attempt.

Problem is, when the Bucs are through stopping people, their offense takes over to iffy results.

Tampa Bay has exceeded 17 points just once in its last eight games and is averaging less than 70 rushing yards over its last 11. The total yardage number was an ugly 233 in a 34-17 loss last week at Detroit, with just 26 of those yards coming via run.

The production has been little better at quarterback, where the starting role may have been briefly up for grabs given that reigning starter Josh McCown has thrown five interceptions in his last three games while completing just 51.7% of his passes. He had two TDs and two interceptions against Carolina in Week 1, and Bucs coach Lovie Smith had been initially noncommittal when it came to backup QB Mike Glennon’s chances to again see the field.

“We’re going to do what gives us the best chance to win,“ he said. “If playing a player in a position won’t hurt our football team to win the football game, we’ll always look at that. We want to put the best product on the field, guys in the right spot, ones that give us the best opportunity to win - things we’ve been saying each week.“

Glennon started 13 games for Tampa Bay last season, prior to Smith’s arrival as coach, and completed 55.9% of his passes with nine touchdowns and six interceptions in five starts this season while McCown was injured.

But Smith was more firm on Wednesday when the starter question again was raised.

“Josh is our quarterback,“ he said. “He gives us the best chance to win.“

In terms of targets, wide receiver Vincent Jackson hauled in 10 passes for 159 yards in the loss to Detroit, but had just four catches in the opener against the Panthers and has never reached triple-digit yardage against them in six career games. His receiving partner, rookie Mike Evans, has scored eight times in the last six games.

“We’re not looking at guys. It’s like every other week,“ Smith said. “The guys that start are the guys that I think give us the best chance to win. That’s not going to change. Week 16 it will be the same way.“

As for Carolina, the starter comes down to who’s the healthiest.

Quarterback Cam Newton was involved in a Tuesday afternoon car accident and suffered two small fractures in his lower back. He spent one night in a hospital and will not play this weekend, and whether he’ll be available for the Panthers’ final two games with Cleveland and Atlanta is up for debate.

“That will be determined really on a day-to-day basis and we’ll see how fast the soreness goes away,“ team spokesman Charlie Dayton said. “He’ll start the recuperation process (immediately).“

The injury is positioned as similar to what was sustained by Dallas quarterback Tony Romo earlier this season after he took an on-field hit against Washington. Romo missed one game, but Newton’s forecast is cloudier because his injury occurred off the field.

“I kind of felt he was in pain, but with him it’s so hard to tell,“ Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He has a way of flashing that smile to let you know everything is OK, and when he did smile and flash it, I knew he was going to be OK.“

Backup QB Derek Anderson will start against the Buccaneers, a role he’ll reprise from Week 1, when he also faced Tampa Bay while Newton sat out while recovering from offseason ankle surgery.

“The most important thing about this whole week is about the safety and health of one of my brothers,“ Anderson said. “Let him know we’re all thinking about him and hoping for a speedy recovery. We’re all fired up about this weekend. Last week we played well and we hope to continue that.“

Newton was the NFC’s offensive player of the week after throwing for three touchdowns and running for another in a 33-21 win at New Orleans, which put Carolina a half-game behind Atlanta for the lead in the NFC South with three games to play. The Panthers will win the division for the second straight year if they win out.

Anderson completed 24-of-34 passes for 230 yards and two TDs in the season- opening win in September. He’s appeared in five games, completed 40-of-57 passes and not been intercepted.

“We’re facing Tampa,“ Rivera said, “and we have to beat Tampa.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Go Catch, Young Man

It’s a meeting of two of the league’s top young receivers in the form of Tampa Bay’s Evans and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin. Evans was selected seventh overall out of Texas A&M and had five catches for 37 yards in his debut against the Panthers, while Benjamin, the 28th overall pick out of Florida State, started out with six catches for 92 yards and a TD in that same game.

Mister Anderson’s Neighborhood

With Newton’s absence, continuing the drive toward a division title falls to Anderson, who fared well in the initial meeting with the Bucs and has been perfectly serviceable in the spot duty he’s been given as the No. 2 man. Given Tampa Bay’s ability to clamp down on the run, it’ll be important for Anderson to connect with Benjamin - as he did in Week 1 - and tight end Greg Olsen, who had 10 catches last week.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The initial reaction when a team loses a starting quarterback - especially one who occasionally reaches the levels that Newton reaches - is doom and gloom. But given that the Panthers are home, that they’re facing a two-win foe and that the No. 2 man has NFL experience and won a game against this week’s opponent earlier this season, it doesn’t have to be that way. And it says here it won’t be.


►  Packers shoot for first win in Buffalo

The Green Bay Packers have never won a game in Buffalo.

They have a chance to pick up that first victory in Western New York on Sunday versus the Bills and it’s one that could punch the streak club’s trip to the postseason.

The 10-3 Packers are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the best record in the NFC and picked up their fifth win in a row with Monday night’s 43-37 shootout win over the visiting Atlanta Falcons.

Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in his 100th career start, improving to 68-32 over that time. He went 24-for-36 passing with 327 yards, giving him 16 touchdown passes and zero interceptions with a 127.1 passer rating over Green Bay’s five-game win streak.

“It’s been fun. Been a great 100 games started,“ said Rodgers. “We’ve said around here you can’t start talking about the playoffs until you get to 10 wins. It’s starting to come together.“

It will fully come together for Green Bay this Sunday if the Packers beat the Bills and the Dallas Cowboys lose at night to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Packers are also a game ahead of the 9-4 Detroit Lions for first place in the NFC North. They visit Tampa Bay next Sunday before ending the regular season at home versus Detroit.

Jordy Nelson caught eight passes for 146 yards with two touchdowns versus the Falcons, while Eddie Lacy rushed for a score and also caught a TD pass while totaling 106 yards from scrimmage.

Green Bay had 502 of the combined 967 yards of offense in the game as head coach Mike McCarthy matched Vince Lombardi for second in franchise history with 98 regular season and playoff wins.

A 99th win for McCarthy would improve the Packers to 1-5 all-time in Buffalo. The Bills lead the all-time series 7-4, though Green Bay has won two of the last three. That includes a 34-7 home win when the clubs last met on September 19, 2010.

The Bills are hosting the Packers for the first time since 2006, a 24-10 win, and are looking to rebound from last Sunday’s 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Buffalo forced three turnovers and held Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in check, but gave it away three times as well and committed 11 penalties for 98 yards.

“At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough to win,“ Bills head coach Doug Marrone said. “That’s my fault. It falls on me.“

The Bills fell to 7-6 on the season as they failed to win three in a row for the first time since 2011.

Kyle Orton threw for 355 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Bills. He completed 38 of his franchise-record 57 pass attempts while also running for a one-yard touchdown with 55 seconds to play.

Denver, though, recovered the ensuing onside kick.

Sammy Watkins caught seven passes for 127 yards and lost a fumble near midfield on Buffalo’s opening drive as the Bills were denied winning eight games in a season for the first time since 2004 (9-7).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

After doing a more-than-respectable job against Manning, the Bills defense will now try to slow down Rodgers, which again is no easy task.

Rodgers leads the NFL with a 119 passer rating, having thrown 35 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. One silver lining would be that all three picks have come on the road.

The 31-year-old Rodgers has logged 27,520 passing yards, 222 touchdown passes, a TD/INT ratio of 4.11 and a 107.3 passer rating over his first 100 starts, all NFL records for that span.

Rodgers’ ability to keep possession of the ball has allowed Green Bay to not have a turnover in four straight games and he is in the midst of his second five-game stretch without an interception this season.

Green Bay’s offense, which leads the NFL with 423 points, has also gotten more balanced thanks to Lacy, who should be okay after coming out of Monday’s game in the fourth quarter as a precaution due to a hip injury.

Lacy has posted over 100 yards from scrimmage in six straight games, posting 773 yards and seven touchdowns—four rushing and three receiving—over that time.

Lacy, James Starks and John Kuhn have all provided Rodgers will solid check- down options in the passing game this season.

“It’s great when you throw a two-yard pass and they break a bunch of tackles and turn it into a big one,“ said Rodgers.

Nelson, meanwhile, is tied for the NFL lead with 12 receiving touchdowns.

Green Bay will need to control the line of scrimmage this weekend as the Bills lead the NFL with 48 sacks and are the only team with three players having posted more than nine sacks.

Defensive end Mario Williams is leading that charge with 12 sacks, with 6 1/2 in his past five, Marcell Dareus leads all NFL defensive tackles with 10 sacks and linebacker Jerry Hughes needs just a half sack to record his second straight 10-sack season.

Hughes has 8 1/2 sacks with three forced fumbles over his last nine games.

That trio helped snap Manning’s streak of 51 straight games with a passing touchdown, three shy of the NFL record, though Buffalo did not sack the Denver quarterback in the game.

“Obviously, they’re both great quarterbacks and Rodgers is probably playing as well as anybody in the league has been playing this year,“ said Marrone. “I think the dimension that he brings—not only can he make all the throws, but he can extend plays two ways. Obviously, he has unbelievable pocket presence.“

The Bills are fifth in the league with 311.9 yards allowed per game and fourth with just 18.5 points yielded per game.

“They really get after you with their four-man rush,“ said Rodgers.

Offense has been a little harder to come by for the Bills, who sit 19th at 21.6 points and 22nd with 327.2 yards per game.

Watkins, though, has lived up the billing of his draft selection, with his 58 receptions setting a club rookie record. He is 22 yards shy of passing Lee Evans’ club rookie mark of 843 receiving yards set in 2004 and 178 short of becoming the ninth rookie since 1992 to hit the 1,000-yard mark in a season.

Only Watkins has more catches this season for the Bills than running back Fred Jackson, who jumped up the team’s chart with a career-high 10 receptions versus the Broncos. Jackson was held to only 72 scrimmage yards, but it was enough for him to join Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas as the only Bills with at least 5,000 rushing yards and 2,500 receiving yards in a career.

Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews paces his club’s 28th-ranked defense (374.4 YPG allowed). He had a sack on Monday night and has gotten to the quarterback four times with three forced fumbles in his past six versus the AFC. He also had three sacks the last time Green Bay faced Buffalo.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

While the playoffs are pretty much a lock for the Packers this season, they remain focused on finishing strong and putting themselves in the best position come postseason time.

“We’re keeping an eye on Buffalo this week. We know if we win we can clinch a playoff spot if some other things happen. Our main goal is to get a home playoff game, especially the way we are playing at home,“ said Rodgers.

The Bills are in their own fight and a loss here may be the one that all but ends their postseason dreams. That means Buffalo will throw everything it has in to slowing down Rodgers, but he may be playing at a level even above Manning this season.

Rodgers’ ability to avoid the rush should help the Packers’ high-scoring offense get the better of the Bills’ strong defense and keep Green Bay rolling.


►  Pats aim to clinch AFC East

It’s not as if the Miami Dolphins haven’t had chances.

Indeed, the inhabitants of South Florida found themselves in prime playoff positioning amid a muddled AFC standings list following a Week 13 defeat of the New York Jets, but ceded that spot with a 15-point home loss to Baltimore six days later and now face a long road to get back to Januaryuary competition.

Miami hasn’t seen the postseason in six years, and in order to do so this year will have to begin with success in the unlikeliest of situations - on a Week 15 visit to AFC East-leading New England.

The Dolphins have lost three of their last five to fall to 7-6, and even with three schedule-closing victories and 10 overall wins, might still be left out. But that doesn’t mean Joe Philbin is a non-believer.

“I have a lot of faith and confidence in these guys,“ Philbin said. “We’ve got a huge challenge this week going up to New England. I told them in the locker room, we’re going to find out a lot this week.“

Miami’s first 10 opponents managed an average of 302.5 total yards against a consistently solid defensive unit. But that early good fortune has recently evaporated, with the last three foes - Baltimore, New York and Denver - averaging 407.7 total yards, while combining to shred the Dolphins for 661 rushing yards. That’s the most the franchise has ever allowed over three games.

The Ravens finished with 447 total yards last week, and cameras caught Philbin on the receiving end of shouts from defensive tackle Jared Odrick along the sidelines in the late stages of the game.

Not surprisingly, Odrick chalked up the outburst to heat-of-battle frustration.

“Any time you don’t play up to the standards we like to uphold, yeah, you’re upset,“ he said. “Everybody is upset.“

Injuries have also begun occurring at inopportune times.

The Dolphins will play the rest of the season without safety Louis Delmas after he injured his right knee against Baltimore, though cornerback Cortland Finnegan insists he’ll return - though he’s still labeled questionable - after missing four straight games with an ankle problem.

Also MIA lately has been the Miami running game, which churned out 191 yards while defeating the Patriots, 33-20, in Week 1. The Dolphins averaged 137.3 rush yards for their first eight games, but have logged just 81.8 per week in five games since.

Meanwhile, New England just keeps winning.

The Patriots have won five straight AFC East titles since Miami’s 2008 incursion, and a defeat of the Dolphins this week will mean a 12th divisional crown in 14 seasons since Tom Brady’s arrival.

New England dropped a 26-21 decision to Green Bay and was gashed for 478 total yards against the Packers in a marquee Week 12 matchup, but bounced back to hold San Diego to 216 yards last week while winning a 23-14 decision. The Patriots have won 10 or more games for 12 straight seasons, the second-best run in league history behind San Francisco’s 16 in a row from 1983-1998.

They’re sitting in the No. 1 spot across the entire AFC, too, by virtue of a 43-21 defeat of fellow 10-3 rival Denver in November.

New England will finish the season with Miami, the Jets and Buffalo, while Denver has San Diego, Cincinnati and Oakland in its homestretch. The Patriots have won seven of their last eight against New York and 13 in a row over the Bills, but Bill Belichick doesn’t expect to discuss those scenarios for more than “15 seconds” before getting back to the Week 1 loss to the Dolphins.

“We need to talk about how to play offense, defense and special teams against the Dolphins a lot better than we did the last time we played them, which wouldn’t take much,“ he said. “That’s what we’ll be talking about this week: what to do and how to do it.“

Brady completed just 29-of-56 passes and fumbled twice in the road opener, but has 17 touchdowns against two interceptions and is averaging 303.8 passing yards per game across six home games - which have yielded an average margin of 18.4 points.

Additionally, New England is 52-9 in December under Belichick and 59-6 at home since late 2006.

“We’re trying to win every time we take the field,“ Brady said.

“Winning never gets old, I know that. I think that feeling that we had the other night was a great feeling and that’s what motivates you to win because you know the opposite side of that. We worked pretty hard to get to this point. Guys have put in a lot of work over the whole offseason and to put ourselves in this position has been a lot of fun. But, we have to go out there and capitalize.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Get Back to the Run

The Dolphins ran for 191 yards against the Patriots in the Week 1 victory, and, given that the strength of the New England defense lies in its pass rush and secondary, it’s probably wise to get back to what worked the first time around. Lamar Miller had just 59 of those 191 yards while the since-injured Knowshon Moreno carried the load, but he’s still a valuable asset at 4.8 yards per rush.

Hop on Gronk… Again

This just in, Rob Gronkowski is pretty good. The Patriots tight end has 997 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through 13 games, and could be a matchup problem - though what else is new - if the Dolphins are without linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, both of whom are labeled questionable. In their absence, his coverage could fall to Dion Jordan and/or Jordan Tripp.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Football reality time typically arrives for the AFC East in December. And alongside the realities that the New York Jets will probably disappoint and the Buffalo Bills will probably freeze, chances are typically good that the Dolphins will not beat the Patriots in a game that actually has significance. Given the momentums that each time has been riding thus far this month, don’t expect a change.


►  Broncos reach for 4th consecutive AFC West crown

The Denver Broncos will attempt to clinch their fourth consecutive AFC West crown on Sunday when they visit a San Diego Chargers team resolved on making things very difficult for them.

The Broncos currently lead the division by two games over the Chargers but San Diego can cut the lead in half with two games to play. Denver, on the other hand, can not only secure the West with a win, it can also capture a first- round bye with a triumph and some help.

The Broncos have won three straight games, including last week’s 24-17 win over Buffalo in which C.J. Anderson’s three touchdown runs and a solid defensive effort fueled Denver.

Peyton Manning threw two interceptions, finished with a season-low in passing yards (173) for the second straight week and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in over four years, but the Broncos nevertheless came away with the win.

Manning’s streak of tossing a TD pass ended at 51 games, one shy of tying Tom Brady for the second-longest stretch in NFL history.

Anderson and Juwan Thompson combined for 121 yards on the ground, and Wes Welker caught six passes for 82 yards for the victors.

“It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t exactly perfect. But it’s a ‘W,‘“ Broncos head coach John Fox said.

It wasn’t pretty nor perfect for San Diego last week and it ended up with a loss when Tom Brady threw for 317 yards with two touchdowns as the New England Patriots defeated the Chargers, 23-14.

Brady improved to 6-0 all-time against Rivers and the Chargers, who are now amongst a gaggle of nine AFC teams with seven or eight wins.

“We’re going to rebound, bounce back and play like crazy next week,“ Rivers said. “There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves.“

Rivers couldn’t generate much offense against the stingy Pats, throwing for 189 yards with a touchdown and interception as San Diego had its three-game winning streak snapped,

“We got to play better as an offense,“ said Chargers coach Mike McCoy, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator from 2010-12 before getting the top job in San Diego. “That was not our best day.“

The Broncos lead their all-time series with the Chargers by a 59-49-1 margin, including a 35-21 win in the Rockies on October 23 when Manning finished 25-of-35 for 286 yards with three touchdown passes to Emmanuel Sanders.

Denver has also won four of its past five at San Diego.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

A rare slump by Manning has opened the door for Anderson, who has scored five touchdowns during the Broncos’ current three-game winning streak.

Any time a player is 38 and you see a downtick in production, it’s always a concern and even more so here because Manning has had so few blips in his career. The game against Buffalo, which admittedly has a very strong front on defense, was just the 11th time in 253 career regular-season starts that Manning threw 20 or fewer passes and relied on others to do the heavy lifting.

“Let me just say that I can’t think of another quarterback that I’d rather have than Peyton Manning,“ Broncos coach John Fox said while trying to downplay any concerns. “We remind everybody that whether it’s two weeks, three weeks, at the end of the day we’re not done with our body of work yet. We’re just trying to win games. We’ve been blessed to win three in a row. “We’ll lean on whatever we have to lean on.“

That’s been Anderson, who is second in the NFL with 512 rushing yards since Week 10 as Denver has morphed from a pass-first team to one that is riding the hot hand on the ground.

The Broncos are running it 36 times a game over their past three contests, doubling its 18.0 average from the prior three games. Conversely, Manning had been throwing it 41 times a game through 10 contests, a number that has trickled down to 29.7 as Anderson has taken off.

Part of Manning’s problem may have been the absence of star tight end Julius Thomas, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury. The expected return of Thomas, who still has a share of the NFL-lead with 12 TD receptions despite missing three games, will put the band back together so to speak.

It’s tough to deal with Thomas when you also have to worry about Demaryius Thomas and Sanders outside the numbers and Welker in the slot.

Manning is also 4-1 against San Diego since joining the Broncos in 2012, averaging nearly 300 passing yards (296.8 to be exact), along with 15 TD passes and only three interceptions.

One of the Chargers’ main issues has been protecting Rivers due to a shaky, injury-plagued offensive line. The veteran, who has an ultra-quick release, was sacked a season-high four times by the Pats and harassed many more times.

And that kind of thing doesn’t bode well against the Broncos’ defense, which is fourth in the NFL with 38 sacks and has terrors off both edges in and Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Running back Ryan Mathews’ health is also a concern after he had only two carries in the second half of last Sunday’s loss to the Patriots because of a balky right ankle.

“There’s no doubt we’re better when (Mathews is) out there,“ Rivers said. “At the same time, we have confidence in Donald (Brown), Branden (Oliver) and Ronnie (Brown) when they’re in there as well. But when (Mathews is) rolling and we’re balanced, that’s when we’re at our best.“

Another aspect to keep an eye on is the broken clavicle suffered by San Diego punter Mike Scifres against New England. The Chargers brought in veteran Mat McBriar to handle punting duties.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

These teams know each other very well so you can expect each to be well prepared in what shapes up as a must-win for both sides. Denver not only wants the division, it wants to stay in the hunt for homefield throughout the AFC bracket while the Chargers are fighting for their playoff lives in a jumbled wild-card race.

“There is a lot of familiarity between the two teams and coaching staffs,“ Manning said. “We have to go to their place in a division game and it’ll be a big one.“

Despite the loss last week Rivers has won 33 of his 40 career regular-season starts in December and Januaryuary and it’s time for a little more of that late- season magic.

“We’ve got the division leaders coming in this week and we know the challenges they present,“ Rivers said. “We know how hard it is to beat them but we do know how to beat them. And it’s going to take our best to get that done.“


►  Seahawks fight to finish off Niners

On Thanksgiving night, the Seattle Seahawks dealt the rival San Francisco 49ers’ playoff chances a huge blow.

Meeting for the second time in three weeks, the Seahawks can just about finish off the Niners and better their own standing in the race for the playoffs as the two NFC West residents clash on Sunday in Seattle.

San Francisco had won three straight and was keeping pace in a tight divisional race ahead of a holiday matchup at home with Seattle. The Niners were in no mood to celebrate afterwards as they were held to just 164 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times in a 19-3 loss.

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled to just 121 yards passing and was picked off twice by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, got 236 yards passing from Russell Wilson and he threw a touchdown pass to Robert Turbin, while running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 104 yards to compliment the defensive shutdown.

Seattle has won four of its past five versus the Niners, including playoffs, and three straight at home. Of course, the Seahawks defeat the 49ers 23-17 in last season’s NFC Championship Game before besting Denver in the Super Bowl.

San Francisco failed to get on track this past Sunday despite visiting an Oakland team that had just one victory on the season. The offense again struggled and the Raiders controlled the clock in picking up a 24-13 win.

Kaepernick went 18-for-33 for 174 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for the 49ers, who failed to reach 20 points scored in a game for the sixth time in seven outings.

Oakland outgained San Francisco 330-248.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,“ San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “The Raiders made plays and got stops in crucial situations.“

At 7-6, the Niners are two games behind second-place Seattle and three behind the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals. That has San Francisco on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in Harbaugh’s four seasons, with the club having reached at least the NFC title game in his first three years.

Seattle has used a solid defensive effort and enough offense to rip off three straight victories and six in its past seven. The Seahawks stayed in the win column last weekend, picking up a 24-14 road win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wilson threw a pair of touchdown passes and also ran for a score, while Lynch rushed 23 times for 86 yards—going over 1,000 yards for the fourth season in a row. Lynch and Doug Baldwin both caught scoring passes, with Baldwin totaling five receptions for 97 yards.

“We’re high on confidence because we put the work in during the week,“ said Wilson.

The Seahawks’ defense, meanwhile, held Chip Kelly’s fast-paced Eagles offense to just 139 yards and allowed the Seattle offense to hold the ball for a franchise-record 41 minutes and 56 seconds.

“This is the way we want to play. It hasn’t been that way all season long, but it has seemed to come together here,“ said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. “We’ll try to ride it. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and we’re going to see if we can finish in good fashion.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

San Francisco’s struggles have run side-by-side with Kaepernick, and the quarterback faces a tough challenge in trying to get on track.

The 49ers are 15-1 when Kaepernick has posted a passer rating of 100 or better, including playoffs. But he has been held under that mark in seven straight games and has five interceptions to just two touchdown passes in his last three.

Kaepernick hasn’t thrown for more than 300 yards in seven consecutive games and has been held under 200 in three of the past four.

“I don’t think I could be too hard on myself,“ said Kaepernick. “I have a very high expectation for everything I do. And when I go out and compete, I expect myself to make every play. And when I don’t, it is frustrating for myself. So, to me, it’s something that I have to be able to use that frustration in a different way to make sure that I’m productive when I’m out there.“

One way to be productive would be to keep the ball out of Sherman’s hands.

“I’d say he’s one of (the toughest cornerbacks to face). He does a very good job at what he’s coached to do and it makes it tough on our receivers, makes it tough on quarterbacks,“ said Kaepernick.

The Seahawks’ defense as a whole has been tough as of late. Seattle has not allowed more than 204 yards in each of its past three games and ranks first in both total defense (274.5 yards per game) and pass defense (190.4 YPG).

Seattle has outscored its opponents 62-20 in the past three weeks and is giving up 18.1 points per game, second best in the NFL, while recording eight interceptions in the last seven games.

“In general, guys understand what is asked of them so that they understand the scheme really well,“ said Carroll. “They know what their responsibilities are ... to the point of that they can go to the next level of what the offense is doing, the strategy, tactics that they’re deploying, and then take all of that information and make use of it.“

Seattle’s secondary will try to shut down Niners receiver Anquan Boldin, who leads the team with 72 catches and is 103 yards shy of his seventh career 1,000-yard season.

Wilson, meanwhile, is 3-0 at home versus the Niners, including playoffs, with a 103.9 passer rating. He has 37 touchdowns to 11 picks in 24 career starts at home.

Though San Francisco is without injured linebackers NaVarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, outside rusher Aldon Smith has six sacks in his last six versus the Seahawks, including two in the last meeting in Seattle. Rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch has a sack in five of his past seven and inside LB Chris Borland, also a rookie, has 91 tackles and two picks in his previous seven games.

However, fellow linebacker Ahmad Brooks had a string of 60 straight starts come to an end versus the Raiders because he missed a team meeting earlier in the week. and did not play in the game despite being active.

San Francisco also is hoping that cornerback Chris Culliver can play after hurting his knee versus the Raiders, while Seahawks center Max Unger is looking to return after a three-game absence caused by a high-ankle sprain.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Rumors of Harbaugh’s possible offseason departure from the Niners continue to grow louder as the club has struggled and the coach desperately needs Kaepernick to turn things around should the club keep its faint playoff chances alive.

A road game in Seattle isn’t the best place for that to happen and Carroll isn’t ready to take the Niners lightly.

“We don’t see this game any different—we see the same players, coaches, style, and we remember what’s going on and how they’ve been,“ noted Seattle’s coach. “They’re very close to being how they need to be at the end of the year and nobody knows how this story is going to be written at this point. We count on them being a very difficult team to play as always and nothing has changed.“

That should hold true for Seattle as well, with Wilson staying perfect at home in his career versus the Niners.



►  Steelers and Falcons meet in key interconference matchup

A pair of teams with division titles on the brain square off Sunday at the Georgia Dome, where the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the hosting Atlanta Falcons.

The Steelers are 8-5 this season, right behind the 8-4-1 Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North standings. The Steelers have won two of three games and improved to 5-2 in the past seven games with Sunday’s 42-21 win over the Bengals.

Le’Veon Bell ran for 185 yards and two scores on 26 carries and has recorded 95 yards or more in each of the past three games, averaging 161.3 ypg in that time. Bell is second in the NFL with 1,231 rushing yards and third with 94.7 yards per game.

Bell totaled 235 yards from scrimmage to join Walter Payton (1977) as only the second player in NFL history to tally 200 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions to keep Pittsburgh alive in the division title hunt. Antonio Brown (117 yards) and Martavis Bryant (109 yards) both eclipsed the 100-yard mark against Cincinnati, and helped the Steelers amass 543 yards.

The Steelers have scored 30 or more points in seven games in 2014, tying a franchise record for the most such games in a season.

“We just know that it is one game at a time,“ said Roethlisberger. “We (know) every week is kind of a playoff week for us. We’re going to give it everything we have every week.“

Pittsburgh will close the regular season with two games at home versus Kansas City and a rematch with Cincinnati.

The Falcons are even with New Orleans atop the mediocre NFC South standings with similar 5-8 records. The Falcons had won three of four games until Monday night’s 43-37 loss in Green Bay.

Atlanta rallied for 20 fourth-quarter points in the unfriendly confines of Lambeau Field and Matt Ryan completed 24-of-39 passes for 375 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones blew up for a team-record 259 yards and a TD on 11 receptions.

“They just leaned on me today and I just tried to make most of the plays,“ Jones said. “Everything they threw on me, I tried my best to get them.“

Jones leads all receivers in the NFL with 1,428 yards. The 259-yard outburst was the best performance by any receiver in the NFL this season, besting Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins, who posted 238 yards in a game against the Tennessee Titans earlier this season.

He did suffer a hip injury in the fourth quarter, but is expected to be alright Sunday versus the Steelers.

“Julio has a hip injury, and (safety) William Moore has a foot injury. We’re hoping that these guys will be ready to go at the end of the week,“ Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “How much practice time they’re going to get? We don’t know that at this point in time, but it is our intention to do everything in our power to have these guys ready to go against Pittsburgh.“

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White needs one more touchdown to pass Michael Turner (61) for the franchise lead.

The Steelers lead the series with the Falcons, 12-2-1, and are 6-2 in the Peach State. Pittsburgh won the last meeting, 15-9, in overtime back on September 12, 2010 in the season opener for both teams. Roethlisberger did not play in that one because of a suspension.

Ryan passed for 252 yards with no TDs and one INT. That game took place in the Steel City and Ryan is back home, where owns a 39-12 record with 84 touchdown passes and 32 interceptions with a 98.0 QB rating. Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown in 18 straight games dating back to 2013.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Falcons have New Orleans and Carolina on the docket to close out the regular season, and face a tough challenge with Pittsburgh in town.

Atlanta will have to slow down Bell and the Steelers’ ground attack to have a chance, and struggled with Green Bay’s Monday night. The Packers netted 179 yards on the ground and running backs James Starks and Eddie Lacy ended with 75 and 73 yards, respectively. Both backs had a rushing touchdown.

Bell poses as a huge threat this week and Smith knows it.

“Well, he’s going to have a challenge very similar to what we had in the game yesterday. If it wasn’t there down the field they were going to check the ball down,“ Smith said Tuesday. “Their backs were very active in the passing game yesterday, and the running back that we’re getting to face this week has had 200 yards of total offense the last couple of weeks. He’s not just doing it carrying the ball; he’s doing it catching the ball as well. It’s going to be a challenge for us.“

Smith also gave credit to Roethlisberger and his ability to shed off would-be tacklers in the pocket. If Aaron Rodgers was annoying enough by making time in the pocket, Big Ben will be just as irritating. Rodgers passed for 327 yards and three scores, and hooked up with Jordy Nelson eight times for 146 yards and a pair of touchdown connections.

Enter Brown.

Brown is first in the NFL with 105 receptions, second with 1,375 yards and third with 11 TDs. Brown and Bryant can give opposing defensive backfields nightmares with their speed and ability to gain yards after the catch.

The Steelers have won two in a row on the road and Sunday’s game in Atlanta won’t be an easy one.

“I really think the significant element of the storyline is we are faced with another road game against a division leader and it’s a significant game for both teams,“ Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Both teams will prepare with that in mind and play with an edge with that in mind. We have a great deal of respect for these guys.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The cream usually rises to the top and no team deserves to be in the playoffs with a record below .500. Well, the Falcons can be that team if the remainder of the season goes their way.

However, the Steelers will make it difficult for the Falcons to achieve their goal with a high-scoring win at the Georgia Dome. Look for another all-purpose performance from Bell and some more receptions for Brown.


►  Giants are co-stars for Redskins’ latest soap opera

The New York Giants simple destruction of the Washington Redskins back in late September at FedEx Field is a distant memory.

The Giants will try to duplicate their demolition of the Redskins when the NFC East cellar dwellers close the season series Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

New York recorded a 45-14 rout of the Redskins on September 25, as it racked up 449 yards of offense and quarterback Eli Manning threw for 300 yards with a season-high four touchdown passes and one interception. A healthy Victor Cruz caught six passes for 108 yards and tight end Larry Donnell ended with seven receptions for 54 yards and three TDs.

Guess how many touchdown passes Donnell has since. Donnell has recorded only two receiving scores in the past nine games since his breakout performance for the Giants, who defeated Atlanta the next week on October 5 for a 3-2 record.

The Giants lost seven in a row from October 12 - November 30, but came alive in Sunday’s 36-7 dismantling of the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. They were ahead 30-0 in the third quarter, recorded 402 total yards and received a big game from rookie running back Andre Williams. Williams posted a career-best 131 yards and a 50-yard touchdown run in a season-high 24 carries.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was asked if Williams is evolving into an NFL- type running back.

“I hope so. That is what this thing is all about,“ Coughlin said. “I think he is, with the exception of a couple of times when I would’ve maybe made a little bit different reaction to some of the things he saw in front of him. He was on the spot with his cuts and he did demonstrate once again the power that we are counting on. The more he plays, the better he gets, and the more opportunity he has.“

It was New York’s most complete game since that victory over the Redskins and the team exceeded 400 yards for the fifth time. The 142 rushing yards was the Giants’ third-highest total of the season and the most yards on the ground since they had 154 at Washington.

New York will try to stop a three-game home losing streak Sunday and is 2-4 at home and 2-7 in conference play.

The Redskins are winless in the last three road games and 1-6 as the visitor.

Washington dropped its fifth straight games and fell to 3-10 on the season following Sunday’s 24-0 loss at home to the St. Louis Rams. Colt McCoy threw for 199 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, and sustained a sprained neck in the fourth quarter.

McCoy is listed as day-to-day and expects to start against the Giants.

“I want to see how he is doing first,“ Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. “I don’t want to really rush into any decision at this time anyway. Nobody else has to announce any starters on a Monday press conference so I don’t think I should be any different. So I am going to wait and see until I get all the information on the quarterback.“

Benched starter turned backup Robert Griffin III saw action in the loss to the Rams, completing 3-of-4 pass attempts for 33 yards. Griffin, of course, lost his job to both Kirk Cousins and McCoy this season, and could be playing his last season in Washington. Many speculate Gruden could be on his way out after just one year with the sinking franchise.

Gruden is actually considering all three QBs for Sunday. He discussed the possibility of going back to RG3.

“Hopefully he’ll play well,“ Gruden said. “Hopefully he’s taken a step back and taken everything in and just continuing to learn the position and learning about the concepts that we run, and hopefully he’ll have more of a confident air about him when he jumps back in there, and there’s less indecision is what we’re hoping for; that he is decisive and will just pull the trigger and make plays.“

Speaking of Cousins, he threw for 257 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions against the G-men in September. It was one game after going head-to-head with Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles and throwing for 427 yards and three scores with one INT.

Cousins still leads the Redskins in passing yards with 1,710 and hasn’t played since October 19 in a 19-17 win over Tennessee.

This will be the 166th time Washington and Big Blue have locked up when you include the postseason with the Giants winning four of the past five in the series and holding a 96-65-4 all-time advantage.

“We’ve got to end on a good note,“ Redskins linebacker Will Compton said. “We’ve got to focus on New York, and we’ve got to get a win. And then we’ve got to do whatever it takes to get another win. But we need to get some momentum going into the offseason.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson did not play versus the Rams because of a leg injury and is day-to-day. Washington’s deep threat and big-play target was held to one catch for nine yards against a Giants team he is very familiar with from his days as an Eagle.

Seattle talkative cornerback Richard Sherman said the Eagles miss Jackson and his explosiveness because they no longer have a home-run threat and defenses, like Seattle’s, can line up across the line of scrimmage.

The Redskins have seen those flashes of brilliance from Jackson, who has 942 yards and five TDs on 47 catches. Perhaps Jackson wishes he was still in Philly and hauled on 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine scores in 2013. He is approaching the fourth 1,000-yard season in his career.

Andre Roberts took Jackson’s spot on Sunday and had only two receptions for 11 yards. Pierre Garcon finished with nine catches for 95 yards and, like Jackson, was a non-factor versus the Giants with two catches for 28 yards. He did surpass 400 catches in his career against St. Louis.

Washington will be playing for pride and respect Sunday at the Meadowlands.

“If you’re competitive, and I’m assuming most people in the NFL are, there should still be a lot of fight left in you. There’s a lot to fight for,“ ‘Skins tight end Niles Paul said. “As a team, I would expect everyone to still be competitive, we have three division rivals coming up, and if you can’t get excited for those games, then something’s wrong.“

The Redskins will host the Eagles December 20 and the Dallas Cowboys December 28.

Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. did not play in the first game against the Redskins and will get his first taste of the rivalry. Taking the place and production of Cruz (knee), Beckham finished with 130 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions last week. He has at least 90 yards receiving in six straight games with four 100-yard performances in that stretch.

Beckham’s four 100-yard games are a Giants rookie record. Beckham leads the Giants in receptions (59) and receiving yards (829) and is tied for the team lead with Williams and tight end Larry Donnell with six touchdowns.

New York will try again to expose Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher had harsh words for his former coach and wondered why he still had a job following Sunday’s game. Haslett said he never had a problem when he worked with Fletcher.

“I just heard what London said and all I’ll say is I’m disappointed in his reaction,“ said Haslett, who was rendered clueless by the longtime linebacker. Obviously, he has an opinion, but I’m disappointed that he would come out and say something like (that). But, every man has an opinion, and he obviously stated his.“

Washington’s defense hasn’t been that awful this season and has stud linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan, who had the only sack of Manning in the first meeting, posted two sacks versus St. Louis to push his single-season career high number to 11 1/2. Kerrigan has now recorded a full sack in three consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 9-11 of the 2011 season.

Kerrigan is facing a Giants offense that didn’t allow a sack to the Titans. Manning was sacked four times in the previous game at Jacksonville and 13 times over the past five games before last week. The clean performance gave Manning enough time to pick apart Tennessee’s defense.

“The offensive line did a really good job of blocking and giving Eli time to throw the ball and to be able to take those shots down the field,“ Beckham said afterward. “It’s cliche, but it really does all start up front.“

Beckham should have another 90-plus yard game Sunday and perhaps even Donnell will make an appearance.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Giants are averaging almost 30 points (29.3) over the last three games and will get to that mark again to complete a season sweep of the Redskins for a second straight year.

Cruz gave Washington problems in the first meeting and Beckham is faster. Look for the Redskins to scramble around in the injury-riddled secondary for a sixth consecutive loss.


►  Cowboys and Eagles tangle for NFC East lead

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant said the Philadelphia Eagles were being “kinda cheap” during a Thanksgiving debacle at AT&T Stadium.

“They beat us and I’m going to accept that, but (expletive) can’t wait, but not looking past Chicago, but I cannot wait to go up there and play (the Eagles) again, cannot wait.“

The Cowboys didn’t look past the Bears and have already shifted focus to the Eagles Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field. In last Thursday’s 41-28 defeat of Chicago at Soldier Field, Bryant caught six passes for 82 yards and Tony Romo appeared spry in passing for 205 yards with three touchdowns. Romo, who’s been bothered by back and rib issues, did not throw an interception.

NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray harassed the Bears with 179 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 32 carries and also caught nine passes for 49 yards. Murray has rushed for 100-plus yards 11 times this season and is first in the league in rushing yards (1,606), yards per game (123.5), carries (320) and is tied for first with nine rushing TDs.

Murray had a season-low 73 yards on 20 carries in a 33-10 loss to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving. Now he is 167 yards short from the Cowboys’ single-season rushing record of 1,773 set by Emmitt Smith in 1995. He needs 393 to reach the illustrious group of 2,000-yard rushers.

“Obviously, I hear about it, but I’m not thinking about it,“ Murray said. “I’m just going out here and trying to win some games.“

The Cowboys, who are 19-2 when Murray has 20 or more carries, have won three of their last four games and sit tied with the Eagles at 9-4 atop the NFC East standings. Murray deserves much of the credit for getting the Cowboys to where they are because the running game was absent in recent years and Romo was forced to do it all himself.

Murray said his body feels great after all the pounding it has experienced. The Eagles held him in check a few weeks ago, but Murray is ready for the rematch at the Linc.

“We know what’s at stake. We can’t make it bigger than it is,“ Murray said. “We’ve got to come out and not try to do too much ... just stick to our gameplan, stick to our identity of what we’ve done in the past.“

In four games against the Eagles, Murray has rushed for 278 yards and two touchdowns on 68 touches. He is facing a Philly defense that limited Seattle bruising back Marshawn Lynch to 86 yards on 23 carries.

After visiting the Eagles, Dallas will host Indianapolis and visit Washington to close out the regular season.

Philadelphia’s potent offense was shut down completely in Sunday’s 24-14 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Head coach Chip Kelly’s up- tempo offense ran only 45 plays and amassed a season-low 139 yards.

LeSean McCoy had a death in the family leading up to the game and said his focus wasn’t entirely there. He had 50 yards on 17 carries and a costly fumble to open the second half. McCoy managed to pass Wilbert Montgomery as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.

“I didn’t imagine when I got drafted here that I’d potentially have a chance to hold the rushing record as an Eagle,“ McCoy said. “That’s something big. That’s something I’m looking forward to. The main goal is just to win the game, obviously. But in the way of doing that, I’d love to accomplish that.“

McCoy ran for a season-best 159 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against the Cowboys on November 27, and will be a big factor again this week.

“The only thing you can do is win to get past this,“ McCoy said of the losing feeling. “That is the only feeling that makes everything go away. We will get back to the drawing boards, we will get back to practice, we will train and prepare hard. It is a big, big game, a must-win type of game. And there is nothing better than having them (Cowboys) here, in Philly. I guess we will see this Sunday.“

Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez had two touchdown passes and an interception last Sunday, and completed 10-of-20 attempts for only 96 yards. Tight end Zach Ertz led the receiving core with 39 yards and a touchdown on two receptions. Jeremy Maclin had three catches for 96 yards and a score.

“We have a very good Dallas team coming in here next Sunday,“ said Maclin, who recorded eight catches for 108 yards on Thanksgiving. “We have to learn from this and flush it.“

Maclin talked about what to expect from a Cowboys team looking for revenge.

“I think it’ll be really different,“ he said. “Obviously they’re going to come prepared, and obviously they know what’s at stake here. We do as well. What we did to them on Thanksgiving is probably still in the back of their minds, so we’re going to prepare for a battle and we don’t expect anything less.“

Philadelphia had won two straight and four of five games before the Seahawks stole a victory in the City of Brotherly Love. Sunday’s loss put the Eagles behind a few tiebreaking scenarios against conference powers Seattle, Green Bay, Arizona and possibly San Francisco.

The Eagles must have short memories and remain focused for a second straight NFC East crown. They will visit Washington and New York (Giants) to end the regular season.

Dallas leads the all-time series with Philadelphia by a 62-49 count, including the playoffs. The Eagles had lost three in a row in this series until a 24-22 victory last December 29 at AT&T Stadium clinched the NFC East.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Romo wasn’t himself in the loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving and passed for 199 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. He looked in obvious disarray and it won’t get any easier because the Eagles’ defense is improving each week.

Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham said the Eagles need this one Sunday.

“We definitely need it. We need every game from here on out because at the end of the day we’re still sitting tied for first in the division with Dallas,“ Graham said Sunday. “We need this one coming up and we will be playing with our hair on fire next week.“

Romo is 7-6 as a starter against the Eagles with 3,024 passing yards, 17 TDs and 15 INTs. Look for him to find good friend and tight end Jason Witten, who needs four catches for an 11th straight season with at least 50. Witten was visibly upset on the sidelines in the first meeting with Philadelphia.

“On defense, they present a lot of challenges because they’re so good up front,“ Witten remarked about the Eagles. “They can move around, get pressure on the outside, and get pressure on the inside, too. If you look back at our game, we weren’t ever able to get anything going.“

Dallas had no trouble getting the offense going on the road in Chicago, however, and has to do it again in enemy territory.

“They came down here and they did what they needed to do to win the game,“ Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said of the Eagles. “We can look at different things in that game and say we did things the right way and we had some success. We didn’t do things the right way and they had some success. So that’s how we have to look at it, control what we can control. That game is done with. It’s been done with. It’s (not) coming back. The challenge ahead is what we’re focused on.“

The Cowboys struggled to slow down Kelly’s offense, but they can take a long gaze at what Seattle did Sunday. The Cowboys’ defense isn’t as talented or nasty as the Seahawks, so they’ll have to come prepared and improvise.

Who knows which Sanchez will appear this weekend. Will it be last week’s disaster or the hero on Turkey Day? Sanchez has won both career starts against Dallas, and missed a few throws and open receivers versus the Seahawks.

Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox has a sack in three of his past five games and the team is second in the NFL with 44.0—just behind Buffalo (48.0). Linebacker Connor Barwin leads the NFC with 13 1/2 sacks and has 11 1/2 in the past five at the Linc, where a 10-game winning streak in the regular season came to rest versus Seattle.

Cox, Barwin and the rest of Philly’s defense are hoping to give Romo fits in the pocket.

“Not a lot of quarterbacks want to take a lot of hits. It messes with them,“ Cox said. “You hit a quarterback early in the game, he is looking for it later in the game. Some lay down, some try to scramble out.“

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks has been disruptive the past few weeks. and his speed is a major asset. He made a solid stop on Murray on 4th down on Thanksgiving and leads the team with 65 tackles.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Cowboys are salivating and frothing at the mouth to get this rematch started in south Philadelphia. More commonly known for falling apart in December, the Cowboys will still be alive in the postseason hunt even with another loss to the Eagles.

But Dallas wants revenge very badly.

“I’m anxious. I’m excited to go back down there and get another shot at those guys,“ Cowboys defensive back Orlando Scandrick said. “That’s a good football team that we’re going to play. I’m really excited to go down there, to their place, and get another shot in this cold weather.“

Actually the Cowboys will be heading up to Philadelphia judging by any map of the United States.

Dallas will be headed back down to the Lone Star State with a tough loss and a game behind the Eagles after a back-and-forth affair. Sanchez and the Eagles will have their mind right for this one and McCoy will appear more focused.


►  Redskins send rookie Moses to IR

The Washington Redskins placed offensive tackle Morgan Moses on injured reserve due to a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery.

Moses, a third-round pick in this past May’s NFL Draft, sustained the injury to his foot during practice on Wednesday.

The 23-year-old appeared in eight games this season and made his first career start in place of an injured Trent Williams at left tackle during Washington’s loss at San Francisco in Week 12.

Running back Chris Thompson was promoted from the practice squad to fill the available roster spot.


►  Sharper indicted in New Orleans rape cases

Former NFL safety Darren Sharper, who faces a string of sexual assault allegations across the country, has been indicted in New Orleans on charges of aggravated rape.

Sharper was indicted over accusations that he sexually assaulted three women in two separate incidents last year, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Friday.

Two other men, both acquaintances of Sharper and one of them a sheriff’s deputy, were also charged as part of the nine-count grand jury indictment.

All three face life sentences stemming from multiple rape allegations against them, according to the paper.

Sharper, 39, is jailed and currently awaiting trial in California after pleading not guilty earlier this year to felony charges that he drugged and raped two women he met in a West Hollywood nightclub.

In another case, he was indicted by an Arizona grand jury in March on charges he drugged and sexually assaulted two women and drugged a third.

Sharper made five Pro Bowl teams in a 14-year NFL career between 1997 and 2010 and was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s. He won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints after the 2009 season and also played for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.

He was fired in February from his job as an analyst for NFL Network.


►  Extra Points: ‘Joy and Pain’ for the Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals felt a range of emotions in their former home of St. Louis on Thursday night.

So much so that’s it’s time to “pump, pump, pump it up” with Rob Base and the late DJ EZ Rock.

A touchdown-less 12-6 win created the “joy” of understanding that the Cards will be on their way to the NFL playoffs, while the latest injury for football’s grittiest team spawned the “pain,“ along with realization that they can’t do anything once they get there.

The Cards didn’t officially clinch a postseason berth with their ugly win over the Rams but their ticket will be punched on Sunday night as long as the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys don’t play to a tie in the City of Brotherly Love.

A year after a 10-win season didn’t get Bruce Arians’ club to the dance, an 11-win one will, along with a chance to become the first team to play the big game in their own stadium.

Of course I also have an opportunity to win the Power Ball and my odds might be a little bit better than the Cardinals chances of playing in Glendale on February 1.

Arizona suffered another injury at the quarterback position at the hands of the St. Louis defense as Drew Stanton left the game with a right knee injury in the third quarter after a sack by Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

The veteran backup hopped off the field on his left leg, unable to put any weight on his right knee and was eventually carted off to the locker room.

Stanton, who was 12-of-20 for 109 yards before exiting, was starting his fifth straight game since Carson Palmer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a 31-14 win over the Rams on November 9.

Arians chose to go with the nondescript Ryan Lindley, who re-signed with the Cardinals on November 11 after Palmer’s injury, over rookie Logan Thomas, a far more gifted player.

“I went with (Lindley) because of his experience, he has been in a stadium and played against these guys and this was not a time to put (Logan Thomas) out there,“ Arians said. “(Thomas) is going to be a great player someday, but he is not ready for this yet. Ryan was more than ready; I really liked his poise and his confidence. I didn’t feel like we had to scale it back, but I let him throw some balls and he made some nice throws.“

In reality the San Diego State product, who started four games back in 2012 when Ken Whisenhunt was the Cards’ coach, showed little, completing four of his 10 passes for 30 yards.

“Linny hasn’t gotten any reps probably since training camp in the offense,“ star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “For him to come in this type of situation, in this hostile environment with all of the implications going into the game, he did an amazing job.“

The early indications on Stanton’s knee injury are not good, something Fitzgerald amplified after the game.

“It’s unfortunate, you feel terrible for Drew going down,“ he said. “Hopefully tomorrow the MRI reveals something more positive.“

“More positive” implies a less than positive initial diagnosis.

And that means Plan C.

Arians’ assessment of Thomas was stark and the phrase “he is not ready for this yet” doesn’t exactly foreshadow him being ready any time soon, meaning Arizona needs to line up behind Lindley, originally a sixth-round pick of the club 2012 who spent some time on San Diego’s practice squad earlier this season.

“You couldn’t be more happy for the guy. He’s worked extremely hard to put himself in a position of being well-prepared, and we’re going to rally around him,“ Fitzgerald said.

Rallying is fine but talents wins in the NFL.

It’s a small sample size but Lindley has now thrown 183 passes in his professional career and has yet to find the end zone. He has, however, had no trouble locating the opposition, throwing seven interceptions or one in every 26.1 attempts.

And the Cardinals will be trying to hold off the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who are currently ranked No. 1 in the NFL on defense, next week with the NFC West title likely the ultimate prize.

“I saw (the Seahawks) once in San Diego, saw them once when I came out here, so this is going to be the third time around game planning for these guys so that should help a little bit,“ Lindley said.

He’ll need more than a little bit of help.

Arians is already the presumptive NFL Coach of the Year. If he holds off the Seahawks, he might be canonized as a real-life miracle worker.


►  Erratic Saints hope to save season in Chicago

If you really are what your record says you are, the New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears both have to come to grips with the fact that neither is a very good football team.

One, however, can change that narrative over the final three weeks of the regular season. The other seems to fall deeper into the abyss every day.

Both the Bears and Saints fashioned themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders before the season but now find themselves mired in identical 5-8 disasters in advance of their “Monday Night Football” matchup.

New Orleans, however, remains relevant due to circumstance, the fact they play in the miserable NFC South. The Saints are actually tied atop the division with Atlanta, although the Falcons have the inside track because of a perfect mark inside the South. Carolina remains in the mix also at 4-8-1 after drubbing NOLA in Week 14.

None of that should deter the Saints, however, because New Orleans hosts Atlanta on December 21, meaning it controls its own destiny.

The eventual NFC South winner is already guaranteed to become just the fifth division champion with a non-winning record after a 16-game season and could become the second with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks.

“The only reason we’re sitting here still with that small sliver of hope is just because the way the division has unfolded this year,“ Saints coach Sean Payton admitted.

Chicago, on the other hand, is 5-8 just like New Orleans but its season is done as the Bears are in last place in the NFC North entering Week 15, behind 10-3 Green Bay, 9-4 Detroit and 6-7 Minnesota.

The Saints had a chance to seize control of their fate in Week 14 but responded by laying an egg in the form of a 41-10 setback at the hands of the Panthers, their fourth straight defeat at the Superdome, a place where New Orleans used to be dominant.

The now-injured Cam Newton had a hand in four of Carolina’s five touchdowns in that one.

Conversely, Drew Brees was contained for most of the contest, throwing for 235 yards and a score to Benjamin Watson as New Orleans dropped its fourth straight as the host for the first time since 1999—Mike Ditka’s final season as head coach.

Marques Colston totaled 72 yards on five catches, while the rushing tandem of Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas was limited to 81 yards on 15 combined carries.

“I’d use the word frustrated, I’d use the word embarrassed, to go out there as a professional football team and play that way at home,“ Watson said. “The outplayed us, outhustled us, out-executed us. Even if we lose, it shouldn’t be this lopsided with the talent we have.“

The Bears also think they have a lot of talent but it doesn’t show up very often and called out sick again in Week 14, resulting in a 41-28 setback to Dallas at Soldier Field.

Matt Forte and Jay Cutler rushed for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, cutting a 25-point Dallas lead to 10. But the Bears lost for the second week in a row after falling in Detroit on Thanksgiving.

Cutler, who entered the game 2-0 against Dallas with a 138.2 rating and no interceptions, completed 32 of his 46 throws for 341 yards, one pick and touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.

“I’d be lying to you if I said that I’m OK with it,“ said Bears linebacker Jon Bostic. “(I’m) disappointed, but the fact is that heading into this game we still had a quarter of our season left so it’s not like we can just go out there and start feeling sorry for ourselves and saying, ‘We didn’t have the season that we wanted to have so let’s just cash it in these next four games.‘

“We have a great group here, great group of men—coaches and players—we’ve just got to find a way to come together and execute and try to win some ball games and finish strong.“

Chicago lost much more than a game to Dallas also, as star wide receiver Brandon Marshall was taken away from Soldier Field in an ambulance after suffering broken ribs and a lung injury in the first half.

Marshall was officially placed on injured reserve earlier this week, ending his season with 61 passes for 721 yards, by far his lowest totals since his rookie season.

The turmoil hardly ended there for the Bears as offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer reportedly apologized to his players for anonymously criticizing Cutler to NFL Media.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Kromer admitted being the guy who claimed Chicago was having “buyer’s remorse” after the big-money contract proffered to Cutler in the offseason, claiming the embattled QB’s inability to check out of bad plays in the running game was hamstringing the offense.

“I said what I had to say to the players,“ Kromer said, according to The Tribune.

The Saints and Bears have split 26 previous regular-season meetings with New Orleans taking the last two to even the series. The teams last met in October of 2013 when Brees threw for 288 yards and two TDs as the Saints topped Chicago, 26-18, at Soldier Field.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Normally the Saints want to play at home but four straight losses at the Superdome—the largest home skid in the Payton era—and a Bears team that has seemingly checked out on the season make Chicago a desirable location even in December.

Payton seems fed up and some reports have him walking away after the season, although he’s denied those rumors and is the highest paid coach in football, meaning a divorce is not tenable. He is, however, intent on making some changes and started that process by releasing talented but troubled wide receiver Joe Morgan.

Meanwhile, safety Kenny Vaccaro, a 2013 first-round pick who has had an awful sophomore campaign, is in danger of being benched, a scapegoat for a defense that has allowed 27 points or more in five straight games while surrendering nearly 500 yards per contest in the past four. Overall, the New Orleans D is 31st in football, allowing 398.7 ypg.

“Guys understand, hey, this is serious,“ Payton claimed. “It’s their profession. It’s our profession. It’s going to be our job and the leaders of this team to lead. This is exactly when you find out who your guys are. If it’s not happening then we’re going to look at other options.“

Despite Kromer’s assertions, which were amplified by the fact that the Bears have rushed for a total of 48 yards in their past two games, embattled Chicago head coach Marc Trestman is sticking with Cutler.

“Jay and I talk daily. I think he has a very good understanding of how we feel about him,“ Trestman said. “There’s a lot of noise out there. We’re all aware of that. All we’re trying to do here is to get our football team in a position that we can be better on Monday night.“

The Bears’ defense isn’t much better than New Orleans’, allowing an NFL-worst 29.1 points per game and giving up 377.8 ypg, tied for 28th in the league. Reports out of the Windy City say the organization has already decided to move on from defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

In his past two meetings with the Bears, Brees has completed 55-of-72 passes for 558 yards with five TDs for a 121.2 rating.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Both of these teams look like their off the rails but the Saints have one thing they can lean on and that’s Brees, who has continued to perform at a pretty high level despite his team’s struggles.

Conversely, the Bears have a head coach who looks overmatched, an offensive coordinator leaking things like a shady politician, a defensive chief on his way out the door and a quarterback whose body language ties all of that nonsense up into a bow.


►  Redskins’ McCoy expected to start vs. Giants

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden expects quarterback Colt McCoy to make his third consecutive start in Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.

Gruden said Friday that McCoy was going to see a specialist in the afternoon about his sprained neck, but called the visit a formality the team was taking as a precaution before officially clearing him to play.

McCoy took all of the first-team reps in practice after being limited the previous two days.

“We just want to make 100% sure there’s no risk of him doing damage to his neck,“ Gruden said. “Once he gets cleared there shouldn’t be an issue.“

Gruden said McCoy threw the ball well in practice and “didn’t have any issues.“

McCoy suffered the injury during Sunday’s 24-0 loss to St. Louis, his second consecutive start since Robert Griffin III was benched.

The Redskins (3-10) haven’t won a game since McCoy led them to an overtime victory in Dallas on October 27.

Gruden put wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s chances to play at “50-50” because of a shin injury that kept him out of Sunday’s game. Jackson was limited in practice all week and was listed as questionable to play against the Giants.

Running back Roy Helu Jr. (toe), safety Brandon Meriweather (toe) and linebacker Keenan Robinson (knee) have been ruled out for the game.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Week 15 player fantasy rankings - quarterbacks

It is never an easy task to determine the top-ranked fantasy quarterback for any week of the NFL season. With so much talent at the position, there can be arguments made for about five or six different guys every week.

This week the choice is Indianapolis Colts’ signal-caller Andrew Luck.

Even in a game where he committed three turnovers, Luck was still able to manage over 25 fantasy points (according to Yahoo) during Week 14. He is the top point-producer in fantasy football (334.2 points), has scored under 20 points just twice this season, and is tied for the league-lead with 36 touchdown passes. Luck will be facing off against the Houston Texans in Week 15, and after torching them for 370 yards and three scores in Week 6, the Colts’ franchise player will have a great chance at another impressive performance.

The seemingly clear choice for the NFL MVP Award is Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who comes in as our second-ranked signal-caller heading into Week 15. Many are probably wondering why he is not holding down the top spot, and the reason comes as a result of the opponent he will be facing.

The Buffalo Bills have been fantastic against opposing quarterbacks, allowing just 14.9 points per game (seventh-fewest). During Week 14, Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning registered just 4.7 points, and only one signal-caller (Tom Brady) has scored over 20 fantasy points all season against them. We still feel Rodgers will have a productive game, but the Bills success against opposing quarterbacks has given us a reason to take a very small step back.

Manning is coming off his worst performance of 2014, and has actually failed to throw for 200 yards in each of the past two games. He also snapped a 51- game streak of passing for a touchdown, yet we feel he will get back on track Sunday versus the San Diego Chargers. Manning has faced the Chargers five times since joining the Broncos, and has averaged 296.8 passing yards per game along with tossing a total of 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Look for him to come up big for fantasy owners during Week 15.

Arguably the biggest disappointment of Week 14 was New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees, who threw for only one touchdown and registered just 13 fantasy points against the free-falling Carolina Panthers. However, he should be able to bounce back Monday night against the Chicago Bears, who are giving up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks (20.9 points per game). After throwing five touchdowns in Week 13, look for Brees to push for that number yet again.

One signal-caller to potentially give a spot-start to this week is New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning. He destroyed the Redskins in Washington during Week 4, throwing for 300 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, and now with Week 15’s contest in the Meadowlands, Manning could be in line for a similar performance. Washington is currently giving up the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks (21.3 ppg), giving owners a solid backup plan if their top option at quarterback has a rough matchup.

Top-25 Quarterback Rankings

—————————————-

1) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

2) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

3) Peyton Manning, Denver

4) Drew Brees, New Orleans

5) Tony Romo, Dallas

6) Matthew Stafford, Detroit

7) Tom Brady, New England

8) Matt Ryan, Atlanta

9) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh

10) Philip Rivers, San Diego

11) Jay Cutler, Chicago

12) Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia

13) Joe Flacco, Baltimore

14) Russell Wilson, Seattle

15) Eli Manning, New York Giants

16) Ryan Tannehill, Miami

17) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota

18) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati

19) Kyle Orton, Buffalo

20) Alex Smith, Kansas City

21) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco

22) Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston

23) Drew Stanton, Arizona

24) Shaun Hill, St. Louis

25) Johnny Manziel, Cleveland


►  Week 15 player fantasy rankings - running backs

It would take a lot to unseat Le’Veon Bell for the top spot on the Week 15 running back rankings.

After all, Bell is the first back in well over a quarter of a century to gain at least 200 yards from scrimmage in three straight weeks. Bell also has four touchdowns over that span.

Jamaal Charles, though, has just enough to take the No. 1 ranking as he has scored in eight straight games and has 11 touchdowns over that span. Charles also faces the Oakland Raiders, who allow the most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Charles had 122 yards of scrimmage and a touchdown in the Week 12 matchup against the Raiders.

Bell’s owners are pleased with his matchup too, as he faces the Atlanta Falcons, who permit the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Charles and Bell are really 1A and 1B this week.

Just four weeks ago, Bell and LeGarrette Blount shared the same backfield, but now with New England, Blount has become a legitimate low-end RB1. Owners shouldn’t be nervous starting Blount despite the way Patriots coach Bill Belichick likes to shuffle things up from week to week because Blount has clearly become the top-running option in New England.

Blount had 20 carries last week and no other running back had more than two. He has also led the team in rushing attempts every single game since joining the team in Week 12. Plus, the Dolphins defense has yielded an average of 220 yards on the ground over the last three weeks.

The Cleveland Browns offense is frustrating Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West owners just like they are Brian Hoyer and Josh Gordon owners.

Crowell and West continue to share carries in the backfield. Crowell has had at least 12 attempts in the last five games and leads Cleveland in rushing yards over that span, however, there will be an occasional game where West either out-touches or out-gains Crowell.

Last week, the two backs both gained 54 yards with Crowell getting 14 carries and West receiving 13 rushes. It’s anyone’s best guest who will lead the team in rushing this week.

Alfred Morris and Giovani Bernard are top draft picks who are really struggling.

Jeremy Hill has taken over the Bengals backfield and is a better fantasy play at this point. Morris’ value takes a huge hit if Robert Griffin III does not play. With RG3, Morris is averaging 5.46 yards per carry this season. Without Jay Gruden’s favorite quarterback (sarcasm), Morris earns just 3.44 yards per attempt.

Top-50 Running Back Rankings

——————————————

1) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

2) Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

3) Matt Forte, Chicago

4) DeMarco Murray, Dallas

5) Arian Foster, Houston

6) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia

7) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle

8) Joique Bell, Detroit

9) C.J. Anderson, Denver

10) Justin Forsett, Baltimore

11) Eddie Lacy, Green Bay

12) Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland

13) Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati

14) Mark Ingram, New Orleans

15) LeGarrette Blount, New England

16) Fred Jackson, Buffalo

17) Jonathan Stewart, Carolina

18) Daniel Herron, Indianapolis

19) Reggie Bush, Detroit

20) Terrance West, Cleveland

21) Lamar Miller, Miami

22) Chris Johnson, New York Jets

23) Knile Davis, Kansas City

24) Chris Ivory, New York Jets

25) Alfred Morris, Washington

26) Rashad Jennings, New York Giants

27) Ryan Mathews, San Diego

28) Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

29) Tre Mason, St. Louis

30) Shane Vereen, New England

31) Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati

32) Pierre Thomas, New Orleans

33) Roy Helu, Washington

34) James Starks, Green Bay

35) Theo Riddick, Detroit

36) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

37) Steven Jackson, Atlanta

38) Andre Williams, New York Giants

39) Kerwynn Williams, Arizona

40) Lorenzo Taliaferro, Baltimore

41) Latavius Murray, Oakland

42) Matt Asiata, Minnesota

43) Juwan Thompson, Denver

44) Trent Richardson, Indianapolis

45) Stepfan Taylor, Arizona

46) Bernard Pierce, Baltimore

47) Bishop Sankey, Tennessee

48) Alfred Blue, Houston

49) Joseph Randle, Dallas

50) Carlos Hyde, San Francisco


►  Week 15 player fantasy rankings - wide receivers

While there are a bunch of wide receivers who have stepped up their games in 2014, we at TSN would venture to guess that the majority of fantasy owners would declare, when healthy, that Detroit Lions’ wideout Calvin Johnson is the top pass-catcher in the game.

Johnson tops our receiver rankings for Week 15 after putting up two consecutive monster games. Since dealing with an ankle injury during the early portion of the season, combined with scoring only two touchdowns through the first eight games (missed three games), Johnson has resumed his game-changing role and has accumulated 19 receptions, 304 yards, and three touchdowns over the past two weeks combined, proving he is as dynamic as ever.

A player who has been even better than Johnson during the past two weeks is Atlanta Falcons’ receiver Julio Jones. He is our seventh-ranked wideout for Week 15, and the only reason he is not higher on the list is a result of the hip injury Jones sustained on Monday night.

While his status is up in the air for Sunday; if Jones is indeed able to suit up, he simply must be in all lineups. Over the past two games Jones has recorded a combined total of 21 receptions for 448 yards and two scores, and even missed the last few possessions of Week 14. That is borderline inhuman.

Our second-ranked wideout for this week has been in somewhat of a slump, at least by his standards. Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Dez Bryant has failed to reach 100 yards in each of his past three games, and will be facing a team where he caught only four passes for 73 yards just two weeks ago.

However, while Bryant did not do much against the Philadelphia Eagles during Week 13, he has a great chance to put up big numbers in Week 15. Not only do the Eagles give up the fourth-most fantasy points (according to Yahoo) to opposing receivers (26.3 points per game), but Bryant has had a ton of success against Philadelphia during his four previous outings against them, before Week 13 of this season. He put together an average of 6.3 receptions for 98.5 yards per game, with four total touchdowns during that span, so owners should expect big things from Bryant late Sunday night.

Fantasy football’s top-ranked wideout is our third-ranked receiver for Week 15. Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown continues to produce for owners and we expect nothing to change on Sunday against the Falcons. Atlanta gives up the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts (25.4 ppg), which should give Pittsburgh’s star pass-catcher a ton of opportunities to continue his breakout season.

The final receiver owners should be made aware of this week, is our “Mr. Irrelevant” for Week 15. Chicago Bears’ wideout Marquess Wilson will step in for the injured Brandon Marshall and will have a chance to contribute right away. While Wilson has only five receptions in four games played this season, he will now be starting opposite Alshon Jeffery and will be facing a dreadful defense on Monday night. The New Orleans Saints are giving up 26.4 ppg to opposing wide receivers (third-most in fantasy football), giving Wilson a chance to play well and potentially become a big-time sleeper for Week 15.

Top-50 Wide Receiver Rankings

——————————————-

1) Calvin Johnson, Detroit

2) Dez Bryant, Dallas

3) Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

4) Demaryius Thomas, Denver

5) Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

6) A.J. Green, Cincinnati

7) Julio Jones, Atlanta

8) T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis

9) Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

10) Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia

11) DeAndre Hopkins, Houston

12) Emmanuel Sanders, Denver

13) Alshon Jeffery, Chicago

14) Josh Gordon, Cleveland

15) Randall Cobb, Green Bay

16) Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina

17) Golden Tate, Detroit

18) Mike Evans, Tampa Bay

19) Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia

20) Keenan Allen, San Diego

21) Julian Edelman, New England

22) Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh

23) Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore

24) Sammy Watkins, Buffalo

25) Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay

26) Brandon LaFell, New England

27) Michael Floyd, Arizona

28) Mike Wallace, Miami

29) Kenny Stills, New Orleans

30) Charles Johnson, Minnesota

31) Roddy White, Atlanta

32) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona

33) Jarvis Landry, Miami

34) Anquan Boldin, San Francisco

35) DeSean Jackson, Washington

36) Malcolm Floyd, San Diego

37) Marques Colston, New Orleans

38) Andre Johnson, Houston

39) Pierre Garcon, Washington

40) Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis

41) Eric Decker, New York Jets

42) Doug Baldwin, Seattle

43) Michael Crabtree, San Francisco

44) Torrey Smith, Baltimore

45) Kendall Wright, Tennessee

46) John Brown, Arizona

47) Percy Harvin, New York Jets

48) Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati

49) Terrance Williams, Dallas

50) Marquess Wilson, Chicago


►  Week 15 player fantasy rankings - tight ends

Week 15 is officially the last chance for Jimmy Graham.

Despite his struggles, Graham still ranks second in fantasy points among tight ends in standard leagues this season. The Saints tight end, however, has just three catches for 25 yards over the last two weeks.

If Graham is going to get it going against anyone, it would be the Chicago Bears, who allow the most-fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. In his last Monday night appearance three weeks ago, Graham had six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns. For whatever that’s worth.

Delanie Walker surprisingly earns a top-five spot in the Week 15 rankings. Walker has just five catches for 33 yards the last two weeks since his five catch, 155-yard day against the Eagles in Week 12.

His opponent this week should help get him back to those second group of numbers. The Jets nearly allow as many fantasy points to tight ends as the Bears do, and without Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright, who could both miss the game, Jake Locker will likely look for Walker early and often.

Although the Denver Post reports Julius Thomas plans to play this weekend at San Diego, there is no guarantee he immediately returns to being a top-five tight end. The Chargers are really tough against tight ends this season and held Thomas to just two catches for 23 yards in their first meeting.

Fantasy experts awarded Zach Ertz the sleeper tag back in August, but he has not developed as owners had hoped. Ertz had a good game last week, catching two of his three targets and scoring a touchdown. The Cowboys are right up there with the Bears and Jets in terms of giving up fantasy points to tight ends, so if owners need help at tight end, they could do a lot worse than Ertz this week.

Top-25 Tight End Rankings

————————————-

1) Rob Gronkowski, New England

2) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

3) Greg Olsen, Carolina

4) Antonio Gates, San Diego

5) Delanie Walker, Tennessee

6) Julius Thomas, Denver

7) Larry Donnell, New York Giants

8) Martellus Bennett, Chicago

9) Travis Kelce, Kansas City

10) Jordan Reed, Washington

11) Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

12) Jared Cook, St. Louis

13) Jason Witten, Dallas

14) Coby Fleener, Indianapolis

15) Jordan Cameron, Cleveland

16) Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

17) Brent Celek, Philadelphia

18) Dwyane Allen, Indianapolis

19) Charles Clay, Miami

20) Mychal Rivera, Oakland

21) Owen Daniels, Baltimore

22) Health Miller, Pittsburgh

23) Niles Paul, Washington

24) Jace Amaro, New York Jets

25) Garrett Graham, Houston


►  Week 15 player fantasy rankings - kickers

What is the perfect spot for a fantasy kicker?

There are a couple of factors that go into making the best selection.

The first is that he has to be on a team that can move the football. You can be the greatest kicker in the world, but if your team can’t get the ball over mid-field, you aren’t going to be productive.

Sebastian Januaryikowski may be the greatest long-distance kicker of all, with 47 field goals of 50 yards of more, but he hasn’t been a fantasy-worthy kicker the past few years because of the inept Oakland offense.

Of course, sometimes, your offense can be too good and all you do is kick extra points. That’s OK, but not great. A perfect example of this was Matt Prater’s 2013 season with Denver. While the offense was scoring an amazing 606 points, 161 more than the next best team, Prater didn’t win the position, instead finishing second to Stephen Gostkowski.

The other factor is the weather. Kicking in rain, snow and particular windy conditions, significantly hurts fantasy values. Which is why we always like kickers inside a dome. Or kicking in warm weather.

So it should be no surprise to our readers that we have chosen Adam Vinatieri as our No. 1 option in Week 15. The Colts are at Lucas Oil Stadium facing the Houston Texans. The veteran has made two or more field goals in 11 of 13 games this season and ranks second in fantasy points at the position.

Gostkowski is our No. 2 choice. Despite having scored the most fantasy points by a kicker this season, he’s been a little more inconsistent than Vinatieri and the weather in New England is always a question mark.

We have chosen Baltimore place-kicker Justin Tucker for Week 15 as a top selection as well. He’ll face a generous Jacksonville team yielding 27.3 ppg in Baltimore where the weather is supposed to be surprisingly nice for mid- December.

Matt Bryant have averaged 12.8 ppg over the past five games as the Falcons offense has finally started to play well. He’ll be indoors at the Georgia Dome on Sunday and facing an unproductive Pittsburgh defense which has yielded 20 or more points in eight straight games.

Top-25 Kicker Rankings

———————————

1) Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis

2) Stephen Gostkowski, New England

3) Justin Tucker, Baltimore

4) Matt Bryant, Atlanta

5) Steven Hauschka, Seattle

6) Cody Parkey, Philadelphia

7) Dan Bailey, Dallas

8) Matt Prater, Detroit

9) Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh

10) Mason Crosby, Green Bay

11) Connor Barth, Denver

12) Randy Bullock, Houston

13) Blair Walsh, Minnesota

14) Dan Carpenter, Buffalo

15) Mike Nugent, Cincinnati

16) Phil Dawson, San Francisco

17) Shayne Graham, New Orleans

18) Nick Novak, San Diego

19) Cairo Santos, Kansas City

20) Nick Folk, New York Jets

21) Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona

22) Greg Zuerlein, St. Louis

23) Billy Cundiff, Cleveland

24) Josh Brown, New York Giants

25) Graham Gano, Carolina


►  Week 15 player fantasy rankings - defense

Our top selection for defense/special teams in Week 15 is the Baltimore Ravens.

No, the Ravens aren’t the same frightening defense they used to be with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed & Co. but they are still the best choice in Week 15 because they play the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jaguars are that rare combination of a team that turns the ball over a lot (25) and gets their quarterback sacked more than any team in the league (54). Add in that they have scored over 20 points just three times all season and you have enough reasons to put Baltimore at the top of the list.

Coming in just behind them is the tough Detroit Lions defense. The guys from the Motor City have yielded the second-fewest yards (3,844) and the fewest points (224) this season.

Detroit hosts a Minnesota team ranked near the bottom of the scoring list with a rookie quarterback under center. Teddy Bridgewater may have a future in this league, but he’s played just 10 games to date. He was not good in the first meeting with Detroit, throwing three interceptions and getting sacked eight times in a 17-3 loss.

Coming in at No. 3 is the Seattle Seahawks who manhandled the Philadelphia Eagles offense last weekend and has “owned” Colin Kaepernick. In five games against Seattle, Kaepernick has two touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a 49.5 QB rating. The Seahawks defense is in full stride and playing at their Super Bowl winning level of a season ago.

Rounding out our top-five are two teams that know how to score with their defense. The Eagles have 10 defense/special teams touchdowns this season and the Vikings D/ST have scored two touchdowns in each of the last two games.

Top-25 Defense/Special Teams Rankings

——————————————————-

1) Baltimore Ravens

2) Detroit Lions

3) Seattle Seahawks

4) Philadelphia Eagles

5) Minnesota Vikings

6) Kansas City Chiefs

7) St. Louis Rams

8) Arizona Cardinals

9) New York Giants

10) Cincinnati Bengals

11) New England Patriots

12) Tennessee Titans

13) Green Bay Packers

14) Denver Broncos

15) Buffalo Bills

16) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

17) Cleveland Browns

18) New York Jets

19) Dallas Cowboys

20) Houston Texans

21) San Francisco 49ers

22) Washington Redskins

23) New Orleans Saints

24) Pittsburgh Steelers

25) Atlanta Falcons



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Girls Area High Schools Basketball Scores: (12.12.14)

Clay-Battelle 66       Liberty 32

#8 Grafton 47       Philip Barbour 34

Ritchie County 62       Wirt County 40

Ravenswood 62       #9 Gilmer County 47

#2 Saint Marys 71       Tyler Consolidated 37

Doddridge County 52       South Harrison 20

Notre Dame 57       Parkersburg Christian 35


►  Boys Area High Schools Basketball Scores: (12.12.14)

Philip Barbour 68       Berkeley Springs 56

Lincoln 70       Keyser 58

Ravenswood 77       Ritchie County 62

Tyler Consolidated 45       #6 Clay-Battelle 42

Grafton 67       #2 Notre Dame 60



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Friday, December 12)


Final Score: (14) Iowa State 90, Iowa 75

Naz Long had a season-high 21 points on 7- of-11 shooting, Dustin Hogue scored 13 with 13 rebounds and 14th-ranked Iowa State beat Iowa 90-75 on Friday night. The Cyclones (7-1) played without second-leading scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was suspended for the showdown with the Hawkeyes (8-3) following his arrest early Thursday. Abdel Nader picked up the slack in Dejean-Jones’ absence, contributing a season-best 19 points and six rebounds. Dejean-Jones was charged with two misdemeanors following a noise complaint at his apartment. Georges Niang finished with 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two blocks for Iowa State, which rode a big second-half run to its fourth straight win. Aaron White scored 18 points to lead the Hawkeyes, who had their win streak snapped at six games.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Nothin’ but Net: Knicks’ woes nothing new or unexpected

This week, in almost every facet imaginable, has been a disaster for the New York Knickerbockers.

On the court, the team is mired in a 10-game losing streak, which is two off the longest rut in team history. Their 4-20 start is the worst in team history and their 20 losses are the most in the NBA this season.

Thank God for math, (which is a contradictory statement, I get it,) because math is the only thing saving the Knicks from the worst record in the league. The Philadelphia 76ers still own that dubious honor fractionally.

The NBA tried to change the rules of drafting to combat the Sixers’ awfulness. What will the association do if the Knicks earn that distinction? Ban Michael Rapaport?

On Monday, team president Phil Jackson said the Knicks possess a “loser’s mentality.“ He said the team has combated the change in culture. Basically, Phil is disappointed, but those are harsh words from the president, who put together part of this roster embedded with a loser’s mentality.

“When it comes to having a loser’s mentality, what I can take from that, I think when you lose games consistently the same way that we’re losing games I think it’s easy to get accustomed to kind of trying not to lose rather than trying to win games,“ explained superstar Carmelo Anthony.

On Tuesday, the Knicks lost to the New Orleans Pelicans.

On Wednesday, several reports came out that Anthony and second-year man Tim Hardaway, Jr. butted heads about Anthony’s shot selection, his defense, his leadership, his rebounding, you name it.

We also learned the Knicks employed the tried-and-true players-only meeting earlier in the week.

“It was a very productive meeting,“ Anthony said on Thursday. “Everybody had the platform to kind of speak their peace on what they felt about what’s going on and how they can better the situation.“

Then, overnight Thursday into Friday, the New York Post reported that Anthony would be willing to waive his no-trade clause for a better situation.

Oof. What a week.

If you look at each individual instance, it’s bad. But I’ll tell you all of this is much ado about nothing.

It’s never a good thing for the team president to introduce the “L-word” into the equation when speaking about his team. Anthony could be correct in his assessment of the situation, but it could mean a few different things.

One, maybe Jackson is trying to motivate his troops in a way head coach Derek Fisher can’t. I’ve been around flagpoles more animated than Fisher, so perhaps Jackson is stoking the flames for his coach.

No matter what, you can’t call Jackson wrong in what he said. Brutal honesty is his game. It can sometimes be confused with arrogance, but he’s consistent. He and Fisher also both spoke of this resistance to change within the Knicks. That’s 100% their problem to fix with these players, or, to find players who can adapt.

The philosophical dilemma facing the Knicks is: should we try to mold the players to fit what we want to do, or should we play more to the strength of our roster, but at the expense of what we want to do?

It’s a toughie.

And you’ve heard by now how awful the triangle offense is in New York, how ineffective the Knicks are at running it and how the players have been wedged into running it like square pegs in round holes.

This personnel may not be the best equipped for running this offense, fine. However, it’s still just an offensive system. It’s not radical. It’s passing and cutting. Melo is an elite scorer who should thrive in any offensive structure so long as a hoop and a ball are involved.

Offense is clearly an issue considering the Knicks rank 27th in scoring, but it’s hardly the only problem.

The Knicks are in middle of the pack defensively in terms of scoring and field-goal percentage. They are 27th in defensive efficiency, which is number of points allowed per possession.

New York gets outrebounded by almost three boards per game, which is tied for 26th. They are 29th in rebounding on their own.

Basically, there are issues running deeper than the triangle and who Jackson and Fisher are trying to shoe-horn into it.

The fighting between players doesn’t bother me in the least. It shows some passion, which, frankly, seems to lack on the court. If a team loses 10 in a row, it should be mad. Every member of that squad should be chapped and so be it if it’s at one of your own.

Anytime a superstar gets called out for things, is also a positive in my mind. It means they aren’t bigger than the establishment.

Where I do have a problem is the fact that a second-year, backup shooting guard is the one calling out Anthony. My issue isn’t his stature on the team, but this group is so devoid of leadership that Hardaway is the one having to call out Melo?

Oh yeah, their leader is a Dallas Maverick, or the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.

There’s no one in the locker room who can defuse this situation. Fisher appears incapable of controlling the team and calling people out for their problems. That’s a concern, especially on Fisher’s end. It’s probably time for a few non-church words from Fisher.

Thankfully, but for the grace of God, there’s no lingering issue between Melo and Tim.

“Me and Tim have no problems. He’ll tell you the same thing. That’s pretty much all I can say,“ Anthony said. “Tim is a guy who I always wrapped my arm around and put under my wing from day one, helped him through times when he’s been down, and I will continue doing that.“

This really could be a heat of the moment situation. Neither denied the altercation took place. And, even if they believe their own opinions, and disagree with the other’s, it’s time to show some pride.

Fights happen when situations stink and emotions are in play. This whole thing shows me at least a few guys care enough to have to be separated.

While not believing another’s sources is generally a frowned upon concept, I have serious doubt about Anthony being traded, certainly anytime soon.

First, he’s 24 games into a five-year, $124 million contract and it seems a tad early for either side to push the panic button. Within the story, writer Marc Berman says Anthony isn’t quite there yet on asking for the trade, but might consider.

Secondly, how tradable is Anthony at the moment? He’s owed all that money on the current deal and Berman reported he has a trade kicker which is worth 15% of the current contract. So, as the Post states, if Anthony was traded on Monday, the Mavs, or Houston Rockets, or Los Angeles Lakers would owe him a lump-sum of $17 million, plus the remainder of the five-year deal. That’s mighty prohibitive.

And, finally, who wants Melo at the moment? He missed Wednesday’s game with the San Antonio Spurs because of a knee injury, which he said, “won’t get any worse, but it won’t get any better, so it’s just a matter of how much pain I can take.“

General managers must be lining up for that kind of financially-crippling, damaged-goods swap.

Bad things happen to bad teams throughout the course of the season. The Knicks were bad last season, but not like this. They’re new to handling embarrassment. That’s what leads to fights and public bickering.

It appears to be nothing more than that. Guys are spouting off.

The Knicks need to improve in a lot of areas, including making decisions on the triangle. But Fisher needs to be more assertive, even if it contradicts his personality to an extent.

Melo isn’t going anywhere.

Neither are the Knicks this season. What were the expectations? Among pundits I thought I was pretty generous thinking they could contend with the Brooklyn Nets for the eighth seed.

No one believed this team was a contender. They are going through the growing pains, or shrinking pains, of a team new to being really bad. Call it the infancy of the rebuild.

Maybe this week of nonsense creates a spark. It all looks bad, but these things happen to teams without hope.

Just wait until next summer when those Andrea Bargnani and Amare Stoudemire contracts come off the books. There won’t be fights then.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- The Oklahoma City Thunder are already just 2 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Kevin Durant has been in uniform a little over a week and they made up half their deficit already. There are four teams between them for that final spot, but Denver, Sacramento, New Orleans and Phoenix are no match for OKC. In fact, Durant hasn’t really played well yet, so this group might end up cruising into the playoffs.

- The MVP at the quarter pole, to a lot of people, will be Anthony Davis. He’s a freak. However, my vote would go to James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Dwight Howard was playing well and the two led them to wins. Howard has been down for weeks, and the Rockets keep winning. Houston is a top-three team now in opponents’ scoring, and while Harden isn’t All-Defensive material, he’s improved. Plus, the Rockets missed point guard Patrick Beverley for a stretch so all play-making fell on Harden’s beard.

- Three teams have winning streaks of eight games or longer.

- Kobe Bryant profanity-laced tirades make me smile.

- Movie moment - “Christmas Vacation” time of year and I’m not one to give financial advice, but Clark may want to cancel the pool. There’s an obscene amount of property damage after that holiday, plus, who knows if he gets hit for the storm sewer explosion, which didn’t kill a frail 80-year-old man who flew 20 feet in the air. The police won’t cover the expenses when SWAT came in through every window in the building. Insurance, probably not either. Clark just needs to be a little safer with that bonus.

- TV moment - I’m going to miss the Stephen Colbert character if he doesn’t bring that with him to CBS. I understand why he wouldn’t, but I don’t think he’ll abandon it totally.  ~~  Jim Brighters ~~


►  Stretching the Field: Kobe doing his best to motivate

Matt Foley is arguably the best motivational speaker of this generation.

Foley does his preparation in a van down by the river.

Kobe Bryant knows how to light a fire under those who are willing to listen, only he constructs his case on the basketball court.

Because he’s Kobe Bryant, there are zero repercussions when he calls his Los Angeles Lakers teammates soft or berates them with expletives that would make Ralphie Parker’s father cringe (Yes, A Christmas Story reference).

You see, Parker’s father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. Bryant behaves in similar fashion when he wants to motivate.

He’s Kobe Bryant. He can do that. And if anyone has the audacity to question the five-time champion and 16-time All-Star, they better be ready for a challenge.

Bryant put on a show in Thursday’s practice and vehemently expressed displeasure with words that belong in an R-rated movie or the mouth of a sailor. He described them as “Charmin” or soft like the name-brand toilet paper, and knows the 2014-15 season has been in the toilet with a 6-16 record.

There’s still a chance to revive the season, but it doesn’t appear possible even with a spry Bryant in the twilight of his career.

Wearing practice gear and talking with a swagger, Bryant sorts through defenders toward the hoop: gawkers to one side; wannabe defenders, curious onlookers and more amazed teammates on the other.

More teammates and coaches watch elsewhere, impressed he still has it. Bryant, who said he enjoys practice more than the game unlike former Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson, thrives on testing his teammates.

“I just challenge guys, see what happens,“ Bryant said Thursday. “I always believed in throwing them in the pool and seeing if they can sink or swim.“

The only one swimming is Bryant and it has to be difficult for the future Hall of Famer with nobody else around him. Any so-called basketball expert knew the Lakers would struggle coming into the season. Jeremy Lin has been benched, veteran point guard Steve Nash and talented rookie Julius Randle are done for the season and Jordan Hill is the second leading scorer with 13.0 points per game behind Bryant’s 25.5 ppg.

Carlos Boozer is now coming off the bench and is third with 12.5 ppg.

Bryant can fire up, insult or compliment his teammates as much as possible, and it’s not going to reflect in the standings. He recently had breakfast with Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, leading many to speculate whether Bryant is courting the assist machine.

Let’s face it, the Lakers would still struggle with Rondo on the team unless the NBA decided on a whim to send Los Angeles to the Eastern Conference. Perhaps Lakers legend and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson has a point when he said the team should tank the season.

“I hope the Lakers lose every game,“ Johnson said. “Because if you’re going to lose, lose. And I’m serious. If you’re going to lose, you’ve got to lose, because you can’t be in the middle of the pack. You either have to be great, or you’ve got to be bad to get a good pick.“

Johnson should mind his own business and remain focused on improving the Dodgers. He has the right to his own opinion and should keep it quiet.

Time is running out for Bryant and who knows how many years remain for the “Black Mamba.“ He can still score and is proving that on a nightly basis, and is also a great teacher, leader and mentor. Bryant said Thursday’s practice was good because he not only let his teammates know how he felt, but he spilled some secrets on how to score and defend.

The Lakers should be soaking up any tidbit of information Bryant shares.

“I think he just did a great job of getting everybody else fired up,“ Lakers first-year head coach Byron Scott said. “He’s always fired up. That’s the great thing about him. He’s such a competitor. Like I said, when he comes out and he practices, the intensity level in practice goes sky-high. And he challenges guys. It’s what you should do. Today, (the reserves) responded by getting their butt kicked.“

Scott went on to say Bryant brings out the best in guys, including trash- talker and reserve guard Nick Young, who went back-and-forth with Bryant during the heated practice. Whether it pays off Friday night in San Antonio remains to be seen. Los Angeles will start a three-game trip against the defending champion Spurs.

“We know it’s going to be a tough trip. Anytime you open with San Antonio, it’s going to be tough,“ Scott said.

Bryant said he can’t do the same things he used to because of his body. He has been limited in practice to rest for games, which is why Thursday was an important lesson for the Lakers at this stage. Bryant doesn’t know if his appearance at practice will help the Lakers or raise the intensity level.

Perhaps watching Bryant pass Hall of Famer Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list will be more than enough motivation. The Lakers are last in opponents’ scoring at 110.1 ppg and will soon have two players in the top three in scoring. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928) and Jordan (32,292) are the top three scorers with Bryant (32,262) 31 points shy of passing his idol.

Bryant was asked to compare himself with Air Jordan.

“I think we’re both cursed with the obsession of trying to be the best that we can. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time,“ Bryant said. “I think we’re both very similar in that regard.“

The biggest difference between the two, according to Bryant, is that he had to play both shooting and point guard. Bryant was jealous of Jordan having Scottie Pippen for a teammate.

Bryant reflected on what it will be like to pass MJ.

“It’s a huge honor to be here in this position. I can’t believe I’ve scored that many points especially from where my career started,“ he said. “It’s a huge honor. It wasn’t something I thought about growing up as a kid. It was championships.“

Being one of the top three scorers with former Lakers center Abdul-Jabbar is the “coolest thing” for Bryant. Passing his hero Jordan was never a thought.

“It wasn’t a goal that I set out to accomplish. Being in that company with Michael and Kareem and the other great scorers, I think that’s most fun part,“ Bryant said. “Being a part of that group I grew up idolizing and learning from and aspiring to be one day, that’s the true honor in it.“

There’s honor in losing, too. And the Lakers are doing plenty of it.

Bryant may have said passing Jordan on the scoring list was never a goal and winning championships outweighs statistics. However, the next 31 points he posts will strengthen his case as the best to ever play.


►  NBA Game Results

(Friday, December 12)


Final Score: Chicago 115, Portland 106

The Chicago Bulls withstood a LaMarcus Aldridge onslaught in the first quarter, got on a huge run early in the second and then kept the Portland Trail Blazers at bay the rest of the way. Derrick Rose scored a season-high 31 points to go with five assists and the Bulls defeated the Blazers 115-106 on Friday night. Aldridge netted an NBA season- high 21 first-quarter points to help Portland to the early lead, but the Bulls went on a 16-2 surge in the second and never trailed the rest of the way. Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic deposited 17 and 15 points off the bench, respectively, while Pau Gasol added 13 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Chicago, which has won three of its last four games. Aldridge finished with 35 points and nine boards and Damian Lillard supplied a season- high 35 points to go with six helpers and five rebounds for the Blazers, who have dropped consecutive contests on the heels of a five-game winning streak.


Final Score: Washington 104, LA Clippers 96

The fourth longest winning streak in Clippers history came to an end in the nation’s capital Friday night, as Bradley Beal, John Wall and the Washington Wizards handed Los Angeles a 104-96 defeat at Verizon Center. Beal scored a season-best 29 points while Wall added 10 points and 11 assists for the Wizards, who have won six in a row at Verizon Center and are off to the best home start (11-2) in franchise history. Marcin Gortat chipped in with 18 points, and he and Kris Humphries helped limit Blake Griffin to 14 points—nearly 10 below his season average. Chris Paul recorded 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists but committed six of LA’s 18 turnovers. The Clippers had won nine in a row since a road loss in Memphis on Nov. 23 and were 10-1 in their previous 11 meetings with Washington.


Final Score: Atlanta 87, Orlando 81

Paul Millsap posted 23 points and eight rebounds and the Atlanta Hawks extended their win streak to nine games with an 87-81 victory over the Orlando Magic. Al Horford scored 17 points and Jeff Teague had 13 for the Hawks, who have not lost since the Raptors dropped them with a 126-115 decision on Nov. 26. Victor Oladipo paced Orlando with 21 points and Evan Fournier scored 18. Tobias Harris and Kyle O’Quinn but recorded double-doubles in the setback.


Final Score: New York 101, Boston 95

The New York Knicks were finally all smiles Friday after snapping a 10-game losing streak with a 101-95 road victory over the Boston Celtics. Rumors of in-house fighting between players and problems with first-year head coach Derek Fisher filled the headlines during New York’s skid, but the return of Carmelo Anthony and a solid showing for the bench changed the storyline—at least for a day. Anthony missed Wednesday’s loss against the Spurs with a lingering knee issue but was his usual productive self with 22 points on 9-of-20 shooting. Amar’e Stoudemire chipped in with 20 points, while Tim Hardaway, Jr. and J.R. Smith netted 16 and 12 points, respectively, off New York’s bench. Jeff Green paced the Celtics with 29 points, but Boston, which had won three in a row a home, turned it over 18 times and never led in the second half.


Final Score: Brooklyn 88, Philadelphia 70

Mason Plumlee had 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Brooklyn Nets pulled away in the fourth quarter to take down the Philadelphia 76ers 88-70 on Friday night. The Nets outscored the Sixers 25-10 in the final frame. Alan Anderson posted 12 points, five rebounds and three steals, while Joe Johnson added 12 points for Brooklyn, which snapped a three-game losing streak. Robert Covington tallied 20 points and six boards for the Sixers, who are 2-3 on the heels of their 0-17 start to the season.


Final Score: Toronto 106, Indiana 94

Lou Williams scored 26 points off the bench to help the Toronto Raptors send the Indiana Pacers to another loss with a 106-94 decision on Friday. James Johnson notched 13 points in a reserve role, while Jonas Valanciunas and Greivis Vasquez added 10 points apiece with the former grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds in the win. The Pacers lost their seventh straight game overall and their sixth straight on the road. Solomon Hill netted 16 points to lead Indiana. Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson each chipped in with 13 points apiece.


Final Score: Memphis 113, Charlotte 107 (2-OT)

Zach Randolph deposited 20 points and 11 rebounds as the Memphis Grizzlies edged the Charlotte Hornets 113-107 in a double-OT thriller from FedExForum. Randolph split a pair from the foul line to start the second overtime period and hit a 16-foot jumper at 1:46 that made it 109-105. Mike Conley made four free throws down the stretch to secure the win. Marc Gasol and Conley both had 19 points for Memphis, which has topped the 100-point mark for the fourth straight game. Kemba Walker scored a game-high 28 points for the Hornets, who have lost five straight away from home. Gary Neal added 25 points off the bench, and while Gerald Henderson only scored 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, his acrobatic tip-in at the end of regulation forced overtime.


Final Score: Oklahoma City 111, Minnesota 92

Russell Westbrook supplied 34 points with six assists and six rebounds in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 111-92 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. Kevin Durant and Steven Adams each scored 16 points, with Adams adding 11 rebounds in the win. Anthony Morrow and Serge Ibaka netted 14 and 13, respectively. Oklahoma City has won five straight and seven of its last eight, improving to 5-1 since Durant returned to the lineup from foot sugery. Andrew Wiggins, coming off his first career double-double in Wednesday’s win over Portland, deposited 18 points with five rebounds. Shabazz Muhammad also scored 18 points for the Timberwolves and Thaddeus Young added 16 points with five boards.


Final Score: New Orleans 119, Cleveland 114

The New Orleans Pelicans handed the Clevland Cavaliers their second straight loss, but LeBron James was on the floor this time. The Pelicans were the ones without their star player. Tyreke Evans had a season-high 31 points with 10 assists as the Pelicans defeated the Cavaliers 119-114 on Friday night. Anthony Davis left in the first quarter with a chest contusion and did not return. Ryan Anderson poured in 30 points off the bench, while Jrue Holiday added 16 points and eight assists for New Orleans, which has won three of its last four games on the heels of a 1-5 stretch. James recorded 19 of his 41 points in the opening frame. Kevin Love supplied 21 points and seven rebounds and Kyrie Irving provided 17 points and seven helpers for the Cavaliers.


Final Score: Detroit 105, Phoenix 103

Andre Drummond had 23 points and 14 rebounds in the Detroit Pistons’ 105-103 road win over the Phoenix Suns. Josh Smith posted 12 points and 11 rebounds and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 14 points to help Detroit finally end a 13-game losing skid. The Pistons last won a game on Nov. 14 in Oklahoma City. Jodie Meeks, who signed as a free agent this summer, played just under 22 minutes in his Pistons debut after missing their first 22 games with a back injury. He had 12 points off the bench, including a pair of late free throws that helped the Pistons secure the win. Goran Dragic led seven Suns in double figures with 18 points. Markieff Morris had 17 and P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe netted 16 apiece as Phoenix lost its fourth straight game to fall to .500.


Final Score: Miami 100, Utah 95

Dwyane Wade scored 29 points and the Miami Heat capped a tough road trip with a 100-95 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday. The Heat led wire-to-wire and were the beneficiary of a five- second violation in the closing seconds. Wade missed a free throw with 5.2 ticks remaining and Miami ahead 98-95, giving the Jazz one final shot out of a timeout. They never got one off, however, as Joe Ingles failed to get the ball inbounds and was whistled for a violation. Norris Cole hit two free throws to finish off the win for the Heat, who also received 22 points from Chris Bosh and went 2-3 on their road swing. Enes Kanter scored 25 points and Gordon Hayward added 18 for the Jazz, who were coming off a surprising win over the defending champion Spurs on Tuesday.


Final Score: LA Lakers 112, San Antonio 110 (OT)

On a night where Kobe Bryant could have passed the great Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, it was Nick Young who bailed the Los Angeles Lakers out against the defending champs. Young’s desperation 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left in overtime lifted the Lakers to a 112-110 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. Young finished with a team-high 29 points off the bench and Bryant added 22 points with nine assists in Los Angeles’ second straight win. Bryant entered the game 31 points shy of passing Jordan (32,292) for third place on the all-time scoring list. Tim Duncan, who needed 15 points to pass Jerry West for 18th on the all-time scoring list, paced the Spurs with 19 points and 18 rebounds.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Astros announce Gregerson, Neshek deals

The Houston Astros announced Friday they have signed free-agent relievers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to multi-year contracts.

Gregerson was signed to a three-year deal through the 2017 season and Neshek inked a two-year contract through 2016.

Financial terms of the contracts were not released. Multiple outlets reported during the winter meetings this week that Gregerson’s deal was worth $18.5 million and Neshek’s was for $12.5 million.

The Astros landed the bullpen veterans after coming up short in their pursuit of relievers Andrew Miller and David Robertson.

Gregerson, 30, pitched for the Oakland Athletics this past season, going 5-5 with a 2.12 ERA and three saves in 72 appearances. He spent the first five seasons of his career with the San Diego Padres and has a lifetime ERA of 2.75 in 435 games, all out of the bullpen.

Neshek, 34, was 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 71 appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals this past season. He had 68 strikeouts and only nine walks and in 67 1/3 innings.

Over his eight-year career, Neshek has a 2.78 ERA in 297 games for Minnesota, San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis.


►  Cubs agree to 2-year deal with Hammel

Jason Hammel is returning to the Chicago Cubs.

The right-hander agreed to a two-year contract on Friday. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal includes a club option for the 2017 season.

Hammel signed with the Cubs last February and was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts before being shipped to Oakland with Jeff Samardzija on July 5. He went just 2-6 with the Athletics, finishing the campaign 10-11 overall with a 3.47 ERA in 30 outings.

The 32-year-old veteran will be reunited with new Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Hammel pitched for Maddon in Tampa Bay from 2006-08, helping the Rays to the World Series in his final year, although he did not pitch for Tampa Bay in the postseason.

After his three-year stint with Tampa Bay, Hammel also pitched for Colorado (2009-11) and Baltimore (2012-13) prior to last season. He made one start for the Rockies in the 2009 postseason and two starts for the Orioles in the 2012 playoffs.

In 245 major league appearances, including 187 starts, he owns a career record of 59-70 with a 4.60 ERA.


►  Nationals send Detwiler to Rangers

The Washington Nationals have traded left-hander Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers for a pair of minor leaguers.

After missing most of the 2013 season because of back issues, Detwiler went 2-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 47 relief appearances for the Nationals last season.

He had been used as both a starter and a reliever over the course of his seven-year career, but last season was the first that he pitched primarily out of the bullpen.

Texas is expected to give him an opportunity to start, but he could also be used in a setup role.

“From what I was told, I’ll get a chance to be a starter again,“ Detwiler told the Washington Post. “I always pictured myself that way. I didn’t really know exactly what my role was last year. Sometimes that’s what you need. I’m excited about my new opportunity. A fresh start and a fresh set of eyes on me and maybe that will help me get back on track.“

Selected sixth overall by the Nationals in the 2007 draft, Detwiler has compiled a 20-36 record with a 3.79 ERA in 85 career games—69 starts. His most productive campaign came in 2012 when he went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA in 33 games (27 starts).

Infielder Chris Bostick and right-handed reliever Abel De Los Santos will head to Washington in the deal.


►  Pirates finalize deal with Liriano

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed pitcher Francisco Liriano to a three-year contract on Friday.

Financial terms were not released, but multiple outlets reported during the winter meetings that the left-hander’s contract is worth $39 million, the richest free-agent deal in team history.

Liriano, 31, went 7-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts this past season with the Pirates. He won 16 games for the club in 2013.

For his career, Liriano is 76-72 with a 4.07 ERA in 223 games (196 starts) with the Minnesota Twins, Chicago Whites Sox and Pirates.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top Shelf: On ice and off, Coyotes falling on hard times

The future of professional hockey in Arizona has always seemed bleak, but the present isn’t looking so great either.

A change in name from the Phoenix Coyotes to the Arizona Coyotes has done little to spark a franchise that in recent years was able to perform admirably on the ice even when the financial future of the club was far from stable.

Currently, the Coyotes are sitting 28th in the overall league standings and they hold the same spot in terms of attendance. At least they’re finally consistent.

With a 10-16-3 record through 29 games, Arizona needs to get on track quickly if it wants to avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight season. However, if the Coyotes fail to pick up the pace they are on track to post the franchise’s lowest point total in a full season since moving from Winnipeg to the desert following the 1995-96 season.

None of this should be all that shocking, considering the Coyotes have been operating on a shoestring budget for years now. The club is 27th in the league in payroll and is over $47 million under the salary cap ceiling.

General manager Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett have previously shown the ability to get the most out of a bad situation, but the formula clearly isn’t working in 2014-15.

The Coyotes were hardly impressive to start the season, but they seemed in decent shape back in early November while sporting a 6-6-1 record out of the gates. However, the club has gone 4-10-2 since then and has failed to pick up a single home win during that stretch, going 0-6-2 in front of sparse crowds at Gila River Arena to post the longest home skid in franchise history.

On top of it all, reports out of the NHL Board of Governors meeting earlier this week in Boca Raton, Florida suggest the deal to sell the franchise to Andrew Barroway may be falling apart. Keeping the Coyotes in Arizona for the long-term seemed like a bad bet when the team was performing well on the ice and the club’s recent poor play is unlikely to push things in a positive direction.

While making the playoffs for three straight seasons from 2010-12—Tippett’s first three seasons as the Coyotes head coach—the low-scoring club succeeded thanks to strong defense and goaltending. This season, the offense, defense and goaltending are all struggling at the same time, and it seems there is no easy fix for Arizona.

The Coyotes are scoring just 2.24 goals per game this season while sporting a team goals against average of 3.24 as franchise goaltender Mike Smith continues to struggle less than two seasons into a lucrative six-year contract. Obviously, that is not a recipe for success.

“We’re frustrated and disappointed,“ Tippett said after a 5-1 home loss to Nashville on Thursday. “There are a lot of guys in that dressing room who care and want to do better. We’re not getting the results we want, so the frustration continues to build. But until we turn that frustration into mental resolve to get the job done, it will continue to pile up.“

Of course, the club’s financial uncertainty is not helping. As Barroway’s ownership bid sits in limbo while awaiting league approval, the Coyotes are in a holding pattern of sorts when it comes to making deals to improve or shore up their current roster.

“It does sort of, I don’t want to say halt the process, but slow down the process in regards to anybody we might want to talk contractually going forward,“ Maloney admitted earlier this week to the Arizona Republic.

Despite there dire situation, there are few NHL fans who feel sorry for the Coyotes. Commissioner Gary Bettman’s quest to prove a hockey team can survive in the Phoenix area has been an unpopular one, especially in places like Quebec City who are champing at the bit for another chance to support an NHL franchise.

If the Coyotes continue to add on-ice woes to their fiscal problems, it may not be long until Quebec City, or another locale better suited for an NHL franchise, will swoop in and rescue the franchise. It happened for Winnipeg when the Atlanta Thrashers proved to be a failure, and history could repeat itself in Arizona.

Blaming the coach doesn’t seem to be an option for the Coyotes either, as Tippett signed a five-year extension following the 2012-13 season. It’s hard to argue he didn’t earn that deal, as Tippett not only won the Jack Adams Award in his first season with the Coyotes, but also led the club to a Pacific Division crown and a Western Conference finals appearance in 2012.

Now it appears that 2011-12 was a high water mark for Tippett’s Coyotes and with the franchise’s money problems still a going concern it will be difficult to get back to that level.

Even in Arizona there are repercussions for not performing up to expectations, a fact not lost on the Coyotes GM. If you put a losing product on the ice nobody wants to hear about your financial woes.

“We’re in a results business, not a Kumbaya business,“ said Maloney.


►  Odd Man Rush: Sabres not waiting for success

The Buffalo Sabres know that they have the entire country of Latvia behind them, but their recent string of success may start to bring the rest of Western New York back into the fold.

When the Sabres fell to 3-13-2 following a loss to the Minnesota Wild on November 13, those fans still left watching the club likely went to bed with continued fantasies of junior superstar Connor McDavid speeding around First Niagara Center sporting the navy blue and gold.

After all, the Sabres seemed destined at having the best chance at securing the top selection in the upcoming draft, earning the right to select either McDavid or fellow center Jack Eichel. Both players are believed to have the ability to cornerstone a franchise, something Buffalo seemed to desperately need at the time.

Maybe the Sabres still do, but head coach Ted Nolan and his players weren’t really on board with the whole “tanking” thing and have instead decided to, you know, go out and win games.

Buffalo has won eight of 11 since that loss to the Wild. Now tied for 26th out of the 30 teams in the overall NHL standings, the Sabres are talking—and more importantly playing—like a team that believes it can win each night.

“I think this team has taken a 180 from where we were at the start of the year,“ said forward Matt Moulson. “I think now we believe in each other and we’re competing a lot harder. We know what we have to do to have success and get wins.“

Thursday’s home encounter with the Calgary Flames, a gutsy 4-3 win, was a perfect example of Sabres hockey as of late.

Twice in the game, the Sabres failed to hold a lead and they then fell behind by a goal just 3:14 into the third frame.

The Buffalo Sabres that took the ice in October and the early part of November likely would have folded and gone home, but not this newly-inspired bunch. Instead, future All-Star Zemgus Girgensons (more on that later) put home a game-tying goal and Moulson came through with a game-winner with 7:29 to play.

That gave the Sabres a victory despite the squad getting outshot 45-19.

“It wasn’t one of our better games, but it showed that the belief factor is starting to creep in. We weren’t in the game, but we still believed we could come back,“ said Nolan.

There is no doubt that Nolan’s club plays with fire each night. Even during its string of success, the Sabres have scored more than two goals only twice in their last nine and remain dead-last in the NHL with 1.66 goals per game.

But confidence in the defense and goaltending, especially Jhonas Enroth, has been key. The Sabres have allowed two goals or fewer five times over the aforementioned nine-game span and have avoided beating themselves with bad mistakes.

“You’re not going to have an A-game every night, but if you’re doing those little things right, they’re going to pay off,“ noted Moulson.

It has certainly helped Enroth, who is 7-2-0 over his last nine games with a 1.93 goals against average and .944 save percentage.

Nolan pointed out after Thursday’s win how the line of Moulson, Girgensons and Tyler Ennis, one that was put together back in mid-November, has helped to spark the club.

Girgensons, meanwhile, is starting to become a little famous around the NHL, much like he already is back in his home country of Latvia. The 20-year-old’s goal versus the Flames was his career-high ninth of the season, surpassing the eight he scored in 70 games as a rookie last season.

Now, nine goals through 29 games and 16 points that don’t even lead the team certainly don’t scream All-Star, but the much-argued tradition of fan voting has led to an unforeseen turn of events.

When Tuesday’s update of the All-Star voting was released, Girgensons continued to pace the pack with 803,805 votes.

To put that into perspective, the second-leading getter in votes is Chicago’s Patrick Kane—with 375,758.

That, of course, is possible due to online voting, giving the entire world a say in who will skate in this season’s All-Star Game. According to the Sabres, 82% of Girgensons’ votes came from Latvians.

“It’s crazy. People back home are just crazy hockey fans, Girgensons, the 14th overall pick of the 2012 draft and native of Riga, Latvia, told “NHL Live” on Wednesday. “It’s always been like that. It’s fun, it’s cool, mixed emotions. It’s funny at the same time.“

What isn’t funny is teams still expecting to pick up easy wins against the Sabres.


►  NHL Game Results

(Friday, December 12)


Final Score: Pittsburgh 3, Calgary 1

Blake Comeau and Kris Letang posted early scores, while Rob Klinkhammer provided a late tally as Pittsburgh turned away Calgary, 3-1, at CONSOL Energy Center. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves for the Penguins, who won for the sixth time in their last nine and extended their lead over the idle Islanders in the Metropolitan Division to three points. They won without the services of team captain Sidney Crosby, who was ruled out for the next two games with an unknown medical diagnosis which was not suspected to be the mumps. Crosby did appear after a Friday practice session with one side of his upper jaw swollen, and was kept out of action as a precaution. Johnny Gaudreau picked up the lone goal for the Flames, who lost their fourth straight contest. Jonas Hiller made just 19 saves in the setback.


Final Score: Montreal 6, Los Angeles 2

Jiri Sekac scored two goals, Carey Price made 44 saves and the Montreal Canadiens beat the Los Angeles Kings 6-2 on Friday night. P.K. Subban and David Desharnais each had a goal and one assist for the Canadiens, who have opened a five-game homestand with consecutive wins. Drew Doughty scored for the Kings and collected an assist on a goal by Jake Muzzin. Martin Jones gave up all six goals on just 20 shots as Los Angeles suffered its third loss in four games.


Final Score: Florida 3, Detroit 2 (SO)

Roberto Luongo stopped 29 shots in regulation and both Detroit chances in the shootout, as the Panthers nipped the Red Wings, 3-2, at Joe Louis Arena. Tomas Fleischmann and Jonathan Huberdeau tallied for the Panthers, while Vincent Trocheck was credited with the deciding strike in the game’s final segment. Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist picked up a goal each for the Red Wings, with Jimmy Howard making 24 saves in the loss.


Final Score: Anaheim 4, Edmonton 2

Kyle Palmieri and Ryan Getzlaf scored in a 44-second span in the opening minute of the second period, and Anaheim went on to defeat Edmonton by a 4-2 count at Rexall Place. Sami Vatanen and Nate Thompson also lit the lamp for the Ducks, who swept the home-and-home set and recorded a victory by more than one goal for the first time since Oct. 24. Anaheim claimed a 2-1 decision on Tuesday. Frederik Andersen won thanks to 21 saves. Tyler Pitlick and Jeff Petry also tallied for the Oilers, who have dropped three in a row and 14 of 15. Viktor Fasth was pulled after allowing two goals on 11 shots to take the loss. Ben Scrivens stopped 7-of-8 shots the rest of the way.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Day, Tringale ahead by 3 in Naples

Jason Day and Cameron Tringale continued their hot play on Friday as they teamed for an 8-under 64 and pushed their lead to three strokes after two rounds of the Franklin Templeton Shootout.

Day and Tringale finished 36 holes at 25-under-par 119 at Tiburon Golf Club.

“We stuck to the game plan all day and I was able to get some nice tee shots out there and let Jason have at it,“ Tringale said. “We had a lot of short approach shots in again today and Jason putted great when I hit it close. He was banging them in. It was really a team effort out there.“

The teams played a modified alternate shot format on Friday after playing a scramble on Thursday. Saturday’s final round will be a better-ball partner format.

Graeme McDowell and Gary Woodland combined for a 9-under 63, the low round of the day Friday. They jumped into second place at 22-under-par 122.

The defending champions, Harris English and Matt Kuchar, posted a 6-under 66 and they are alone in third at minus-21, while Charles Howell III and Scott Verplank carded a 64 to end two rounds at 19-under-par 125.

Billy Horschel and Ian Poulter along with Patrick Reed and Brandt Snedeker both posted 65s on Friday. They were joined in fifth place at minus-18 by Keegan Bradley and Camilo Villegas, who shot 5-under 67 in round two.

After starting their round with a pair of pars, Day stuffed his second shot at the third to a foot and Tringale kicked that in for birdie. Day drained a 15- foot eagle effort at the sixth to move the team to minus-20.

Tringale dropped his approach shot at the eighth within three feet and Day tapped that in for birdie. They also birdied the ninth and made it three in a row as Day converted an 8-foot birdie try at No. 10.

Day blasted out of the sand to two feet at the par-5 14th and Tringale converted that birdie putt to move the team to 24-under. After three pars in a row, Day made a 5-foot birdie chance at 17 before they parred the last.

“We played great out there today. We left a few out there, but any great round you’re going to leave a few out there. I’m excited for tomorrow,“ said Day.

McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, and Woodland had three birdies on the front nine. Another birdie at the 11th moved them to 17-under par. McDowell holed a short wedge shot at the 13th for eagle.

They followed with another birdie on the 14th. Woodland missed a 6-foot eagle putt at the par-5 17th, but McDowell kicked in the short birdie try. McDowell also made a 6-footer for birdie at the last to get them within three of Day and Tringale’s lead.

“We left a few out there around the turn. We hit some good irons, we just couldn’t seem to convert them,“ McDowell said. “That little 48-yarder my partner left me (on 13) really got the round going.“

NOTES: Day is the highest ranked player in the field at world No. 8 ... Day and Tringale are attempting to become the fourth team to win this event in wire-to-wire fashion ... Since the event moved to Naples in 2001, the second- round leaders or co-leaders have won eight of the 13 titles.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2014


National Basketball Association
Golden State at Dallas, 2:00 PM - CSN-Bay, FS-Southwest, DSS
Portland at Indiana, 7:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, FS-Indiana, DSS
Brooklyn at Charlotte, 7:00 PM - YES, SportSouth, DSS
Atlanta at Orlando, 7:00 PM - SportSouth, FS-Florida, DSS
LA Clippers at Milwaukee, 7:30 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, Wisconsin, DSS
Memphis at Philadelphia, 7:30 PM - SportSouth, CSN-Philadelphia, DSS
Denver at Houston, 8:00 PM - Altitude2, ROOT-Southwest, DSS
Detroit at Sacramento, 10:00 PM - FS-Detroit, CSN-California, NBA TV, DSS


National Hockey League
Ottawa at Boston, 1:00 PM - TSN5, NESN, DSS
Carolina at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM - FS-Carolina, CSN-Philadelphia, DSS
Chicago at NY Islanders, 7:00 PM - WGN, MSG, DSS
Detroit at Toronto, 7:00 PM - CBC, FS-Detroit, NHL Network, DSS
Tampa Bay at Washington, 7:00 PM - SunSports, CSN-DC, DSS
Pittsburgh at Columbus, 7:00 PM - ROOT-Pittsburgh, FS-Ohio, DSS
Florida at Buffalo, 7:00 PM - FS-Florida, MSG-Buffalo, DSS
Anaheim at Winnipeg, 7:00 PM - FS-West, CITY, DSS
Minnesota at Arizona, 8:00 PM - FS-North, Arizona, DSS
New Jersey at Dallas, 8:30 PM - MSG+, FS-Southwest, DSS
St. Louis at Colorado, 10:00 PM - TVA, Altitude, NHL Network, DSS
NY Rangers at Vancouver, 10:00 PM - MSG, CBC, DSS
Nashville at San Jose, 10:30 PM - FS-Tennessee, CSN-California, DSS


College Basketball
USC Upstate at Maryland, 11:00 AM - Big Ten Network
Stony Brook at Providence, 12:00 PM - FSN, MASN2, YES
Radford at Georgetown, 12:00 PM - FS1
Wichita State at Detroit, 12:00 PM - ESPN U
North Carolina at Kentucky, 12:00 PM - CBS
Morehead State at Ohio State, 1:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Eastern Ky at IUPUI, 1:00 PM - HTSN, ESPN3.com
St Bonaventure at Pittsburgh, 2:00 PM - ESPN U
Dayton at Arkansas, 2:00 PM - ESPN 2
Pepperdine at Arizona State, 2:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
St Marys-CA at Creighton, 2:15 PM - FS1
Oklahoma at Tulsa, 2:30 PM - CBSSN
Nicholls at Wisconsin, 3:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Nebraska Omaha at UMKC, 3:05 PM - MASN, Altitude
Utah at Kansas, 3:15 PM - ESPN
Xavier at Missouri, 4:00 PM - ESPN 2
Miss State at Oregon State, 4:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Duquesne at Robert Morris, 4:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Ark-Pine Bluff at Air Force, 4:00 PM - Mountain West Network
Arkansas-Fort Smith at Colorado State, 4:00 PM - Mountain West Network
Western Ky at Ole Miss, 4:30 PM - SEC Network+
Youngstown St at Texas A&M, 5:00 PM - SEC Network+
James Madison at East Carolina, 5:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Grand Canyon at Indiana, 5:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Michigan at Arizona, 5:15 PM - ESPN
Northern Colorado at Colorado, 6:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Denver at Stanford, 6:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Oklahoma State at Memphis, 6:00 PM - ESPN 2
Northern Iowa at VA Commonwealth, 7:00 PM - NBCSN
SIU Edwardsville at Saint Louis, 7:00 PM - FS-Midwest
Oregon at Illinois, 7:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Sam Houston St at LSU, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
Texas State at Texas, 8:00 PM - Longhorn Network
New Mexico St at Oral Roberts, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
ULM at New Mexico, 8:00 PM - ROOT-Rocky Mountain
North Dakota at North Dakota St, 8:00 PM - NBC (ND)
Florida State at Notre Dame, 8:00 PM - ESPN 2
Fla Atlantic at UCF, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
UNLV at South Dakota, 8:00 PM - Midco Sports Network
Princeton at California, 8:30 PM - Pac-12 Network
Cincinnati at Nebraska, 9:00 PM - Big Ten Network
BYU at Weber State, 9:00 PM - KJZZ TV
Purdue at Vanderbilt, 9:00 PM - SEC Network
Cal Poly at Fresno State, 10:00 PM - Mountain West Network
Gonzaga at UCLA, 10:00 PM - ESPN 2
Army at USC, 10:30 PM - Pac-12 Network
New Orleans at San Diego, 10:30 PM - FS-San Diego


Women’s College Basketball
BYU at Utah, 2:00 PM - Pac-12 Network (Mountain)
Houston at Texas A&M, 2:30 PM - SEC Network


College Football
Coastal Carolina at North Dakota State, 12:00 PM - ESPN
Sam Houston State at Villanova, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Navy vs. Army, 3:00 PM - CBS
Illinois State at Eastern Washington, 4:05 PM - ESPN3.com


International Soccer
Chelsea vs. Huff City, 10:00 AM - NBCSN
Arsenal vs. Newcastle United, 12:30 PM - NBCSN


Golf
EUROPEAN - Alfred Dunhill Championship, 5:30 AM - Golf Channel
PGA - Franklin Templeton Shootout, 1:00 PM - FOX
CHAMPIONS - Father/Son Challenge, 3:00 PM - NBC
Australian PGA Championship, 8:00 PM - Golf Channel
Thailand Championship, 1:00 AM - Golf Channel

Sports News   141212

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Memphis is prepared for return of WVU fans

Memphis is preparing - are you?  That’s the question from Kevin Kane, the President and CEO Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We have a guide to the Liberty Bowl.  It’ll take the fans to all the activities for the bowl and around the city that will be taking place.“ said Kane.

The West Virginia University Mountaineers will play the Texas A&M Aggies in the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl December 29 at 2 PM.

The Liberty Bowl is the seventh oldest bowl destination in the country.

“Liberty Bowl week is a big week in our city,“ explained Kane. “It’s celebrated by locals as well as guests and fans that come from the two participating schools.  We’ve been doing this a long, long time.“

In 1964, the Mountaineers faced off against Utah in the Liberty Bowl but couldn’t pull out a win losing 32-6.

“It’s the 50 year anniversary of the return of your great school,“ said Kane. “We’re so honored to have you guys here.“

WVU officially accepted an invitation to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Sunday, December 07. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

According to memphistravel.com, since it was founded in 1959, the Liberty Bowl has seen the likes of Bear Bryant, Lou Holtz, Bo Jackson, Archie Manning, Steve Spurrier and Doug Flutie.

The site, www.memphistravel.com, is set up to guide fans on: tailgating, parking, events leading up to the game, where to stay, things to do and places to eat.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  With time comes perspective

Like a lot of people around the country, when the final CFP rankings came out to determine the four playoff teams vying for this season’s national title, I was skeptical that the selection committee got it right.

However, with a few days to reflect on it, I have come to the realization that they did in fact get it correct and the four most qualified and deserving teams are indeed playing for the national championship.

Yes, there are a couple of teams in the state of Texas that would argue vehemently to the opposite, but the system currently in place doesn’t afford a fifth or sixth team.

Taking each team on its merits, the only logical decision was to have Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State battle it out in a three-game playoff to determine a true champion.

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide are the top team in the land and for good reason. Sure the Tide dropped a narrow decision on the road to a red-hot Ole Miss squad in early October, but the timing of the loss left Alabama with plenty of time to impress, and impress they did. The Crimson Tide not only stayed within striking distance in the SEC and the national title picture, but they climbed into the “pole position” by season’s end and capped things off with a 42-13 demolition of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. With once again the nation’s stingiest defense, and great talent at the skill positions, Alabama will be extremely tough to knock off its lofty perch.

Mark Helfrich’s Ducks used the same blueprint to earn their way into the playoff scenario. Oregon dropped a 31-24 decision at home to Arizona, but that was way back on October 2. The team went on to win seven straight games to close out the regular season, all by double digits, and got sweet revenge over Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game, absolutely destroying the Wildcats on a neutral field, 51-13. It’s not official, but there is little doubt that Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will take home the Heisman Trophy. Now its just a question of whether or not that piece of hardware will have company in the trophy case.

The reigning national champions are America’s favorite team to hate. With a polarizing leader on offense in Jameis Winston and more close calls than Jimbo Fisher would like, Florida State seemed to back its way into the playoff picture. But the reality is that the Seminoles have won 29 straight games and no one has beaten them since the 2012 season. They are the only unbeaten team in the nation, and they won the ACC Championship in typical FSU fashion, edging out Georgia Tech, 37-35. Seven of their 13 wins this season have come by six points or less and many of those the team had to come from behind to get the victory. However, wins are just that and no one has won more games over the last two seasons than the ‘Noles

Finally, the team that gets the most criticism for being included is Ohio State. Yes, the Buckeyes suffered an ugly loss to a bad Virginia Tech team in Columbus (35-21), but that was with their second-string quarterback at the helm and, like the Crimson Tide and Ducks, it was very early (September 6). Other than surviving a close call with Penn State (31-24 2OT) and a seven-point win over Minnesota (31-24), Ohio State has won impressively, including a 49-37 victory on the road at Michigan State. The Buckeyes earned a spot in the Big Ten Championship, but once again had to go to the bench and use its third- string quarterback to take on Wisconsin. OSU didn’t just beat the Badgers, the Buckeyes embarrassed them, rolling to a 59-0 shutout and sporting an identical 12-1 record as Alabama and Oregon.

TCU and Baylor finished tied atop the Big 12 standings, but without a conference championship game, both teams finished up at 11-1 on the year. No one can forget the spectacle the two teams put on for the nation back on October 11, as the Bears edged out the Horned Frogs in a 61-58 shootout. That should have propelled Baylor just a notch ahead of TCU in the eyes of the selection committee, but instead the committee almost botched the whole thing by moving TCU into the third spot prior to the last week of the season. However, the powers that be didn’t compound that faux pas with another blunder, but instead, used Ohio State’s dominant performance in the Big Ten Championship Game to move past the Horned Frogs and claim the coveted spot among the first- ever college football playoff quartet, effectively getting it right.

Really, it was the Buckeyes that made the decision easier, extinguishing any lingering doubt with their performance against Wisconsin. They won their way into the playoff, rather than Baylor or TCU losing a spot.

In the end, four deserving teams all winning conference championships remain standing now that the dust has cleared.

Seems like a fair and reasonable conclusion.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Colts search for another AFC South crown

Just do what you always do.

That’s probably the narrative that Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is trying to sell to his team this week.

The Colts have owned the AFC South over the past two seasons and one more win against one of its inhabitants will lift Indianapolis to its second straight division crown.

Indy will search for its 12th straight win in the division Sunday against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans. A victory for the Colts clinches the South for Pagano’s club while the Texans can close the gap to just one game with two to play if they get the triumph.

The Colts have generally owned Houston over the years, compiling a 21-4 all- time record against the Texans, including a 33-28 win in South Texas back on October 9 when Andrew Luck threw for 370 yards and three TDs with T.Y. Hilton doing most of the damage, catching nine balls for a career-high 223 yards and a score.

Things have been even tougher over the years for the Texans in the Hoosier State where they’ve never won, compiling a dismal 0-12 mark in Indianapolis.

“We’re well aware that we have not won there,“ Houston first-year coach Bill O’Brien said.

Any time the Colts and Texans tangle, the storyline is always going to focus on Luck and J.J. Watt, perhaps the top young offensive and defensive star in the NFL.

Luck, Indianapolis’ star quarterback, has already thrown for 12,501 passing yards, the most ever by any player in his first three NFL seasons. Watt, the Texans’ All-World defensive lineman, recorded three sacks last week in Jacksonville, become only the fifth player to amass at least 50 sacks (51) in his first four NFL seasons.

The Colts inched closer to the division crown with a heart-stopping 25-24 win in Cleveland last weekend when Luck’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Hilton with 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference.

Luck connected on 24-of-53 throws for 294 yards with a pair of interceptions and two scores, both to Hilton, who had 10 catches for 150 yards.

“We struggled early. Credit to them,“ said Luck. “Our tempo definitely helped. We were forced into a hurry-up tempo but I think that it was beneficial.“

Houston, meanwhile, topped the Jags, 27-13, behind Watt and Arian Foster, who ran for 127 yards and a touchdown.

The Texans earned consecutive wins for the first time since starting the season 2-0 and are among five different AFC teams with a 7-6 record.

“The rest of the games are ‘must wins.‘ There’s no room for error,“ Foster said.

Ryan Fitzpatrick only threw 19 times and finished with 135 yards through the air but did run for a touchdown. One of his favorite targets, Andre Johnson, exited early in the second quarter with a concussion.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Indianapolis is very dynamic on offense, ranking tops in the NFL with 432.4 yards per game which is directly tied to Luck because the running game has been virtually non-existent since Ahmad Bradshaw was lost to injury.

Luck leads the league with 4,305 passing yards and is tied for the top spot with 36 TD throws and his top target, Hilton, is third in football with 1,295 receiving yards. However, the Colts can get bogged down and become one dimensional because Trent Richardson is what he is at this point and that is a back who averages only 3.3 yards per rush.

The hope is playing cleaner moving forward will turn Indy into a legitimate contender on the AFC side of things, along with the conferences’s two 10-3 teams, New England and Denver.

The Colts turned it over a four times in Cleveland last weekend, two fumbles and two interceptions. Move back three weeks and Indianapolis has lost seven fumbles and had three Luck passes swiped, giving the team a dreadful minus-4 turnover ratio on the season, not a favorable trend especially with a turnover machine like Watt looming.

Part of the issue has been Luck trying to extend plays.

“There’s a ton of plays over the course of the last two and three-quarter seasons that if (Luck) doesn’t hang in there, if he doesn’t do this, if he doesn’t do that, if he doesn’t take off and run and make three guys miss and get in the end zone to get our first touchdown,“ Pagano said. “So, there’s a lot of great things that come out of trying to make plays, and he’s a playmaker.“

Watt returned a Luck fumble for a touchdown back in October and had two sacks in that game. Overall, Houston’s defense is 25th in the NFL, allowing 373.0 ypg there is room to work as long as you can keep Watt from disrupting the game.

“We’ve got to get (the turnover issue) cleaned up,“ Pagano admitted. “You credit the opponent for stripping the ball and making plays, but it’s still no excuse. ... We’ve got to get it cleaned up, period.“

The Texans will try to buck history in Indianapolis with some injury issues. Johnson, who leads the team with 69 receptions for 737 yards, is iffy for the game with the concussion.

“It’s not really about progress as much it’s just day-to-day, taking the test and whatever that test is,“ O’Brien said when discussing Johnson. “We’re really on top of that - our medical people. It’s a very, very serious thing and my big thing there with him, I was just so worried about him when I saw him get hit like that. He’s day-to-day.“

Houston also shut down No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney for the season after the former South Carolina star underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee Tuesday.

Fitzpatrick threw for 358 yards and six TDs against Tennessee on November 30, his first game back as a starter after Ryan Mallett went down with a torn pec. Things evened out a bit in Jacksonville, though, as the veteran played game manager as Foster, who is third in the AFC with 1.028 rushing yards, handled the offensive workload.

“Everybody knows that this is our shot,“ Fitzpatrick said. “You know what will happen if we lose a game, so every game is even more important than the last one.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Indianapolis has its flaws but everything is pointing toward the Colts in this one as the team searches for its ninth AFC South title in 13 years. Indy has won five of six at home and nine of 11 overall since an 0-2 start, and its 12-0 all-time home mark against the Texans isn’t a trend, that’s dominance.


►  CJ2K’s return to Music City headlines battle of 2-win teams

At last, the New York Jets can be picked on someone sharing a similarly mediocre win-loss size.

The Tennessee Titans will host the visiting Jets this weekend in the NFL’s lone Week 15 battle of 2-11 teams, and, as unlikely as it may sound, matchups actually dictate that Rex Ryan and Co. could be in for a rare bout with success.

New York is second in the league with an average per-week rate of 149.7 rushing yards, which presumably would mean prosperity against the Titans, whose average of 141.5 rush yards allowed is worst among the league’s 32 teams. That number rises to 173.0 when only counting Tennessee’s six home games, which goes a long way toward explaining the team’s lowly 1-5 home record.

Tennessee, in fact, has lost seven games in a row by an average of 15 points, which is the franchise’s longest drought since the Houston Oilers dropped 11 consecutive games in 1994. Last week, the Titans were brutalized, 36-7, by the Jets’ fellow northern New Jersey swamp-dwellers, the New York Giants.

The Giants racked up 402 total yards to Tennessee’s 207, and the Titans converted two of 13 third downs, to the predictable post-game chagrin of their players and coaches.

“It’s disappointing,“ tight end Delanie Walker said. “We’ve only won two games, and we’re still playing the same way. We always say we’re going to change, and nothing changes.“

Well, almost nothing.

The arrival of the Jets will also signal the return of former starting quarterback Jake Locker, who’s all but guaranteed that role this weekend thanks to the doubtful status of recent incumbent Zach Mettenberger - who re- dinged a sprained shoulder when he was sacked for a fifth time last week.

Mettenberger had an 86.7 passer rating in six starts, and while Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt insisted he wouldn’t rule the youngster out until “I know for sure he can’t go,“ he did assess the scenario for Locker, whose 71.1 passer rating is better than just one NFL starter - New York’s Geno Smith.

Locker was 9-of-11 for 81 yards and an interception as a reliever against the Giants.

“It’s an opportunity to play. Jake wants that,“ Whisenhunt said.

“(He just needs to) prepare the best he can and do the best job he can. I think that’s the way he’ll look at it. He’s a good pro. He’s been in a tough situation, coming in like that. He did some good things (Sunday). He moved around in the pocket well, ran with the ball a couple of times. On the one interception, he was trying to make a play at the end of the game.“

Meanwhile, the Jets have lost nine straight games in which the aforementioned Smith has started, including a 30-24 overtime decision last week in Minnesota, in which Smith’s first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He finished with 18 completions in 29 attempts for 254 yards.

In his second year as a pro, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 0.67 remains second-worst in the

NFL, but that didn’t stop him this week from telling New York’s Newsday publication that he’d “shown flashes of being a Pro Bowl quarterback.“

“I feel like I have the tools and I have what it takes to be that, but, obviously, it takes some consistency and I’ve been very inconsistent in my two years here. With that being said, I’ll be more of the guy you see doing well than the guy who struggles at times.“

It may not help his cause this week that his favorite new target - in-season trade acquisition Percy Harvin - is doubtful with an ankle injury suffered against the Vikings. On the other side, defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson is questionable after he missed last week’s game with a toe injury.

Among the Jets who do figure to play, the game marks a return to old stomping grounds for running back Chris Johnson, who signed with New York as a free agent after spending his first six NFL years with the Titans. He ran for 7,965 yards, including 2,006 in 2009, and 50 touchdowns with Tennessee, placing him third in franchise history in both categories.

In 13 games with New York, he’s run for 558 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards per rush.

“Going to the visitor’s locking room, it’s going to be kind of weird,“ he said. “It’s definitely harder than what I expected, but it’s a situation where a lot of times stuff is out of your hands that you can’t control, so I just try to take advantage of every opportunity I get.“

Johnson’s lone 100-yard game of the season came in Week 13 against Miami, when he went for 105 on 17 carries. Last week against Minnesota, he had 16 carries for 53 yards.

“If you give him an opportunity to hit the home run, he can do it,“ Tennessee defensive back Michael Griffin said. “We have our work cut out for us. He’s going to be geared up and ready to play and looking to prove to us and the organization it was mistake to let him go.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

A Day in McCourty

Take Smith’s lingering tendency to throw the ball to the wrong team and add in the fact that he’ll probably be without his favorite receiving option - Harvin - and it could spell trouble. Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty has three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 10 pass deflections through 13 games, often while blanketing the opposing team’s best receiver.

Return to Glory?

Conversely, the presumed return of Locker to the Titans’ starting quarterback position gives the fourth-year pro - a No. 8 overall draft selection in 2011 - a chance to be the latest passer to victimize the Jets’ faulty secondary. New York has allowed 29 passing touchdowns in 14 games (second-worst in the league) and is 29th in the league when it comes to interceptions.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Jets haven’t gotten to 2-11 without finding ways to lose games that they presumably ought to win.

And while they may have indeed found their counterpart in mediocrity against the Titans, the reality remains that they’re a road team with a 0-6 record on the road. Though it would hardly be a surprise to see them piece together a victory, instead expect a battle of field goals that goes late to the home side.


►  Lions try to keep pace in NFC North, host Vikings

The dismal performance of the NFC South this season means a very good football team will not be participating in the conference playoffs.

The Detroit Lions are intent on making sure that good team isn’t them.

The Lions will try to keep on the heels of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North against an improving Minnesota Vikings team beginning to blossom under rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The Lions enter Week 15 at 9-4, one-game behind the Packers in the division and tied with three other teams (Philadelphia, Dallas and Seattle) for the second best mark in the conference, one-game south of Green Bay and Arizona, who are both 10-3.

One of those teams won’t be making the postseason because the winner of the NFC South (either 5-8 New Orleans and Atlanta or 4-8-1 Carolina) will have its ticket punched.

That makes every game ultra-important for the Lions, who will be searching for a rare season sweep of the Vikings after beating them in Minneapolis, 17-3, back on October 12.

Detroit kept pace in the playoff race last weekend by taking care of business against hapless Tampa Bay, winning 34-17 behind Matthew Stafford, who had three touchdown passes, and Joique Bell, who scored twice.

Stafford went 26-for-34 for 311 yards with touchdown passes to Bell, Calvin Johnson and Joseph Fauria for the Lions, who have won two straight after consecutive road losses.

“I feel good, I feel confident in what we are doing,“ said Stafford. “The guys on offense are feeling pretty confident in what we’ve been doing here lately, and the guys up front are keeping me clean most of the time.“

Johnson finished the game with eight catches for 158 yards, while Bell had 18 carries for 83 yards and a rushing touchdown while adding five catches for 50 yards for Detroit.

“Our guys certainly played a good team game today,“ said Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell. “It certainly wasn’t perfect, they never are. Our offense was controlled and we ran the ball better than pretty much any game this year.“

The Vikings, meanwhile, have been playing better recently behind Bridgewater, who is 4-2 in his last six starts with a passer rating of 91.0 in those games. Only the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan have performed better among NFC quarterbacks over that span.

Last weekend Jarius Wright turned a quick Bridgewater smoke screen into a winning 87-yard touchdown in overtime, lifting Minnesota over the New York Jets, 30-24.

“I knew it was going to be a touchdown,“ said Bridgewater after seeing Wright run past the last defender. “I knew once we got that play set up, it was up to Jarius to do the rest.“

Bridgewater completed 19-of-27 passes for 309 yards and a pair of touchdowns with an interception to lead the Vikings to their second straight win.

Wright finished with 123 yards on four catches, and Charles Johnson also scored with four catches for 103 yards.

“We’ve seen nothing but flashes from him since he arrived here,“ said Bridgewater about Johnson, who was plucked off Cleveland’s practice squad.

Matt Asiata led Minnesota with 54 rushing yards and linebacker Gerald Hodges returned an interception for a touchdown for the first score of the game.

The Vikings lead the all-time series by a significant 69-35-2 margin but the Lions have won two of three, including the win in October.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Lions have been known for late-season collapses, losing six of their final seven games a year ago and dropping nine straight in the month of December before disposing of the Bucs last weekend.

Things have changed under first-year coach Caldwell.

“It’s a new day. He said it from the beginning, coach Caldwell, put it on Caldwell,“ veteran center Dominic Raiola said. “We keeping doing it every week and it’s getting fun around here. The more we just worry about what’s going on right now, handle the day, the better off we’re going to be.“

Stafford has been making it especially fun over the past two weeks against Chicago and Tampa, completing 60-of-79 passes for 701 yards with five TDs and no interceptions. His hot streak coincides with the health of the All-World Johnson, who has caught 19 passes for 304 yards and three TDs in those two games.

“We’ve definitely found a rhythm,“ Johnson said. “I’m feeling pretty good ... the best I’ve felt in a little while.“

Stafford still has some demons to exercise, however. He threw just eight TD passes and had 12 picks with a dismal 70.0 passer rating in Detroit’s nine- game Christmas time swoon before righting the ship a bit against Tampa Bay.

“I feel good. I feel confident in what we’re doing,“ Stafford said. “The guys are catching the ball, which is always great.“

The Vikings figure to be much tougher than the Bears and Bucs, though, especially on defense where Mike Zimmer has put together a unit that can give up some yardage but has two elite playmakers in right end Everson Griffen, who is second in the NFC with 12 sacks, and safety Harrison Smith, the only player in the NFL with at least three sacks and three interceptions.

Chicago is 30th against the pass and the Buccaneers are 24th while Minnesota is sixth, allowing just 220.8 passing yards a game, limiting Stafford to 185 yards in the first matchup between the two teams.

The other aspect for the Lions which isn’t new or at least not new enough is discipline. Long regarded as one of the NFL’s dumbest teams under previous coaching regimes, Detroit is still committing far too many penalties.

“I am more interested in winning. But I know one thing: If you have too many (penalties), they lead to problems, they lead to deficiencies, they lead to losses,“ Caldwell said. “That is an area we have to get straightened away.“

The Vikings have something in Bridgewater, who brings a rare sense of calm to the pocket you don’t often see from young quarterbacks. The former Louisville star seems to have the innate feel to make good decisions and is very accurate in the short to mid-range areas.

“This franchise is Teddy’s. I know that was a good headline for you,“ Zimmer said. “That’s what he needs to do. He needs to take it over. This is his team now.“

The deep ball has been a problem but even that seems to be improving thanks to the emergence of Johnson, a 6-foot-2 rangy receiver with tremendous straight- line speed and rare leaping ability, who has been creating tremendous separation.

“(Johnson is) a great route runner. He’s a guy who’s very patient,“ Bridgewater said.

The Lions defense, which allows an NFL-low 17.2 points per game, forced Bridgewater into his worst start as a pro back in October, intercepting him three times.

That’s an issue because Minnesota will likely be without three starters on its offensive line. Right tackle Phil Loadholt and right guard Brandon Fusco are done for the season with torn pecs, while left guard Charlie Johnson will likely miss the game with a sprained ankle.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Despite trailing the Packers, the Lions control their own destiny because they are 3-0 in the division and beat Green Bay in the Motor City back in September. The Lions close the regular season with three straight NFC North matchups—against the Vikings and at Chicago before a Week 17 matchup at Green Bay, where they have dropped 22 straight.

There is no room for error for the Lions especially over the next two weeks and Minnesota’s offensive line troubles should be enough to slant things toward Detroit.


►  Forsett takes aim at Jaguars

It’s no wonder Justin Forsett is looking forward to this week.

The seventh-year pro spent a nondescript 2013 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, before latching on with the Baltimore Ravens this season and becoming a 1,000- yard rusher for the first time in his career.

The Ravens will host the Jaguars on Sunday, which provides Forsett a crack at a team that’s been gashed for nearly 160 rush yards per game over its last half-dozen, since starting linebacker Paul Posluszny was lost for the season with a chest injury. Jacksonville had allowed 110.3 per game in its first seven.

Forsett ran for 100 yards or more for three straight games before dipping to 71 yards on 13 carries in a Week 14 defeat of Miami. Still, he’s racked up six yards per carry and scored five touchdowns in those four games, while the Ravens have averaged 168.5 ground yards and won three times.

The Jaguars have allowed 20 or more rushing yards on 15 plays, most in the league. Last week’s home loss to Houston included a 51-yard run by Arian Foster, and 173 yards by the Texans overall.

“We’ve been a lot better in certain aspects of the run game, but we’ve given up some big numbers on certain plays,“ linebacker J.T. Thomas said. “Everyone is doing everything in their power to make sure we get better in that aspect of the run game.“

The team is 0-6 on the road in 2014, but hasn’t gone 0-for-a-season away from home since 2003.

Jacksonville led by three points at halftime last week before ultimately losing by 14. It has been shut out in the third quarter in seven of 13 games, and have scored just 32 points in 13 third quarters overall.

Baltimore has allowed three third-quarter points in its last five games.

“I can’t pinpoint a reason right now,“ Jaguars left tackle Luke Joeckel said. “It needs to get fixed.“

While this week’s visitors are looking for simple answers, the Ravens are a touch more concerned with complex standings issues.

Baltimore is part of a gaggle pursuing two available AFC wild-card playoff spots, but while its 8-5 record is even with San Diego and Pittsburgh, it would finish third in the group once tiebreakers are applied.

That said, the Ravens are in if they sweep their remaining games against the 2-11 Jaguars, 7-6 Texans and 7-6 Cleveland Browns.

“We could sit here and say we wish we’d be another game or two better, and we could say we’re happy we’re not a game or two worse,“ Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re pleased with the fact that we’re in the hunt and control our own destiny. It’s just our job to make the most of it.“

Some would claim the Ravens have made the most of their situation already, given the season-long absence of former running back Ray Rice, the recent suspension of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and injuries to tight end Dennis Pitta and cornerback Jimmy Smith.

“We’ve got a resilient bunch,“ Harbaugh said. “They’re mentally tough, they don’t get caught up in the noise. They don’t get easily distracted. We say turn neither to the left or the right, eyes straight ahead.“

Baltimore trailed by 10 against Miami last week before rallying for a 15-point win in which quarterback Joe Flacco had two touchdown passes, ran for another score and led fourth-quarter drives covering 80 and 81 yards. One week earlier, the Ravens lost a 10-point lead in falling to San Diego, 34-33, at home.

Steve Smith had seven catches for 70 yards and a TD against Miami, and claimed the defeat of the Dolphins helped salve the wounds from the Chargers disappointment.

“(The San Diego defeat) just took a lot out of us,“ he said. “But you can’t sit there and throw a party if you won, and you can’t throw a pity party if you lose. You just got to get back on the horse and just hold on.“

Wide receiver Torrey Smith was on the field for just 15 snaps against Miami and is questionable this week with a knee problem, meaning third-year man Kamar Allen - who’s caught nine balls for 116 yards and a score in the last two weeks - could get additional emergence time.

On defense, Elvis Dumervil has a franchise-record 16 sacks after racking up 3 1/2 last week, and he faces a recurring target in Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, who’s been dumped 38 times this season - 19 in the last four games.

“We’ve got a team that’s playing pretty well right now and gaining some confidence,“ Flacco said.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Bortles vs. Chaos

Jacksonville quarterbacks have been sacked a league-high 54 times - including four last week against the Texans - and the fortunes don’t figure to improve much when Bortles is looking across the line at a Baltimore defense that’s record 37 in 13 games, good for sixth in the league.

Keeping track of a rushing linebacker like Dumervil will be an all-day job if the aim is to keep Bortles vertical.

Checking the Horizon

With three games to go in yet another lost season, the Jaguars are yet again auditioning young players who may or may not have significant roles for 2015 and beyond. So while playoffs are not a concern, job security is for guys like wide receiver Marqise Lee, cornerback Johnathan Cyprien and aforementioned offensive lineman Joeckel. Seeing how they perform here will begin to shape roles for next season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Let’s face it. There’s simply no reason why a 2-11 Jacksonville team without a road victory should be able to come into a hostile environment - where the Ravens are 4-2 this season - and defeat a battle - hardened team that’s once again playing for its playoff existence.

Expect Harbaugh to insist on a strong start to remove any idea that an upset could happen. If that start occurs, the upset will not.


►  Bears place Williams on IR, sign FB Owens

The Chicago Bears placed linebacker D.J. Williams on injured reserve due to a neck injury Thursday. The club also signed former Pro Bowl fullback Montell Owens.

This season Williams saw action in 12 contests, starting 10, and recorded 73 tackles. He is in second season with Bears, having started 14-of-18 games while notching 112 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.

Williams has appeared in 145 games with 129 starts over 10 seasons with Denver (2004-12) and Chicago (2013-14), recording 998 tackles, 22 1/2 sacks and two interceptions.

Owens, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, has appeared in 108 games with four starts over nine seasons with Jacksonville (2006-12) and Detroit (2013-14), and has 56 carries for 292 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 12 receptions for 132 yards. He also has recorded 74 special teams tackles, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.


►  Browns turn to Manziel with season on the line

Ready or not, here comes Johnny Football.

With their playoff chances starting to fade, the Cleveland Browns hope to get a jolt under center this Sunday when rookie Johnny Manziel makes his first career start in a home matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Browns selected Manziel with the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 draft, the second of two first-round selections for the club.

Despite his highlight-reel resume at Texas A&M that helped earn him the Heisman Trophy, Manziel was unable to beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job at the start of the season. Cleveland started 6-3 under Hoyer, but his play has come under fire as of late with the Browns losing three of their past four.

Manziel made his NFL debut in late relief action versus Buffalo on November 30, with the 22-year-old completing 5-of-9 pass attempts for 63 yards while also scoring a rushing touchdown.

Head coach Mike Pettine decided to stick with Hoyer for this past Sunday’s game versus the Indianapolis Colts, but the now-former starter didn’t impress with just 140 yards passing in a 25-24 loss.

Thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns, the Browns were in position to win until the Colts’ Andrew Luck threw a one-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That gave Cleveland consecutive losses for the first time this season.

Linebacker Craig Robertson recovered a fumble in the end zone and rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert had a 23-yard pick-six in the third quarter, his first career interception.

Hoyer, though, was picked off twice and the only offensive touchdown for the Browns came on a nine-yard run by Isaiah Crowell.

“Obviously, very disappointed,“ said Pettine. “When you lose a close game like that, for the most part our guys played at a high level.“

Pettine, though, apparently doesn’t think that was the case with Hoyer, so Manziel will become the 21st different QB to start a game for the Browns since 1999.

“This decision is really not about Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, it is about the Cleveland Browns,“ Pettine said. “We are always going to make decisions that we feel are in the best interest of the team.“

Manziel, who has been plagued with questions about his off-the-field lifestyle and dedication to the position, had another chip put on his shoulder when Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis referred to the 6-foot, 210-pound Manziel as a midget during the team’s radio show on Monday night.

Lewis has since apologized for the remarks, but shined more negative light on a Bengals club that is coming off a 42-21 pounding at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cincinnati had a three-game win streak halted and allowed the race for first place in the AFC North to get tighter. The Bengals lead the pack at 8-4-1, while the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens both trail at 8-5. The Browns remain in the mix as well at 7-6.

The Bengals led 21-17 over the Steelers after the third quarter, but Pittsburgh outscored Cincinnati 25-0 in the fourth, a quarter in which it gained 229 of its 543 total net yards.

“I’m sort of at a loss for words,“ said Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey. “Let me just say that I know we can play better, myself first and everyone else, too. We start back on that road beginning this week.“

Andy Dalton threw for 302 yards, hooking up with wide receiver A.J. Green for an 81-yard touchdown and running for a 20-yard score. But he also lost a key fourth-quarter fumble.

Green caught 11 passes for a career-best 224 yards.

The pressure to win this game is just as great for the Bengals as it is for the Browns. Cincinnati must host the mighty Denver Broncos next week before ending the regular season with a rematch at Pittsburgh.

Also, Cleveland has already beaten Cincinnati this season, picking up a 24-3 road win back on November 6. The Browns got rushing touchdowns from Ben Tate (since waived), Crowell and Terrance West, while Dalton was picked off three times and held to 86 yards passing.

It marked the Brown’s third victory in their last four versus the Bengals.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Many will question Pettine’s decision to wait as long as he did to turn to Manziel, especially given that Hoyer had just one touchdown pass to eight interceptions over the club’s current 1-3 stretch.

Over 13 games this season, Hoyer has thrown for 3,196 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

“Although I am disappointed by coach’s decision, I respect him and his choice and will be there to support Johnny,“ Hoyer said. “As always, I will do whatever I can to help this team win.“

Pettine hopes that Manziel can do that on the field. The flashy quarterback hasn’t really had a chance to really show what he can do, but is known for his ability to create plays and will look to prove he has the arm, speed and confidence to handle the NFL.

“Brian has done everything that has been asked of him and he has done so as a true professional,“ said Pettine. “It’s never just any one position when a unit is not functioning at the level you’d like. We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level. Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result.“

Said Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, “I’m excited to see what Johnny can do. He did some good things for us in the preseason and when he was in there against Buffalo.“

One player who should be excited to see Manziel under center is playmaking wide receiver Josh Gordon.

Gordon had a monster 2013 season with 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns, but missed the first 10 games of this campaign due to suspension. He had a big season debut with eight receptions and 120 yards in Week 12 at Atlanta, but has been held to nine catches and 90 yards the past two weeks. Gordon made only two catches versus the Colts.

Gordon had 125 yards and a touchdown on five catches the last time he faced the Bengals.

Cleveland’s defense relies on shutting down opponents quarterbacks and the Browns lead the NFL with 19 interceptions. Cornerback Buster Skrine picked up two of his four picks this season versus the Bengals, while safety Tashaun Gipson leads the league with six picks.

Gipson, though, has missed the past two games with a knee injury and is out this weekend as well.

The play of linebacker Paul Kruger has helped the defense as well. Kruger leads the team with nine sacks, the most by a Browns player since Kamerion Wimbley’s 11 in 2006, and has a career-high three forced fumbles.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby, meanwhile, has a chance to return this weekend for the Browns from a knee injury suffered on November 16.

Though the Bengals have two capable runners in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, it will be hard for them to pass up testing Cleveland’s secondary again due to the presence of Green.

Green’s 224 yards versus Pittsburgh were the second-most in a single game in Bengals history behind only Chad Johnson’s 260 in 2006.

Green’s previous high was 183 yards set in 2012 and he has gone over 100 yards in three of his past four games as he seems to have fully moved past a toe ailment that plagued him earlier this season.

“When you’ve got a guy like A.J., you want to get him the ball,“ Dalton said after the Steelers game. “We had a lot of really good looks today, and we hit big plays. Down the stretch, we’ve got to rely on A.J. He’s such a big play waiting to happen.“

After getting blitzed by the Steelers’ offense, the Bengals are now tied for 28th in the NFL with 377.8 yards allowed per game. They also learned this week they won’t have linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the rest of the season as he was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of a knee issue that had caused him to miss the past six games.

Luckily for Lewis’ defense, Rey has proven to be a capable option. He has made 10 starts while playing in all 13 games, with injuries opening the door for increased time.

Rey has responded with a club-high 97 tackles, with 15 of those coming versus the Steelers.

“Vinny is a great example of the concept that it’s not how you get here, it’s what you do when you get here,“ said Lewis. “He’s a smart player, a dedicated worker and a physical player. He’s earned everything he’s gotten and we are very fortunate to have him.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Though there will be pressure on Manziel given that the Browns are still very much in the playoff hunt, making his debut at home should help things a bit. The Bengals know this and Dalton said his club needs to get off to a good start.

“The better you are early on in the games, you can take away the crowd and all that kind of stuff,“ said Dalton. “But we know the kind of atmosphere we’re going to get. So we’ve just got to be ready to come out firing.“

Cincinnati got next to nothing offensively when it last played Cleveland and would love to return to the favor this weekend. The key will be forcing Manziel into trying to do too much and a veteran coach like Lewis should have his defense ready.


►  McCoy to start for Redskins, if healthy

Colt McCoy will be the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins on Sunday against the New York Giants if he is medically cleared to play.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden made the announcement Thursday, but added that Robert Griffin III would be the starter if McCoy is unable to play for health reasons.

McCoy suffered a neck sprain during last Sunday’s 24-0 loss to St. Louis. He practiced Thursday and will be examined by a doctor on Friday.

It would be the third straight start for McCoy, who took over after Griffin was benched three weeks ago.

McCoy threw for 199 yards with a pair of interceptions last week against the Rams after a 392-yard, three-touchdown performance the week before in a 49-27 loss to Indianapolis.

The Redskins haven’t won a game since McCoy led them to a 20-17 overtime win in Dallas on October 27.

Griffin returned from an ankle injury the following week and started three games—losses to the Vikings, Buccaneers and 49ers—before being benched.


►  Desperate Chiefs try to resuscitate playoff hopes against Raiders

The Kansas City Chiefs try to resuscitate their fading playoff hopes on Sunday when they try to stop a three-game losing streak against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium.

Kansas City’s skid started with Oakland’s first win of the season back in Week 14, but has continued through this past Sunday when it was upended by the Arizona Cardinals, 17-14.

The Chiefs had the ball with 1:09 remaining, but they mustered just seven yards before turning the ball over on downs. Alex Smith’s short pass to Jason Avant fell incomplete on a 4th- and-15 with 11 ticks on the clock.

Arizona’s defense shut out the Chiefs in the second half after surrendering two scores to Jamaal Charles in the opening 30 minutes. He ran for a 63-yard touchdown and caught an 18-yard TD pass.

Smith went 12-of-13 in the first half, but was limited to 14-of-26 efficiency in the second. He threw for 293 yards in all.

“We had some three-and-outs,“ said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “We had too many. They did a good job and we couldn’t get ourselves in a rhythm.“

Still, despite the slide the Chiefs are one of five 7-6 teams in the mix for the AFC’s two wild-card spots currently occupied by Pittsburgh (8-5) and San Diego (8-5). Kansas City visits the Steelers next week before closing the season against the Chargers.

“I don’t know all the (playoff) scenarios and really don’t care,“ Smith said. “It’s not our deal. ... We have to get a win this week.“

While it’s probably unfair to call the 2-11 Raiders hot, but they certainly come into this one in better shape than the Chiefs. Oakland won for the second time in three weeks on Sunday, as Derek Carr had three touchdown passes to lead the Raiders in a 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

“We stayed together as a team is supposed to,“ Carr said. “We came out here and fought.“

Carr went 22-for-28 for 254 yards with touchdown passes to Donald Penn, Marcel Reece and Mychal Rivera as the Raiders bounced back from an embarrassing 52-0 loss at St. Louis in Week 13.

“People had us dead and buried last week,“ interim coach Tony Sparano said. “I mean, we were done. It was 52-0, everybody quit. This team is a resilient team. I’ve said it all along. For some reason or another, nobody wants to listen, but I’ve been saying it. This is the type of team they are.

“We need to make sure that we just focus on us right now going into this. We need to understand and learn from what happened to us two weeks ago.“

The Raiders are 0-6 on the road for the first time since losing all eight games in 2006. They are 2-20 away from home over the last three seasons, though one of those victories was 26-16 at Arrowhead on October 28, 2012.

However, they have won six of their last seven versus Kansas City, including the Week 12 matchup that saw Oakland rush for 179 yards on the ground and Carr cap a 18- play 80-yard drive with a go ahead touchdown with 1:42 left in the game.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

If you are a fan of the running game this will be the game for you.

Although Charles missed practice earlier in the week with an ankle injury, he should be ready to go in this one. The NFL leader this season with 14 touchdowns, Charles figures to add to that total this week, as he has compiled 465 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns over a three-game stretch against Oakland.

However, it didn’t look good for him last week when he left the loss to Arizona for a short time with an ankle injury.

“It was scary at first,“ Charles said after that one. “I thought I tore it up.“

Kansas City needs Charles on the field, as it is 6-2 this season when he gets at least 14 carries.

Oakland, meanwhile, may have found a diamond in the rough in rookie Latavius Murray. The first-year pro gashed the Chiefs for 112 yards back on November20, but suffered a concussion after just four carries and missed his team’s awful loss to St. Louis.

However, he returned on Sunday against the 49ers and ran for 76 yards on 23 carries.

“He’s real good - fast, explosive, finds the hole real well,“ Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “We’ve got to kind of put a hat on him and then try to keep him out of each hole.“

Murray figures to have another good game this coming week, as teams have racked up 164.7 yards per game on the ground against the Chiefs since October 30. Still, Kansas City has allowed just two rushing touchdowns on the season - both to Murray.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

As impressive a win as the Raiders had last week against a San Francisco team in turmoil, they will have their hands full this week against a Chiefs team still fighting for a playoff spot with revenge on their mind.

If Kansas City misses out on the postseason it very well may point to that Week 12 loss to the Raiders as the reason. The Chiefs should be able to keep Murray in check this time and force Carr into some mistakes.


►  NFL Game Results - Week 15

(THURSDAY, DECEMBER 11)

Final Score: Arizona 12, St. Louis 6

Chandler Catanzaro made four field goals as the Arizona Cardinals moved closer to clinching a playoff spot despite not scoring a touchdown in a 12-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Thursday. The Cardinals (11-3) now own the league’s best record and can secure a postseason berth this Sunday as long as the Dallas-Philadelphia game doesn’t end in a tie. Arizona can also clinch with a Detroit loss against Minnesota and a Green Bay win or tie in Buffalo. Arizona, however, suffered another injury at quarterback at the hands of the St. Louis defense as Drew Stanton left the game with a right knee injury in the third quarter. He was carted off to the locker room and did not return. Stanton, who was 12-of-20 for 109 yards before exiting, started his fifth straight game after Carson Palmer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a 31-14 win over the Rams on Nov. 9. Ryan Lindley took over for Stanton and completed four of his 10 passes for 30 yards. Larry Fitzgerald (31 years, 102 days old) became the youngest player in NFL history to compile 900 career receptions after finishing with seven catches for 30 yards. Arizona’s 11 wins ties a franchise record which was also set in 1925 and 1948.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  How I defeated the Great Aaron Rodgers

I am sure all of our readers and all you fantasy owners out there have had your fair share of crazy finishes to fantasy football matchups over the years.

I am no different, as I have been on both the right and wrong ends of garbage- time touchdowns during the final possessions of Monday night games, which in turn, determined the final score of fantasy matchups. That, along with seeing a player get a few useless yards which directly impacted a fantasy score, have made for some gut-wrenching moments.

However, the highs and lows that I experienced on Monday night most likely took a few years off of my life.

Let me start out by saying the fantasy matchup I competed in during Week 14 was in a league that uses a scoring system that is completely different from standard leagues. And yes, that was not a mistake, fantasy football is a competition.

I will give just a few specifics to the scoring system, as well as a brief layout of the league:

- Start 2 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR/TE, 1 K

- Start 7 individual defensive players, no matter the position

- Every touchdown is worth 10 points, including passing and defensive scores

- Tackles are worth three points and sacks are worth 12 points

Now, heading into Monday night’s contest between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, my team held a 49-point lead, which is essentially equivalent to a 15-point lead in standard leagues. It was a decent lead, but in no way was it a lead that I felt comfortable with, and while I had Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan and Green Bay wideout Randall Cobb trying to close out the matchup for me, my opponent was able to turn to Packers’ superstars Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson along with Green Bay stud linebacker Clay Matthews to try and earn a spot in the semifinals.

Needless to say, I was extremely worried.

I manage my fantasy teams with a partner who I have known for 16 years, and that tradition will continue for a long time. Entering Monday night’s matchup, we were texting each other trying to figure out what we needed to have happen for our squad to come out victorious.

We both agreed that as long as Cobb stole some of Rodgers stats, and if Nelson and Matthews played like normal human beings, we would have a legitimate shot to move on.

Well, that certainly did not happen.

The game actually started out in our favor. Green Bay was able to move the ball at will, and while Rodgers and Nelson were able to accumulate some points based on yards, both of the Packers’ first two scores came on the ground, helping my team out immensely.

However, Ryan could not get anything going in the first half either, and Atlanta’s lone touchdown came on a Steven Jackson four-yard run.

Then the likely NFL-MVP got going. Rodgers threw for two touchdowns to end the first half, including one to Nelson, and just like that my fantasy team was trailing by 10 points during halftime of the Monday night game.

That was when my first bitter text to my partner was sent. We will keep it “PG,“ and I will tell you what I essentially said was that, “We were done and have no shot.“

Even though it sounded like I gave up out loud, I was still playing potential scenarios out in my head to try and figure out how Ryan and Cobb could stage a comeback against Rodgers, Nelson, and Matthews.

The best way for me to describe the way I felt watching this game, is extremely comparable to a die-hard fan watching his/her favorite team. Whenever something good went our way, I envisioned us winning the championship, yet when something did not go in our favor, I either wanted to throw something expensive, punch the wall, or simply just eat.

I chose the latter, because when I am nervous, I eat.

Now, with the second half starting and with me going through a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, Ryan came out of the locker room, moved the ball, and completed a touchdown on fourth and goal to open up the second half.

All of a sudden, my team had a small lead. I started to feel good, I got rid of the bowl that had the ice cream in it, and began thinking positive thoughts.

Then, of course, Matthews got his lone sack of the game.

Fifteen points went to my opponent, 12 for the sack and three for the tackle, giving us another obstacle to overcome to start the fourth quarter.

Now, trailing in the fantasy matchup, another bitter text was sent to my partner, which maybe Ryan heard, because he found Falcon’s receiver Julio Jones for a 22-yard touchdown pass less than three minutes into the final quarter, giving my fantasy team about a 10-point lead.

Man, was I feeling good at the point in time. With about 12 minutes remaining in the game, even if Rodgers produced another touchdown pass, my only thought was, “please, do not let it be to Nelson, so Ryan has another chance.“

That possession following Jones’ touchdown started in our favor, with Cobb catching one his few passes for 13 yards on third down. However, the next play almost gave me a heart attack.

Green Bay called a play-action fake to tailback Eddie Lacy and Rodgers heaved a long pass to none other than Nelson, which landed in his hands while he was in perfect stride into the end zone.

That 60-yard touchdown gave my opponent a 25-point lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.

I went onto open up a bag of Sour Cream and Onion Chips, and looked to the skies, and said “if we win this matchup, I will never eat toxic food this late at night ever again.“

Well, it seemed again that Ryan heard my calls.

He kept us alive with a touchdown pass touchdown to Atlanta wideout Roddy White, and after the Falcons forced Green Bay into a field goal, we had one last possession to try and steal the victory.

Ryan got the ball back with 4:33 left in the fourth quarter, with my team trailing by about 8 points. He went onto drive the Falcons down the field, and completed another fourth-and-goal score to receiver Harry Douglas, giving my team a four-point lead.

The matchup was not over, and after Rodgers scrambled for a 12-yard gain, we were up by only two points. But that was as close it would get, as Packers’ tailback James Starks had a 41-yard run to secure the win for Green Bay, along with my fantasy team.

Rodgers’ kneel down to end the game gave my squad a 458-454 win. Those two scores went down as the two highest, individual scores in our league, for the season.

Like I said earlier, I have never experienced as many highs and lows during a fantasy matchup, let alone during the final quarter of the final game of the week. The performances on Monday night took away from Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell recording 78 points for my opponent, as well as Houston Texans’ defensive end J.J. Watt notching three sacks and New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman scoring on a 69-yard pass to help out my team.

There is a reason why fantasy football has turned into an epidemic. It is taken extremely seriously by everybody involved, and no matter what anybody says, this is a competition that nobody ever wants to lose.

With all of that being said, I challenge our readers and all you fantasy owners out there to tell me a story that beats the matchup that almost killed me. I am sure there are crazier ones out there, so don’t be shy to send them over.

As for my fantasy team, our reward is a tough semifinal matchup against a great team, and on top of that, another fantasy team my partner and I manage will be facing off against Rodgers in the semifinals of that league.  ~~  Max Zelenko ~~



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Girls Area High Schools Basketball Scores: (12.11.14)

Linsly 58,    Tyler Consolidated 29

Philip Barbour 60,    Liberty 31


►  Boys Area High Schools Basketball Scores: (12.11.14)

Clay County 65,    South Harrison 46

Doddridge County 65,    Webster County 52

Lewis County 77,    Liberty 36

#2 Notre Dame 66,    Philip Barbour 58



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Lady Pioneers Basketball Game Resheduled

The Glenville State Lady Pioneer women’s basketball game that was scheduled for December 11, 2014 at Ohio Valley University was cancelled.

The game has been rescheduled for Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 5:30 PM at the WACO Center.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Thursday, December 11)


Final Score: Oklahoma City 103, Cleveland 94

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to score 45 points with 13 assists to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 103-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. In what would have been a matchup of the last two NBA MVPs, Durant was the only one to play as Cleveland’s LeBron James sat out with left knee discomfort. Westbrook paced the Thunder with 26 points to go along with eight assists and Durant’s 19 points closed out their fourth straight win. Kyrie Irving had to pick up the offensive load with James on the bench, and he accounted for 20 points on 7-of-21 shooting. Kevin Love netted 18 points with 16 rebounds for the Cavs, who had their eight-game winning streak halted.


Final Score: Houston 113, Sacramento 109

James Harden put the Houston Rockets on his back and willed them to an overtime victory on Thursday. Harden scored a season-high 44 points to lead the Rockets in a 113-109 decision over the Sacramento Kings. Harden, who scored 34 points in a loss to Golden State on Wednesday, sent the game to overtime with a deep 3-pointer, then scored the first 10 Houston points in the extra session. Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley each netted 15 points and Donatas Motiejunas added 14 points for Houston, which has won five of its last six. Darren Collison had 24 points with seven assists and Ben McLemore tallied 21 points for the Kings.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Rockies ship Rutledge to Angels

Hours after reportedly trading second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, the Los Angeles Angels acquired infielder Josh Rutledge from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for right-handed pitcher Jairo Diaz.

Rutledge, a lifetime .259 hitter, has spent time at second base, third base and shortstop in his three-year career with the Rockies.

The 25-year-old has 19 home runs, 89 RBI and 126 runs during his brief career.

Diaz, 23, compiled a 18-27 record in the minor league before making his MLB debut in 2014. The Venezuelan made five appearances, yielding two runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings.


►  Dodgers send Gordon to Marlins, acquire 2B Kendrick

The Los Angeles Dodgers continued to wheel and deal on Wednesday at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, as they made two more significant moves.

First, Los Angeles shipped infielder Dee Gordon and veteran right-hander Dan Haren to the Miami Marlins for a four-player package that included prized pitching prospect Andrew Heaney.

But Heaney was only a Dodger for hours before he was sent across town to the Angels in a straight swap for second baseman Howie Kendrick.

This deal comes on the heels of the Dodgers reportedly picking up shortstop Jimmy Rollins from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Gordon is coming off a solid season that saw him hit .289 over 148 games while leading the majors with 64 stolen bases and 12 triples. However, he posted a miserable 47/4 K/BB ratio with a .648 OPS during the second half.

“Thank you @Dodgers for the last 6 (years) of my life. You are an amazing organization with tremendous leadership. You’ve stood by me in the bad times and made me a stronger man,“ Gordon said in a statement on his twitter account.

Gordon stole six more bases than the entire Marlins team last season.

Haren recently exercised a $10 million option for the upcoming season, but has also stated that if he was dealt anywhere other than to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that he would retire.

He made 32 starts for the Dodgers last season and produced a 13-11 record with a 4.02 ERA. However, he was not used in the Dodgers’ National League Division Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Heaney, meanwhile, was the ninth overall pick in 2012, but struggled in limited big league action last season, pitching to a 5.83 ERA in five starts in place of the injured Jose Fernandez.

The 23-year-old left-hander bounced back in the minors and posted a 3.28 ERA with 143 strikeouts over 137 1/3 innings. Over 259 2/3 career minor league innings Heaney has compiled a 2.77 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 262/68 K/BB ratio.

Kendrick has been one of the most consistent second basemen in baseball over the last couple of seasons. The nine-year vet has spent his entire career with the Angels, compiling a .292 batting average with 78 home runs and 501 RBI.

Kendrick was an All-Star in 2011 and posted the best WAR of his career, 5.4, last season.

The Marlins also sent righty Chris Hatcher, infielder Kike Hernandez and catcher Austin Barnes to the Dodgers.

Shortstop Miguel Rojas went from the Dodgers to Miami.


►  Dodgers sign P McCarthy

The Dodgers weren’t finished on Wednesday after overhauling their middle infield at the Winter Meetings.

According to multiple reports, veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy will sign a four-year, $48 million deal with Los Angeles, bolstering an already strong starting rotation.

The move comes after the Dodgers acquired shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Howie Kendrick in separate deals.

McCarthy, 31, is coming off the first 200-inning season of his career. After posting a 3-10 record with a 5.01 ERA in 18 starts with Arizona, he was traded in early July to the New York Yankees, where he pitched much better with a superior defense behind him.

In 14 starts with the Yankees, he improved his ERA to 2.89 and won seven games. His 5.30 K/BB ratio was ninth among all major league starters.

In nine seasons split between the White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Diamondbacks and Yankees, McCarthy owns a 52-65 record and 4.09 ERA in 989 1/3 career innings.


►  Padres set to acquire Kemp from Dodgers

The San Diego Padres have reportedly agreed to acquire outfielder Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Kemp and catcher Tim Federowicz would head to the Padres in exchange for catcher Yasmani Grandal and a pair of minor league pitching prospects, likely to be Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

In addition, the paper said the Padres would also receive about $30 million toward the remaining five years of Kemp’s eight-year, $160 million contract.

Kemp spent his first nine seasons with the Dodgers and was the runner-up for NL MVP in 2011 when he batted .324 with league-highs of 39 homers and 126 runs batted in.

The 30-year-old veteran, however, played just 183 games over the next two seasons because of injuries. He bounced back last year and hit 25 homers with 89 RBI and a .287 average in 150 games.

In 1,116 games, Kemp has a career .292 average with 182 homers and 648 RBI.

Grandal was San Diego’s leader with 15 home runs last season, playing in a career-high 128 games. He batted just .225 and drove in 49 runs.

The 26-year-old Cuban native is a career .245 hitter in 216 big league games.


►  Red Sox send Cespedes to Detroit for Porcello

The Boston Red Sox have traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers for right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello.

Numerous outlets are reporting the deal has been completed and that the Red Sox will also get an additional player or two in the trade.

Cespedes spent the first two-plus seasons of his big league career with the Oakland Athletics, but was sent to Boston at the non-waiver trade deadline in July in the Jon Lester deal. Cespedes had been an All-Star for the first time last season and batted .260 combined with 22 home runs and 100 RBI.

The 28-year-old Cuban, who can become a free agent at the end of next season, is a two-time Home Run Derby champion and has hit 71 home runs in his three big league seasons with the A’s and Red Sox.

Porcello, meanwhile, had his best season in 2014 for the Tigers, as he went 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA over a career-high 204 2/3 innings. The former first round pick also led the AL with three shutouts.

Over the course of six seasons the 25-year-old Porcello has posted a 76-63 mark to go along with a 4.30 ERA in 184 games (180 starts). He will also be a free agent at the end of the deal.


►  Twins ink Ervin Santana

The Minnesota Twins have agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana on a four-year deal Wednesday.

Yahoo Sports reported that the deal is worth $54 million and will include a fifth-year option that vests depending on innings pitched.

Santana started 31 games for the Atlanta Braves in 2014 and was 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA. He also struck out 179 batters in 196 innings and allowed just 16 home runs after surrendering a league-high 39 two years before.

The 31-year-old hurler spent the first eight years of his career with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim before pitching one year for the Kansas City Royals in 2013. He is 119-100 lifetime with a 4.17 ERA 299 games (296 starts).

Santana, a 17-game winner with the Angels in 2010, was an All-Star for the Halos and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting in 2008, as he went 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA.


►  Cards, Reynolds agree to deal

The St. Louis Cardinals have signed infielder Mark Reynolds.

Although terms of the pact are not known, MLB.com and CBS Sports are reporting that the deal is done pending a physical.

Reynolds hit just .196 in 130 games last season for the Milwaukee Brewers and hasn’t gone above .225 since 2009. However, he did hit 22 home runs and has averaged 30 home runs per 150 games for his career.

He’s also led the league in strikeouts four times.

While the 31-year-old Reynolds has spent the majority of his career at third base, he can also play first base and has seen time at both outfield corner positions.

Over eight seasons in the majors, Reynolds owns a career .229 average with 224 homers, 613 RBI and 1,398 strikeouts in 1,118 games with Arizona, Baltimore, Cleveland, the New York Yankees and Brewers.


►  Royals agree to deal with Morales

The Kansas City Royals have found their replacement for Billy Butler, signing baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a two-year contract on Thursday.

The deal for Morales is reportedly worth $17 million and is pending a physical.

Morales split last season with the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners, who acquired him right before the non-waiver trade deadline. However, he only hit .218 in 98 combined games with eight home runs and 42 RBI.

The 31-year-old switch-hitter had declined a qualifying offer from Seattle last offseason, but found no takers in free agency, as no team was willing to surrender a draft pick to sign him.

Morales did not sign with the Twins until June 8 when compensation was no longer a factor.

Morales broke into the majors with the Angels in 2006 and spent the next six years with club. He is a career .271 hitter with 110 homers and 387 RBI in 718 games.

Following a career-best season in 2009, in which he recorded 43 doubles, 34 home runs and 108 RBI, Morales was limited to 51 games in 2010 and missed the entire 2011 season because of a severe leg injury. He suffered a fractured lower left leg celebrating a walk-off grand slam on May 29, 2010 against Seattle.

Butler left the defending AL champion Royals earlier this offseason for a 3- year, $30 million deal with the Oakland Athletics.


►  Diamondbacks take Hernandez first in Rule 5 Draft

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected catcher Oscar Hernandez of the Tampa Bay Rays organization with the first pick in Major League Baseball’s annual Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

Hernandez, 21, had been in the Rays’ system since signing as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. He appeared in 94 games for Single-A Bowling Green last season and batted .249 with nine home runs and 63 RBI.

He may have put together one of the greatest Venezuelan Summer League seasons anyone will ever see in 2011, hitting .402/.503/.732 with 21 home runs. Hernandez led the league in batting average by 38 points, home runs by 13, slugging percentage by .238 points, total bases by 37 and on-base percentage by 39 points.

Hernandez, though, has never come anywhere close to matching those numbers and isn’t fully polished behind the plate

There were 14 players taken in the major league phase of the draft on Thursday. If those players do not sign with their new team, they must be offered back to their original team, effectively canceling the Rule 5 Draft choice.

However, once they spend an entire season on their new team’s 25-man roster, their status reverts to normal and they may be optioned or designated for assignment.

Of course, several players have succeeded through the Rule 5 Draft in the past, most notably Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana and 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton. Other prominent players selected through the Rule 5 Draft include pitchers Joakim Soria, Matt Mantei and Antonio Alfonseca, as well as second baseman Dan Uggla and outfielders George Bell, Willy Taveras and Shane Victorino.

Players who are not currently on their team’s 40-man roster are eligible to be taken in this draft, but only after a standard exemption period has elapsed. Also, only teams whose rosters are under the 40-man limit are eligible to participate.

A player who is 18 when he’s signed can spend five seasons in an organization before he has to be protected. Anyone who is 19 or older must be protected after four years. Once past that time of service, a player must be put on the 40-man roster if that team wants to keep him from becoming eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.


MAJOR LEAGUE PHASE

1. Arizona Diamondbacks: C Oscar Hernandez, Rays

2. Colorado Rockies: IF Mark Canha, Marlins (Traded to Oakland)

3. Texas Rangers: OF Delino DeShields Jr., Astros

4. Houston Astros: RHP Jason Garcia, Red Sox (Traded to Baltimore)

5. Minnesota Twins: RHP J.R. Graham, Braves

6. Boston Red Sox: RHP Jandel Gustave, Astros (Traded to Kansas City)

7. Chicago Cubs: SS Taylor Featherston, Rockies (Traded to LA Angels)

8. Philadelphia Phillies: IF David Herrera, Rangers

9. Miami Marlins: LHP Andrew McKirahan, Cubs

10. New York Mets: LHP Sean Gilmartin, Twins

11. Atlanta Braves: RHP Daniel Winkler, Rockies

12. Seattle Mariners: LHP David Rollins, Astros

13. Baltimore Orioles: RHP Logan Verrett, Mets

14. Philadelphia Phillies: LHP Andrew Oliver, Pittsburgh


►  Marlins acquire Latos from Cincy

The Miami Marlins have acquired oft- injured right-hander Mat Latos from the Cincinnati Reds for a pair of minor leaguers.

It was the second deal of the day for the Reds, who also shipped starting pitcher Alfredo Simon to the Detroit Tigers.

When healthy Latos has been as good as any pitcher in the National League, but staying on the field has been a problem. Last year he was felled by not only a knee injury, but an elbow issue that caused him to miss the first two and a half months of the season.

Latos, though, pitched well a year ago going 5-5 with a 3.25 ERA in 16 starts before shutting it down in September due to a bone bruise in his elbow.

Since being acquired by the Reds in a trade with San Diego in December of 2011, Latos has put together a 33-16 record and a 3.31 ERA over 81 starts. He also holds the Reds’ club record for most consecutive starts without a defeat, going 21 straight outings without a loss from August 29, 2012 to June 13, 2013; he was 10-0 with a 2.80 ERA over that span.

In 2010, Latos established a major league record by allowing two runs or less in 15 consecutive starts , breaking the record of 14, formerly shared by Hall- of-Famer Greg Maddux and Mike Scott.

The players going to Cincinnati in the deal are 24-year-old righty Anthony DeSclafani, who has pitched to a 3.23 ERA over 73 games (65 starts) at the minor league level, and catcher Chad Wallach.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Thursday, December 11)


Final Score: Chicago 3, Boston 2

A two-goal first period and 32 saves from Scott Darling propelled the Chicago Blackhawks to an eighth consecutive win, a 3-2 triumph over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Ben Smith had one of Chicago’s early goals and set up the other—the first of Klas Dahlbeck’s NHL career—while Darling outplayed reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask in the rookie’s sixth career start. Patrick Kane also tallied and Marcus Kruger recorded two assists for the red-hot Blackhawks, who survived a late comeback effort from the Bruins as well as an injury to Jonathan Toews. The Chicago captain did not return after sustaining an upper- body injury near the midway mark of the second period. The Bruins had their captain, Zdeno Chara, back in the lineup after missing 19 straight games with a knee injury, but still fell for the fourth time in their last five outings. Rask managed just 18 saves. Darling, recalled from the minors last week with Corey Crawford sidelined by an ailing foot, came up with 14 saves during a first period in which the Blackhawks surged ahead with a pair of high-effort goals.


Final Score: Buffalo 4, Calgary 3

Matt Moulson scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner in the third period, to lead Buffalo to a 4-3 win over Calgary. Moulson scored the first and last goals of the game, and his marker that redirected off his skate with 7:29 left proved to be the decider for the Sabres, who have won two straight games. Tyler Ennis collected three assists, including one on both of Moulson’s goals. Zemgus Girgensons tallied a goal and an assist and Marcus Foligno also lit the lamp for Buffalo. Jhonas Enroth earned the win with 42 saves. Despite outshooting Buffalo 45-19, Calgary was on the wrong end of the final score. Mark Giordano, David Jones and Sean Monahan all scored for the Flames, who have lost three in a row for the first time this season. Karri Ramo made 15 saves on only 19 shots in the loss.


Final Score: Philadelphia 4, New Jersey 1

Matt Read and Sean Couturier picked up a goal and assist each to stoke Philadelphia’s 4-1 victory over New Jersey on Thursday. Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek also lit the lamp for the Flyers, who kicked off their final homestand of calendar year 2014 with their second win in three outings. Claude Giroux and Mark Streit chipped in a pair of assists to back a 17-save effort by Ray Emery. Philadelphia continues its residency on Saturday afternoon by welcoming Carolina. Martin Havlat provided the sole offense for the Devils, who have lost eight of their last 10 overall. Cory Schneider surrendered three goals on 35 shots in defeat.


Final Score: Columbus 3, Washington 2 (OT)

Nick Foligno scored a power-play goal with 18.8 seconds left in overtime as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Thursday to extend their win streak to five games. The Blue Jackets went on the power play with 1:57 to play when Jason Chimera was called for interference. After Sergei Bobrovsky made two huge short-handed saves, Jack Johnson, who had drawn the penalty, dished to Foligno for a one-timer from the right circle. The puck sailed over Braden Holtby’s glove, giving Foligno his second goal of the game. Bobrovsky finished with 39 saves, while Holtby stopped 20-of-23 shots. The Capitals were seeking a fourth straight win.


Final Score: Los Angeles 5, Ottawa 3

Anze Kopitar and Trevor Lewis scored less than two minutes apart early in the third period, helping the Los Angeles Kings spoil Dave Cameron’s head coaching debut with a 5-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The two goals came almost immediately after Ottawa’s Mark Stone scored short-handed to tie the game at 2-2 just 1:44 into the final frame. Matt Greene, Justin Williams and Tanner Pearson also tallied to help the Kings bounce back after two straight losses. Jake Muzzin posted a career- best three assists, while Jonathan Quick came up with 32 saves for Los Angeles. Cameron was elevated from assistant coach on Monday to replace Paul McLean, who was fired after the Senators dropped 13 of their last 17 games. Ottawa was able to overcome a 2-0 deficit on goals by Bobby Ryan and Stone, but gave up three in the third period to fall to 1-4-1 in its last six outings. Jared Cowen notched a goal and an assist in the loss, with Craig Anderson stopping 31-of-35 shots for Ottawa.


Final Score: Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 1

Nikita Kucherov’s marker with 30.3 seconds left in regulation sent Tampa Bay past Carolina, 2-1, on Thursday. Kucherov’s second goal of the contest was a fluke deflection. He appeared to want to pass across from the left circle, but the puck instead changed direction off the skate of Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey in the slot and slid over the goal line. Evgeni Nabokov turned away 29 pucks and picked up his first assist of the season for the Lightning, who had lost two in a row. Justin Faulk tallied and Cam Ward made 25 saves for the Hurricanes, who suffered their fourth straight defeat and third by one goal.


Final Score: St. Louis 6, NY Islanders 3

Alexander Steen had two goals and one assist in his return, helping the St. Louis Blues post a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders at Scottrade Center on Thursday. Steen, who missed the previous two games with a lower-body injury, provided an immediate spark and his second tally ignited four-goal third period that carried the Blues to their third straight win. T.J. Oshie had a goal with two assists and Jake Allen made 25 saves. John Tavares and Mikhail Grabovski scored in the second period for the Islanders, who have lost three games in a row. Former Blue Jaroslav Halak allowed five goals on 32 shots.


Final Score: Colorado 4, Winnipeg 3 (SO)

Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene scored on Colorado’s first two chances in the shootout, as the Avalanche rallied for a 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night. Jarome Iginla and Ryan O’Reilly scored late for the Avalanche after Mark Scheifele had given the Jets a 3-1 lead at 4:32 of the third period. Calvin Pickard made 30 saves, including two huge stops in overtime, before shutting out Winnipeg in the shootout, helping Colorado snap a four-game losing streak. Scheifele added two assists and Ondrej Pavelec made 23 saves for Winnipeg, which has picked up at least a point in eight straight games (5-0-3).


Final Score: Nashville 5, Arizona 1

Mike Fisher had a goal and an assist in Nashville’s 5-1 win over Arizona Thursday. Fisher, who missed nearly the first two months of the season due to an Achilles injury, netted his first goal of the campaign that ended a long power-play drought for the Predators. Pekka Rinne made 28 saves in Nashville’s second straight win. James Neal also tallied a goal and an assist, while Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg each had a pair of assists. Ryan Ellis, Olli Jokinen and Calle Jarnkrok all tallied goals for the Preds. Mike Smith allowed five goals on 38 shots in the Coyotes’ fourth straight loss. Antoine Vermette scored the lone Arizona goal.


Final Score: San Jose 2, Minnesota 1

Joe Pavelski scored the game-winning goal early in the third period to lead the San Jose Sharks to a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. Brent Burns also scored and Joe Thornton assisted on both markers for the Sharks, who have won six of their last seven games. Alex Stalock stopped 18-of-19 shots fired his way in the win. Christian Folin’s first NHL goal accounted for Minnesota’s lone goal and Darcy Kuemper made 28 saves in defeat.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  FedEx Cup playoff format tweaked

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced on Thursday small tweaks to the FedExCup system.

Beginning with the 2015 FedExCup playoffs, the four playoff events will award 2,000 points, which is down from 2,500.

“Every year since the FedExCup was introduced in 2007, we have reviewed the points structure with the Player Advisory Council and four Player Directors who sit on the Policy Board,“ Finchem stated. “We believe this slight modification will add greater significance to players having an outstanding season leading into the playoffs, while still allowing for the excitement of volatility and movement during the Playoffs, particularly as players vie to make the final 30 for the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola.“

With the change to the amount of points available, the reset points for the Tour Championship were proportionately altered as well. All 30 players at East Lake will still have a chance at winning the FedExCup, while the top five seeds being guaranteed the FedExCup with victory at the Tour Championship.

One other small change adopted was the elimination of the secondary cut for the first two playoff events. In the past, if more than 78 players made the 36-cut, there would be a secondary cut after the third round trimming the field to 70 and ties.

►  Day, Tringale fire 55 to lead in Naples

Jason Day and Cameron Tringale combined for a 17-under 55 in Thursday’s scramble format and they grabbed a 2-stroke lead after one round of the Franklin Templeton Shootout.

Day is making his second appearance at this event, while Tringale is playing for the first time at Tiburon Golf Club.

“We were just reading the greens really well together. I think we have a similar approach to seeing lines, so we communicated well,“ Tringale said. “I’d go first and have a go at it. Jason holed some amazing putts on the back nine.“

Defending champions Harris English and Matt Kuchar are alone in second place at 15-under 57.

Keegan Bradley, who won this title in 2011 with Brendan Steele, teamed with Camilo Villegas for a 13-under 59. They were joined in third place by Graeme McDowell and Gary Woodland as well as Ryan Palmer and Jimmy Walker.

Two former winning teams—Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker (2009) and Sean O’Hair and Kenny Perry (2012)—are tied for sixth place at 12-under 60. The were joined there by Justin Leonard and Rory Sabbatini, along with a pair of former major champions Retief Goosen and Mike Weir.

Charles Howell III and Scott Verplank, Billy Horschel and Ian Poulter, and Patrick Reed and Brandt Snedeker share 10th place at minus-11.

After playing a scramble on Thursday, the teams will play a modified alternate shot format on Friday and a better-ball partner format in Saturday’s final round.

Day and Tringale got off to a flying start as they birdied the first and third. They combined to birdie the final four holes of the front nine.

Around the turn, following a birdie on the 10th, Tringale rolled in a 4-foot birdie putt at No. 11. Another birdie on the 12th followed.

Tringale rolled in an eagle chance from the fringe on the par-4 13th. Day made it two eagles in a row as he made an 8-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th as they jumped to 13-under.

They picked up four more strokes over the final four holes, including an 11- foot birdie putt by Tringale at the 18th.

“To be able to play the way we did today, it was a good team effort. Cam, to go up there and hit the fairway first, took a lot of stress off my shoulders so I could just get up there and hit the driver and get somewhere close to the green gave us a lot of opportunities and Cam putted great today,“ said Day.

NOTES: Day and Tringale were the fourth team in event history to shoot 55 in the scramble format ... Reed replaced an injured Chris Kirk in the field ... Since the event moved to Naples in 2001, the second-round leaders or co- leaders have won eight of the 13 titles.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  West Virginia-bred Golden Years wins open stake in Maryland

While many of the state-bred stakes races at Charles Town this year have long been decided as are, perhaps, the various divisional honors among state-bred runners and horse of the year, a quartet of talented West Virginia-bred horses arrived in Maryland on Saturday afternoon to compete in open stakes and allowance races that have typically been tough tasks.

But the rainy, sloppy conditions at Laurel Park hardly proved detrimental to the invading West Virginia-breds. In the $100,000 Marylander Stakes for 2-year-old colts, Golden Years regained his winning ways with an authoritative seven-length score, while Hear the Chatter settled for third in that event. The durable and venerable Lucy’s Bob Boy finished a gritty second in a two-turn allowance event for older horses, while Dora Dora settled for seventh in the $100,000 Willa On The Move Stakes for fillies and mares.

The Gilmer Free Press


Perhaps it may have seemed ironic to many onlookers, especially the connections of both horses, that the potential impromptu title of champion West Virginia-bred 2-year-old colt or gelding would get decided in the $100,000 Marylander Stakes at Laurel Park.

Golden Years, a Not For Love colt trained by Rodney Jenkins for owner Hillwood Stable, LLC (Ellen Charles), had won his first two starts at Laurel, including the Maryland Million Lassie, before running fourth in the $100,000 James Lewis, III Stakes.

His dam was Sweet Annuity, a multiple-stakes winner by Oh Say who earned nearly $500,000 in her career. Despite a subpar effort in the Lewis, Golden Years was made the 2-5 favorite in the Marylander under Eclipse award champion apprentice Victor Carrasco.

Hear the Chatter, a Mass Media gelding out of a Stephen Got Even mare trained by John A. Casey of Down Town Allen fame for owner-breeder Kristy Petty, arrived riding a four-race win streak that included state-bred stakes scores at Charles Town, capped by a three-length tally in the West Virginia Futurity one week earlier.

Although Hear the Chatter had never won outside of Charles Town he was actually made the 7-2 second choice in the field of nine juveniles. The first meeting between Golden Years and Hear The Chatter would take place in an open stakes at Laurel Park where the two state-breds were the top two choices.

When the gate opened in the Marylander Stakes on Saturday, Hear the Chatter broke best of all to gain command leaving the chute and led the field onto the main track and by the opening quarter in a solid 23.1.

Golden Years broke well to race third initially, but Carrasco allowed the colt to improve position entering the far turn and the two state-bred juveniles were on even terms briefly as they splashed by the half-mile mark in 46.3. But with three-eighths of a mile to go the superior state-bred colt made his bid for divisional honors.

At the top of the lane, Golden Years surged past Hear the Chatter to take the lead and through the lane the Not For Love colt simply drew off from his foes to a seven-length score in 1:24.82, a good time for the seven panels over the off going and a full second better than the clocking Lake Sebago posted while taking the $100,000 Gin Talking for juvenile fillies and hour earlier.

Golden Years easily lived up to his billing as the 2-5 choice by drawing off to his third win in four starts this year for Jenkins and Charles, pushing his career earnings to nearly $150,000. He will get a brief vacation before aiming for the Miracle Wood Stakes and the Private Terms Stakes.

Hear the Chatter not only offered no resistance to Golden Years in the final quarter-mile, he faded to third when Sizzling Quatorze went by him in the final 100 yards.

Nevertheless, Hear the Chatter still owns a solid 5-1-1 slate and earnings of nearly $186,000 from seven starts this year.

Several races earlier on the card, Lucy’s Bob Boy (Arnaldo Bocachico) delivered a game effort while second in a two-turn allowance/optional $40,000 claiming race at the two-turn distance of one-mile and one-sixteenth.

Away well to race just off Warrioroftheroses through the first turn and down the backside, Lucy’s Bob Boy collared the leader at the head of the lane, surged to command inside the eighth pole then was overhauled late by even-money choice Wealth To Me in the final 100 yards. Lucy’s Bob Boy settled for the place spot while beaten two lengths, but had more than two lengths on Warrioroftheroses.

A 5-year-old Flatter gelding trained by Sandra Dono for owner Linda Sours, Lucy’s Bob Boy concluded his 2014 campaign with a 5-2-0 slate and earnings of $240,000 from 10 starts this year.

In 32 lifetime tries, Lucy’s Bob Boy owns a solid 21-5-0 slate and earnings of nearly $875,000 and he should become the newest state-bred millionaire sometime next summer.

One year earlier Lucy’s Bob Boy had failed to earn a check in his lone prior outing at Laurel Park, but last Saturday he displayed little disdain for the ship or the sloppy surface.

In the race that followed the Marylander, Dora Dora (Xavier Perez) failed to earn a check while seventh in the $100,000 Willa On The Move Stakes for fillies and mares.

The 4-year-old Doneraile Court filly trained by Ollie Figgins, III, of Dance to Bristol fame proved no match for Lady Sabelia (Horacio Karamanos) who simply throttled her rivals by splashing to an eight-length score in 1:10.42 for her second straight score and her fourth win in five outings this year.

Dora Dora departed the Laurel journey empty-handed but she still owns a 2-2-1 slate and $80,000 bankroll from seven starts this year, including a good, second-place finish to Down Town Allen in the Cavada.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2014


National Basketball Association
LA Clippers at Washington, 7:00 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, CSN-DC, DSS
Portland at Chicago, 7:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, Chicago, ESPN
Orlando at Atlanta, 7:30 PM - FS-Florida, SportSouth, DSS
New York at Boston, 7:30 PM - MSG, CSN-New England, DSS
Philadelphia at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, YES, DSS
Indiana at Toronto, 7:30 PM - FS-Indiana, TSN, DSS
Charlotte at Memphis, 8:00 PM - SportSouth, DSS
Cleveland at New Orleans, 8:00 PM - FS-Ohio, New Orleans, DSS
Oklahoma City at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - FS-Oklahoma, North, DSS
Miami at Utah, 9:00 PM - SunSports, ROOT-Northwest, DSS
Detroit at Phoenix, 9:00 PM - FS-Detroit+, Arizona, DSS
LA Lakers at San Antonio, 9:30 PM - Time Warner, KENS, ESPN


National Hockey League
Calgary at Pittsburgh, 7:00 PM - SNET-West, ROOT-Pittsburgh, DSS
Los Angeles at Montreal, 7:30 PM - KCOP, RDS, DSS
Florida at Detroit, 7:30 PM - FS-Florida, Detroit, DSS
Anaheim at Edmonton, 9:30 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, SNET-West, DSS


College Basketball
Texas Southern at Florida, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
NJIT at Holy Cross, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Charleston Southern at NC State, 7:00 PM - FS-South, Wisconsin, Southwest, SD
Iowa State at Iowa, 8:00 PM - Big Ten Network


Women’s College Basketball
American at Maryland, 7:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Middle Tennessee at Kentucky, 9:00 PM - SEC Network


College Football
Chattanooga at New Hampshire, 8:00 PM - ESPN 2


College Hockey
Maine at New Hampshire, 7:00 PM - WBIN
Niagara at RIT, 7:00 PM - Time Warner
North Dakota at Denver, 9:30 PM - ROOT-Rocky Mountain


Golf
EUROPEAN - Alfred Dunhill Championship, 7:30 AM - Golf Channel
PGA - Franklin Templeton Shootout, 1:00 PM - Golf Channel
Australian PGA Championship, 8:00 PM - Golf Channel
Thailand Championship, 1:00 AM - Golf Channel

Sports News   141210

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Manziel to get start for Browns

Johnny Manziel will reportedly make his first NFL start on Sunday for the Cleveland Browns.

Brian Hoyer had started the first 13 games of the season for the Browns, who are trying to stay alive in the AFC playoff race at 7-6.

Manziel saw his first real action in a relief role two weeks ago in a loss to Buffalo and guided the Browns to their lone touchdown in a 26-10 setback, but coach Mike Pettine decided to stay with Hoyer for another week.

Hoyer again struggled last Sunday against Indianapolis and FOX Sports and NFL.com have reported that Manziel will get the nod for this week’s critical contest against Cincinnati.

The Bengals lead the AFC North with a record of 8-4-1.

On Monday, Pettine said he would meet with coaches before making a decision and would inform the players before any announcement. FOX Sports said Tuesday that both Hoyer and Manziel have been notified of the decision.

Hoyer completed just 14-of-31 passes for 140 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in last week’s 25-24 loss to the Colts. In the past four games, he has thrown eight interceptions and just one touchdown pass. The Browns are 1-3 in that time.

Over 13 games this season, Hoyer has thrown for 3,196 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Manziel was 5-of-8 for 63 yards passing and ran for a touchdown against the Bills. He also fumbled.


►  Panthers’ Newton involved in car accident

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was involved in a car accident on Tuesday.

Details were not immediately provided by the team.

“We are closely monitoring the situation of a car wreck involving Cam Newton,“ the Panthers said via Twitter. “We will have more information at an appropriate time.“

The Charlotte Observer said the accident occurred at about 12:50 PM ET near Bank of America Stadium. The paper said one of the vehicles involved in the accident overturned.

Newton, the paper said, appeared to be hurt and was transported by an ambulance to a local hospital.

A picture from the Observer’s Twitter page showed Newton conscious and smiling while being examined by medical personnel.


►  Ravens sign CB Cason

The Baltimore Ravens signed cornerback Antoine Cason on Tuesday.

Cason was released by the Panthers last week after recording 44 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games. The seven-year veteran started 11 games this season for Carolina and will try to help a depleted defensive backfield for the Ravens.

Cornerback Danny Gorrer tore the MCL and PCL in his knee on Sunday and was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, while starting cornerback Anthony Levine is suffering from a concussion suffered on Sunday against Miami. Also, top cornerback Jimmy Smith is out for the year with a foot injury suffered earlier this season.

Baltimore hosts Jacksonville on Sunday.

The Ravens also waived wide receiver LaQuan Williams from the practice squad and re-signed tight end Allen Reisner.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NFL Fantasy Player of the Week - Week 14

Week 14 was the first round of the playoffs for a majority of the fantasy world and a number of players posted out-of-this world fantasy totals.

One, above all the rest.

Hint; anytime you accomplish something that gets you mentioned in the same breath with the legendary Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, you are doing something very, very well.

The following players were the best at their positions in Week 14.


Quarterbacks -

Cam Newton, Carolina - Newton has only played at this level a couple of times this season, but he picked a great moment to show his running and passing abilities. Newton threw for a pedestrian 226 yards, but added three touchdowns for the first time this season and also 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground for 35 fantasy points. Even more exciting, he ran with an aggressiveness we haven’t seen since 2012.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta - Normally, Ryan is not a good road quarterback and fantasy owners shy away from him outside the Georgia Dome, but Monday night he used his best weapon, Julio Jones, early and often and it paid big dividends for fantasy owners as he racked up 375 yards and four touchdowns.


Running Backs -

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh - Bell rushed for 185 yards and two scores and added six receptions for 50 yards and a third touchdown in a win over Cincinnati. It was his third consecutive game with 200 or more yards from scrimmage making him just the second player in NFL history to accomplish the feat. The first was Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton in 1977.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas - Murray set the bar high for anyone wanting to be the TSN Fantasy Player of the Week, by posting almost 35 fantasy points Thursday night against the Bears. Like Bell, Murray combined both rushing (179) and receiving (49) to crack the 200-yard mark. He just fell short by only scoring one time.


Wide Receivers -

Julio Jones, Atlanta - Jones exited Monday night’s game against the Packers midway through the fourth quarter with a hip injury, otherwise there is no telling how many more fantasy points he would have accrued. As it was he caught 11 balls for 259 yards and one touchdown for almost 40 fantasy points. His yardage total is the 18th-best in the history of the NFL.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati - Green didn’t reach Jones’ heights or help his Bengals win, but his 11-catch, 224-yard, one-touchdown performance likely made his fantasy owners very happy as he racked up 38 fantasy points.


Tight Ends -

Mychal Rivera, Oakland - It’s not often that you find a tight end list that doesn’t include Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but in Week 14, they couldn’t beat out a couple of surprising names. Rivera led the position with 22 fantasy points after catching seven balls for 109 yards and a score as Oakland upset the San Francisco 49ers.

Jared Cook, St. Louis - Cook has plenty of talent, he just doesn’t show it very often which makes it tough on fantasy owners trying to start him. Sunday’s two-touchdown explosion came after he has posted just 46 yards and no scores in the previous three weekends and likely didn’t help many fantasy owners who had already jumped off his bandwagon.


Kickers -

Josh Brown, New York Giants - The Giants dominated a bad Tennessee team and Brown was a very busy guy going 5-of-5 on field goal attempts to lead the position with 21 fantasy points.


Defense/Special Teams -

St. Louis Rams - The Rams rapidly improving defense posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1945 and the first time by anyone in the NFL since 2009. Sunday they shut down the bickering Washington Redskins behind seven sacks and a pair of turnovers. Add in a Tavon Austin 78-yard punt return and they totaled a position-leading 29 fantasy points.

And the winner of the TSN Fantasy Player of the Week for Week 14 is ... Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The versatile Bell has become a great fantasy back and is obviously in one of the hottest streaks of all- time averaging more than 38 points over the past three games. Sunday’s 47 fantasy points earned him top honors.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Boys High School Basketball AP Preseason Polls

Class AAA

  1. Huntington

  2. South Charleston

  3. Hurricane

  4. Washington

  5. Hedgesville

  (tie) Wheeling Park

  7. Morgantown

  8. Woodrow Wilson

  9. Parkersburg South

  10. Martinsburg

Others receiving votes: Spring Valley 12, Capital 6, George Washington 6, Jefferson 5, Ripley 3, Greenbrier East 2.


Class AA

  1. Robert C. Byrd (4)

  2. Poca

  3. Bluefield

  4. Bridgeport

  (tie) Westside

  6. Fairmont Senior

  7. Wyoming East

  8. Chapmanville

  9. Mingo Central

  10. Scott

Others receiving votes: Petersburg 7, Roane County 4, Ravenswood 2, Herbert Hoover 2.


Class A

  1. Wheeling Central

  2. Notre Dame

  3. Magnolia

  4. Saint Joseph Central

  5. Greater Beckley Christian

  6. Clay-Battelle

  7. Valley Fayette

  8. Tug Valley

  9. Charleston Catholic

  10. Gilmer County
  (tie)Tucker County

Others receiving votes: Madonna 11, Bishop Donahue 7, Williamstown 4, Paden City 3, Parkersburg Catholic 3, Pendleton County 1.


►  Girls Area High School Basketball Scores


(Monday 10.08.14 Scores)


Robert C. Byrd 42   #8 Grafton 34

Clay-Battelle 56   Notre Dame 41




(Saturday 12.06.14 Scores)


#7 Greenbrier East 68   Buckhannon-Upshur 57

#4 North Marion 94   Webster County 27




(Friday 12.05.14 Scores)


Bridgeport(OH) 55   Tyler Consolidated 30

#9 Gilmer County 74   South Harrison 6

Lewis County 56   Braxton County 36

#1 Morgantown 66   Lincoln 40

#8 Parkersburg Catholic 64   Ritchie County 60

Philip Barbour 70   Hedgesville 20

#5 Tucker County 49   #2 Saint Marys 39




(Thursday 12.04.14 Scores)


Notre Dame 48   Liberty 35




(Tuesday 12.02.14 Scores)


Notre Dame 44   Valley Wetzel 42

Ritchie County 46   Calhoun County 30


►  Preseason AP Girls High School Basketball Poll

Class AAA

  1. Morgantown
  (tie) Parkersburg South

  3. Huntington

  4. South Charleston

  5. Spring Valley

  6. Logan

  7. Greenbrier East

  8. Martinsburg

  9. Cabell Midland

  10. St. Albans

Others receiving votes: Hampshire 6, Capital 6, University 6, Jefferson 5, Parkersburg 4, Hedgesville 4, Woodrow Wilson 2, George Washington 2, Preston 1.


Class AA

  1. Fairmont Senior

  2. Sissonville

  3. Westside

  4. North Marion

  5. Summers County

  6. Keyser

  7. Clay County

  8. Grafton

  9. Scott

  10. PikeView

Others receiving votes: Lincoln 13, Bridgeport 11, Tolsia 8, Nicholas County 7, Bluefield 5, James Monroe 4, Wyoming East 3, Robert C. Byrd 3, Ravenswood 2, Herbert Hoover 1.


Class A

  1. Saint Joseph Central

  2. St. Marys

  3. Wheeling Central

  4. Charleston Catholic

  5. Tucker County

  6. Williamstown

  7. Pocahontas County

  8. Parkersburg Catholic

  9. Gilmer County

  10. Tug Valley

Others receiving votes: Magnolia 10, Notre Dame 9, Tygarts Valley 8, Fayetteville 7, Valley Fayette 5, Man 4, Trinity 3, Buffalo 3, Bishop Donahue 2, Greater Beckley Christian 1.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 Men’s College Basketball Game Results

(Tuesday, December 09)


Final Score: (3) Arizona 87, Utah Valley 56

Stanley Johnson produced 14 points and seven rebounds as No. 3 Arizona kept rolling with a 87-56 decision over Utah Valley in the first-ever meeting between the programs at McKale Center. Dusan Ristic totaled 13 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson picked up 12 with 10 boards for the Wildcats (9-0). Chad Ross led the way with 12 points for the Wolverines (3-5), with Marcel Davis added 10 in a losing cause.


Final Score: (4) Louisville 94, Indiana 74

Montrezl Harrell posted his fourth straight double-double in No. 4 Louisville’s 94-74 win over Indiana in Game 2 of the Jimmy V Classic from Madison Square Garden. Harrell shot 10-of-13, finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds to help the Cardinals (8-0) remain unbeaten. Terry Rozier scored a game-high 26 points and Chris Jones stuffed the stat sheet with 24, nine rebounds and five assists. Wayne Blackshear added 14 points. James Blackmon Jr. led four Hoosiers in double figures with 18 points. Indiana (7-2) had its three-game win streak snapped.


Final Score: (7) Villanova 73, Illinois 59

Dylan Ennis scored 12 of his 18 points in the final 10 minutes to help the No. 7 Villanova pull away from Illinois, 73-59, in Game 1 of the Jimmy V Classic from Madison Square Garden. Daniel Ochefu and Darrun Hilliard both scored 12 points for Villanova (9-0), which improved to 3-0 in New York this season. The Wildcats beat VCU and Michigan—both ranked teams at the time—at Barclays Center earlier this season to win the Legends Classic. Josh Hart added 10 points off the bench. The Wildcats are one of just 10 undefeated teams in the nation despite not having a single 20- point scorer this season. Illinois (7-2) fell despite a career-high 20 points for Malcolm Hill.


Final Score: (11) Wichita State 77, Seton Hall 68

Ron Baker scored 22 points to lead an efficient effort from Wichita State that carried the 11th-ranked Shockers to a 77-68 victory over previously undefeated Seton Hall. Baker finished 9-of-11 from the field and hit all three of his 3-point tries, while Darius Carter recorded 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting and added 12 rebounds for Wichita State (6-1). Fred VanVleet contributed 18 points and eight assists to the Shockers’ 22nd straight win at Koch Arena. The Pirates (7-1) entered the matchup as one of only 11 remaining Division I teams with an unblemished record, but weren’t able to handle the step up in competition in their toughest test to date. Seton Hall did get a game-high 23 points out of Isaiah Whitehead and 19 from Sterling Gibbs, but were plagued by 18 turnovers and trailed by as many as 21 before making a late push.


Final Score: (14) Iowa State 73, UMKC 56

Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting to lead No. 14 Iowa State to a 73-56 win over UMKC Tuesday. Dejean- Jones paced all scorers, and Monte Morris chipped in 13 points with five assists and three steals for the Cyclones (6-1). Georges Niang was only 1-of-4 from the field, but he finished the game with nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Frank Williams Jr. led UMKC (3-7) with 14 points and added a pair of steals. He was followed closely by Collin Jennings with 11 points off the bench, including 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc. Martez Harrison contributed 10 points and five boards.


Final Score: (25) Notre Dame 93, Mount St. Mary’s 67

Jerian Grant, Zach Auguste and Steve Vasturia all scored 19 points as No. 25 Notre Dame shot the lights out in a 93-67 rout of Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday. The Irish (9-1) snuck into the top-25 this week with an overtime victory over nationally-ranked Michigan State and have won five in a row since losing to Providence on Nov. 23. They entered Tuesday’s game with the best field goal percentage in the nation (55.8 percent) and bettered it by making 59.0 percent of their shots. Demetrius Jackson added 15 points for Notre Dame, while Chris Martin led Mount St. Mary’s (2-5) with 19 points on the strength of five 3-pointers.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Nothin’ but Net: Taking a stand isn’t wrong

The line professional athletes have to walk in terms of speaking out on social issues is a murky one.

The older generation believes athletes have no business sharing opinions on gay marriage, the civil rights movement or politics in general. It’s a valid argument for professional sports men and women are in the frontal lob for their abilities, not their stances.

Michael Jordan is the first name that pops to mind on the subject of declining involvement in a worldly issue. In 1990, at the zenith of his fame, Jordan was asked by Harvey Gantt, an African-American Democrat, for an endorsement in his bid to unseat Jesse Helms in the US Senate.

Helms was no friend to the black community, but Jordan passed. Jordan reportedly told a friend, “Republicans buy sneakers too.“ Jordan didn’t want to alienate a potential consumer at the expense of his political beliefs.

Forget, for the moment, that Helms was by almost every account, a racist, Jordan still wouldn’t go out on that limb to rebuke him.

Tiger Woods rarely speaks on social issues. He was the only African-American player on the PGA Tour, but almost always neglected to voice opinions on any issue.

For Woods, the endorsement portion could’ve been the root for silence, but that was a shame, too. Golf is whiter than a snowman ghost, so a different perspective was always appreciated, although never materialized.

Fast-forward just a few years and today’s stars of the NBA have no reservations about speaking out. That’s a pretty big blanket, but leading the charge is LeBron James.

On Monday, James and several members of both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during pregame warm-ups. Derrick Rose was the trailblazer for the cause, doing it Saturday night.

The shirt is a reference to the death of Eric Garner and the subsequent lack of an indictment for the officer who killed him.

James is very aware of his position, not just within league circles, but in this world. When Donald Sterling declared he didn’t want black people at his games, James was among the first to say, “he’s got to go.“

And what happened on Monday wasn’t as much a political statement, well, at least according to James.

“I’ve been quoted over and over about what’s going on as far as it’s more of a notion to the family, more than anything,“ explained James. “Obviously, as a society we have to do better. We have to be better for one another. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s more of a shout out to the family more than anything, because they’re the ones that should be getting all the energy and effort.“

Even if the shirt meant nothing to the claim that our justice system works differently based on your skin color, James was unafraid. That’s a remarkably fresh way of going about your life, especially one so frequently lived in front of cameras.

The timing was perfect, following in Rose’s footsteps. The Cavs were in Brooklyn, where protests are ongoing. New York is where the Garner incident happened and it’s the largest media hub in civilization.

Also, don’t sleep on the fact that Prince William and Kate Middleton were in attendance. That game had a worldwide audience. James screamed from a very large pulpit, unafraid of frosting white people who might want to buy one of his watches you can watch movies on.

Jordan’s statements years ago were those of a coward. He put business over all else and did it in a snarky way. It was a semi-public acknowledgement that his core values had a price tag.

I’m not advocating all public figures must take stands on social issues. I’m suggesting that avoiding that part of your life for a dollar makes you smaller. James makes plenty in endorsements and those deals don’t appear to be shrinking based on the relevance of a T-shirt.

Woods should probably get more leniency than Jordan. If I can don an elbow- padded blazer and play psychologist, I always felt Woods didn’t speak out because he was a relatively conservative man, both politically and literally. He didn’t trust the media at all, but also, I think he felt it was just bad form and sometimes, he’d give unpopular answers based on his beliefs. Again, all speculation, but it would explain things a little.

James isn’t burdened with that problem. He’s clear of conscience in voicing his mind. Maybe he’s just a different type of person than his predecessors. Or, maybe James is just more comfortable because of exposure.

We’ve gotten to know James better than we ever knew Jordan. James’ Twitter presence is massive. His commercials are essentially behind-the-scenes clips of his life. Jordan’s advertisements lacked anything genuine, which is perfectly acceptable. I still YouTube “Be like Mike” ads. James has less to hide, not that Jordan, or Tiger do. They are far less trusting.

Again, without delving too deeply into the case, it seems logical for basketball players to gravitate to the fight. The association has the most African-American athletes of any sport and race relations are fragile in this country. It’s a low-risk fight to get involved in for James, Rose and every other player who donned a shirt.

You may not stand on their side, but the majority does. According to a poll conducted by USA Today and the Pew Research Center, 57% of Americans supported charges against the police officer in the Garner case. That number is 90% among black people polled.

Maybe these players don’t deserve praise for speaking out on issues. It’s entirely possible that years of our biggest sports stars abstaining has made this seem like more of a good deed than it really is.

But basketball players can be more vocal without jeopardizing their brand. Everyone knows everyone else’s immediate thoughts because of social media.

The idea that since they’re athletes they’re less entitled to an opinion is ludicrous and wrong. The only people whose opinions you want to hear are politicians, or pundits? Why do I want to hear what an athlete says?

By the rationale that you don’t care about athletes’ opinion because they are athletes, you better feel that way about pharmacists’ opinions, or line cooks at the diner.

Not answering questions about important issues makes you a coward to some extent. A human being with a functioning brain has a take on this situation.

“I try to kinda distance myself from [social issues], but this is one where I kinda really paid attention and saw what was going on,“ said Nets guard Deron Williams, a shirt-wearer. “I mean, you can see the [Garner] video and you know what happened. It’s not one of those things where people are saying this and the cops are saying that. It’s there for you to see.“

Everyone doesn’t need to espouse his or his opinion on something. Not giving your opinion because you don’t feel your’s should be public is rational and valid. Not giving your opinion because you think it’s bad for your brand is disgraceful.

I don’t look for a celebrity to help me formulate my opinion on something, although I’m sure that happens for some. I look for their opinion to know they aren’t shying away from giving one. Maybe it’s not celebratory, but it’s an improvement from the past.

►  MBA Game Results

(Tuesday, December 09)


Final Score: Cleveland 105, Toronto 101

LeBron James joined Mark Price at the top of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-time 3-pointers made list in style. James’ go-ahead triple with 48.1 seconds left lifted the Cavaliers to a 105-101 win over the Toronto Raptors that upped Cleveland’s winning streak to eight games. The game was tied 99-99 before Kevin Love pump-faked from the left wing beyond the arc, dribbled to the left elbow and dished to James, who knocked down the trey from straightaway for the 802nd 3-pointer in his Cavs career. Kyle Lowry got the much larger Tristan Thompson guarding him on a switch at the other end on the left wing, but Thompson forced him to take a tough fadeaway from the left baseline and Lowry’s shot hit the top of the backboard. Lowry was then called for an intentional foul on James Jones near midcourt, and James made the foul shot with 14.2 ticks remaining for a four-point cushion. Cleveland, though, was whistled for a 5-second violation on the ensuing inbounds. Terrence Ross’ dunk with 4.2 seconds to go cut the gap to 103-101, but Kyrie Irving sunk a pair of foul shots to seal the outcome. Toronto shot 58.1 percent (38-of-62) through the first three quarters and led by as many as 10 in the fourth, but Cleveland held the Raptors to a 30 percent (6-of-20) clip in the final frame. The Cavs outscored them 20-6 in the final 8:37.


Final Score: Portland 98, Detroit 86

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 23 points and 11 rebounds led the Portland Trail Blazers to another victory, a 98-86 triumph over lowly Detroit that extended the Pistons’ losing streak to 13 games. Wesley Matthews chipped in 19 points to Portland’s fifth consecutive win overall and seventh straight on the road. Damian Lillard and Chris Kaman each finished with 14 points for the Blazers. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond each recorded double-doubles in Detroit’s latest setback, the Pistons’ 10th in a row at home. Monroe tallied 22 points and 10 rebounds, with Drummond racking up 15 boards to go along with 10 points. The Pistons’ 13-game skid is the franchise’s longest since it also dropped 13 straight from Dec. 15-Jan. 11 of the 2009-10 season.


Final Score: Memphis 114, Dallas 105

Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies withstood 18 Dallas 3-pointers, as Memphis took control in the third quarter and fended off a Mavericks rally en route to a 114-105 win in a Southwest Division showdown. Memphis outscored the Mavs 36-17 in the third frame to turn what was once a 10-point deficit into a healthy lead they never relinquished. Gasol poured in 30 points two days after being limited to two in a win over the Heat. Mike Conley chipped in 22 points, while Zach Randolph added 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who outscored the Mavs 52-26 in the paint. Chandler Parsons shot 6-of-10 from behind the arc and matched Gasol with 30 points, but the Mavs fell for the second time in three games. Jameer Nelson finished with 18 points for Dallas, while J.J. Barea netted 17 off the bench. Dallas’ usually productive duo of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis combined to shoot 5-of-28 from the field (17.9 percent) for 13 points. Ellis played through an elbow injury and made only one of his 11 attempts in a two-point effort. The division rivals came into Tuesday’s clash with 16 wins apiece and have accomplished their success in different ways. The Mavs were the NBA’s highest-scoring team at 110.6 ppg, while the Grizzlies ranked No. 1 in opponents’ scoring at 93.5 ppg.


Final Score: New Orleans 104, New York 93

Tyreke Evans poured in 27 points and the New Orleans Pelicans put together a strong fourth quarter to come away with a 104-93 victory over the still-struggling New York Knicks. Evans netted eight points and Omer Asik had seven during a final period in which the Pelicans outscored New York by a 27-20 count to pull away and sent the Knicks to a ninth consecutive loss and 10th in a row on the road. Asik finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, while Anthony Davis put up 18 points and eight boards in New Orleans’ second straight victory. Amar’e Stoudemire scored a season- high 26 points for New York, but Carmelo Anthony was held to a relatively quiet 17 and managed just two points in the fourth quarter.


Final Score: Oklahoma City 114, Milwaukee 101

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 51 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder took down the struggling Bucks 114-101 on Tuesday. Westbrook finished with a game-high 28 points, Durant scored 23 and both handed out seven assists in Oklahoma City’s third straight win. The Thunder, who are finally healthy and have won five of their last six games, improved to 4-1 since Westbrook returned to the lineup and 3-1 with Durant. Reggie Jackson donated 18 points off the bench and Serge Ibaka made all five of his shots and free throws for 15 points. O.J. Mayo led Milwaukee with 18 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 17, but the slumping Bucks got destroyed on the glass. The Thunder, who entered the game with a plus-6.5 rebounding margin over their last six games, outrebounded the Bucks 54-31. Milwaukee has lost five of six on the heels of a three-game win streak.


Final Score: Miami 103, Phoenix 97

Chris Bosh’s personal seven-point run late in regulation carried the Miami Heat to a 103-97 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Miami had dropped its previous four games—all by double digits—and trailed 91-90 after Marcus Morris drained a 3-pointer with 3:17 left in the fourth quarter. Bosh, though, hit a 14-footer, scored in the lane and drained a dagger 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to give the Heat the lead for good. After being limited to 12 points in Sunday’s loss to Memphis, Bosh poured in 34 on 14-of-21 shooting. Luol Deng chipped in with 23 points and Dwyane Wade netted 16 for Miami, which shot 53.8 percent from the floor and forced 23 turnovers. The Suns were coming off a crushing overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and have dropped three in a row overall and nine straight to Miami. They made 17 3-pointers and had four players finish in double figures, led by Morris’ career-high 25 points. Eric Bledsoe followed up his triple-double on Monday with a four-point effort on 2-of-11 shooting.


Final Score: Utah 100, San Antonio 96

The Utah Jazz were on the verge of their longest losing streak in 32 years, but took out the defending champs to get back in the win column. Derrick Favors had 21 points and eight rebounds, Enes Kanter added 12 points and 15 boards and the Jazz snapped their nine-game losing streak with a 100-96 triumph over the San Antonio Spurs. Gordon Hayward posted 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Jazz, who hadn’t dropped 10 in a row since an 18-game slide from Feb. 24-March 29, 1982. Tim Duncan tallied 23 points and 14 boards, while Kawhi Leonard supplied 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals for San Antonio, which has lost two of its last four on the heels of an eight-game winning streak. Tony Parker missed his second consecutive contest with a mild hamstring strain.


Final Score: LA Lakers 98, Sacramento 95

Kobe Bryant scored 21 of his 32 points in the second half and the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings 98-95 on Tuesday night. Bryant is 31 points away from passing Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. His final two points of the night came after he sunk a pair of free throws with 15.6 seconds left for a 98-95 advantage, and the Kings never got a good look from beyond the arc. They settled for a Nik Stauskas step-through 3-pointer from the top of the arc, which clanked off the front of the rim.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  ChiSox acquire Samardzija from A’s

The Chicago White Sox acquired starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija from the Oakland Athletics in a multi-player trade on Tuesday.

Chicago also picked up minor league pitcher Michael Ynoa in exchange for right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley and infielders Rangel Ravelo and Marcus Semien.

Samardzija went a combined 7-13 with a 2.99 ERA in 33 starts overall with the A’s and Chicago Cubs last season. Oakland acquired the hard-throwing righty on July 5. In 16 starts with Oakland, he was 5-6 with a 3.14 ERA after going 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Cubs.

“Jeff is one of the elite right-handed starting pitchers in baseball, and we believe his addition to our roster gives us the potential for a formidable starting rotation,“ said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn in a statement Tuesday. “His competitiveness fits well in our clubhouse, on the mound and in our city.“

The 29-year-old Samardzija made his big league debut with the Cubs in 2008 and pitched primarily in relief before becoming a full-time starter in 2012. He is 36-48 with a 3.85 ERA in 222 career appearances, including 99 starts.

Ynoa, a right-handed minor league pitcher, went 4-2 with a 5.52 ERA in 31 relief appearances with Single-A Stockton in 2014. It was his first season pitching exclusively in relief after entering the season with 36 starts and one relief appearance.

Semien was on Chicago’s Opening Day roster in 2014 and batted .234 with six home runs and 28 RBI in 64 games. He also hit .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI in 83 games with Triple-A Charlotte.

The 24-year-old made his major league debut with Chicago in 2013 and is a .240 career hitter in 85 major league games.

Bassitt made his big league debut with Chicago in 2014, going 1-1 with a 3.94 ERA in six games, including five starts following an August 30 promotion. The 25-year-old right-hander has a 22-10 record and a 2.97 ERA in 96 games, 44 starts, in four seasons in the minors.

Phegley spent most of the 2014 season at Triple-A Charlotte, batting .274 with 23 home runs and 75 RBI in 107 games. He ranked second in the International League in extra base hits (57) and third in home runs and slugging percentage (.530). The 24-year-old right-handed hitter also hit .216 with three home runs and seven RBI in 11 games with the White Sox in September and is a .207 career hitter in 76 games over two seasons with Chicago.

Ravelo hit .309 with 37 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs and 66 RBI in 133 games in his Double-A debut with Birmingham last year. He added 56 walks for a .386 on-base percentage and slugged .473. The 22-year-old right-handed hitter appeared in 108 games at first base after beginning his career as a third baseman.


►  Braves sign infielder Callaspo

The Atlanta Braves have apparently agreed to deal with infielder Alberto Callaspo.

Although terms of the agreement are unknown, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed the pact, pending a physical, to MLB Network Radio.

Callaspo had an awful 2014 season for the Oakland Athletics, hitting just .223 with a .290 on-base percentage in 127 games.

The 31-year-old Callaspo has spent the majority of his nine-year big league career at third base, but has also seen time at second, shortstop and the outfield corners. The hope is that he’ll be able to handle the starting second base duties until top prospect Jose Pereza is ready.

Callaspo is a career .267 hitter over 996 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels and A’s.


►  Angels acquire Butera from Dodgers

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim acquired catcher Drew Butera from the Dodgers on Tuesday.

Butera appeared in 61 games for the Dodgers last season and batted just .188 with three home runs and 14 RBI.

A career .183 hitter, Butera broke into the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins in 2010 and stayed there until 2013 when he was shipped to the Dodgers for a player to be named later.


►  Detroit News’ Tom Gage honored with Spink Award

Detroit News writer Tom Gage was selected as the winner of the 2015 J.G. Taylor Spink Award on Tuesday and will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame next summer.

The award is presented yearly by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.“ Spink, the first recipient of the award in 1962, was a driving force of The Sporting News, known during his lifetime as the “Baseball Bible.“

Gage, who has covered the Tigers for the Detroit News since 1979, received 167 of the record 463 ballots, including one blank, cast by BBWAA members with 10 or more consecutive years’ service.

The late Furman Bisher, longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution finished second with 161 votes in the closest vote since the mail-ballot process began in 2002. The other finalist was Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.

Gage has covered major-league games in 54 ballparks, has written more than 11 million words on baseball and covered more than 5,000 games, including five no-hitters.

Awarded annually since 1962, the Spink Award boasts a famous roster of writers, notably Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Leonard Koppett, Peter Gammons, Bill Madden and last year’s recipient, Roger Angell from the New Yorker.


►  Pirates re-sign Liriano

The Pittsburgh Pirates have apparently re- signed left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano.

Numerous reports have stated the deal is for three years and is worth $39 million. It would be the richest free agent deal in team history, eclipsing the 2-year, $17 million pact with catcher Russell Martin two years ago.

Liriano went 7-10 with a 3.38 ERA last season with the Pirates. In two seasons with Pittsburgh, he is 23-18 with a 3.20 ERA over 55 starts.

For his career, Liriano is 76-72 with a 4.07 ERA in 223 games with Minnesota, the Chicago Whites Sox and Pirates.


►  Cubs acquire All-Star catcher Montero from D-backs

The Chicago Cubs have acquired catcher Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a pair of low-level minor league pitchers.

“I’m really excited, to be honest,“ Montero told the Arizona Republic in a phone interview. “I’m excited to go play for a team that has a lot of history behind it and to play for a manager in Joe Maddon who I’ve enjoyed watching manage baseball games. I’m really excited. I don’t know what else to say.“

The 31-year-old native of Venezuela, who is still owed $40 million over the next three seasons, was an All-Star for the second time in 2014 when he clubbed 13 homers, drove in 72 runs and batted .243. He also threw out almost 30% of runners attempting to steal.

Montero’s left-handed bat could help a Chicago team that last year ranked 21st in the majors at the catcher’s spot with a .684 OPS.

Originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Arizona in 2001, Montero owns a career .264 average with 97 homers, 448 RBI and a .421 slugging percentage in 906 games over parts of nine big league seasons.

Right-handed pitchers Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley will go to Arizona in the deal.


►  Marlins skipper Redmond suffers Achilles injury

Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond is attending MLB’s Winter Meetings in southern California, but he’s doing so at far less than 100% health.

On Tuesday, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel first reported that Redmond suffered an injury to his right Achilles tendon during a doubles tennis match. He told the paper that the tendon “just popped” and that surgery is scheduled for this Friday.

Redmond had his contract extended through the 2017 season in late September after guiding the Marlins to a 15-win improvement from the 2013 season and the team’s first winning home record since 2010.

Under Redmond’s leadership, Miami became just one of three National League teams since 1969 to win 77 or more games following a 100-loss season, joining the 1986 San Francisco Giants and the 2005 Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 43-year-old was named manager prior to the 2013 season, taking over for Ozzie Guillen. He has compiled a 139-185 record as the Marlins’ skipper.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Tuesday, December 09)


Final Score: Chicago 3, New Jersey 2 (SO)

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both scored in the shootout to send the Chicago Blackhawks to a seventh straight victory with a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Toews, Chicago’s first shooter, raced up the slot, dragged the puck to his backhand and slid the puck past the pad of Keith Kinkaid for the first marker and after Jaromir Jagr was stopped, Kane stickhandled his way up the slot and wristed the deciding tally past the New Jersey netminder. Duncan Keith tied the game with 3:13 remaining in the third period, and Bryan Bickell also lit the lamp for Chicago, which received 22 saves from Scott Darling. Jordin Tootoo and Stephen Gionta both scored for the Devils, who were coming off a 2-1 win over Carolina on Monday. Kinkaid was tremendous in his first NHL start, turning aside 37 shots in regulation and the overtime session.


Final Score: Columbus 3, Philadelphia 2 (OT)

A pair of former Philadelphia players teamed up to help the Blue Jackets win on Tuesday night. Scott Hartnell scored a power-play goal in the second period and Sergei Bobrovsky came up with 19 stops as Columbus claimed a 3-2 decision over the Flyers at Nationwide Arena. Kevin Connauton actually ended the contest at the 1:58 mark of overtime, breaking in alone and lifting a wrister under the crossbar off a feed from Ryan Johansen. The hosts were close to picking up two points while not allowing their opponents to take one away. Controversy erupted with 55.3 seconds to go, as a deflection from Brayden Schenn of a point shot slipped through Bobrovsky. Although referee Dave Jackson emphatically shook his head and raised his arms to stop play, televised replays revealed the puck was clearly over the line. Further review quickly confirmed the marker and the game headed to overtime. Boone Jenner also lit the lamp for the Blue Jackets, winners of a season-high four straight games. Schenn posted both scores for the Flyers, who finished up a five-game cross- country road trip at 1-2-2. Steve Mason halted 21 pucks in defeat, three days after his 37-save effort in Los Angeles allowed his club to pick up their lone win on the trip.


Final Score: Buffalo 1, Los Angeles 0

Tyler Ennis’ third-period goal proved to be the difference in Buffalo’s 1-0 win over Los Angeles on Tuesday. Ennis scored the lone goal of the game on the power play early in the final stanza with assists coming from Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford to help the Sabres snap a two-game losing streak. Jhonas Enroth kept the Kings off the scoreboard with 34 saves to earn his first shutout of the season and first since the end of the 2012-13 season. Jonathan Quick was nearly as good as Enroth, turning aside 15 shots in the Kings’ second straight loss.


Final Score: Toronto 4, Calgary 1

James van Riemsdyk finished with a goal and an assist to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. Peter Holland, Phil Kessel and Mike Santorelli also scored and Dion Phaneuf and Nazem Kadri each supplied two assists for Toronto, which has won four of its last five games. Jonathan Bernier made 31 saves in his ninth consecutive start. Markus Granlund potted Calgary’s lone goal and Jonas Hiller stopped 25 shots in defeat.


Final Score: Montreal 3, Vancouver 1

The Montreal Canadiens took the ice for their first home game since the death of franchise icon Jean Beliveau, and came away with a 3-1 victory over Vancouver. Tomas Plekanec tallied late in regulation and Brendan Gallagher supplied early offense for the Habs, who received 15 saves from Carey Price in snapping a three-game skid. Beliveau, who died at the age of 83 last Tuesday, laid in state at Bell Centre on Sunday and Monday, and will have a public funeral on Wednesday at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral only two blocks from the arena. He was feted in front of the home crowd—which included his wife, Elise, and several members of his family in the block of seats held since the days of the Forum—with a video presentation and a prolonged period of silence. Ryan Miller stopped 22 shots in the loss for the Canucks, with Derek Dorsett’s second-period short- handed goal their only tally. Vancouver, which completed a seven-game road trip at 3-3-1, hosts the Rangers on Saturday to kick off a four-game residency.


Final Score: Washington 5, Tampa Bay 3

Alex Ovechkin scored twice, and the Washington Capitals grabbed a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Matt Niskanen, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich also scored for the Capitals, who have won three straight. Braden Holtby made 33 saves in the win. Valtteri Filppula, Brian Boyle and Steven Stamkos each had a goal for the Lightning, who have lost three of their last four. Ben Bishop allowed four goals on 34 shots.


Final Score: Minnesota 5, NY Islanders 4

Nino Niederreiter scored the winning goal with 4:33 to play as the Minnesota Wild rallied in the third period to take a 5-4 win over the New York Islanders. Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek each posted a goal and an assist while Jason Pominville and Erik Haula also scored for the Wild, who have won two of their last three. Niklas Backstrom made 15 saves for the win. Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, Brock Nelson and Michael Grabner all lit the lamp for the Islanders, who have lost their last two. Chad Johnson allowed all five goals on 30 shots.


Final Score: Winnipeg 5, Dallas 2

Adam Lowry scored twice and the Winnipeg Jets extended their point streak to seven games with a 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. Blake Wheeler and Michael Frolik each finished with a goal and an assist and Mathieu Perreault scored for the Jets, who are 5-0-2 since a 4-2 regulation loss to St. Louis on Nov. 23. Michael Hutchinson made 26 saves in the win. Tyler Seguin and Antoine Roussel both lit the lamp for Dallas, which has dropped five of its last six games. Kari Lehtonen allowed three goals on 17 shots before Jussi Rynnas turned aside 13-of-15 shots in relief.


Final Score: Nashville 3, Colorado 0

Pekka Rinne stopped all 26 shots he faced as Nashville recorded a 3-0 win over Colorado at Pepsi Center. It was Rinne’s third shutout of the season and the 35th in his career. The eventual game- winning goal was scored just 2:23 into the game by Filip Forsberg. Gabriel Bourque and James Neal later added empty-net goals for the Predators, who were coming off a loss against Chicago on Saturday and have not lost two games in a row yet this season. In the loss, Calvin Pickard made 33 saves on 34 shots for the Avalanche, who are suffering a four-game losing streak.


Final Score: San Jose 5, Edmonton 2

Joe Pavelski scored twice to lead the San Jose Sharks in a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers to split a home-and-home set. Logan Couture had a goal and an assist while Brent Burns and Barclay Goodrow also lit the lamp for the Sharks, who have won five of their last six. Alex Stalock stopped 25 shots in the win. Jordan Eberle and David Perron scored for the Oilers, who had beaten San Jose at home on Sunday to snap an 11-game losing streak. Ben Scrivens allowed all five goals on 24 shots in the loss.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  This Week in Golf—December 11-16

EUROPEAN TOUR - ALFRED DUNHILL CHAMPIONSHIP, Leopard Creek Country Club, Malelane, South Africa - The European Tour remains in South Africa this week for the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Former major champions and fellow South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen will headline the field along with Nedbank Golf Challenge winner Danny Willett.

Schwartzel repeated as champion last year as he fired three 68s and a 67 to cruise to a 4-stroke win over Richard Finch. The victory was Schwartzel’s third at this tournament and ninth on the European Tour.

He is coming off a tie for 14th at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Since he won this event last year, Schwartzel has six top-10 finishes, two of which came at World Golf Championship events and another was at the Open Championship.

Renato Paratore, 17, earned his tour card at the European Tour Q-School and will make his professional debut on tour.

Golf Channel will have coverage all four days.

The European Tour returns to action January 8, 2015 with the South African Open Championship, where Morten Orum Madsen won by two last year.


WEB.COM TOUR

WEB.COM TOUR Q-SCHOOL, PGA National (Champion and Fazio Courses) Palm

Beach Gardens, Florida - Web.com Tour cards are on the line this week at PGA National as over 150 players will battle to earn their tour cards for 2015.

Zack Fischer struggled to a 75 in the opening round last year, but followed with five straight rounds in the 60s en route to winning by two strokes over Scott Pinckney.

In his first full season on tour, Fischer managed a single top-10 finish and had three top-20 finishes overall. He ended 83rd on the money list.

The medalist at this event will be fully exempt for the entire 2015 season, while the top-10 finishers are assured a spot in the first 12 tournaments before the second reshuffle. Those that finish 11th to 45th will be assured of entry into the first eight events before the first reshuffle, and the rest of the field will have conditional status based on order of finish.

This week’s field includes former PGA Tour players like Bubba Dickerson, Frank Lickliter II, D.H. Lee, Jin Park and D.J. Trahan


PGA TOUR

FRANKLIN TEMPLETON SHOOTOUT, Tiburon Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, Florida - Harris English and Matt Kuchar return to the Franklin Templeton Shootout to defend their title this week.

The duo improved their score each day as they went 64-60-58, which helped them cruise to a 7-stroke win over Retief Goosen and Freddie Jacobson.

English and Kuchar matched the tournament scoring record that Fred Couples and Raymond Floyd set in 1990.

Two other teams competing this week - Jerry Kelly and Steve Sticker (2009) and Sean O’Hair and Kenny Perry (2012) - have won this event before. Keegan Bradley and Ian Poulter have also won this title before, but are playing with different partners this week.

Golf Channel has coverage on Thursday and Friday before handing off to Fox for Saturday’s action. This will be the first PGA Tour coverage for Fox.

The PGA Tour returns to action on January 9, 2015 with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. That event will run Friday to Monday and Zach Johnson is expected to defend his title after he beat Jordan Spieth by one last year.


CHAMPIONS TOUR

PNC FATHER-SON CHALLENGE, Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Grand Lakes Resort, Orlando, Florida - Stewart Cink and his son Connor fired back-to-back 11-under 61s last year and they cruised to a 3-stroke win over Steve and Sam Elkington.

The Cinks became the first team since Raymond Floyd and his son Raymond Jr. to win in their first appearance at this event. The Floyd’s won the title in 1995, which was the first year of the tournament.

The Cinks and Floyds are back in the field this week and they are among five teams playing this week that have won this title in the past. The other teams include Davis Love III and his son Dru, Larry and Josh Nelson, along with Hale and Steve Irwin.

Raymond Floyd, Larry Nelson, Hale Irwin and Lee Trevino are all competing this week and each has played this event the previous 16 years.

Golf Channel will have some early coverage before handing off to NBC on both Saturday and Sunday.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2014


National Basketball Association
LA Clippers at Indiana, 7:00 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, Indiana, DSS
Boston at Charlotte, 7:00 PM - CSN-New England, SportSouth, DSS
Washington at Orlando, 7:00 PM - CSN-DC, FS-Florida, DSS
Philadelphia at Atlanta, 7:30 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, SportSouth, DSS
Brooklyn at Chicago, 8:00 PM - YES, CSN-Chicago, DSS
New Orleans at Dallas, 8:00 PM - FS-Southwest, ESPN
Portland at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, FS-North, DSS
New York at San Antonio, 8:30 PM - MSG, FS-Southwest, DSS
Miami at Denver, 10:30 PM - SunSports, Altitude, ESPN
Houston at Golden State, 10:30 PM - ROOT-Southwest, CSN-Bay, DSS


National Hockey League
Toronto at Detroit, 8:00 PM - NBCSN
Edmonton at Anaheim, 10:00 PM - SNET-West, FS-West, DSS


College Basketball
Monmouth at Fordham, 7:00 PM - SNY
Kansas at Georgetown, 7:00 PM - FS1
Columbia at Kentucky, 7:00 PM - ESPN 2
NC Central at Maryland, 7:00 PM - Big Ten Network
High Point at Ohio State, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
Rhode Island at Providence, 7:00 PM - FS2
Arkansas State at Purdue, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
Southern at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Incarnate Word at Nebraska, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Towson at Temple, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Utah at BYU, 9:00 PM - ESPN U
Colorado State at Colorado, 9:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Wisconsin at Milwaukee, 9:00 PM - ESPN 2
Duquesne at Penn State, 9:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Long Beach State at San Diego State, 10:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Wyoming at California, 11:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Washington State vs. Gonzaga, 11:00 PM - ESPN U
UC Riverside at UCLA, 11:00 PM - Pac-12 Network


Women’s College Basketball
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Glenville Golf Course Annual Membership Meeting - Tuesday, 12.09.14

The Gilmer Free Press

Glenville Golf Course will be having its Annual Membership Meeting on Tuesday, December 09, 2014.

The Meeting time is 6:00 PM.

The Meeting will be held at SLS on Vanhorn Drive.

Sports News   141208

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Liberty Bowl

West Virginia received an invitation to the Liberty Bowl, its rumored destination for weeks. Deciding which SEC opponent would face the Mountaineers took some dealing and shuffling Sunday afternoon.

The Southeastern Conference nixed a WVU-Tennessee matchup before settling on Texas A&M, pairing teams with 7-5 records and coaching staffs that are deeply connected.

Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen was offensive coordinator at Houston under Kevin Sumlin, who has since steered Texas A&M to three consecutive bowls. The Aggies’ offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was quarterbacks coach at West Virginia under Holgorsen.

The game will be played Monday, December 29 at 2 PM Eastern

The rapid reaction:

— Texas A&M has been streaky, starting 5-0 and zooming into the Top 10 before sophomore phenom Kenny Hill encountered attitude problems. After a three-game losing streak that culminated with a 59-0 loss at Alabama, Hill was demoted (and suspended) in favor of freshman Kyle Allen. He sparked the Aggies to a narrow win over Louisiana-Monroe and a 41-38 upset win at Auburn before closing the season with home losses to Missouri and LSU.

— Half the free world was rooting for a Texas A&M-Texas pairing in the Texas Bowl, but that might’ve been too much Texas. Some reports speculated the SEC was scared for the Aggies to face the Longhorns, which would only make sense if SEC officials didn’t see the BYU and TCU games.

— How close were we to watching Tennessee-West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl? So close the matchup was listed temporarily on the NCAA’s website. Ultimately, the SEC sent the Vols to Jacksonville to face Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl (formerly known as the Gator).

— The Aggies rank 101st in total defense and 111th against the run (223 yards allowed per game). They are 109th in turnover margin, having forced 12, which is one fewer than WVU.

— West Virginia received 8,000 tickets, some of which will be used for the band members and internal distribution.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Rakeem Cato has rewritten Marshall’s record books but until Saturday there was still one thing he hadn’t achieved

Rakeem Cato has rewritten Marshall’s record books. He now holds nearly every Thundering Herd passing record, surpassing Marshall Legends Chad Pennington and Bryon Leftwich. But there was always one thing that greats such as Chad Pennington and Bryon Leftwich, had that Cato didn’t.

A ring.

That is until Saturday.

“That’s been my main goal since I walked on campus. I wanted to come here, start the tradition over again and win a championship. We finally got one today,” said Cato after Marshall’s 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech.

Cato threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns, extending his record to 45 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. The only quarterback in NCAA history with a longer streak is Mike Reilly (2005-08) of Central Washington. He threw a touchdown pass in 46 straight games, a Division II record.

Even the way Cato won his first championship was similar to Chad Pennington in 1999. Pennington orchestrated a comeback win over Western Michigan and needed a near perfect final drive before finding Eric Pinkerton in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Cato with 5:01 to play and no timeouts did the same thing on Saturday. Cato was nearly perfect when his team needed him to be. Cato was 5-for-6 on the game-winning drive and even had to improvise on the championship clinching touchdown pass.

“We had a play drawn up and the defense figured it out and stopped it,” explained Deon-Tay McManus who caught the game-winning toss. “But I didn’t give up on the lay, tried to keep it alive and Cato found me for the touchdown.”

Cato, a four-year starter, cemented his place in Marshall Football history with the win on Saturday.

“I told him after the game, you know what? You have all these records but what was not on his resume was a championship. Now with him winning that championship, you can talk about him with the same breath as you do Chad [Pennington] and Byron [Leftwich] because they did that and they got that done here,” said coach Doc Holliday.

“Now he’s got that done. That kid has mean so much to this program. He will be the quarterback who got it back where it belongs and where it needs to be. I told him after the game, if there was one person I wanted the ball in there hand, guess what? That is you and you found a way to get it done.”



The Gilmer Free Press

►  AP Top 25 poll, Week 15: Ohio State and Baylor leap the Frogs

While the only poll being released on Sunday that truly matters will be the CFP selection committee’s, the AP poll does give us a good idea of how the country feels when it comes to which teams are deserving of the four playoff spots.

And if it were up to the voters of the AP poll, TCU and Ohio State would be on the outside looking in.

Baylor moved ahead of both Ohio State and TCU in this week’s poll while the top three remained Alabama, Florida State and Oregon.

Here’s the poll in its entirety.

1. Alabama (12-1, 27 first-place votes)

2. Florida State (13-0, 25)

3. Oregon (12-1, 8)

4. Baylor (11-1)

5. Ohio State (12-1)

6. TCU (11-1)

7. Michigan State (10-2)

8. Mississippi State (10-2)

9. Ole Miss (9-3)

10. Georgia Tech (10-3)

11. Kansas State (9-3)

12. Arizona (10-3)

13. Georgia (9-3)

14. UCLA (9-3)

15. Arizona State (9-3)

16. Missouri (10-3)

17. Wisconsin (10-3)

18. Clemson (9-3)

19. Auburn (8-4)

20. Louisville (9-3)

21. Boise State (11-2)

22. LSU (8-4)

23. Utah (8-4)

24. Southern California (8-4)

25. Nebraska (9-3)

Topics: AP Poll, Baylor Bears, Ohio State Buckeyes, TCU Horned Frogs, NCAAF


►  Coaches Poll, Week 15: Baylor’s Art Briles votes Alabama No. 4

The final Amway/USA Today Coaches Poll of the regular season was released Sunday, complete with the results of each coaches’ ballot.

Alabama finished the season at No. 1, and the rest of the top three is the same as the AP poll. Georgia Tech actually moved up to No. 9 after falling short against Florida State while Oklahoma dropped eight spots to No. 24, barely hanging on in the rankings.

Of course, the final release of the Coaches Poll comes with the reveal of each coach’s final ballot. Baylor’s Art Briles was the only coach to put Alabama outside the top three on his ballot, sliding the Tide in at No. 4 behind Florida State (1), Oregon (2) and his own squad (3). Briles’ top five was rounded out with TCU at No. 5 and Ohio State was No. 6.

Here’s the full Top 25:

1. Alabama (12-1)

2. Florida State (13-0)

3. Oregon (12-1, 8)

4. Ohio State (12-1)

5. Baylor (11-1)

6. TCU (11-1)

7. Michigan State (10-2)

8. Mississippi State (10-2)

9. Georgia Tech (10-3)

10. Kansas State (9-3)

11. Arizona (10-3)

12. Ole Miss (9-3)

13. Georgia (9-3)

14. Missouri (10-3)

15. UCLA (9-3)

16. Arizona State (9-3)

17. Wisconsin (10-3)

18. Clemson (9-3)

19. Auburn (8-4)

20. Louisville (9-3)

21. Boise State (11-2)

22. Nebraska (9-3)

23. LSU (8-4)

23. Oklahoma (8-4)

25. Utah (8-4)


►  TCU falls to sixth in final AP poll

Baylor and Ohio State leapfrogged TCU in the final Associated Press poll.

Alabama, Florida State and Oregon remained the top three teams in the country.

The Crimson Tide, who posted a 42-13 win over Missouri to win the SEC championship, received 27 first-place votes and a total of 1,452 points from a nationwide media panel. Undefeated Florida State earned 25 first-place votes and 1,436 points following a 37-35 win over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game.

Pac-12 champion Oregon picked up eight first-place votes and 1,426 points.

Baylor was fourth and Big Ten champion Ohio State was fifth, while TCU fell two spots to sixth after the Bears and Buckeyes beat ranked teams on Saturday.

Baylor topped Kansas State 38-27 and Ohio State dismantled Wisconsin 59-0.

TCU, meanwhile, trounced Iowa State 55-3 to finish as co-champion of the Big 12 with Baylor.

Michigan State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech rounded out the top 10.

The second 10 consists of Kansas State, Arizona, Georgia, UCLA, Arizona State, Missouri, Wisconsin, Clemson, Auburn and Louisville.

Mountain West champion Boise State, LSU, Utah, USC and Nebraska are the last five teams ranked.


►  CFP: Ohio State in; Baylor, TCU out

TCU and Baylor didn’t play in a conference championship game. Despite 11-1 records, they’re out and Big Ten winner Ohio State is into the national semifinals.

A day after their 59-0 rout of Wisconsin, the Buckeyes jumped to fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings on Sunday, giving Urban Meyer’s team a shot at the national title.

SEC winner Alabama (12-1) remained No. 1 in the rankings and Pac-12 champion Oregon (12-1) stayed No. 2. ACC winner and reigning national champion Florida State (13-0) moved up one spot to No. 3.

Alabama will play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on January 1. Oregon will take on Florida State in the Rose Bowl, also on New Year’s Day.

The winners will play for the national championship on January 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The playoffs replaced the oft-criticized BCS, which was in place from 1998 until last season.

Controversy did not die with the old system.

The 12-member committee had some tough decisions and there were big changes from last week.

TCU fell from third to sixth despite a 55-3 rout of Iowa State on Saturday. Baylor, which was sixth in the rankings last week, gained a share of the Big 12 title with TCU thanks to a 38-27 win over Kansas State Saturday night and moved to No. 5. Baylor beat TCU 61-58 on October 11.

Despite being down to its third-string quarterback, Ohio State (12-1) was able to get into the semifinals by winning its 11th consecutive game since losing to Virginia Tech 35-21 on September 6.

Alabama (12-1) heads to the Sugar Bowl off a 42-13 rout of Missouri in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide have won eight in a row since a 23-17 loss at Ole Miss on October 4.

Oregon (12-1) pounded Arizona 51-13 Friday night in the Pac-12 title game. Led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Trophy favorite, the Ducks have also won eight straight games. Their only loss came October 2 to Arizona.

The Seminoles (13-0) captured their third straight ACC title with a 37-35 win over Georgia Tech Saturday night. Florida State, which entered the game No. 4 in the CFP rankings, extended its winning streak to 29 games.

It will be the first-ever meeting between Florida State and Oregon, while Alabama is 3-0 all-time against Ohio State. The last time the teams met was at the Citrus Bowl in January 1995.


►  Baylor settles for Cotton Bowl; TCU in Peach Bowl

Baylor and TCU were both denied a spot in the top four of the final College Football Playoff standings and settled for lesser bowl appearances.

The remaining bowl pairings were announced on Sunday shortly after it was revealed Ohio State overtook the co-Big 12 champions for a place in the national semifinals.

Baylor finished fifth in the final CFP standings but will still play on New Year’s Day, as the Bears (11-1) refocus their frustrations on Michigan State (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl.

TCU (11-1), which sat at No. 3 in the CFP rankings just last week, will play on New Year’s Eve against Ole Miss (9-3) in the Peach Bowl.

The Fiesta Bowl pits Pac-12 runner-up Arizona (10-3) against Boise State (11-2), while Mississippi State (10-2) and Georgia Tech (10-3) hook up in the Orange Bowl.


►  Team in Inaugural College Football Playoff 2014

Ohio State will join Alabama, Oregon and Florida State in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The No. 1 Crimson Tide will face the No. 4 Buckeyes in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and the second-seeded Ducks will face the third-seeded Seminoles in the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual, both on New Year’s Day.

The 12-member selection committee bumped TCU from the top four in favor of the Buckeyes, who defeated Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday.

The Horned Frogs, ranked No. 3 in the previous rankings, dropped to No. 6, behind Florida State, Ohio State and Big 12 rival Baylor. Without Baylor and TCU in the College Football Playoff, the Big 12 loses out on $6 million for having one team in the playoff field.

Alabama and Oregon remained No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Florida State, which defeated Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game on Saturday, moved up one spot to No. 3.

The semifinal winners will meet in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T on January 12.

The College Football Playoff replaced the Bowl Championship Series this season. The BCS matched the top two teams in the country in a national championship game.

Baylor and TCU won’t get to play for a national championship, but both teams will play in “New Year’s Six” bowls.

The Bears will play No. 8 Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, while the Horned Frogs will face No. 9 Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. No. 7 Mississippi State will play No. 12 Georgia Tech in the Capital One Orange Bowl. No. 20 Boise State and No. 10 Arizona will meet in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl.

Las Vegas sports books installed Alabama and Oregon as the betting favorites. The Westgate SuperBook opened the Crimson Tide as 9.5-point favorites over Ohio State. It’s the 68th straight game that Alabama has been the favorite. It’s only the fifth time the Buckeyes have been an underdog under coach Urban Meyer. For his career, Meyer is 14-8 straight up as an underdog.

Oregon opened as an 8.5-point favorite over the Seminoles at the Westgate. It’s the first time Florida State has been an underdog in its last 50 games, a streak that dates back to September 2011 against Clemson.

The playoff contenders did not make it easy on the committee chairman Jeff Long and his colleagues on the panel by all winning on Saturday.

The committee has been ranking the top 25 weekly since late October’s rankings and last week had Alabama and Oregon at the top, followed by TCU and Florida State.

The committee ranks teams differently than traditional college football polls, such as the AP Top 25. Instead of collecting a ballot from each member and tallying votes, the committee ranks small groups by a series of votes. And Long, the athletic director at Arkansas, has said that each week the panel starts with a blank slate.

The great debate for weeks was whether TCU or Baylor would make it into the final four. The Bears beat their Big 12 rivals 61-58 in Waco back in October, but from the start the committee ranked TCU ahead of the Bears, who lost at West Virginia by 14 and played a particularly weak nonconference schedule.

For weeks, Long said that the difference between the Bears and Horned Frogs was not close enough for it to come down to the head-to-head result. But when the season concluded the teams had played 10 common opponents. The Big 12 further muddled the issue by not designating a champion by a tiebreaker. The Bears and Frogs both got a trophy and are called co-champions.

Ohio State has come from the farthest during the season, overcoming an early loss to Virginia Tech to make a strong run.

Florida State’s unbeaten record hasn’t gotten the respect the Seminoles believe it deserves from the committee. The defending national champions are the only undefeated team in FBS. But numerous close calls and comebacks have led the committee to drop the Seminoles in the rankings.

Ultimately, though, the Noles will get to defend their championship in the first playoff.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NFL Game Results

(SUNDAY, DECEMBER 07)


Final Score: Pittsburgh 42, Cincinnati 21

Le’Veon Bell ran for the go-ahead touchdown and Ben Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for a 94-yard score during Pittsburgh’s big fourth quarter in a 42-21 victory over the AFC North- leading Cincinnati Bengals. Bell finished with 26 carries for 185 yards and two TDs, both in the final quarter, when the Steelers (8-5) outscored the Bengals, 25-0. Bell also had a touchdown reception, and Roethlisberger completed 25-of-39 passes for 350 yards and three scores to guide the Steelers to their fifth win in the last seven games. Andy Dalton finished 21-of-29 for 302 yards and a pair of scores for the Bengals (8-4-1), who had a three-game winning streak broken. A.J. Green caught 11 passes for a career- best 224 yards and a score. With Baltimore (8-5) winning at Miami and Cleveland (7-6) losing at home to Indianapolis Sunday, there is a crush in the division standings. The schedule is tough for both teams over the final three games. The Bengals play at Cleveland before hosting Denver on a Monday night, then conclude the season in Pittsburgh. The Steelers play at Atlanta then host Kansas City before what could be a giant encounter against the Bengals.


Final Score: Indianapolis 25, Cleveland 24

Andrew Luck’s 1-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter rallied the Indianapolis Colts to a 25-24 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The Colts (9-4) won their third straight game to inch closer to the AFC South title, while dealing the Browns (7-6) a heart-breaking defeat after they blew a two- touchdown lead. Luck connected on 24-of-53 throws for 294 yards with two scores and a pair of interceptions, both to Hilton, who had 10 catches for 150 yards. The Colts hold a two-game lead on Houston and can win the division with a home victory against the Texans next Sunday. The Browns had a pair of defensive TDs, but lost their second straight for the first time this season. It was a perfect opportunity for Cleveland to gain ground in the AFC North, especially with Cincinnati (8-4-1) falling at home to Pittsburgh (8-5) Sunday. The Ravens (8-5) won in Miami. Brian Hoyer finished 14-of-31 for 140 yards with two interceptions for the Browns.


Final Score: Detroit 34, Tampa Bay 17

Matthew Stafford had three touchdown passes, and Joique Bell scored twice as the Detroit Lions pounded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 34-17, at Ford Field on Sunday. Stafford went 26-for-34 for 311 yards with touchdown passes to Bell, Calvin Johnson and Joseph Fauria for the Lions (9-4), who have won two straight after consecutive road losses. Johnson finished the game with eight catches for 158 yards, while Bell had 18 carries for 83 yards and a rushing touchdown while adding five catches for 50 yards for Detroit. The Lions are still in the hunt for the top spot in the NFC North, as the team sits a half-game back of the Packers for first place. Green Bay hosts Atlanta on Monday night. Josh McCown was under pressure all day as he was sacked six times and took several hard hits. He completed 20-for-39 passes for 250 yards with two touchdown passes, but he was picked off twice and also lost a fumble. Vincent Jackson caught 10 passes for 159 yards, and Mike Evans caught both touchdown passes for the Buccaneers (2-11), who have lost their last three games.


Final Score: Houston 27, Jacksonville 13

Arian Foster ran for 127 yards and a touchdown and helped the Houston Texans stay in the playoff hunt with a 27-13 victory over the Jaguars on a rainy Sunday in Jacksonville. The Texans (7-6), who earned consecutive wins for the first time since starting the season 2-0, still sit two games behind the AFC South-leading Colts but can make up ground with a visit to Indianapolis next week. They trailed 13-10 at halftime but scored 17 unanswered points as their defense—led by J.J. Watt’s three sacks—limited Jacksonville to 73 yards after the break. Ryan Fitzpatrick only threw 19 times and finished with 135 yards through the air but did run for a touchdown. One of his favorite targets, Andre Johnson, exited early in the second quarter with a concussion. Blake Bortles and the Jaguars (2-11) failed to build off last week’s 25-24 come-from-behind victory over the Giants. Bortles completed only 20-of-39 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown and an interception.


Final Score: Baltimore 28, Miami 13

Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as the visiting Baltimore Ravens overcame a sluggish start to post a 28-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins in a crucial AFC matchup. Flacco was 25-of-33 for 269 yards and Justin Forsett added a rushing touchdown for the Ravens (8-5), who kept pace in the AFC North race. They are tied with Pittsburgh behind division-leading Cincinnati, which stands at 8-4-1. Ryan Tannehill finished 23-of-33 for 227 yards and a touchdown for a Miami (7-6) team that entered the game owning the AFC’s second wild-card spot due to tiebreakers.


Final Score: Minnesota 30, NY Jets 24 (OT)

Jarius Wright turned a screen pass into a winning 87-yard touchdown in overtime, lifting the Minnesota Vikings over the New York Jets 30-24 on Sunday. Facing a 3rd-and-5 on his team’s first possession of overtime, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw a pass to Wright behind the line of scrimmage. Wright got the first down and proceeded to beat the Jets defense down the sideline to win the game. Bridgewater completed 19-of-27 passes for 309 yards and a pair of touchdowns with an interception to lead the Vikings (6-7) to their second straight win. Wright finished with 123 yards on four catches, and Charles Johnson also scored with four catches for 103 yards. Matt Asiata led Minnesota with 54 rushing yards and linebacker Gerald Hodges returned an interception for a touchdown for the first score of the game. Geno Smith threw for 254 yards, a touchdown and an interception for the Jets (2-11), who have lost three in a row. Percy Harvin caught six passes for 124 yards and a touchdown against his former team and Eric Decker added 89 yards on six catches for the Jets. Chris Ivory ran for 73 yards on 16 carries, and Chris Johnson finished the day with 16 carries for 53 yards.


Final Score: Carolina 41, New Orleans 10

Cam Newton had a hand in four of Carolina’s five touchdowns, as the Panthers walked into the Superdome and embarrassed the New Orleans Saints by a 41-10 count on Sunday. Newton passed for 226 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-33 efficiency and rushed for 83 yards and another score on 12 carries for the Panthers (4-8-1), who suddenly find themselves back in the race for the NFC South crown. Jonathan Stewart racked up a game-best 155 yards on the ground with a TD on 20 attempts, while Greg Olsen was Newton’s top target with 10 receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. Drew Brees was contained for most of the contest, but threw for 235 yards and a score to Benjamin Watson for the Saints (5-8), who hadn’t lost four in a row at home since 1999—Mike Ditka’s final season as head coach. Marques Colston totaled 72 yards on five catches, while the rushing tandem of Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas was limited to 81 yards on 15 combined carries.


Final Score: NY Giants 36, Tennessee 7

Rookie Andre Williams rushed for a career- high 131 yards, much of it on a 50-yard touchdown run that helped the New York Giants snap a seven-game losing streak with a 36-7 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Something had to give between the two teams, who came into the game with 13 consecutive losses between them. While the Giants (4-9) ended their skid, the Titans (2-11) remained winless since October 12, losing seven in a row for the first time since an 11-game slide in 1994 when they were the Houston Oilers. Eli Manning threw for 260 yards with a 15-yard touchdown pass to rising star Odell Beckham Jr., who had 11 catches for 130 yards. Much of New York’s scoring came on five Josh Brown field goals and a defensive touchdown from Markus Kuhn, who returned a Zach Mettenberger fumble. Mettenberger re-injured his sprained right shoulder in the fourth quarter after going 14-of-24 for 125 yards. Jake Locker relieved him for the second week in a row and also threw a pick. Marqueston Huff scored the only Tennessee points on a 23-yard interception return in the third quarter.


Final Score: St. Louis 24, Washington 0

Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Alec Ogletree and Greg Robinson were in the St. Louis Rams’ starting lineup. Robert Griffin III was still on the Washington Redskins bench, at least for the first 58 minutes. Shaun Hill tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Jared Cook and the Rams blanked the Redskins 24-0 on Sunday afternoon to record their second straight shutout win. After Tavon Austin’s 78-yard punt return staked the Rams to a 24-0 advantage late in the third quarter, chants of “RGIII, RGIII, RGIII,“ reverberated throughout FedEx Field. Griffin, though, never got the call until two minutes remained after Colt McCoy departed with a neck strain. Brockers, Jenkins, Ogletree and Robinson were among the slew of players the Rams received from their 2012 blockbuster trade with Washington. Hill was 16-of-22 for 213 yards, while Cook hauled in four passes for 61 yards for St. Louis (6-7), which posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1945. The Rams blanked Oakland 52-0 last Sunday. The defense recorded seven sacks, two interceptions and eight tackles for loss in the triumph. Pierre Garcon tallied nine receptions for 95 yards for the Redskins (3-10), who have dropped five games in a row.


Final Score: Arizona 17, Kansas City 14

Drew Stanton tossed a go-ahead 26-yard touchdown pass to Jaron Brown late in the third quarter and Arizona’s defense held off Kansas City in the fourth as the Cardinals edged the Chiefs 17-14 on Sunday. Stanton had lost two of his last three starts coming in after Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a knee injury during a Week 10 victory over St. Louis. He was 15-of-30 for 239 yards for Arizona (10-3), which remained a game ahead of the Seattle Seahawks for first place in the NFC West. Seattle beat Philadelphia 24-14 on Sunday. Ball-hawking safety Tyrann Mathieu will miss significant time after fracturing his left thumb and the secondary took another blow with the loss of Antonio Cromartie. He hurt his left Achilles during the middle stages of the fourth and had to be carted off the field. Jamaal Charles gained 91 yards on 10 totes with a rushing and receiving touchdown, while Travis Kelce totaled 110 yards on seven receptions for the Chiefs (7-6), who have dropped three straight on the heels of a five-game winning streak.


Final Score: Denver 24, Buffalo 17

C.J. Anderson’s three touchdown runs and a solid defensive effort led the Denver Broncos to a narrow 24-17 victory over the playoff-hopeful Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Peyton Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in over four years, but the Broncos (10-3) nevertheless came away with their third straight win and stayed in sole possession of first place in the AFC West. Manning threw two interceptions and finished with a season-low in passing yards (173) for the second straight week. His streak of tossing a TD pass ended at 51, one shy of tying Tom Brady for the second-longest in NFL history. Anderson and Juwan Thompson combined for 121 yards on the ground, and Wes Welker caught six passes for 82 yards for the victors. Buffalo (7-6) forced three turnovers but gave it away three times as well and committed 11 penalties for 98 yards. Kyle Orton threw for 355 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Bills, who were trying to win three in a row for the first time since the start of the 2011 season. Orton also ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 55 seconds remaining, but Denver recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win. Sammy Watkins caught seven passes for 127 yards and lost a fumble near midfield on Buffalo’s opening drive.


Final Score: Oakland 24, San Francisco 13

Derek Carr had three touchdown passes to lead the Oakland Raiders in a 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Carr went 22-for-28 for 254 yards with touchdown passes to Donald Penn, Marcel Reece and Mychal Rivera as the Raiders (2-11) bounced back from a 52-0 loss at St. Louis last week. Colin Kaepernick went 18-for-33 for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the 49ers (7-6), who have dropped two straight to deal a hard blow to their postseason hopes.


Final Score: Seattle 24, Philadelphia 14

Russell Wilson accounted for three touchdowns, including one on a 15-yard pass to Marshawn Lynch that helped the Seattle Seahawks pull away in the second half for a 24-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The Seahawks (9-4) controlled the game more than the score showed, holding Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense to just 139 yards in 18 minutes of possession to get their third win in a row. The Eagles (9-4) had a 10-game regular season home winning streak snapped and fell into a tie with Dallas for first place in the NFC East nine days after beating the Cowboys convincingly on Thanksgiving. The Seahawks, who were also coming off a win over division rival San Francisco on Thanksgiving, remained a game behind Arizona in the NFC West. Wilson was 22-of-37 passing for 263 yards and two touchdowns and scrambled for a 26-yard score in the first half that countered an early Eagles touchdown. Lynch rushed 23 times for 86 yards—going over 1,000 yards for the fourth season in a row—and Doug Baldwin had five catches for 97 yards and a score. Mark Sanchez completed just 10 of his 20 passes for 96 yards in his fifth straight start for the injured Nick Foles. He threw touchdown passes to Jeremy Maclin and Zach Ertz, but McCoy ran for just 50 yards on 17 carries against a stout Seattle front four. Philadelphia’s division lead disappeared with the loss, which came three days after Dallas beat the Bears on Thursday night in Chicago. The Cowboys will visit Philadelphia for a key game next Sunday night.


Final Score: New England 23, San Diego 14

Tom Brady has Philip Rivers’ number. It’s that simple. Brady threw for 317 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as the New England Patriots defeated the San Diego Chargers, 23-14, on Sunday night. New England’s signal-caller improved to 6-0 all-time against Rivers’ Chargers. Julian Edelman totaled 141 yards on eight catches with a touchdown that essentially sealed the game in the fourth quarter, and Rob Gronkowski also caught a touchdown pass for the Patriots (10-3), who have won at least 10 games for a 14th consecutive season. Rivers couldn’t generate much offense for his team throughout the night, throwing for 189 yards with a touchdown and interception. San Diego had its three-game winning streak snapped and will host AFC West-leading Denver in a pivotal division matchup next Sunday.


(THURSDAY, DECEMBER 04)


Final Score: Dallas 41, Chicago 28

The Dallas Cowboys stayed perfect on the road and ended a three-game losing streak to the Chicago Bears by getting the ball to DeMarco Murray every chance they could. Murray had 41 touches and gained 228 yards from scrimmage as the Cowboys shook off a demoralizing division loss on Thanksgiving to beat the Bears 41-28 on Thursday night. There was no relief for the Bears, who lost not only the game, but also star wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was taken away from Soldier Field in an ambulance after suffering an injury to his ribs in the first half, though he tweeted later that he was OK. Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, followed last year’s 146-yard effort against the Bears with 179 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries and added 49 yards on nine catches. Tony Romo had three touchdown passes—two to Cole Beasley—and earned his eighth career win in Thursday games as he and the Cowboys bounced back from a 33-10 loss to NFC East rival Philadelphia by winning in Chicago for the first time since 2007. It’s on the road where the Cowboys (9-4) have thrived this season, going 6-0. That mark will be put to the test next Sunday when they play in Philly with first place in the division on the line. Matt Forte and Jay Cutler rushed for touchdowns in the fourth quarter—Cutler after an onside kick, cutting a 25-point Dallas lead to 10. But the Bears (5-8) lost for the second week in a row after falling in Detroit on Thanksgiving.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  No. 16 West Virginia downs Northern Kentucky

Juwan Staten finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists as No. 16 West Virginia overcame a slow start to defeat Northern Kentucky, 67-42, on Sunday.

Devin Williams also finished with 12 points and Jonathan Holton supplied 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks for the Mountaineers (8-1), who bounced back from a 74-73 loss to LSU on Thursday.

Chad Jackson paced the Norse (3-5) with 12 points and nine rebounds, but turned the ball over six times and Jordan Jackson scored 10 off the bench in the loss.

Neither team was able to locate the basket early on as it was just an 8-8 game with 8:31 to play in the first half. After Jared Bryant’s free throw, West Virginia finally started to pull away with eight straight points. Daxter Miles Jr. hit a 3-pointer and then closed the spurt with a layup for a 16-9 lead with 5:35 to play.

The Norse, however, cut the deficit to three points heading into the break as a pair of Chad Jackson foul shots around Anthony Monaco’s trey made it a 20-17 game.

The Mountaineers shot 7-for-23 (30.4%) from the floor over the first 20 minutes, while the Norse were 6-for-25 (24%).

“We couldn’t make a shot,“ West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “The ball didn’t go in and it got ugly.“

Holton’s tip-in was the first of nine straight West Virginia points to start the second half and Staten’s free throw made it a 29-17 game with over three minutes into the stanza.

Jordan Jackson’s layup with 12:25 to play represented Northern Kentucky’s second basket of the second half as the Norse trailed 33-21.

Jevon Carter’s shot from beyond gave the Mountaineers a healthy 46-27 lead with 8:09 to play and West Virginia led by as much as 26 down the stretch.

Game Notes

It was the first regular-season meeting between the programs, although North Kentucky came away with a 77-74 exhibition win on November 04, 2011 ...

The Mountaineers shot 23-of-59 from the floor (39%), while the Norse went 13-for-49 (26.5%) ...

West Virginia improved to 75-23 in non-conference games under Huggins.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Basketball Game Results

(Sunday, December 07)


Final Score: (1) Kentucky 82, Eastern Kentucky 49

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 19 points in No. 1 Kentucky’s 82-49 win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. Two days after junior Willie Cauley-Stein set a career-high with 21 points in a win over Texas, Towns, a freshman, posted a career-best while pulling down nine rebounds and blocking four shots. Towns has scored in double figures in four straight games after being held to nine or fewer points over the first five games of his career. Cauley-Stein had 11 points and Trey Lyles and Marcus Lee both scored 10 off the bench for the Wildcats (9-0), who have won every game this season by double digits. Denzel Richardson dropped 19 to pace the Colonels (4-3), who shot a collective 26.1% (18-for-69) from the field.


Final Score: (12) North Carolina 108, East Carolina 64

Brice Johnson posted a monster double- double of 19 points and a career-best 17 rebounds as 12th-ranked North Carolina trounced East Carolina 108-64. J.P. Tokoto also scored 19 points and dished out eight assists for the Tar Heels (6-2), who bounced back from Wednesday’s home loss to Iowa. North Carolina shot 60% from the floor Sunday after being held to a 27.9% by the Hawkeyes. Kennedy Meeks finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his fifth double- double of the season. Terry Whisnant led East Carolina (4-5) with 15 points and B.J. Tyson scored 13 but made only 2-of-13 field goals. The Pirates, who were 4-for-25 from 3-point range, have dropped consecutive games for the first time this season.


Final Score: Washington 49, (13) San Diego State 36

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 15 points and the Washington Huskies used a strong defensive effort to grab a 49-36 win over the 13th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs. Andrew Andrews chipped in with 13 points for the Huskies (7-0), who limited their opponent to 11-of-54 shooting, including 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. San Diego State (6-2), which was playing in its first true road game of the season, has lost two of its last three. Winston Shepard led the Aztecs’ scuffling offensive attack with seven points.


Final Score: (16) West Virginia 67, Northern Kentucky 42

Juwan Staten finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists as No. 16 West Virginia overcame a slow start to defeat Northern Kentucky, 67-42, on Sunday. Devin Williams also finished with 12 points and Jonathan Holton supplied 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks for the Mountaineers (8-1), who bounced back from a 74-73 loss to LSU on Thursday. Chad Jackson paced the Norse (3-5) with 12 points and nine rebounds, but turned the ball over six times and Jordan Jackson scored 10 off the bench in the loss.


Final Score: Clemson 68, (18) Arkansas 65

Rod Hall scored 19 points to lead Clemson’s come-from-behind 68-65 overtime win over No. 18 Arkansas on Sunday. The Razorbacks could not hold onto a lead late in regulation as Clemson scored the last six points to force OT. Hall scored 16 after halftime, Jaron Blossomgame added 17 and pulled down eight rebounds, and Donte Grantham netted 14 points for the Tigers (5-3), who bounced back from a loss to Rutgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Michael Qualls paced the Hogs with 21 points, and Bobby Portis chipped in 18. Arkansas (6-2) has lost two in a row after suffering a 95-77 setback to Iowa State on Thursday.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Sunday, December 07)


Final Score: Boston 101, Washington 93

Rajon Rondo had a triple double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists as the Boston Celtics held off the Washington Wizards 101-93 on Sunday afternoon. Jeff Green netted 25 points and Marcus Thornton added 21 for the Celtics, who have won three in a row on the heels of a five-game losing streak. Rasual Butler scored 22 points, John Wall had 17 points and 14 assists and Paul Pierce supplied 16 points in another game against his former team for Washington, which trailed by as many as 25 in the second half.


Final Score: Atlanta 96, Denver 84

Paul Millsap scored 23 points, and Atlanta’s defense shut down Denver in a 96-84 win over the Nuggets on Sunday. The Hawks, winners of six straight, limited the Nuggets to 36 first-half points and forced them to shoot just 6-of-35 from beyond the arc for the game. Kyle Korver added 15 points for Atlanta, and DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford each netted 11. Carroll and Horford had nine and eight rebounds, respectively. Wilson Chandler led the Nuggets with 29 points as they fell in their third straight game. Chandler also pulled down 10 rebounds. Timofey Mozgov chipped in 14 points with 11 rebounds, and Alonzo Gee added 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting off the bench.


Final Score: Oklahoma City 96, Detroit 94

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a halftime deficit to beat the lowly Detroit Pistons. Scott Brooks’ team might still be a little rusty with its two stars back in the lineup, but Durant had 28 points and the Thunder did enough to beat the Pistons 96-94 on Sunday. Durant, in his third game back from offseason foot surgery, made 10 of his 19 shots in his best shooting performance so far, and Russell Westbrook scored 22 with 11 rebounds and seven assists in his fourth game back after missing 14 with a broken hand. Serge Ibaka added 13 points and 13 rebounds in Oklahoma City’s fourth win in its last five.


Final Score: Memphis 103, Miami 87

Jon Leuer poured in 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in just 24 minutes off the bench as the Memphis Grizzlies downed the Miami Heat, 103-87, at FedExForum on Sunday. Memphis shot a season-high 58.9% from the floor to bounce back from having its 22-game home winning streak broken by the Spurs on Friday. Mike Conley chipped in 18 points on 8- for-8 shooting, while Zach Randolph and Courtney Lee both added 17 in the winning cause. Dwyane Wade paced Miami with 25 points and six assists, but the Heat dropped their fourth straight.


Final Score: Dallas 125, Milwaukee 102

Chandler Parsons scored a game-high 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting and the Dallas Mavericks dominated the Milwaukee Bucks, 125-102, on Sunday. The Mavs shot 58% from the field and made 12 3- pointers to bounce back from a home loss to the Suns on Friday. They have won six of seven overall. Dirk Nowitzki chipped in 21 points and Monta Ellis, who beat the Bucks with a buzzer-beater last Wednesday, added 19 for the victors. All five Bucks starters scored in double figures, but Milwaukee turned the ball over 19 times and fell back to .500 (11-11) with its fourth loss in five games. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 18 points while Zaza Pachulia contributed 14 with eight rebounds off the bench.


Final Score: Portland 103, New York 99

LaMarcus Aldridge posted his fifth straight double-double and the Portland Trail Blazers kicked off a five-game road trip with a 103-99 win over the New York Knicks. The Knicks led 97-96 late in the fourth when Aldridge made a pair of free throws to put Portland in front. Aldridge then converted a layup and after Amar’e Stoudemire’s dunk had the Knicks within one, he potted a stepback jumper for a 102-99 edge. Carmelo Anthony and Pablo Prigioni missed jumpers on the next two Knicks touches, and Wesley Matthews split a pair of free throws to seal the contest.


Final Score: New Orleans 104, LA Lakers 87

Jrue Holiday made a season-high four 3- pointers and totaled 22 points with eight assists in the New Orleans Pelicans’ 104-87 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Anthony Davis scored a game-high 23 points on 11-of-15 shooting for the Pelicans, who had lost five of six and were on the second of a back-to-back to close out a three-game road trip. Ryan Anderson contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Shaking up the starting lineup wasn’t enough to jumpstart the Lakers, who remain near the bottom of the Western Conference standings after yet another convincing defeat. Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer were moved to the bench in favor of Ed Davis and Ronnie Price after a 5-15 start to the season. Davis and Boozer both had 12 points in their new roles while the guards struggled to the tune of three points apiece.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results


(Sunday, December 07)


Final Score: Anaheim 4, Winnipeg 3 (OT)

Kyle Palmieri’s tally with 53 seconds elapsed in overtime lifted Anaheim over Winnipeg by a 4-3 count at MTS Centre. Rene Bourque, Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler also scored with Ryan Getzlaf adding three assists for the Ducks, who have won four in a row and seven of their last nine. Frederik Andersen stopped 27-of-30 shots for the victory. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba lit the lamp for the Jets, whose last two defeats have come beyond regulation. Ondrej Pavelec suffered the loss by stopping only 21 shots.


Final Score: Detroit 3, Carolina 1

Tomas Tatar scored twice and Petr Mrazek came up with 34 saves as Detroit claimed a 3-1 victory over Carolina on Sunday. Pavel Datsyuk added a goal and two assists for the Red Wings, who have won three in a row and seven of their last eight. Jay McClement provided the sole offense for the Hurricanes, while Cam Ward stopped only 19 pucks in defeat.


Final Score: Ottawa 4, Vancouver 3 (OT)

Erik Karlsson netted the game-winning goal 1:21 into overtime and the Ottawa Senators battled back from a three-goal deficit to top the Vancouver Canucks, 4-3, on Sunday. Mika Zibanejad, who finished with two goals and two assists, dropped a pass back to Karlsson in the slot and the Ottawa captain beat a screened Eddie Lack with a wrister for the win. David Legwand scored on the power play to spark the comeback, Bobby Ryan tallied three helpers and Craig Anderson made 30 saves for the Senators, who ended a five-game skid. Radim Vrbata had a goal and an assist, while Brad Richardson and Kevin Bieksa also scored for Vancouver, which got 41 stops from Lack in its second straight loss.


Final Score: Edmonton 2, San Jose 1

David Perron scored the deciding goal in the third period as the Edmonton Oilers ended an 11-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. Nail Yakupov tallied a power-play goal and Ben Scrivens turned aside 20-of-21 shots for the Oilers, who won their first game since a 3-1 victory over the Rangers on November 9. Edmonton also defeated a Western Conference opponent for the first time this season after starting out 0-12-4. Tye McGinn provided San Jose’s lone goal and Alex Stalock made 22 saves as the Sharks had a four-game winning streak come to an end. The two teams will play again in San Jose on Tuesday.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Willett wins Nedbank Golf Challenge by 4 shots

Danny Willett fired a final- round, 6-under 66 on Sunday and he coasted to a 4-shot victory at the Nedbank Golf Challenge for his second career win on the European Tour.

Willett, who began the day one shot behind the third-round leader Luke Donald, finished the week at 18-under-par 270. Willett’s first victory came at the 2012 BMW International Open.

“Words can’t really describe,“ Willett said. “Fantastic week. Fantastic year. A great way to top it off. Again, it’s struggling for words. It’s just overwhelming, really.“

First-round leader Ross Fisher shot a 4-under 68 at Gary Player Country Club and that propelled him to a runner-up finish at 14-under 274.

Donald, celebrating his 37th birthday Sunday, struggled a bit in his final round and he finished alone in third place at 12-under 276 following a 1-over 73.

Marcel Siem was the next-closest finisher to the trio of Englishmen atop the leaderboard. Siem carded a 68 to end alone in fourth at 9-under 279. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (68) finished in fifth at 7-under 281, while Miguel Angel Jimenez (69) ended in sixth at minus-6.

Playing in the final pairing with Donald and Fisher, Willett pulled even with Donald early on with a birdie on the par-5 second. On the next hole, Willett made his second consecutive gain and Donald dropped a shot with a bogey, and just like that Willett had a 2-shot lead.

The same thing happened again on No. 5 as Willett drained his third birdie of the day, while Donald tripped to another bogey, putting Willett’s advantage at four shots. Donald got back to within three with a birdie on No. 6.

After a pair of pars, Donald moved back to even-par on the day with a birdie on nine, pulling to within two of Willett.

In the meantime, Fisher was still in the mix. Fisher made birdies on two and four early on, but those were canceled out with back-to-back bogeys on five and six. However, Fisher got back on track with three straight birdies from eight to get to minus-13.

Willett extended his lead back to three with another gain on 10 and Donald dropped out of second place and down to minus-12 with a bogey on the same hole. Willett’s advantage was again stretched to four when Fisher bogeyed No. 11, putting him even with Donald at minus-12.

A Fisher gain on 13 had him at minus-13 and all three players in the final pairing went on to birdie the 14th, keeping Willett up by three shots.

While Fisher went on to par his final four holes and Donald made a trio of pars from 15 and closed with a bogey at the last, Willett used a birdie at No. 17 to extend his lead back to four heading to the final hole. Willett knocked his approach onto the green on 18 and two-putted for par and the victory.

“We just went out there and played aggressive,“ said Willett. “We came out of the blocks pretty quick and gave ourselves a little bit of a cushion. It was tight around the turn with Ross birdieing nine and 10. Again, we kept hitting good golf shots.“

NOTES: Fisher has five career wins on tour, while Donald has seven, with the last one coming at the 2012 BMW PGA Championship ... Of the 29 players remaining in the field Sunday, only five of them shot in the 60s ... Willett earned 864,976 euros for the victory ... This was the first event of the European Tour’s 2014-15 season. The tour will remain in South Africa again next week for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, where Charl Schwartzel won by four shots last year on his home soil.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


MONDAY, DECEMBER 08, 2014


National Football League
Atlanta at Green Bay, 8:30 PM - ESPN


National Basketball Association
Atlanta at Indiana, 7:00 PM - FS-Indiana, DSS
Boston at Washington, 7:00 PM - CSN-New England, DC, DSS
Denver at Toronto, 7:30 PM - Altitude, TSN2, NBA TV
Cleveland at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM - FS-Ohio, YES, DSS
Golden State at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - CSN-Bay, FS-North, DSS
Utah at Sacramento, 10:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, CSN-California, DSS
Phoenix at LA Clippers, 10:30 PM - FS-Arizona, Prime Ticket, DSS


National Hockey League
Pittsburgh at NY Rangers, 7:00 PM - ROOT-Pittsburgh, MSG, DSS
New Jersey at Carolina, 7:00 PM - MSG+, FS-Carolina, DSS
Florida at St. Louis, 8:00 PM - FS-Florida, Midwest, DSS


College Basketball
Albany at Bucknell, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Kennesaw State at Butler, 7:00 PM - FS1
Yale at Florida, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
Boston Univ at Harvard, 7:00 PM - Ivy League Digital Network
Sacred Heart at Lafayette, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Savannah State at Miami-Florida, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
IUPU-Ft Wayne at Purdue, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
UC Santa Barbara at SMU, 8:00 PM - CBSSN
Nebraska Omaha at Air Force, 9:00 PM - Mountain West Network
North Dakota at Minnesota, 9:00 PM - ESPN U
Brown at Providence, 9:00 PM - FS1


Women’s College Basketball
Southern at Texas, 12:00 PM - Longhorn Network
Saint Louis at Missouri, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+


International Soccer
Italian Serie A Soccer, 2:40 PM - beIN Sport
Southampton vs. Manchester United, 2:55 PM - NBCSN

Sports News   141207

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  WV High School Champions

(FRIDAY, DECEMBER 05)

Class AA:

Bridgeport   43    State Champion

Frankfort   7


(SATURDAY, DECEMBER 06)


Class AAA:

Capital   55    State Champion

South Charleston   15


Class A:

St. Mary’s   32

Williamstown   33 (3 OT)    State Champion



The Gilmer Free Press

►  SI report: WVU making Gibson among nation’s top-paid assistants

Sports Illustrated reported late Friday that West Virginia has reached a new three-year contract with defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, potentially making him one of the nation’s 10 highest-paid assistants.

Gibson is making $350,000 this season, his first as the Mountaineers’ coordinator, and would stand to more than double that amount if Sports Illustrated’s report of the restructured deal is accurate. The 10th-highest salary among FBS assistants last season belonged to Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables at $800,000.

The top 10 is fluid from year to year, and especially so right now, with three members having been fired recently and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris—last year’s top-paid assistant at $1.3 million—becoming head coach at SMU.

West Virginia’s defense, among the softest in the FBS the past two years, made noticeable strides under Gibson, who switched back to the 3-3-5 system that was utilized during the Rich Rodriguez era. Gibson worked under Rodriguez for seven seasons in Morgantown, three more at Michigan, and then at Arizona in 2012. He returned to West Virginia shortly before signing day in 2013 and was promoted to defensive coordinator last spring when Keith Patterson left for Arizona State.

Among Gibson’s first and wisest moves was luring former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley out of retirement. The Mountaineers were at their best on October 18 while limiting then-No. 4 Baylor to a season-low 318 yards in a 41-27 upset—that despite losing both starting cornerbacks during the game.

The Sports Illustrated report claimed WVU extended the substantial raise because Gibson was being courted by other programs. Among the 125 defenses in the FBS, the Mountaineers entered the weekend ranked:

• 56th in total defense (388.6 yards per game)

• 61st in scoring defense (26.2 points per game)

• Ninth in third-down defense (30.9 percent)

• 19th in team passing efficiency defense (112.14 rating)

• 64th in passing yards allowed (226 yards per game)

• 67th in rushing defense (162.6 yards per game)

• 46th in tackles for loss (6.3 per game)

• 113th in turnovers gained (13 this season)

• 103rd in sacks (1.5 per game)

As West Virginia (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) awaits a postseason invite—likely to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis—nine defensive starters are expected to return next season. The coaching staff also could have more continuity than recent seasons, presuming five coaches with soon-to-expire contracts are re-signed.

Cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell ($225,000) is at the end of a two-year deal, while special-teams coordinator/safeties coach Joe DeForest ($500,000) is completing the third and final year of a contract he signed upon arriving from Oklahoma State. There’s the potential for DeForest to return at a reduced salary, considering he was stripped of the defensive coordinator title before the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl.

On the offensive side, coordinator Shannon Dawson ($250,000), receivers coach Lonnie Galloway ($300,000) and running backs coach JaJuan Seider ($200,000) must be renewed.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Marshall rallies past Louisiana Tech in Conference USA title game

Rakeem Cato passed 5 yards to Deon-Tay McManus with 1:50 remaining to lift Marshall over Louisiana Tech 26-23 on Saturday for the Thundering Herd’s first Conference USA championship.

Cato rolled out to his right and hit McManus in the back corner of the end zone to give Marshall its first lead of the game. On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Neville Hewitt intercepted Cody Sokol and Marshall ran out the clock.

McManus also caught Cato’s other touchdown pass in the second quarter and Justin Haig kicked four field goals for Marshall (12-1), which lost to Rice 41-24 in last year’s title game.

Cato completed 25 of 46 passes for 308 yards with an interception.

“Every time we took the field, we knew we could make plays,“ Cato said. “On that last drive, we made the plays.“

A 67-66 overtime loss to Western Kentucky last week knocked Marshall out of the Top 25 rankings, but they bounced back to claim their first C-USA title.

“How great does that sound? Conference USA Champions,“ Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “I can’t say enough how proud I am of that team.

“The culture has changed here. These kids come to play, and they work hard. They sure deserve what they got today.“

Kenneth Dixon ran for 156 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs (8-5). Dixon’s three touchdowns gave him the school record for career touchdowns with 59, passing Troy Edwards.

Louisiana Tech had six players declared academically ineligible for the game. Five of them were starters, including right tackle Mitchell Bell, left guard Tre Carter, defensive tackle Aaron Brown and linebackers Tony Johnson and Terrell Pinson.

That didn’t seem to slow down the Bulldogs in the rain.

Dixon had first-half scoring runs of 33 and 30 yards to stake Louisiana Tech to a 17-13 halftime lead. His second score came after the Bulldogs recovered a punt that bounced off a Marshall player.

With the score 17-16, Bulldogs’ Paul Turner blocked a punt and Le’Vander Liggins returned it 20 yards to the Marshall 19. Dixon ran it in for a score on the Herd’s next play from scrimmage with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.

Haig kicked his fourth field goal, a C-USA championship game record that earned him game MVP honors, with 8:34 left in the game.

Cato’s winning pass capped an 11-yard, 68-play drive.

Devon Johnson, Marshall’s 1,600-yard rusher, sat out the first half and finished with only four carries for 34 yards after injuring a shoulder in last week’s loss to Western Kentucky.

The Herd rolled up 429 yards offense to the Bulldogs’ 268.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Football Game Results

(Saturday, December 06)


Final Score: (1) Alabama 42, (14) Missouri 13

After patiently waiting for his time to come, Blake Sims more than showed he was ready for the moment. With the fifth-year senior throwing for 262 yards and two touchdowns in a near- flawless performance, No. 1 Alabama left no doubt of its imminent inclusion in the College Football Playoff with a 42-13 manhandling of 14th- ranked Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide’s authoritative victory virtually assured them of playing in one of the two national semifinal games to be held on New Year’s Day, most likely in the Sugar Bowl as the top overall seed in the four-team playoff. It was also allow Sims the opportunity to attempt to do what A.J. McCarron and Greg McElroy did before him—quarterback the Crimson Tide to a national championship. The first-year starter connected on a sharp 23-of-27 passes, with 12 of his completions going to Heisman candidate Amari Cooper, and Alabama (12-1) churned out 242 yards on the ground in dealing Missouri a second straight loss in the conference title game. The East champion Tigers fell 59-42 to Auburn in Atlanta a year ago. Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon each ran for a pair of touchdowns, with Henry amassing 141 yards on 20 carries. DeAndrew White added 101 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches, with Cooper contributing 83 yards in the blowout. Jimmie Hunt racked up a career-best 169 yards on six receptions for Missouri (10-3), but the Tigers mustered just 41 rushing yards while allowing 504 total to the Crimson Tide. Maty Mauk couldn’t match Sims’ exploits, with the Mizzou signal-caller finishing an inconsistent 16-of-34 for 272 yards and a touchdown.


Final Score: (2) Florida State 37, (12) Georgia Tech 35

Florida State was able to stop Georgia Tech’s potent triple-option attack for most of the second half, and the second-ranked Seminoles captured their third straight ACC title with a 37-35 win over the No. 12 Yellow Jackets. Roberto Aguayo made three field goals in the second half and the Seminoles (13-0) extended their winning streak to 29 games. With the win, Florida State all but locked up a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Seminoles entered the game No. 4 in the CFP rankings. All four of the top-ranked teams in the playoff rankings were victorious over the weekend. Alabama beat Missouri, Oregon rolled past Arizona and TCU dominated Iowa State. Florida State’s winning streak started with a 21-15 win over Georgia Tech in the 2012 ACC title game. Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, completed 21-of-30 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns for the Seminoles, who won their 15th ACC championship overall since joining the conference in 1992. Dalvin Cook carried the ball 31 times for 177 yards and a score for Florida State. Rashad Greene caught seven passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Justin Thomas connected on 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards, one touchdown and an interception for the Yellow Jackets (10-3), who were trying for their first conference crown since 2009. Thomas also carried the ball 11 times for 104 yards. Synjyn Days rushed for 67 yards and three scores on 19 carries for Georgia Tech, which racked up 331 yards on the ground.


Final Score: (4) TCU 55, Iowa State 3

Trevone Boykin threw four touchdown passes and caught a pass for a score, powering fourth-ranked TCU to a share of the Big 12 title with a 55-3 rout of Iowa State. The Horned Frogs entered the game third in the College Football Playoff rankings and are hopeful Saturday’s effort will impress the selection committee enough to keep them in the exclusive four-team field. Boykin was 30-of-41 for 460 yards and added 44 yards on eight carries. Aaron Green rushed for 104 yards and a score and also caught a touchdown pass for TCU (11-1, 8-1 Big 12), which will be co-conference champions with the winner of Saturday night’s game between Kansas State and Baylor. Sam B. Richardson completed only 16-of-40 passes for 152 yards and one interception for the Cyclones (2-10, 0-9), who concluded the season with six consecutive losses.


Final Score: (5) Baylor 38, (9) Kansas State 27

Baylor earned a share of the Big 12 title Saturday as the fifth-ranked Bears pulled out a 38-27 win over No. 9 Kansas State. The question is: Was a victory over a top-10 opponent enough to vault the Bears into the College Football Playoff? The CFP committee had Baylor ranked sixth coming into the final weekend of the season, and every team in front of them, including TCU, Florida State and Ohio State, won on Saturday. The Bears (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) must jump two of those teams, and their fate will be determined when the national semifinal matchups are announced Sunday. They seemingly needed a lopsided victory against a Kansas State (9-3, 7-2) team that was also playing for a share of the conference title. Instead, Baylor settled for a close win and a tie with TCU atop the conference standings. The Bears are the only team to beat the Horned Frogs this season, but the Big 12 announced earlier this week the teams would be seen as co- champions if they both won their final regular season games. Bryce Petty had a memorable final game at McLane Stadium, passing for 412 yards with a touchdown and an interception while adding a rushing score. Johnny Jefferson added two TDs on the ground for the victors.


Final Score: (6) Ohio State 59, (11) Wisconsin 0

Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones excelled in his first career start, throwing for three touchdowns to lead No. 6 Ohio State to a 59-0 rout of 11th-ranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Jones, who attempted just 19 career passes prior to the game, amassed 257 yards on 12-of-17 passing for the Buckeyes (12-1), who have won 11 straight games. The sophomore signal-caller was thrust into action after Big Ten Freshman of the Year J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle last week in a 42-28 win over Michigan. Senior Braxton Miller entered camp as the starter, but underwent surgery on his right throwing shoulder prior to the start of the season. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 220 yards—a Big Ten Championship Game record—and two scores on 20 carries and Devin Smith hauled in a career-high three touchdown passes on four catches for 137 yards. Ohio State, which finished undefeated in conference play for the third straight season, entered the game at No. 5 in the latest College Playoff Rankings. The four teams that will compete for the championship will be announced on Sunday.


Final Score: Oklahoma State 38, (18) Oklahoma 35

Tyreek Hill’s 92-yard punt return tied the game late in regulation and Ben Grogan’s 21-yard field goal in overtime lifted Oklahoma State to a 38-35 win over Oklahoma in another classic in the Bedlam Series. The Sooners ran off 2 1/2 minutes of clock late in the fourth after an untimely Mason Rudolph interception, then looked to pin Oklahoma State deep in its territory with under a minute left. Hill waived for a fair catch inside his 20, but the Cowboys (6-6, 4-5 Big 12) were flagged for running into the kicker. That proved to be a beneficial penalty because Hill took the next punt down the far sideline to tie the game with 45 seconds on the clock. Oklahoma (8-4, 5-4) managed to move the ball near midfield, but poor clock management on fourth down with the Sooners in formation for a Hail Mary ended regulation. The Cowboys’ defense came out strong in the extra session, forcing a 44-yard field goal attempt from Michael Hunnicutt that he pulled wide left. Desmond Roland then took over for Oklahoma State, barreling his way down inside the 5 on a couple of tough runs to set up Grogan, who split the uprights to halt a two-game losing streak in the series.


Final Score: (22) Boise State 28, Fresno State 14

Grant Hedrick ran for two touchdowns for No. 22 Boise State, which is likely heading back to a major bowl game following a 28-14 win over Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship Game on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium. Hedrick completed 9-of-16 passes for 155 yards and racked up 81 yards on nine carries for Boise State (11-2), which will take an eight-game win streak into bowl season. Jay Ajayi’s seven-game 100- yard streak came to an end, but the junior back still picked up 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the victory. With the Mountain West title, the Broncos will be the highest-ranked conference champ from the Group of 5. They are expected to receive a bid to either the Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl or Peach Bowl on Jan. 1. Brian Burrell threw for 332 yards on 30- of-45 efficiency with a touchdown and three interceptions for Fresno State (6-7), which had won three in a row coming into the game. The Bulldogs were denied a second straight conference title. Fresno State beat Utah State, 24-17, in the inaugural Mountain West championship game last season.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Giants’ Jennings questionable for Sunday

New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings was back on the practice field Friday, though his status for this weekend’s game against Tennessee remains uncertain.

Jennings exited New York’s 25-24 loss at Jacksonville last Sunday in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle and sat out both Wednesday and Thursday’s practices due to the injury. The Giants listed him as questionable on Friday’s injury report.

The ex-Jaguar was having a strong game against his former team, rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries prior to departing.

Rookie Andre Williams would draw the start against the Titans if Jennings is unable to go.

On the defensive side for the Giants, starting linebacker Jacquian Williams will miss a fourth straight game as he continues to experience symptoms from a concussion. Linebacker Mark Herzlich, dealing with a concussion as well, is questionable for Sunday’s tilt.


►  Cards’ Ellington out vs. Chiefs

Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington will miss Sunday’s Week 14 game against Kansas City with an injured hip.

Ellington left Arizona’s Week 13 loss to Atlanta with a hip pointer, and was unable to practice in the week leading up to the game with the Chiefs.

In 12 games this season, Ellington has totaled 660 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while adding 46 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns.

Running backs Stepfan Taylor, Robert Hughes and Marion Grice will fill in for Ellington.

Also listed as out for the Cardinals are safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb), guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) and defensive end Ed Stinson (toe).

After missing Arizona’s last two games with a knee injury, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is expected to be a game-time decision, though he was a full participant in Friday’s practice.

Linebacker Larry Foote (foot) and tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) are also considered questionable for Sunday’s game. Linebackers Lorenzo Alexander (knee) and Kenny Demens (hamstring) are probable.


►  Browns’ Cameron questionable to return vs. Colts

Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron was limited in practice for a third consecutive day Friday, though it still remains to be seen whether he’ll be cleared to play in Sunday’s game against Indianapolis.

Cameron has missed five straight games with a concussion he suffered during Cleveland’s 23-13 win over Oakland on October 26. Though the 2013 Pro Bowl tight end says he’s been feeling better every day, a neurologist still has to clear him for contact.

Backup tight end Gary Barnidge was declared out by the Browns (ribs). Also out are safety and NFL interception leader Tashaun Gipson (knee) and cornerback Robert Nelson (hamstring).

After missing two games with a knee injury, linebacker Karlos Dansby is questionable for Sunday after being a limited participant in practice. Running back Isaiah Crowell is questionable with a hip injury, and defensive end Jabaal Sheard (foot) is as well.


►  Jackson questionable for Sunday

Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson is questionable for Sunday’s home game against St. Louis.

Jackson didn’t participate in practice all week as he is suffering from bruises on both his legs in last week’s loss to Indianapolis.

Linebacker Keenan Robinson (knee), defensive end Jason Hatcher (knee), nose tackle Chris Baker (chest) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (concussion) are all listed as questionable.

Safety Brandon Meriweather is doubtful with a toe injury.


►  Titans’ Mettenberger on track to start

The Tennessee Titans officially listed rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger as questionable for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants due to a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the team’s most recent contest.

However, the Tennessean reported on Friday that Mettenberger will start the game after putting in a third straight limited practice to close out the week.

Mettenberger left last week’s 45-21 loss at Houston after taking a big hit from the Texans’ J.J. Watt in the third quarter. The 2014 sixth-round pick was later diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain of his AC joint, the least serious variety.

The LSU product has started each of Tennessee’s last five games—all Titans’ losses—and has completed 60% of his passes for 1,287 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions on the season.

Mettenberger is one of five players termed questionable for the Titans for Sunday’s matchup, along with wide receiver Kendall Wright (hand), offensive tackles Taylor Lewan (ankle) and Michael Oher (toe) and cornerback Blidi Wreh- Wilson (back).

Wright, Lewan and Oher all did not participate in Friday’s practice.

Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley will miss a second straight week with a hamstring injury.


►  Ravens’ Forsett questionable vs. Dolphins

Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett was listed as questionable on the team’s final injury report prior to Sunday’s matchup with the Miami Dolphins.

Forsett, who is fourth in the league with 1,009 rushing yards, was a limited participant in practice on Friday after sitting out the previous two days with a knee injury.

The 29-year-old has played in all 12 games (10 starts) this season and has ran for a team-best seven touchdowns.

Joining Forsett as questionable on the injury report are wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh), tight end Crockett Gillmore (back) and linebacker Albert McClellan (thigh).

Rookie defensive back Tramain Jacobs was ruled out with a thigh injury.


►  Bay Area battle: Niners visit hapless Raiders

After losing ground in a battle for a playoff spot, the San Francisco 49ers hope for better luck in the “Battle of the Bay.“

The Niners hope to rebound from a rough Thanksgiving night loss this Sunday as they visit the Oakland Raiders and the Coliseum.

San Francisco had a three-game winning streak halted as it was routed by the Seattle Seahawks 19-3 at home on November 27. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled to just 16-of-29 passing for 121 yards while getting picked off twice by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

Seattle outgained San Francisco 379-164 and running back Carlos Hyde led all Niner receivers with 38 yards on three catches.

“In all areas, they played better team football,“ said 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. “We have to come back and win them all.“

The 49ers dropped to 7-5 on the season, putting them a game back of the Seahawks for second place in the NFC West and two back of the front-running Arizona Cardinals. San Francisco can still keep itself in the hunt, though, as it visits Seattle on December 14 and then closes the regular season at home versus Arizona among its four remaining games.

The Niners hope to head to Seattle for a rematch off a winning note as they visit the 1-11 Raiders. The all-time series is tied at 6-6, but San Francisco has won three straight and four of the past five meetings.

San Francisco will visit Oakland for the first time since a 23-20 overtime victory in 2002 and this marks the fifth “Battle of the Bay” since the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995.

The Raiders, though, haven’t beaten the Niners as the home team since 1991 while in Los Angeles.

Oakland snapped a 16-game losing streak dating back to last season with a 24-20 home victory over Kansas City on November 20, but any momentum from that Thursday victory was crushed last weekend in a 52-0 thumping at the hands of the hosting St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

The Raiders allowed 21 points in the first quarter and then saw Rams running back Tre Mason rip off an 89-yard touchdown run early in the second.

Meanwhile, Oakland managed just 244 yards of offense for the game.

“We didn’t start fast. We knew this was a team that started fast, one of the better teams in the league that way, and we didn’t start fast on either side of the football today,“ said Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano.

Rookie Derek Carr finished 24-of-39 passing for 173 yards and threw interceptions on consecutive drives in the second quarter. Wide receiver James Jones and running back Marcel Reece both caught six passes.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Points have been hard to come by for the Niners at times this season as they rank tied for 25th in the NFL with 19.3 per game. However, the Raiders are tied for 30th with 28.1 points allowed per game and are yielding 359.4 yards per game.

San Francisco hopes to get Kaepernick on track as he posted just a 36.7 passer rating versus the Seahawks and had a run of 18 straight games with a touchdown pass halted.

“We’re going to attack it. We’re going to get it right,“ Harbaugh said of getting Kaepernick adjusted. “There will be improvements that are made and I have great confidence that we can do that.“

Kaepernick has won six of his eight career starts versus the AFC with 12 total touchdowns in that span. Eight of those have come through the air with another four on the ground.

San Francisco’s quarterback will be trying to avoid a familiar face in Raiders cornerback Tarell Brown, who was a fifth-round pick by the Niners in 2007. He became a full-time starter in 2011 and recorded 11 interceptions with San Francisco before signing with the Raiders this season.

“He’s doing a very good job at diagnosing routes,“ Harbaugh said of Brown. “He’s very good at having the instincts to play the route. He’ll sit on routes. He gets involved with the breakups and he’s looking to be in position to get interceptions. A lot of respect for his game.“

Oakland actually added two former 49er defensive backs this offseason, signing Carlos Rogers as well, but he is out with a knee injury.

Brown will try to stop San Francisco receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Both have recorded four touchdown catches this season, while Boldin leads the club with 68 receptions and 843 yards.

“I look forward to it. It’s going to be exciting,“ noted Brown. “They’ll be hyped up to play against me. I’ll be hyped up to play against them, and it’s always great competition when you go against guys you’re familiar with.“

Crabtree, though, was limited in practice on Wednesday after suffering injuries to his abdomen and knee versus Seattle.

The Niners defense slipped to fourth in the NFL with 306.7 yards allowed per game after struggling a bit versus the Seahawks, but the 49ers are just one of five teams to have at least three players with five or more sacks.

Linebackers Ahamd Brooks and Aaron Lynch, along with defensive tackle Justin Smith, have all hit the mark, with Lynch picking up a sack in three straight.

San Francisco’s linebackers are producing despite not having NaVarro Bowman all season due to injury and losing Patrick Willis to a toe injury on November 11 that ended his campaign. Linebacker Chris Borland has stepped in, recording 87 tackles, a sack and two interceptions in 12 games this season with six starts.

Borland, who has at least 13 tackles in four of his past five games, was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for November.

The unit will try to rattle Carr, who leads all NFL rookies with 2,422 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.

Despite Oakland’s struggles this season, Sparano doesn’t plan on sitting Carr and isn’t too concerned with performance versus the Rams.

“I didn’t feel like he looked rattled, but I thought that as the game went on and you’re in one of those kind of games where you have to throw the football, handing the football off at that point isn’t a huge option,“ said the coach.

Carr could be helped if running back Latavius Murray can play this weekend. He ran for a career-high 112 yards in the win over the Chiefs, but suffered a concussion in the victory and did not play against the Rams.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The good news for the Niners is that the extra time to stew about the loss to the Seahawks should help them avoid looking past the Raiders. They can’t afford to lose a game like this and should be amped up to get on track.

Also, since 2011, the 49ers are 3-0 following a game on “Thursday Night Football” and have outscored their opponents 84-6 in those three contests.

That doesn’t bode well for an Oakland team playing out the string, even if local bragging rights are on the line.

Predicted outcome: 49ers 20, Raiders 9


►  Hoyer remains Browns starter with explosive Colts looming

The Indianapolis Colts could be the first NFL team to clinch a division title in 2014 but they won’t be doing it at the expense of “Johnny Football.“

Many thought the Colts, who can wrap up the AFC South win a win in Cleveland on Sunday coupled with a Houston loss at Jacksonville, would be facing a Browns team with first-round pick Johnny Manziel under center for his first start.

Instead, Cleveland coach Mike Pettine backtracked Wednesday after a few days of contemplation and is sticking with the embattled Brian Hoyer, at least for the time being.

“After thorough evaluation and talking to the staff, we feel Brian gives us the best opportunity to win on Sunday,“ said Pettine. “This is a football decision and those are always going to be based on what we think is best for our team.“

Hoyer was benched early in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 26-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills and Manziel stepped in to engineer an 8-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with a 10-yard touchdown scramble.

Manziel ended the game 5-of-8 for 63 yards, forcing the Browns into a critical decision about the team’s future of the quarterback position.

Hoyer completed just 18-of-30 passes for 192 yards and two interceptions before being benched. In the past three games, he has thrown only one touchdown pass and six interceptions.

The Browns are 7-5 heading into Sunday’s contest with the Colts and are tied with six other teams for the final AFC wild card spot.

“Brian has led our team to a 7-5 record,“ Pettine added. “I’m confident that we can get the entire offense playing at the level needed to accomplish the goals we set at the beginning of the season. Those goals are still very much attainable.“

Hoyer, who is 10-5 as Cleveland’s starting quarterback dating back to last season, has throw for 3,056 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 12 games this year.

“It wasn’t perfect and he’s made his share of mistakes, but (Hoyer’s) gotten the lion’s share of reps in practice and virtually all of them in games and has us in the thick of a playoff hunt,“ Pettine said. “That, to me, was probably the biggest determining factor.“

There is, of course, no such controversy with the Colts as Andrew Luck is piloting one of the best offenses in all of football.

In fact, Indianapolis scored six touchdowns of at least 30 yards in a 49-27 win over Washington in Week 13, becoming the first team to register at least six 30-plus touchdowns in a game since 1966 when the Redskins did it in a 72-41 drubbing of the New York Giants.

“We have incredibly explosive players all over the field,“ said Luck, who leads the league with 4,011 passing yards and joined Peyton Manning and Dan Marino as the only players in NFL history with at least 4,000 passing yards in two of their first three seasons.

Luck completed 19-of-27 throws against the Redskins for 370 yards and two of TDs went for more than 70 yards. Coby Fleener hauled in TD passes of 30 and 73 yards, while Donte Moncrief had scoring receptions of 48 and 79 yards in what was supposed to be a matchup of the top two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Robert Griffin III, the second overall choice in 2012, was benched earlier in the week by Redskins coach Jay Gruden after three straight losing efforts, however. Colt McCoy, the winning quarterback in Washington’s last two victories, threw for 392 yards with three touchdowns, but the Redskins defense could not stop Luck.

The Colts racked up 487 yards on just 49 plays, an average of 9.9 yards per play. Dan Herron added to the outburst with 88 yards on just eight carries, including a 49-yard touchdown run, as Indianapolis notched its second straight win.

Cleveland holds a slim 14-13 advantage in its all-time series with Indy but the Colts have won six of the past seven. The two teams haven’t locked up in the Forest City since 2008, a 10-6 Indianapolis win.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Manziel did provide a spark in a game that was long over last weekend but that was fool’s gold against a Bills D which took its foot off the gas. Rallying around the new guy is great but emotion like that can’t be sustained for an entire football game, never mind a complete playoff push in the month of December.

A move away from Hoyer would have signaled that the Browns were succeeding despite Hoyer and fans would have been expecting Manziel to traverse troubled waters that not only include Luck and the Colts but also division games against AFC North frontrunner Cincinnati and 7-5 Baltimore over the final month.

With Hoyer Cleveland probably has a slim chance to make the postseason. Without him, slim is hopping a cab and is on his way to Hopkins International.

Hoyer’s record as the starter in Cleveland is a number panned only by those who don’t understand the organization was 20-57 in its previous 77 games without him.

Moving away from the guy who has won at a .667 clip and moving toward Manziel, who completed his first NFL pass last week, would have been setting up the rookie to fail, especially in a matchup against the pure throwing Luck.

“Obviously, that’s a decision that’s made by coach Pettine,“ Manziel said. “And this week his answer was, ‘No’ so moving forward whatever transpires, maybe next time the answer will be, ‘Yes.‘“

Luck not only leads the NFL in passing yards, he is second with 34 TD passes and also second in the AFC at passer rating with a 103.0 mark. He captains an offense that is tops in all of football, piling up 438.3 yards per game with his favorite target being the explosive T.Y. Hilton, who leads the Colts with a career-high 1,145 receiving yards.

The Indy offense is also No. 1 the NFL with 6.2 yards per play and tops in explosive plays with 69 garnering over 20 yards.

“Once you throw the ball up for a big play, you want to be that guy,“ said veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, who has 54 catches for 636 yards of his own. “We had a lot of guys that were able to capitalize on that (Sunday). We got a lot of guys. We are pretty loaded.“

Things could get even more loaded for Luck with the potential return of tight end Dwayne Allen, who has missed two games with a balky right ankle.

The best-case scenario for the Browns is to play ball control and keep it out of Luck’s hands as much as possible and that means getting the running game going.

With Ben Tate now in Minnesota that means rookies Terrance West (502 yards, three touchdowns) and Isaiah Crowell (475 yards, seven touchdowns) need to have an impactful afternoon. Crowell, however, is dealing with a hip injury.

The game will also mark the return of Trent Richardson to Cleveland for the first time since being traded to the Colts on September 18, 2013. Richardson, who struggled with the Browns after being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, hasn’t done much better with the Colts, amassing only 445 rushing yards at 3.3 yards per carry this season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Credit Pettine for coming to his senses and doing his best to alleviate the rookie coaching mistake he made in Buffalo last weekend.

Cleveland has won four of its past six games and three of its past four at home but this looks like an untenable matchup because to beat Luck and the Colts, it almost has to be in a shootout. The Browns are ill-equipped to win in that fashion just yet. So why not let the veteran Hoyer take the heat?

“I always have a fire lit,“ Hoyer said. “Anytime someone questions you, you want to prove them wrong. I’m sure there are people questioning me all along, not just this week, throughout the entire season.“

Predicted outcome: Colts 33, Browns 17


►  Lions hope to pile on mistake-prone Bucs

The Detroit Lions try to keep their NFC North title hopes alive on Sunday when they welcome the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Ford Field.

Detroit snapped a two-game losing streak and picked up a much-needed win on Thanksgiving, as Joique Bell and Calvin Johnson each scored twice to help the Lions snatch a 34-17 victory over the Chicago Bears.

Matthew Stafford was 34-for-45 for 390 yards with two touchdown passes for the Lions (8-4), who bounced back from a pair of road losses to Arizona and New England.

“We had shown that we could do it in spurts at times this season,“ Stafford said of his offense. “To put it together for 60 minutes was gratifying.“

Detroit, which remains a game behind Green Bay for first place in the NFC North, has now won three in a row at home and hasn’t won four straight in the Motor City since 2007.

Bell totaled 91 yards on 23 carries, while Johnson had 11 catches for 146 yards for the Lions, who had lost nine straight in its traditional Thanksgiving Day game, but has now won its past two thanks to this win and a victory over an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay last year.

Johnson’s 25-yard touchdown reception was the Lions first in nine quarters and it was the first time the team went over 24 points since it hung 35 on the New York Giants in Week 1.

“It’s something to build off of,“ Stafford said. “Just being consistent with it, not having a bad quarter - maybe a bad series here, one or two, but making sure that we were playing well in every quarter.“

Tampa, meanwhile, continued to flounder in head coach Lovie Smith’s first season and fell to 2-10 on the season, despite a valiant effort in a 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Josh McCown went 15-for-29 for 190 yards with an interception, and Doug Martin had a rushing touchdown for the Buccaneers (2-10), who have dropped their past two games and remained winless in six tries at home this season.

“That’s how 2-10 football teams play, they find a way to lose the game at the end,“ said Smith. “We did some good things defensively and made some plays, but when you make dumb stupid penalties throughout the game they wind up biting you in the end.“

Compounding matters was a too many men on the field penalty with time winding down that cost the Bucs an opportunity to attempt a potential winning field goal.

The Bucs, who were flagged 13 times, are tied with Seattle for most penalties in the league and have let fourth-quarter leads slip away in five of their 10 defeats.

“Growing pains, learning situations, normally it doesn’t take this many games to get the point across,“ Smith said.

Sunday’s matchup between these former NFC Central foes will mark the fourth clash in five seasons between them, with the Lions winning two of the three previous matchups (2010, 2011).

The Lions, though, have dropped five of the past six home meetings in the series.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Detroit’s offense could be hitting its stride at the right time. The Lions generated a total of 474 yards in the win over the Bears with Megatron producing his finest game of the season.

The talented wideout, who returned November 9 after missing more than a month due to an ankle injury, was targeted a season-high 16 times in the victory. He’s hauled in 23 catches for 355 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his last three games versus the Buccaneers.

And that offense could get even more of a boost this week with the return of running back Reggie Bush, who has been sidelined the past three weeks with an ankle injury.

Even though Tampa comes into this contest with just two wins on the season, its opponents have averaged just 18.2 points per game over the past five games.

The Bucs may also be able to keep Johnson in check, as they have given up three pass plays of 40-plus yards on the year, tied for the lowest total in the NFL.

“I see Tampa really being a bend but don’t break defense,“ Detroit wideout Golden Tate said. “I see those guys being one of those teams where, ‘we’re going to let you mess up. We’re not going to press. We’re going to force a fumble or expect you to get a holding call on offense or throw an interception and we’re going to rally around that.‘“

The Bucs are minus-six in turnover differential on the year, but they’ve forced 19 takeaways, the same amount as the Lions’ defense. The problem is that Tampa Bay’s offense has turned the ball over 25 times.

Tampa’s offense has also failed to capitalize while in the red zone, particularly in the last three games, as they have managed a touchdown in just 28.6-percent of its chances.

“We’ve got to do a better job in just our focus and we’ve got to demand more from ourselves because those things are stopping us,“ said McCown. “And it’s a shame because, this past game specifically, because it puts you ... you get behind the sticks, especially when you’re running the ball the way we ran it in the first half, but you start having penalties and you get behind the sticks and you can’t run the ball, it changes what you’re doing.“

Martin managed a season-best 58 yards on the ground last week versus the Bengals, but he will be going up against a Lions defense that is ranked No. 1 in the league against the run after surrendering a mere 13 yards on the ground to the Bears.

The 13 yards allowed were the fewest since 1991 and team has given up just 2.7 yards per carry over the last four games.

Detroit, meanwhile, also boasts the league’s No. 1 defense when it comes to points allowed as it is holding opponents to just 17.3 points per game through 12 games.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Detroit actually controls its own destiny in terms of winning a division. The Lions have very winnable games the next three weeks before what could be a winner-take-all showdown with the Packers in Week 17. The Lions seem to be hitting on all cylinders at the moment and should be able to roll this week against what is an improving Buccaneers club.

Predicted outcome: Lions 23, Buccaneers 12


►  Rams intent to build on impressive win, tangle with Redskins

The St. Louis Rams hope they saved some points from their previous win and will visit the Washington Redskins Sunday at FedEx Field.

The Rams annihilated the lowly Oakland Raiders, 52-0, at home this past weekend and took advantage of five turnovers by the visiting team, including a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown by Trumaine Johnson.

All three phases worked in St. Louis’ favor and the team rode the legs of Tre Mason, who ran for a season-high 117 yards and two scores. He had an 89-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and posted just his second 100-yard game of the season. Mason also scored on a 35-yard screen pass.

“We practiced with a purpose, we met with a purpose,“ Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’ve been doing that all year long. It all just came together for us today.“

St. Louis improved to 5-7 and has rotated wins over the past eight games.

Veteran quarterback Shaun Hill made his third start since replacing rookie Austin Davis and threw for 183 yards with two touchdowns on 13-of-22 passing. Hill won his only career start against the Redskins as a member of San Francisco in 2008.

Oakland used two quarterbacks after rookie Derek Carr was intercepted twice and passed for 173 yards. Matt Schaub came on in relief and was intercepted, completing 5-of-9 attempts for 57 yards.

Johnson had two interceptions and was excited for his pick-six.

“This is my first pick six,“ Johnson said. “I scored and forgot what it was like to be in the end zone. My celebration was trash, but I’m just glad I caught it and put some points up for our team.“

E.J. Gaines posted the other interception for the Rams, who recorded six sacks, three of which by Robert Quinn. Quinn has nine sacks on the season and is 10 shy of matching his 2013 total.

The Rams are on the road, where they have lost two in a row and four of the last five games.

Washington is a dismal 3-9 this season and mired in a four-game losing streak. It will play three of four games at home to close the season.

The Redskins made a statement by benching franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III after a 17-13 loss at San Francisco. The move to Colt McCoy produced some numbers, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Sunday’s 49-27 loss in Indianapolis. McCoy threw for a career-high 392 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in his second start of the season, and Jordan Reed was his favorite target.

Reed caught nine passes for 123 yards and DeSean Jackson finished with five receptions for 84 yards and a score. Wide receiver Santana Moss recorded his first reception of the season in the second quarter, gaining 13 yards.

“Players have to start stepping up and taking some accountability at some point,“ Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We’ve got to do a better job coaching, that’s all I can say.“

The Colts had 487 total yards to Washington’s 425. Ryan Kerrigan posted the lone sack for the Redskins and has 9 1/2 this season. He also posted the 13th forced fumble of his career for the Redskins, who had three takeaways for the second straight week.

Washington’s defense has seen better days and is ninth in rushing yards allowed (102.8), 11th in total yards (344.0), 15th in passing yards (241.2) and 27th in points allowed (26.8). The Redskins are 14th in sacks (28.0) and 29th in interceptions (5).

“I think everybody in our room works hard,“ Redskins defensive back Ryan Clark said. “I love these dudes. I like the guys I work with. I love the way they work. I love the way they prepare, but you got to bring it to the grass and we need to bring it to the grass as a group.“

The Redskins lead the all-time series with the Rams, 24-12-1, but have lost four of the past six meetings between the two teams. St. Louis won the latest installment of this series by recording a 31-28 win on September 16, 2012. RG3 passed for 206 yards with a TD and an INT, and also ran for 82 yards and two scores. Alfred Morris posted 89 yards on 16 carries in defeat.

Washington is 11-5 all-time in regular season home games against the Rams.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Redskins are 10th and 11th, respectively, in passing yards (260.5) and total yards (370.2) this season. The Rams are allowing 245.2 passing yards and 356.3 total yards on defense, so this could turn out to be a win for the hosts.

St. Louis sacked the Raiders six times and Quinn led the way. Now he gets to face McCoy, who was sacked six times on Sunday and 11 times in three appearances this season. Quinn has nine sacks and four forced fumbles in his last seven games.

McCoy and the Redskins are closing out the season with pride and effort.

“We have unity. We have good guys in that locker room. We have good coaches and we know this isn’t how the season, this isn’t how we drew it up,“ McCoy said. “But we all still have a lot of pride and certainly in that receivers group, there’s a lot of pride. So I can be better and I think we all can be better. And we just have to continue to grind and continue to improve. The most important thing is to find a way to get a win. We’re going back home this week, so I’ll put my best foot forward and keep going.“

Speaking of the receivers, wide receiver Pierre Garcon surpassed 5,000 career receiving yards and Jackson posted his 400th career reception. Jackson eclipsed 7,000 career receiving yards and is a deep threat for the ‘Skins. He has 10 catches for 40 or more yards this season, and is nursing a leg bruise.

Jackson has faced St. Louis twice in his career as an Eagle, posting 12 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown.

Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather suffered a sprained toe and his status for Sunday is unknown. Other defensive players who sustained injuries against the Colts were cornerback Chase Minnifield, linebacker Will Compton and defensive lineman Kedric Golston.

Gruden said it’s “not looking good” for Meriweather to play this week. Golston could be out with both a back and foot ailment.

St. Louis hopes to run up the score on Washington like it did versus Oakland, and can take advantage of a nicked-up Redskins defense. Mason will face a Washington defense allowing just over 100 yards a game. The Colts had 126 rushing yards on Sunday and Dan Herron had 88 yards and a TD on eight touches.

Mason is riding a strong wave from the Oakland game and will try to carry it over into FedEx Field.

“I want to be the best player to ever touch a football, and that’s what I’m heading after,“ Mason said. “That’s a goal of mine.“

While those aspirations may be a bit far-fetched, Mason should have similar numbers Sunday.

“My mindset is that if I’ve done it once, why not do it again?“ Mason said. “I told myself coming into the league to be the best, to be the greatest. And I’m trying to do it.“

Mason leads NFC rookies with 562 rushing yards and has led the Rams in rushing in all eight games played.

Rams defensive end Chris Long returned against the Raiders after suffering an ankle injury in Week 1. Long had a sack and his coach is happy he’s back.

“It’s great to get him back. He’s not 100% yet, but I brought him back just to get him off my rear end,“ Fisher said. “He was just wearing me out to come back and play. Chris understands the game, he plays with leverage, he’s a good run defender. It’s great to get on the board from a sack standpoint.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Shutting out the Raiders in blowout fashion was no fluke by the Rams, but they’ve struggled on the road all season. The Rams are out of the playoff mix and would like to end the season on a positive note with high expectations for 2015.

And so would the Redskins.

With a new QB in tow for a second straight week, the home team has the edge in this one. Gruden liked the way McCoy competed against a tough Indy squad and had admiration for his QB, which has been rare this season.

“Colt competed,“ Gruden said. “There are some things I wish we would have done differently, play calls and execution-wise, but I feel like he competed and did a nice job out there.“

Washington’s defense may be banged up a bit, so it’s up to McCoy, Morris and some talented receivers to keep team pride intact.

Predicted outcome: Redskins 26, Rams 21


►  Steelers try to tighten AFC North race against Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals ran the gauntlet on the road, but they don’t have an easy task waiting for them back at home.

The Bengals try to avoid losing ground for the top spot in the AFC North this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, where they play host to a Pittsburgh Steelers club that is just one of many giving chase for the division crown.

Cincinnati departed on a three-game road trip following an ugly 24-3 home loss to Cleveland back on November 6, but managed successful runs through New Orleans, Houston and Tampa Bay. That gave the Bengals road victories over three consecutive weeks for the first time in franchise history.

The Bengals did not allow more than 13 points in any game over the swing and that was the key in Sunday’s 14-13 triumph over the Buccaneers as an ill Andy Dalton struggled with three interceptions and just 176 yards passing.

However, Dalton did run for a five-yard score late in the second quarter to get the Bengals on the board and hooked up with wide receiver A.J. Green for a 13-yard scoring strike with 2:04 to play in the third quarter that was the difference.

Dalton, in fact, literally left it all out on the field, and in the locker room.

“He looked bad before the game,“ said offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. “I never heard him say a word to anybody. The last I saw him before we took the field, he was bent over a trash can in the locker room.“

Dalton, though, didn’t blame the illness for his struggles.

“I’m not going to make any excuses for the way things started out,“ said Dalton, who threw all three of his interceptions in the first half. “(The virus) obviously isn’t something you want to deal with, but I’m not saying that’s the reason. Obviously I’ve got to play better in these games coming up.“

That’s because Cincinnati has limited room for error. At 8-3-1, it leads the AFC North, but has a trio of 7-5 teams right behind it in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore. The Bengals visit the Browns next weekend and close the regular season at the Steelers following a tough home test with Denver.

The Steelers have won six of their last eight versus the Bengals, but were defeated 35-32 by the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed five touchdown passes to five different receivers.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 435 yards on 32-of-58 passing with two late touchdowns to wide receiver Antonio Brown, but was also picked off twice for a Pittsburgh club that had won four of five coming in.

“Just one of those days, a lot of balls were coming out high,“ said Roethlisberger. “I had to make throws early on that I didn’t make tonight and I usually do.“

Running back Le’Veon Bell led his club with 159 yards on eight receptions and had 95 yards rushing with a score on 21 attempts, while Brown ended up posting 97 yards on eight grabs.

Bell’s receiving yards and yards from scrimmage (254) were both career highs.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The focus of Cincinnati’s defense should be Bell, who has emerged as one of the top dual-threat backs in the NFL. His 65 receptions this season are a franchise record by a running back and he also is just 54 yards shy of becoming the first Steelers back to hit 1,100 in a season since Rashard Mendenhall in 2010.

Overall, Bell is the first player in team history to record consecutive games with 200 yards from scrimmage and he leads the AFC with 1,689 scrimmage yards, getting 643 of that through the air.

Of course, this late in the season one has to wonder how 22-year-old’s body is handling all of the touches, especially since the Steelers released LeGarrette Blount on November 18. Bell took all but two of Pittsburgh’s rushing carries versus the Saints and was targeted 11 times by Roethlisberger.

“We have some other guys that are capable, but obviously he’s going to get the bulk of the carries,“ said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “He’s a highly conditioned guy. He’s a mentally tough guy. He’s a competitor. Personally I think he’s built for it and he’s excited about having an opportunity to do it for us.

Roethlisberger agreed that Bell needs to be a big part of Pittsburgh’s offense.

“He’s one of the best players in the game,“ the quarterback said of Bell. “I know that we need to get him the ball and that’s running and passing. He played 80-something snaps in that football game and that’s kind of unheard of for a running back, especially to take the beating that he does. So as long as he stays healthy that’s what matters to me.“

While Bell may be the only top-level option in the ground game, Roethlisberger does have an excellent receiver to look towards in Brown, whose 11 touchdown catches this season are one shy of the club record held by four different players.

Brown gets plenty of attention, having notched at least five catches and 50 yards in an NFL-record 28 straight games. He leads the NFL with 1,258 receiving yards.

Despite those options, Roethlisberger has just four touchdown passes to five interceptions over the past three games.

“He hasn’t been as accurate as he had been,“ Tomlin said of Roethlisberger. “Some of it is due to some pressure created in the pocket. Some of it is due to game circumstances. Some we are lacking a little cohesion in some instances. None of those things really happen in a vacuum when you’re talking about quarterback play.“

Dalton will hope a return home will settle his stomach as the Bengals are 13-1-1 in their past 15 regular-season home games. In his past 15 at home, Dalton has thrown for 3,471 yards with 26 touchdowns.

Though he was sacked only twice, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wasn’t happy with the play of his offensive line, one that is still trying to replace the injured Andre Smith, on injured reserve due to a triceps injury.

Marshall Newhouse started in Smith’s place versus Tampa Bay and played all but 19 snaps, with Clint Boling seeing the rest of the time there.

“Not good enough. Not as good as we need,“ said Lewis of the offensive line. “We had a couple guys play pretty well, but as a group we didn’t play as well as we need to play. We need to play better.“

While Newhouse could start again this weekend, the Bengals did sign 31-year- old veteran Eric Winston this week. Winston started all 16 games last season with Arizona, but was cut by Seattle after its preseason finale this year.

The Bengals rank just 25th against the run, giving up 125.1 yards per game and has two key players dealing with injury in linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) and defensive tackle Domata Peko (elbow).

Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds has 2 1/2 sacks in his last three games for Pittsburgh’s 12th-ranked defense.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The AFC North is very much up for grabs and it could very well be decided in Week 17 when the Bengals visit the Steelers. That makes drawing first blood in this matchup key for an edge down the road, assuming both clubs take care of business afterwards.

The Steelers rank third in the NFL with 417.3 yards per game on offense, but Roethlisberger only has an 87.1 career passer rating in this series and just one 300-yard passing game. That makes shutting down Bell key for Cincinnati.

“All of our division games are important games, we know. This is a very, very important football team this week,“ said Lewis. “It’s at home, so the fans will be out and excited big time and have a lot of fun on Sunday. It’s a really important game for us.“

A healthier Dalton and a home-field edge should allow the Bengals to take care of business this week.

Predicted outcome: Bengals 27, Steelers 24


►  Rex takes Geno and the ground game to Minnesota

Minnesota Vikings fans would surely concede Teddy Bridgewater is not Peyton Manning. But the Vikings’ rookie can soothe himself by recognizing that he’s also not Geno Smith.

Unlike his signal-calling counterpart for Sunday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium, the youngster from Louisville is not only playing well as the 2014 season reaches its final stages, but there’s also a very good chance - unlike Smith in New York - that he’s already penciled in for a starting job next year.

Bridgewater has four touchdowns against a single interception in his last two games, and played perhaps his best game of the season last week against Carolina - completing 15-of-21 passes for 138 yards, two scores and a 120.7 passer rating in a 31-13 defeat of the Panthers.

“I’m better at just making quicker decisions,“ he said. “Earlier in the year, I talked about getting rid of the ball faster. That wasn’t the issue. I think I just made quicker decisions, and if I’m able to make quicker decisions I’m able to get the ball out faster.“

One of his prime targets, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, should be around for the full 60 minutes against the Jets after having just one pass thrown to him last week. He only played three snaps against Carolina after attending a funeral during the practice week and dealing with a knee injury.

He caught six passes for 86 yards in Minnesota’s Week 8 defeat of Tampa Bay, but has caught just five balls since for 51 yards. He’s got 30 catches for 350 yards and one touchdown this season, after arriving as a rookie in 2013 and catching 45 passes for 469 yards and four TDs.

“I have high hopes for him. I’m in his corner. I want him to be a good player,“ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “It would help this football team. It would help me. It would help everybody around that he becomes a great player. It may be not right away.“

Meanwhile, though history shows the Jets last lost to the Vikings when Gerald Ford was president and Joe Namath still played at Shea Stadium, it doesn’t do a lot of good for modern-day Rex Ryan.

A 16-13 loss to Miami on Monday night plunged New York to 2-10 in Ryan’s sixth season and added another layer of certainty that the last four games of 2014 will be his last four at Gang Green’s helm.

“I’m embarrassed for myself, absolutely,“ he said.

“It’s an embarrassment. It’s definitely embarrassing to me. I feel like I’ve let my owner down. I’ve let our fan base down. The year hasn’t gone anywhere close to what we were thinking. I’m going to focus on beating Minnesota. I’m not worried about anything else but that. I don’t think that way. My job is not to worry about myself. My job is to get this team prepared to the best of my ability, and that’s what I plan on doing.“

Ryan’s teams reached the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons on the job in 2009 and 2010, winning four road playoff games with Mark Sanchez at the helm. They’ve not had a winning record since, however, and Sanchez was let go in the offseason after Smith became the rookie starter last year.

Sanchez is now quarterbacking the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles, while Smith, backup Michael Vick, Ryan and even general manager John Idzik are on a collective hot seat with the Jets.

Smith completed only seven of 13 passes in the loss to the Dolphins, a game in which New York led by 10 points in the first half. The Jets ran the ball 49 times, but when they were forced into rally mode on a final drive, Smith was intercepted - which led to talk that the game plan reflected an absence of faith in the quarterback. Ryan insisted, though, that the run/pass ratio was not a reflection on Smith.

The second-year man, who was benched in favor of Vick before regaining the job, is last in the league among full-time quarterbacks with a 65.8 passer rating. He’s thrown 11 interceptions and has averaged 5.91 yards per pass attempt, and hasn’t thrown a TD pass in three games. Incidentally, the Vikings are sixth in the league in defending the pass, but have allowed 123.8 yards per game on the ground for the season and 157.0 per game over their last three outings.

“I understand the fact that we didn’t win and the passing attempts weren’t there,“ Ryan said. “But it had nothing to do with us not having confidence in Geno Smith. That’s completely false.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Awakening Johnson

Running back Chris Johnson was among the symbols of the Jets’ ineptitude in the early season as he tried to regain his 2,000-yard form from his days in Tennessee. But he’s started to pick things up in the second half and has amassed 305 yards on his last 58 carries - a 5.3-yard average per attempt. Minnesota is 24th of 32 teams against the run, so it could be another showcase for the veteran.

Strength against Weakness

The Vikings are by no means a scoring juggernaut when compared to the rest of the NFL, as an average of 19.4 points per game accurately indicates. But they’re facing an even more impotent outfit in the Jets, who are 30th in the league with a 15.8-point average. Minnesota’s defense has held offensive powers like New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago to less than 21 points, and has a real chance to do it again.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us two, three or four times, shame on us. While it’s true Ryan got more than he should have from an 8-8 team last year and true that he’ll probably land another NFL job and succeed after this season, the reality for 2014 is that he’s pretty much out of tricks.

The Vikings are not the Packers and the Jets could out-mediocre them, but the default setting is lose from here on out.

Predicted outcome: Vikings 17, Jets 7


►  Chiefs and Cardinals both plan to steady things

All of a sudden, it’s become crisis time in Kansas City.

Coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs were riding high on a five-game win streak - including a defeat of the defending Super Bowl champions - as they reached late November, but the arrival of the holiday season has meant particularly bad tidings when it comes to a would-be AFC playoff list.

First came an embarrassing loss to previously winless Oakland on a primetime Thursday night, which was followed up by another national television misstep, this time to the Denver Broncos last Sunday.

The result: Kansas City has dropped from first to third in the AFC West and now finds itself among a gaggle of conference teams - six, to be precise - with 7-5 records and postseason dreams.

“We didn’t finish the third quarter (of the season) the way that we wanted to. We’ve got to go back to it and get that part fixed,“ Reid said. “We’ve stalled the last two weeks, so we’ve got to get this thing turned around and get us straightened up.“

The Chiefs were in a 14-point hole against the Raiders before ultimately dropping a four-point decision, then were down, 17-0, to the Broncos last week. The offense generated just 120 yards in the opening 30 minutes in the Oakland game and only 59 in that same timeframe against Denver.

Running back Jamaal Charles carried 10 times for 35 yards and caught four passes for 24 yards last week, while quarterback Alex Smith was intercepted for the first time since Week 5.

“Our defense was out on the field the majority of that first half. Couldn’t help them out,“ Smith said. “To start off the game with those three-and-outs like that, you’re just not helping the team, and not getting into any rhythm hurt us.“

Kansas City matched up reasonably well with Denver’s prolific passing attack thanks to an aerial defense that’s the best in the league with an average of 196.8 yards allowed, but the Chiefs had few answers when the Broncos switched gears and pounded them for 214 yards on the ground.

In fact, the team has allowed 4.93 yards per run, worst in the league.

This week’s opponent, Arizona, throws the ball on more than 60% of its snaps and averages a league-worst 3.08 yards per attempt. The Cardinals ran just 11 times last week against Atlanta.

“It’s disappointing,“ Kansas City defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “But we have a couple more games to play. It’s not like (the Denver game) was the last one. We still have some stuff to fix. We’ll come out this next game and play better.“

Arizona is trying to brandish the same confidence amid a raft of injuries.

Quarterback Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a knee injury during a Week 10 victory over St. Louis, and his replacement, Drew Stanton, has lost two of three starts as the Cardinals have tumbled from 9-1 and a clear No. 1 seed in the NFC to 9-3 with just a one-game division lead.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu will miss significant time, too, after fracturing his left thumb. He was part of a ball-hawking defense that had forced eight turnovers in a three-game stretch against Philadelphia, Dallas and St. Louis, but that same unit has generated only two takeaways in the last three games.

“It’s a sense of urgency, because we have to play lights-out football,“ cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We have all the confidence in the world in (Stanton), but we are still playing with a backup quarterback and that changes the dynamics of everything. As a defense, we have to do what got us here, which was taking the ball away, and as an offense, protecting the ball.“

Stanton has thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions since becoming the starter, though he was without No. 1 receiver Larry Fitzgerald for the losses to Seattle and Atlanta. Arizona now leads the Seahawks by one game in the NFC West.

“When you stink, you stink. You point out how you stunk and get it corrected,“ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t throw chairs and holler and do all that stuff that’s non-productive. That’s not teaching. You have to teach in order to get things corrected. There’s two pictures - the two-game losing streak and being 9-3. We have to get back to the things that got us to this point.

“The next one is huge to maintain where we’re at. The sky has not fallen yet. We’re still No. 1, and we need to stay there this week.“

Fitzgerald is labeled probable to face the Chiefs and help Arizona try to maintain an unbeaten record at its University of Phoenix home. The Cardinals have lost just once there in their last 11 games.

“We’ve played well at home, and this is a great opponent,“ Arians said. “Jamaal Charles is playing as well as any running back has in a while. He’s always an unbelievable challenge.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

What Can Brown Do?

Rookie wide receiver John Brown has been a home-field phenomenon for the Cardinals in 2014, making 25 of his 39 receptions and scoring all five of his touchdowns there. Considering that Arizona’s leading rusher, Andre Ellington, is listed as doubtful with a lingering hip injury, it’s likely that the third- round pick from tiny Pittsburg State will become a go-to as Stanton continues to seek offensive comfort.

Go Wide, Young Man

It’s a pretty remarkable stat that a quality team like the Chiefs - even after 12 games - has still not generated a single touchdown catch from a wide receiver. Indeed, Smith’s 15 TD throws have been divvied up among tight ends (eight) and running backs (seven), though Dwayne Bowe leads the team with 46 catches. Arizona is just 27th in the league is pass defense, so the drought could soon end.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

His teammates have said all the right things and his coach still insists that teaching is the way to end the recent doldrums, but the reality is that the Cardinals with Stanton at the helm are simply different than they’d been with Palmer. He’s got to play nearly mistake-free to win football games, and against a near-elite team like Kansas City, that’s a tough task to complete. In fact, it says here that he won’t.

Predicted outcome: Chiefs 24, Cardinals 14


►  Watt. Texans try to stay alive in AFC South

The Jacksonville Jaguars may indeed be a 2-10 football team, but to this weekend’s opponent - the Houston Texans - they’ve got definite world-beating potential.

Indeed, even though the Jaguars are fifth from the bottom of the league in both points allowed (27.4 per game) and yards allowed (383.2 per week), Texans coach Bill O’Brien is preaching respect.

Jacksonville comes into Week 14 after a come-from-behind defeat of the New York Giants in a game it had trailed by 18 points at halftime, and fresh off a 2013 season in which it scored a pair of victories over the Texans - then coached by Gary Kubiak - as part of a late-season three-game win streak.

“I don’t care what (Jacksonville’s) record is,“ O’Brien said. “I really don’t. It’s not coach-speak. It’s the truth. This team is a talented team, well- coached.“

Problem is, the Jaguars don’t score much. In fact, they’d only exceeded 20 points twice in 11 games before the defeat of the Giants saw them rack up 22 in the final 30 minutes - including a pair of defensive touchdowns.

Against Houston and MVP candidate J.J. Watt, it won’t be an easy repeat.

The Texans have allowed just 23 points in their last two road games, which have yielded victories over Cleveland and Tennessee. Watt had two sacks in the 45-21 dousing of the Titans to bring his total to 11 1/2 for the season, and he caught a touchdown pass - his third of the season - while lined up in a goal-line formation. One of his would-be foes on Sunday, Jacksonville right tackle Austin Pasztor, won’t play after suffering a ruptured right hamstring.

Watt has faced the Jaguars six times and has 5 1/2 sacks.

On the mend for Houston’s defense is cornerback Kareem Jackson, who’s questionable with a knee injury; and rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who’s played just four games thanks to illness and myriad injuries. He’s also questionable this week with a knee problem.

The No. 1 overall draft pick has seven tackles and no sacks in limited action, but he maintains the full faith and confidence of the coaching staff, according to O’Brien.

“I want to be real clear about this with him as it relates to us here and the Houston Texans,“ O’Brien said. “We think very highly of him. We know that he is going to be a really good player. He has been unlucky. He is a good kid. He is a good teammate and he is working hard to get back on the field.“

If he plays, he’ll aim for the inaugural sack against the player selected two picks after him, Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, who’s been sacked 34 times overall and seven times last week. In spite of the pressure, the win over the Giants was a watershed for Bortles, who completed his first full game with no interceptions while amassing 194 yards passing, rushing for 68 and throwing a TD pass.

Bortles led an 11-play, 55-yard drive that yielded the winning field goal with 28 seconds to go.

“You could just see him wanting to take over the game, and his mentality,“ Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “He didn’t slide. When we needed a couple of extra yards, he went for it. That’s what the guys are gravitating toward - his competitiveness, his focus and his taking advantage of opportunities.“

His quarterback counterpart, Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, is also trying to keep momentum.

The Harvard University product was benched for Ryan Mallett in early November, but regained the No. 1 status when Mallett was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. He completed 24-of-33 passes for 358 yards and threw six touchdowns in the rout of Tennessee, six days after turning 32.

Prior to losing his starting role, he had an 87.1 passer rating, 11 TD passes and eight interceptions.

“Maybe it helped Fitz to take a step back,“ O’Brien said. “You never want to see anybody get hurt like Mallett did, but maybe it helped Fitz to see how the offense was operated and he went in there and did a good job. The trick is, can we do it again?“

The Texans began the season with two straight wins, but had gone 3-6 over nine subsequent games before facing the Titans. They’re still mathematically in the divisional title race, but can be officially excluded with a loss to Jacksonville and win by Indianapolis, which leads the AFC South.

The 45 points against Tennessee were a franchise record. Running back Arian Foster had 105 yards on the ground and Fitzpatrick connected with DeAndre Hopkins nine times for 238 yards and two touchdowns - just a week after scoring a season-low 13 points against Cincinnati.

“It comes down to consistency,“ O’Brien said. “It’s really important. It’s vitally important to go out there and have a great week of practice and I think that’s what we did last week. Guys were really detailed and focused. That’s what we have to do this week again.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Where Art Thou, 99?

A matchup with a phenomenon like Watt would have been difficult enough if the Jaguars had Pasztor in his typical place as the starting right tackle. But with him out, the primary responsibility for contending with Watt falls to either Josh Wells, a rookie free agent; or Sam Young, a fifth-year player who’s been inactive for the last six weeks. Either way, Bortles might want to work hard on quick releases this week.

Make Ryan Be Ryan

Though Fitzpatrick had a dominant - and mistake-free - game last week, it’s hardly a consensus view that the showing against a poor pass defense indicates a change from a career speckled with inconsistency. The Jaguars’ 37 sacks are third-best in the NFL and the defense has forced eight fumbles in two games. Another effort like that could reveal more of the true Fitzpatrick under center.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’d be easy to hear O’Brien talk about how legitimate a team the Jaguars are, then consider the fact that they’re home and find enough reason to go ahead and pick them. But it’s not that simple. The Texans still have the best player on the field in Watt, and more ammo on offense against a team that’s got few true weapons and an inconsistent rookie quarterback. A surprise is possible, but not at all likely.

Predicted outcome: Texans 31, Jaguars 23


►  Struggling Panthers aim to stay in NFC South race

The simple fact is that regardless of record, one team from the NFC South is going to get into the playoffs.

Both the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers still have a chance at grabbing that spot by way of a division title and the two rivals meet this Sunday at the Superdome with a lot on the line.

No team in the division has a winning record, with New Orleans being tied with the Atlanta Falcons for first place with matching 5-7 records. Carolina is an unimpressive 3-8-1 on the campaign, but there are still four games to be played and a victory over the Saints would keep the Panthers in the running for first place.

Only Tampa Bay at 2-10 figures to have no shot at winning the NFC South crown.

“Whichever team gets into the playoffs there is going to be no apologies for it,“ said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. “That’s part of the game. You play the game that you play, they fall the way they may.

“Believe me, I think New Orleans is a good football team, as I do Atlanta, and I think we’re still a good football team.“

The Panthers didn’t look like a very good football team when they lost their sixth game in a row last Sunday with a 31-13 setback to the Minnesota Vikings, who blocked a pair of punts they returned for touchdowns.

Cam Newton completed 18-of-35 passes for 194 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Carolina, which is 1-8-1 since beginning the season with consecutive wins.

Carolina tallied 348 yards, outgaining Minnesota by 138, but its first six points of the game came on Graham Gano field goals before Newton completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Philly Brown in the third quarter.

“We need to do a better job of scoring touchdowns when we get into position,“ said Rivera. “We had two chances early in the game, but had to settle for field goals. Touchdowns in those situations could have changed the complexion of the game.“

The Saints had little trouble scoring touchdowns this past Sunday in Pittsburgh as Drew Brees threw five scoring passes to five different receivers in a 35-32 win over the Steelers.

Brees finished with 257 yards for the Saints (5-7), who put a three-game losing streak to rest. He recorded the seventh five-touchdown, zero- interception game of his career, an NFL record.

“My process doesn’t change regardless of whether people are singing my praises or telling me I can’t play anymore. I really don’t care,“ said a defiant Brees, addressing rumors from earlier in the week that the Saints are looking to draft his replacement.

Mark Ingram racked up 122 yards on 23 carries, while Kenny Stills posted 162 yards and a score on five receptions. Marques Colston, Benjamin Watson, Nick Toon and Erik Lorig added a TD catch apiece.

The Saints trail 20-19 in their all-time series with the Panthers despite a 28-10 victory in Carolina on October 30. New Orleans hasn’t swept its season series with Carolina since 2011.

Ingram keyed the Week 9 win with 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Brees once again has the Saints’ offense in top form, with the club ranking second in the NFL with 430.3 yards per game. New Orleans also is third with 303.9 passing yards per game, but the emergence of Ingram, who leads the NFL with 608 rushing yards since Week 8, has balanced out the attack.

Brees has thrown for over 300 yards with at least four touchdown passes in three straight home games versus the Panthers, posting a 129.8 passer rating.

One key to slowing down the Saints offense is the play of Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who leads his team with 125 tackles and posted two sacks against the Vikings.

Brees said it is rare that a middle linebacker like Kuechly can impact a quarterback, but the young playmaker does it well.

“And for being such a young player too, you can see just how knowledgeable he is about the game and about his opponent,“ added Brees. “On each and every snap he is getting guys lined up. He is making adjustments. He is anticipating where the ball is going, run pass he’s as good as he is in the run game. Really he is a total player.“

Carolina’s 21st-ranked offense has not been as effective, with Newton posting a 78.9 passer rating on the season while getting picked off 11 times to 13 touchdown passes. He also ranks second on the team in rushing with 342 yards behind only Jonathan Stewart (408 yards).

Stewart had 85 yards on 12 carries versus the Vikings, good for a 7.1 average per carry and Newton added 49 yards on nine carries, but DeAngelo Williams suffered a fractured right hand in the game after logging 21 yards on seven carries.

Williams can play through the injury as long as the swelling isn’t too bad, but its another blow to an inconsistent ground game. Fozzy Whittaker would see more carries behind Stewart if Williams can’t perform.

Not only that, but the Panthers started a different offensive line for a sixth week in a row versus the Vikings, with Mike Remmers making his first start at right tackle with Nate Chandler lost to a knee injury.

Carolina, though, was able to post 178 yards rushing against Minnesota and New Orleans ranks 23rd against the run.

“He played to his strengths,“ Rivera told his team’s website of Remmers. “He’s got good footwork, good hand placement and he moves well. He’s a smart, crafty guy. He understands what we’re doing. He did some good things. We did some things to help him as well, and as a whole I thought the unit did a nice job.“

Two of the league’s top tight ends will be on the field in New Orleans.

The Saints’ Jimmy Graham is tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with 65 catches, is second with nine touchdowns and fourth in yards with 670. Graham has a touchdown in six straight versus Carolina.

Greg Olsen of Carolina, meanwhile, is second in his position with 778 yards and fourth in receptions with 61 to go along with five TDs. He is on the verge of a third straight 800-yard season.

The Panthers held the Vikings to 210 yards last weekend, but will be better tested by Brees this weekend.

“Playing in the (Superdome) is a challenge and we will have to be at our best,“ noted Rivera. “We have shown the ability to play well, but have not been able to do it consistently enough and will need to do that against a very good football team.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s a miracle that both of these clubs still have a shot at the playoffs, but that is how the cards have fallen.

Though a December 21 home test with Atlanta figures to be the key game down the stretch, New Orleans can’t look past Carolina.

“It starts with this game. You want to build on the way we played this week,“ said Saints coach Sean Payton. “I think that as we hit this final four game stretch, paying attention to details, correcting mistakes, film study, it’s all the little things I think that go into the overall success.“

Success hasn’t followed the Panthers, who haven’t won since October 5, and asking their struggling offense to keep pace with the Saints may be too much to ask.

Predicted outcome: Saints 31, Panthers 17


►  Ngata-less Ravens head to Miami for key AFC tilt

Oh, to be in the NFC South in 2014.

If the Baltimore Ravens could jump regions and conferences prior to Week 14’s slate of games, they’d head to Miami’s Sun Life Stadium on Sunday with a comfortable two-game lead and at least one eye toward finalizing arrangements for a home playoff game in early January.

Instead, the trip to South Florida - given the jumbled competitive reality that is the AFC this year - is far more in the class of full-on business desperation than leisurely holiday comfort.

The Ravens and Dolphins are two of six conference teams with 7-5 records through 12 games, which means their get-together takes on particular urgency as the season’s final quarter gets under way.

Baltimore seemed destined for a more stable 8-4 record and a firm hold on playoff destiny heading into the fourth quarter last week, but instead saw a 10-point lead evaporate into a 34-33 loss to San Diego.

It was a second straight prolific performance for an opposing quarterback, with Philip Rivers amassing 383 yards and three touchdown passes just six days after Drew Brees threw for 420 yards and three scores in a game the Ravens ultimately won, 34-27, at New Orleans.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco had two TD passes last week before the late meltdown.

Miami enters the game with just 27 completions of more than 20 yards and just one TD pass of that length, but Baltimore coach John Harbaugh isn’t lessening the emphasis on secondary performance.

“We’ve got to make some plays,“ he said. “That’s really what it boils down to.“

The return of starting cornerback Asa Jackson from an injured toe could help. The third-year man last played in Week 5 before being placed on the returnable injured reserve list. He had 16 tackles and a pass deflection in early season action before the hiatus.

The loss of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata certainly won’t help. Ngata was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances Thursday.

Ngata said he took Adderall and apologized for the transgression that will keep him out of Baltimore’s remaining four games of the regular season.

“I made a mistake, and I own this,“ said Ngata in a statement Thursday. “I took Adderall and take full responsibility for doing this. I am deeply sorry and broken up over this. I let down my family, my teammates, Ravens fans and myself. My hope is that the Ravens make the playoffs, and I believe they can do this. And, then I can come back and help us win.“

Ngata, in his ninth season with the Ravens, is the center of Baltimore’s defense as the prominent run stopper in the club’s 3-4 scheme. He has 31 tackles with two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in 12 games this season.

“This is disappointing news for the Ravens,“ said general manager Ozzie Newsome. “We are disappointed with Haloti, but no more than he is with himself.“

The Dolphins defeated the New York Jets on Monday to improve to 7-5, but they’ve allowed better than 200 rushing yards to two consecutive opponents for the first time in 24 years. Coincidentally, the Ravens’ backfield is occupied by Justin Forsett, who leads the NFL with a 5.6-yard average per carry and has gained 400 yards while scoring four times in Baltimore’s last three games.

Flacco has four passing TDs and no interceptions in the same three-game stretch, and Baltimore for the season is sixth in the league with an average of 27.3 points per game.

“It’s hard to overload the box because they have those threats on the perimeter,“ Miami coach Joe Philbin said. “I think the key for them has been balance.“

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed just 21 of 40 passes in a three- point home loss to the Ravens in 2013, but he’s been among the hottest QBs in the league lately - completing at least 70% of his throws in five consecutive games. The last two passers with six-game runs of 70% or better were named Favre (in 2007) and Manning (Peyton, in 2008 and 2012).

Tannehill was 25-for-35 for 235 yards against the Jets.

“Their offense is a spread-option type of an offense that Tannehill runs very effectively - a lot of weapons,“ Harbaugh said. “They spread the ball out, they spread the formations out, they run the read option, they run the dive, quarterback keepers, quarterback-follow plays.“

Miami, which is tied with Buffalo in the AFC East - two games behind New England - faces the Patriots next week before finishing with Minnesota and a home rematch with the Jets.

The Dolphins last made the playoffs in 2008.

“We’ve talked to them more about the month of December and the importance of each and every game in December,“ Philbin said. “This one that we have coming up, Baltimore, both on paper and on film, is as good as team as we’ve seen.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Elvis is in the Backfield

Baltimore pass rusher Elvis Dumervil has 12 1/2 sacks in 2014 and was a chronic thorn in Rivers’ side last week, forcing three hurries and hitting the San Diego QB twice. Right tackle Dallas Thomas draws the assignment against him after allowing three pressures, but no sacks, in Monday’s defeat of the Jets. Thomas could be aided by Tannehill’s ability to throw while moving away from rushers.

Beating the Replacement

Miami’s Cortland Finnegan was a no-go at cornerback against New York and is listed as questionable for this week. If he’s again unable to play, or less than 100%, it tilts a matchup in the favor of Ravens veteran Steve Smith. R.J. Stanford started in Finnegan’s place Monday, but he’ll be much more challenged by Flacco and Smith than he was by the Jets’ tandem of Geno Smith and Eric Decker.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Though the Dolphins have won five of their last eight games - and only dropped the other three by a combined 10 points - a noticeable theme across 12 games is that they’ve feasted on lesser foes, and struggled with better ones. The five losses have all come against teams with at least seven wins, while the seven wins include Jacksonville, Oakland and the Jets. Baltimore is good, and matches up well.

“We have a huge game down in Miami,“ Harbaugh said. “There will a lot on the line and they’ll be ready and they’re good. We’ll have a great opportunity to make a move. It’s going to be very competitive (and) down to the wire to make the playoffs, to win the division, and we are in the thick of it.“

Predicted outcome: Ravens 28, Dolphins 27


►  Giants try to halt 7-game skid, visit Titans

It will be an exercise in futility when the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans go at it Sunday at LP Field.

The Giants have lost seven in a row to fall to 3-9 and the Titans are riding a six-game slide that has dropped them to 2-10.

New York suffered through an eight-game slide from November 7 - December 26, 2004. It was head coach Tom Coughlin’s first season in the Big Apple and the Giants went 6-10 that year. This could be Coughlin’s last season in New York.

Coughlin was obviously disappointed in last weekend’s 25-24 loss in Jacksonville, as the Jaguars rallied from a 21-0 deficit to stun the visiting Giants, who had only three points in the second half.

“Very disappointing, discouraging,“ Coughlin said. “We came down here feeling like we could win ... and nothing happened on game day.“

The Giants lost all three fumbles and quarterback Eli Manning passed for 247 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Manning fumbled late in the game when he was sacked by Jaguars defensive end Chris Clemons.

Jacksonville scored twice on fumble returns.

Manning didn’t throw an interception for the first time since November 3 versus Indianapolis and had been picked off seven times in the previous three games. He’s focused on Tennessee and getting the Giants back on track for the first time since October 5 versus Atlanta.

Coughlin got his message across to Manning and the team.

“He wants us to worry about Tennessee, getting a win, be able to enjoy, be happy about we are doing, and be able to celebrate as a team together, and celebrate a victory,“ Manning said. “That is what we are going to do, we are going to focus on this week and take it one week at a time, and compete our tails off, and work hard, and that is all we can do, that is all we can control.“

The Giants have lost four in a row on the road and are 1-5 as the visitor. They need to clean up their act in the second half, having scored just 13 points over the last two quarters in the previous four games. The Jaguars had a 22-3 scoring advantage in the second half on Sunday.

“I don’t have a reason, I don’t have an explanation,“ Manning said. “We have to be better, we have to be better in the second half of all these games. That is where games are won. It is usually going to come down to that third and fourth quarter, who plays football. That is where the situations of the game come. We are not making the plays; we are making mistakes, we are not making enough plays in that situation to win the games.“

New York has lost the last three games in which it led at the half. The 3-9 record is the worst after 12 games since 1995, when the G-men had an identical mark.

The Titans haven’t won since October 12 versus Jacksonville and will play two straight and three of their last four games in the Music City. They are only 1-4 at LP Field this season.

Tennessee has given up 40 or more points (88 total) in each of the last two games and 20-plus points in the last five. In Sunday’s 45-21 demolition at the hands of the Houston Texans, the Titans allowed 457 total yards and Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 358 yards and six touchdowns.

Houston had a 24-0 lead in the first half.

Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins scorched Tennessee for 238 yards receiving and two scores on nine catches. Tennessee’s defense has been abysmal all season and is 18th in passing yards allowed (243.8), 30th in total yards (385.2) and last in rushing yards allowed (141.5) and points (28.2).

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt discussed what the players could do to improve over the last few weeks of the season, especially the younger players.

“It’s an important part of the process,“ Whisenhunt said. “Getting a chance to see them in games, if you just look at the quarterback, for example, we’ve got to see him before this game against three pretty good defenses in the league, three pretty good, established defenses. You get a good assessment of him on where he is and how he’s going to handle that. We’re getting to look at a lot of different guys in situations. Some of it because you want to look at young players, some of it because it’s an injury situation. It does give them an opportunity to show what they can do.“

Titans rookie QB Zach Mettenberger left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and suffered a Grade 1 AC sprain. Mettenberger, who passed for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception, said he thinks he will be able to come back versus the Giants, while Whisenhunt will make the decision later in the week.

According to Mettenberger, he’s “definitely playing this week” and is experiencing some soreness.

“It’s only been three days since I injured it, so obviously there’s soreness still,“ he said. “I can’t go out there and 100% rip a ball right now, but I’m sure by the end of the week I’ll be fine.“

Jake Locker, who was replaced by Mettenberger as the starter last month, completed 6-of-12 passes for 91 yards with a TD and two interceptions.

The Titans and Giants have split the first 10 meetings between the teams, and Tennessee has prevailed in each of the past five, including a 29-10 victory on September 26, 2010. Manning threw for 386 yards on 34-of-48 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

New York took the first five games in this series from 1973-1994.

Mettenberger and Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. were teammates at LSU. Beckham was just named Offensive Rookie of the Month.

“Without a doubt, he is the best athlete I have ever been around personally,“ Mettenberger said of Beckham. “Not just football, but basketball, baseball, soccer, he can do it all… I have seen him do it all. I am very proud of him and the work he has put in, and the success he is having on the field.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Manning has thrown for five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games against AFC opponents. Protection has been an issue for Manning, who was sacked four times against the Jaguars. The Giants have allowed 21 sacks during the seven-game slide after giving up only seven in the first five games.

Perhaps that will change with the pending return of right tackle Justin Pugh. He has missed the last two games with a quadriceps injury.

The Giants made some moves this week and placed offensive linemen Geoff Schwartz and Adam Snyder, defensive linemen Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers, and linebacker Terrell Manning on injured reserve.

Coughlin commented on New York’s laundry list of injuries.

“The message is keep fighting; that’s what the message has been all along…The other message is opportunity.“

Giants running back Rashad Jennings posted 91 yards and two TDs on 26 rushes last week, while rookie Andre Williams leads all first-year NFC players with five rushing touchdowns. Jennings and Williams should see enough action against Tennessee’s shoddy run defense, the worst in the NFL.

Jennings is bothered by an ankle issue that is not deemed serious.

The Giants have struggled against the rush this season, allowing 140.6 yards per game. Titans rookie Bishop Sankey leads the team with only 474 yards and posted 42 on 10 carries last week. Sankey has yet to hit the 100-yard mark in a game this season.

New York will have to watch for Kendall Wright, who had 132 yards and a touchdown on seven catches against Houston. Titans tight end Delanie Walker ranks second among AFC tight ends in receiving yards (673) and has 44 catches for four touchdowns. Walker has good speed for his big frame.

Tennessee is rated near the bottom in most offensive categories, but should be able to move the football on a Giants stop unit ranked 19th against the pass, 25th in points allowed and 29th in total yards allowed.

Titans tackles Taylor Lewan (ankle) and Michael Oher (toe) have been limited this week and neither played against the Texans. They’re day-to-day.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Defense will be at a minimum between the Giants and Titans, while a sense of urgency is expected to be through the roof.

New York hasn’t been able to find success in the second half of games recently and no lead is safe. The Giants, though, are a much better team than the Titans and will fight their way to a road win Sunday.

It doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback for the Titans because they have more problems than making calls at the line of scrimmage.

Predicted outcome: Giants 27, Titans 24


►  Brady hopes to continue his mastery over Rivers

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will attempt to bounce back from a rare loss by doing what they usually do, beat the San Diego Chargers and Philip Rivers.

The Patriots have never lost to Rivers and the Chargers with Brady under center, winning five consecutive when the two veteran Pro-Bowlers duel.

Both clubs are currently in the thick of the AFC playoff race. The 9-3 Patriots had their seven-game winning streak snapped last weekend at Green Bay but are still in good position heading into December. By winning out, New England will clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC and secure a first-round bye for the fifth consecutive season.

The 8-4 Chargers, meanwhile, are currently the top wild-card team in the AFC and sit just one game behind Denver for the top spot in the West thanks to answering a three-game mid-season skid with an equally long winning streak, which extended to three with a heart-stopping 34-33 win in Baltimore in Week 13.

Trailing by 10 points with just over six minutes remaining, Rivers led San Diego back and capped the rally with a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Eddie Royal with 38 seconds left in the game.

Rivers completed 34-of-45 passes for 383 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Chargers, who outscored Baltimore by a 21-10 margin in the fourth quarter.

“These are the kind of games you have to win to get into the postseason,“ said Rivers. “And these are the kind of games you’ve got to win if you do get in.“

Keenan Allen caught 11 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns for San Diego while Royal hauled in nine passes for 81 yards.

“The players never gave up and we just kept plugging away,“ said Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “That’s what good teams do. The character of our team once again showed up, and when you’ve got a great quarterback like Philip Rivers, you got a chance to win every game just as long as there’s time left on the clock.“

Brady, on the other hand lost his Week 13 battle against one of the few people on the planet who are actually his peer, Aaron Rodgers.

A-Rod threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns and kept two NFL-record streaks alive in a 26-21 win last Sunday at Lambeau Field as the Packers remained perfect (6-0) at home this season.

Rodgers has now thrown 360 consecutive passed and 31 touchdown passes at Lambeau since his last interception on the field over two years ago, both NFL bests.

Brady was 22-of-35 for 245 yards with two touchdown passes to Brandon LaFell. Rob Gronkowski had seven catches for 98 yards and Brandon Bolden added a 6-yard touchdown run in the loss, New England’s first since falling 41-14 in Kansas City on September 29.

“I just wish we would have won this one,“ Brady said. “We put a lot into this one, and this was a great test for us. I think the guys knew how important this was for our season.“

The Pats are 20-14-2 all-time against San Diego and have won five of six overall. The lone Chargers win in that span came when Matt Cassel was filling in for an injured Brady in 2008.

The two teams haven’t met since 2011, a 35-21 New England win when Brady tossed for 423 yards and three scores. The Patriots haven’t been to San Diego since 2010, a 23-20 Pats win fueled by a Gronkowski TD and three Stephen Gostkowski field goals.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Much like last week with Brady versus Rodgers, all the hype is centering on the QBs because both have been so good for so long.

Brady, however, has always gotten the best of Rivers in the past, winning all five of his starts against the San Diego signal caller while compiling a 91.4 passer rating in those encounters. Conversely, Rivers has managed just five touchdowns with eight interceptions and a less-than-stellar 73.4 passer rating in those games.

Even though the two are never directly playing against each other, Rivers’ lack of success against Brady’s Pats is a narrative that will follow the North Carolina State product until he excels in this kind of environment.

“We’ve never played this Patriot team,“ a terse Rivers said when queried about his lack of success against Brady. “We’re 0-0 against this group. There’s a lot of guys in that locker room that have never played the Patriots in their life.“

Rivers is currently third in the AFC with a 102. 8 passer rating, slightly ahead of Brady’s 101.1, He also has an AFC-best 69.1 completion percentage but is behind Brady in both passing yards (3,243 to 3,218) and TD passes (28 to 25).

“It’s great to have him on our football team,“ McCoy said of Rivers. “He’s been very efficient. He’s done a great job of leading not only the team, but the offense week in and week out.“

However you slice it, both QBs are great. Brady has the best December winning percentage in over 70 years at 45-7 and Rivers is in second with a 30-6 mark.

Since losing to Kansas City to fall to 2-2 on the season, New England is 7-1 and has been scoring well over 30 points per game. Perhaps the biggest contributor to that has been the health of Rob Gronkowski, who is feeling good after a myriad of injuries in recent seasons and has an NFL-best 910 receiving yards for a tight end.

Gronk’s nine TDs, meanwhile, are equal to his counterpart with the Chargers, veteran Antonio Gates, one of the best pass-catching TEs in NFL history.

“Rob has done a good job for us and been on the field a lot, plays in a lot of situations, been productive in the passing game and the running game,“ New England coach Bill Belichick said.

The Pats mentor also had some flattering words for the ageless Gates, who remains one of the tougher matchup problems in the league.

“Gates seems timeless,“ Belichick said. “He’s a hard guy to defend. He’s got great size, athleticism, hands, does a real good job setting up his routes, beating man or zone coverage.“

The x-factor in the game could be the running backs. San Diego is back to leaning on Ryan Mathews, who returned a few weeks ago after missing seven games with a sprained knee. The talented Mathews gives San Diego far more balance and makes opposing defenses pause before putting an extra defensive back on the field.

“It’s great to have him back,“ McCoy said of Mathews. “He’s worked extremely hard to get back where he is today.“

The Pats, meanwhile, brought back LeGarrette Blount two weeks ago after he was released in Pittsburgh and the big man hasn’t missed a beat since he was with the Pats in 2013, averaging 68 yards a game and scoring two TDs.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Belichick is generally ahead of the curve when it comes to the little things that helps a team win.

Instead of flying from Green Bay back to Foxborough and then out to San Diego, the future Hall of Fame coach eliminated the East Coast to West Coast trek which always seems to be an issue by flying directly from Wisconsin to the Southern California.

It’s that kind of attention to detail that sets the Patriots apart and expect them to win a 10th game for the 14th consecutive season on Sunday, the first organization to turn that trick since the San Francisco 49ers reached double digits in every year from 1983-98.

Predicted outcome: Patriots 27, Chargers 20


►  Broncos try to edge closer to another postseason berth

A whole lot has to break their way, but the Denver Broncos could find themselves back in the playoffs by the end of Week 14. The Broncos try to move one step closer to a postseason berth on Sunday when they welcome the Buffalo Bills to Sports Authority Field.

Denver can get back to the postseason for the fourth straight year with a win over the Bills plus losses from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City, as well as a loss or tie from Houston. They can also get in under the same scenario if Kansas City ties, as long as San Diego also loses.

Needless to say, the champagne will probably be on ice for another week or so.

Denver’s offense got itself untracked this past Sunday, as Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes and C.J. Anderson shined once again running the ball to help the Broncos to a wire-to-wire 29-16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Manning passed for a season-low 179 yards on 17-of-34 efficiency, but Anderson was the story in Denver’s 11th straight road win against an AFC West foe. The second-year running back out of California rushed for a career-high 168 yards on 32 carries, a week after gashing up Miami’s defense for 167 in a win over the Dolphins.

“I think you need to be able to win different types of football games,“ Manning said. “We wanted to establish the run.“

Anderson’s last two games were the two best rushing performances this season. Montee Ball, who started the season as Denver’s lead back, had a season-high 67 yards in Week 1 and Ronnie Hillman went for 109 yards on October 23.

“I like it,“ Manning said. “We kept the defense on their heels.“

Demaryius Thomas and Anderson caught TD passes and Connor Barth, whom Denver (9-3) signed on Tuesday to replace rookie kicker Brandon McManus, went 5- for-5 on field goals in his debut with the team. McManus was waived after hitting just 3-for-6 over his last five games.

Thomas has posted 88 receptions for 1,255 yards with 10 touchdowns this season to become just the sixth player in NFL history to reach 1,200 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in three consecutive years.

With 145 more receiving yards, Thomas will join Marvin Harrison (4) and Jerry Rice (3) as the only player in league history with three straight seasons totaling at least 1,400 yards receiving and 10 receiving scores.

Manning could have another weapon back at his disposal on Sunday, as tight end Julius Thomas, who leads the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions, could be back after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

Buffalo also stayed in the AFC playoff hunt on Sunday, as Kyle Orton threw a touchdown pass, Dan Carpenter kicked four field goals in the fourth quarter and the Bills beat the Cleveland Browns, 26-10.

Orton finished 17-of-31 for 190 yards with two interceptions.

Fred Jackson had 70 yards on 21 carries for the Bills (7-5), who returned to Ralph Wilson Stadium after last Sunday’s scheduled home game was played a day later in Detroit after more than six feet of snow fell on the southern reaches of the Buffalo area.

A win on Sunday would give the Bills eight wins in a season for the first time since going 9-7 in 2004. Of course, Buffalo is trying for its first postseason berth since 1999.

After losing five straight in the series Denver has won the last two times it has played Buffalo, but it hasn’t faced the Bills since 2011.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Anderson has certainly made life easier for Manning the past few weeks, posting a league-best 658 yards from scrimmage - 113 more than anyone else - while averaging 5.68 ypc over the last two weeks.

Denver has won its last 11 games when it goes over 100 yards. Conversely, the Broncos have averaged just 37.5 yards on the ground in their three losses.

“I like it,“ Manning said after the win over Kansas City. “We kept the defense on their heels.“

That trend could continue this week, as the Bills have allowed 125.2 ypg on the ground and 4.85 ypc over the past six weeks. They had been one of the stingiest defenses in the league through their first six games when they held opponents to 67.5 yards and 2.79 ypc.

Regardless few teams are better up front than the Bills, who lead the league with 48 sacks. Overall, Buffalo’s D is ranked fifth in the league.

The Buffalo defense will certainly have its hands full against Manning, who leads the league with 36 touchdown passes this season and has thrown one in 51 straight games.

“He’s a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, and I think that says enough right there,“ coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. “Not to compare the two, but we play against a Hall-of-Fame quarterback twice a year in (Tom) Brady. It’s the same thing. It’s challenging.

“You’ve got to just make sure you try to contain them. Obviously, it’s difficult. You’ve got to switch things up; you can’t keep things the same. If they get hot, then you can get yourself in trouble.“

Denver has averaged 304.4 yards through the air this season, while Buffalo ranks fifth for the season (216.1 yards per game) against the pass and has limited those last six opponents to 163.0

In four of their last six games played, Buffalo has held the opposing quarterback to under 200 yards passing (one of the two games over that mark was Miami with 205 yards in Week 11). A stark contrast to the first six games when each opposing QB passed for over 200 yards.

“In the beginning of the year, we had a couple new fresh faces in the secondary that we had to work with. So we had to get used to working with each other,“ said Buffalo safety Da’Norris Searcy, who had two interceptions in the win over Cleveland. “And now that we’ve been together for 12 games, we know how each other plays so now we just feed off each other. We know where each other is going to be so it makes it easier on the back end. Everybody is holding each other accountable and we’re all out here getting the job done.“

Buffalo’s defense now sits second in the league with 25 takeaways behind Houston and is tied for fourth in interceptions with 15.

Look for the Bills to take a page out of St. Louis’ book in trying to defend Manning. The Rams confused the future Hall of Famer all afternoon back on November 16 by disguising their coverages by waiting until the last possible moment before the snap to show what they actually were doing. By then, Manning had no time to adjust. He wound up throwing two interceptions, and only one touchdown, and finished with a season-low passer rating of 75.3.

“It’s not just one person,“ Marrone said. “That’s the difficult part about it when you play these types of quarterbacks. You go into a game and you want to take somebody away and, next thing you know, you’re getting your butt kicked by a guy that wasn’t as productive the week before or two weeks before.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

In Anderson Denver has found a new way to move the ball and that just makes Manning even more dangerous. The Bills defense certainly gets after the quarterback, but getting to Manning will be tough since he has only been brought down 13 times this season. The Bills secondary has been very good in recent weeks, but, again, Manning isn’t Brian Hoyer. He is going to give the Bills fits, especially if he has Julius Thomas back in the lineup.

Predicted outcome: Denver 35, Buffalo 17


►  Eagles search for statement win against defending champs

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll knows a lot about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Carroll coached Sanchez when the two were at USC and will face his former pupil when the Seahawks visit the Eagles Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

“I think he’s playing fast,“ Carroll said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence in the system. It’s obviously a system that helps the quarterbacks perform at a high level. The fact that Mark’s come off the bench and performed at a high level is really a statement about the program as well as the players. I think that’s what we’re seeing.“

Sanchez, of course, replaced Nick Foles (broken clavicle) under center in a win at Houston on November 2 and has started the last four games (3-1). The Eagles have won two straight and four of the last five games, and took sole possession of first place with a 33-10 road win over the rival Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

Sanchez threw a touchdown pass and ran for another, while LeSean McCoy eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with a season-high 159 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 25 carries. McCoy has cleared the 100-yard rushing mark in each of the past two games and is making it easier for Sanchez and the pass attack. In his last eight home games, McCoy has rushed for 825 yards and six touchdowns.

McCoy (6,491) needs 48 rushing yards to break Wilbert Montgomery’s team record of 6,538 yards, which he has held since 1984. He ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards (1,018) and second in carries (242).

Jeremy Maclin had eight catches for 108 yards in Dallas and rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews found the end zone for the fifth time in the last five games. Philadelphia amassed 464 yards to Dallas’ 267 and improved to 9-3.

The Eagles will face a much-improved Seattle defense, which is first in total yards allowed (285.8), third in both passing yards (199.4) and points allowed (18.4) and fifth against the rush (86.3). Seahawks talkative, talented and confident cornerback Richard Sherman is arguably the best at his position.

“We certainly have a healthy respect for the fact that (Sherman) is one of the finest corners in the league,“ Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday, “but I do think we’ve got some good receivers who can go out and match up.“

Shurmer’s offense went just 1-for-5 in the red zone against the Cowboys, so it’s important to come away with touchdowns on Sunday if the opportunity presents itself. The Eagles are fourth in both scoring (31.2) and total yards (416.2) and fifth in passing (286.0).

It will be tough sledding for the Eagles against this defense. The Seahawks have recorded back-to-back 19-3 wins over Arizona and San Francisco, and have won five of their last six games to erase a 3-3 start.

The Seahawks also played on Thanksgiving and recorded a 16-point victory on the road against the 49ers. Sherman picked off two passes and has three this season for the Seahawks, who have allowed just 204 yards the past two weeks.

“Every win is important,“ Sherman said. “This win is no more important than any other win this season.“

Sherman was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Since entering the NFL in 2011, Sherman has 23 interceptions, the most in the league during that span. His 23 picks are the most by a player in his first four seasons in the past 25 years.

Seahawks dangerous running back Marshawn Lynch posted 104 yards on 20 carries and is nearing his fourth straight 1,000-yard season at 956 yards. Lynch should reach that mark easily against Philadelphia’s 12th ranked run defense, which is allowing 107.7 yards per game. However, the Eagles held NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray to a season-low 73 yards.

Lynch has rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings against the Eagles, and needs one touchdown for 10 or more in the last four seasons. The man known as “Beastmode” has 17 TDs in the past 16 games, including the playoffs.

The Seahawks are 8-4 and one game behind Arizona for the NFC West lead. They will try to stop Philadelphia’s 10-game winning streak at home and trail the all-time series, 7-6. Seattle has won three of the last four meetings between the teams and is 2-0 at Lincoln Financial Field.

In a 31-14 Seahawks victory at home on December 1, 2011, Lynch ran for 148 yards and two scores and the defense recorded four interceptions. Seattle is unbeaten in its last three trips to the City of Brotherly Love.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Besides trying to contain Lynch, the Eagles have another challenge in Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson has a strong arm and can run, two perfect traits for Carroll’s offense. He is second on the team in rushing with 679 yards and threw for 236 yards and a TD against the 49ers.

Wilson hasn’t thrown an interception in the each of the past three games and is focused on keeping the Seahawks in control of their own destiny. If the Seahawks win out they’ll capture a second straight NFC West title. They will play the Cardinals on the road December 21.

“We want to keep building and keep growing,“ said Wilson, who is 8-2 in the month of December. “We’re going in the right direction. We have a lot more left and a lot more to do. It’s one game at a time, one practice at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time. We’re looking forward to that.“

Wilson makes plays with his ability to escape the rush and has great pocket awareness. When he’s scrambling for an open receiver, defenses tend to break down and fall behind.

Unless you live in or are from the Emerald City, Seattle’s receivers are not a household name. But that doesn’t mean the Eagles can take them for granted. Doug Baldwin (519 yards, 2 TD) leads the team in yards and catches with 48. Jermaine Kearse (414 yards, TD), Luke Willson (190 yards, TD) and Robert Turbin (159 yards, 2 TD) match up well with Philadelphia’s secondary, which is allowing 258.6 yards this season.

For how poorly the Eagles’ defensive backfield has been, it’s playing better in recent weeks. Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Fletcher Bradley can make it easy on the defense if they shut down Seattle’s pass attack. Lynch leads the team with three receiving touchdowns and is dangerous on screens.

The Eagles will need to apply pressure up front and not let Wilson out of their sights. Wilson has been sacked a lot this season because of his elusiveness and went down seven times against Arizona and four more times in San Francisco. He has been sacked at least twice in each of the last four games.

Philadelphia is second in the league with 42.0 sacks and linebacker Connor Barwin is second with 12 1/2. Barwin was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Month and posted 6 1/2 sacks, 24 tackles and a forced fumble in five November games. Barwin is the first Eagle to be named NFC Defensive Player of the Month since former safety Brian Dawkins won the award in December of 2008.

Barwin has 10 1/2 sacks in the past four games at home and will be one of 11 guys focused on stopping Lynch.

“He’s not just power,“ Barwin said. “He is a complete player. You have to account for him in every phase of the game. He will make you miss, too. He really does it all.“

Eagles defensive back Nolan Carroll said Lynch’s feet are always moving after contact, so it’s important to get him down immediately.

“Watching him on film, you can tell that he runs hard, but when you feel that first pop, and it kind of goes through your entire body, then you know he’s really running hard,“ Carroll explained.

Lynch has an NFL-best 1,113 yards rushing since 2011. McCoy is right behind Lynch with 1,029 yards on the ground.

The Eagles are hoping linebacker Emmanuel Acho will return from a groin injury to stabilize Philly’s defense. Casey Matthews did an admirable job as his replacement, but Acho is more talented. Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan, and linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have to cover tight and apply pressure so the secondary doesn’t get buried.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s tough for a team to make a cross-country flight and have enough energy to burn on the field. The Seahawks, though, are a different breed and things are beginning to click for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Seattle faces a daunting task in south Philly and can change the playoff landscape with a victory. In what should be a low-scoring affair, which features two of the league’s top running backs, the Seahawks have their sights set on another NFC West title and will move closer to that goal.

“You just want to keep winning, one game at a time,“ Wilson said. “Go 1-0 every week and have a championship mindset. You just want to keep building, one week at a time.“

Seattle’s championship mindset has accrued 28 wins in the last 36 regular season games.

Predicted outcome: Seahawks 24, Eagles 20



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Two minute warning - Week 14

The truth of the matter is that at this time of the year, no football player is 100-percent healthy and everyone is feeling some pain.

However, the list below is of those players where it may effect their production and therefor your fantasy lineup.

The weather in Week 14 is once again not going to play a major factor. There is a slight chance of precipitation in Minnesota, but that’s about it for rain or snow. And it will be a little windy in the northeast and down in Florida.

Here is the latest information as we approach game-time. We will continue to update this story as the information changes all the way up to the kickoff.


Quarterbacks -

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh - Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who is usually on top of things, earlier this week said “Big Ben” had a broken bone in his wrist, but the team and the quarterback refuted the story. He practiced Thursday and Friday after taking Wednesday off. Start him as always.

Philip Rivers, San Diego - Like everyone else, Rivers has taken a few big hits, but he’ll be out there Sunday against the Patriots and has played very well at home (109.9 QB rating).

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville - The rookie is dealing with shoulder and ankle issues, but practiced this week and will play. However, the quarterback is turnover-prone and facing J.J. Watt and the Texans is not a very good option.

Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee - Another quarterback with a shoulder issue and he was limited in practice this week. He does face a below-average Giants’ pass defense, but without Justin Hunter any possibly Kendall Wright there are better fantasy options out there.

Brian Hoyer, Cleveland - Hoyer got the nod for Week 14, but could be on a short leash after throwing six interceptions over the past 15 quarters. Johnny Manziel is waiting in the wings.


Running Backs -

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle - Lynch was a full participant in Friday’s practice. He is dealing with a sore back, but there is no way he misses this big matchup with the Eagles and the Seahawks fighting for their playoff lives. He’s a must start.

Arian Foster, Houston - Foster (groin) practiced and is in line to return for Week 14. He’s a must start against a Jaguars’ defense that is yielding almost 130 ypg on the ground.

Justin Forsett, Baltimore - Forsett (knee) returned to a limited practice Friday and is expected to play Sunday, though his fantasy owners should check back here when inactives are announced for verification.

Andre Ellington, Arizona - Ellington (hip) has already been ruled out for Sunday. Stepfan Taylor figures to get the bulk of the rushing attempts with Marion Grice working as the third-down back. Michael Bush is a wildcard and could hurt Taylor with red zone carries.

Khiry Robinson, New Orleans - Robinson is expected to play for the first time since Week 7. Things have changed since he left and Mark Ingram is the workhorse. Robinson may steal a few carries, but isn’t going to have any fantasy value.

Shane Vereen, New England - Vereen is dealing with an ankle issue and is listed as questionable. Also questionable is his rushing workload which has been non-existent since the return of LeGarrette Blount.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants - Jennings has said he would play and made the trip to Tennessee, but he’s certainly not going to be anywhere near 100%. It’s a juicy matchup, but we’re not sure he can take advantage of the situation. It’s more likely a 50-50 split with uninspiring rookie Andre Williams.

C.J. Anderson, Denver - His ankle issue won’t keep him out of the lineup and his 335 yards over the past two games makes him a must start for every fantasy owner that has him on their roster.

Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland - A hip issue has been bothering him, but we expect him to play in Week 14. He was disappointing at Buffalo, but gets a much better matchup against the Colts this Sunday.

Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota - He’s out. Matt Asiata figures to get the bulk of the work with Ben Tate sprinkled in. Asiata is fantasy worthy.

Latavius Murray, Oakland - Murray passed his concussion tests. Now he just has to convince his coaches that he’s the guy to have out there. We’re convinced that the team has no reason to keep playing over-the-hill veterans Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew, so make Murray a low-end option, if needed, despite playing a tough 49ers defense.

Reggie Bush, Detroit - Bush is the Lions “starting” running back, but Joique Bell will continue to get the between-the-tackles work. We have no faith in Bush’s ability to post decent fantasy numbers.


Wide Receivers -

Demaryius Thomas, Denver - Thomas bruised an ankle Wednesday and was limited in Friday’s practice, but even at less than 100% is one of the best receivers in the league. No way you leave him on the bench in the fantasy playoffs.

DeSean Jackson, Washington - Most sources believe he’ll sit on Sunday and we agree. Jackson (shin) didn’t practice all week and if he can’t run full speed his value is greatly diminished. He’ll be a game-time decision, but be prepared to use your backup plan.

Julian Edelman, New England - Edelman has a thigh injury, but is expected to play and see his normal amount of targets.

Brandon LaFell, New England - LaFell took a blow to his shoulder, but is expected to play Sunday and has been a solid red zone option, with seven touchdowns, for Tom Brady.

Roddy White, Atlanta - White was limited in practice Saturday, but the extra day should help. The Falcons will need him if they are to keep pace with the high-powered Green Bay offense. It’s the Monday night game, however, which doesn’t leave many options if he can’t go.

Kendall Wright, Tennessee - Wright cracked a bone in his right hand in Wednesday’s practice and Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, who is usually on top of things in Tennessee, doesn’t expect him to play. That’s good enough for us. With Justin Hunter also sidelined, think Nate Washington.

Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona - He should be available Sunday, but he’ll be a true game-time decision. He’s been inconsistent this season and can’t be trusted in a playoff situation against a solid Chiefs’ secondary.


Tight Ends -

Julius Thomas, Denver - The late start and Thomas’ questionable ankle make this one of the toughest decisions in Week 14. Thomas has missed the last two games and will be a game-time decision.

Greg Olsen, Carolina - Olsen has been a solid option this season despite the Panthers’ failures and his current knee injury shouldn’t keep him from playing Sunday. Start him as always.

Jordan Cameron, Cleveland - A Friday night tweet from Cameron (concussion) indicated that he would play this weekend. He’d be a very high-risk play for fantasy owners given his situation.


Kickers -

Cody Parkey, Philadelphia - He’s been dealing with a groin injury, but that hasn’t stopped him from going 9-of-10 over the past two games. Keep starting him.

Dan Carpenter, Buffalo - He’s another kicker dealing with a groin injury, but will play Sunday. The light air in Denver should give him added distance.


►  Frank Gore: start him or sit him?

Back in Week 3 of the NFL season, I wrote a column giving my input on whether to start or sit San Francisco 49ers’ running back Frank Gore against the Arizona Cardinals.

My advice was to leave him on all benches, and after a six carry for 10 yard- performance, I hope fantasy owners listened.

Now, heading into Week 14, and likely the first week of the fantasy football playoffs, Gore has been in a slump.

Over the past two games, San Francisco’s starting tailback has accumulated 23 carries for only 64 combined yards, along with just one reception for eight yards. On top of that, Gore has essentially struggled all season long, rushing for over 100 yards two times, and recording only three touchdowns in 2014.

So, for fantasy owners getting ready for a do-or-die matchup, it seems pretty obvious, the play is to sit Gore.

Not so fast.

San Francisco’s upcoming opponent, the Oakland Raiders, need no introduction. Not only is this one-win team coming off a 52-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams, they also are giving up the most fantasy points (according to Yahoo) to opposing running backs, allowing 24.1 points per game.

My advice this week, is to go with the tailback who is facing the Raiders.

During Week 13, Mason added to Oakland’s miseries, scoring 34.4 fantasy points, the most the Raiders have allowed all season. I like for that trend to continue this week for Gore.

While he may not produce three touchdowns, like Mason did, Gore still has the potential to bust out of his funk. The 49ers will be fighting for their playoff lives, and they would be foolish not to attempt to get the running game going, after what they saw St. Louis do last week.

For fantasy owners who own Gore, and have the option to use him at the FLEX position, I feel that is a no-brainer to start him there.

Now, for owners who are deciding if they should start him at the RB2 position, that is definitely a little tougher, but I say roll with Gore. He is due for a big week, and with games against the Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers, and Arizona Cardinals to close out the season, Sunday could be Gore’s last chance to put up big numbers.


►  Leap of Faith

The Indiana state bird is the cardinal, but for the rest of this season, it might as well be the heron.

Since Ahmad Bradshaw broke his leg in Week 11, fantasy owners have been without a running back, who through 10 games, led the Colts in rushing and was tied for third in the league with 38 receptions. Bradshaw still leads all running backs with six receiving touchdowns.

At this point in the season, it is near impossible to replace that kind of production. Indianapolis is having a hard time replacing him too as Trent Richardson continues to struggle, averaging 3.3 yards per carry this season.

Therefore, it seems possible Daniel Herron, with two R’s, takes over the backfield in Indianapolis.

Heron and Herron are very different of course ... one is a good luck charm with long legs and a protective snout who sometimes wears blue and the other ... is a heron.

I don’t actually know if Herron is a good luck charm, but I do know Herron has set a career-high in rushing yards each of the last two weeks. The 25-year-old rushed for 65 yards on 12 carries two weeks ago and then gained 88 yards on the ground last Sunday on eight carries.

It is a small sample size, but in Herron’s last 20 carries, he has rushed for 153 yards and added a touchdown against Washington. Over the same two games, Richardson has nearly the same amount of carries, 21, and gained about one- third of the yards, 54.

If there are owners planning on starting Richardson for the fantasy playoffs in Week 14, it is a no brainer to pick up Herron and start him instead. He is still available in 42% of Yahoo leagues.

For owners without Richardson, is it an option to plug Herron into a RB2 or FLEX slot?

During the playoffs, it would take a pretty big leap of faith to do that because again, the sample size just isn’t very big on Herron. In his prior two NFL seasons, he has never had more than eight carries in a season let alone in one game.

That being said, Herron’s matchups are favorable as the Colts face four teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed. This week’s matchup against the Browns is particularly friendly as they are 29th against the run. Despite Indianapolis being a pass first team, Andrew Luck and company should take advantage of that weakness.

In addition, if the Colts do get pass happy on offense, Herron is a better pass catcher than Richardson. In the last two weeks, Herron has seven catches for 39 yards while Richardson has just one target.

If owners have the guts to roll with Herron in their lineup for Week 14, more power to them. More than likely, he is a good plug-in replacement for someone missing a running back such as Andre Ellington. At the very least, Herron is a player owners should stash away on the bench.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  MEC Women’s Basketball Roundup – 12.06.14

Urbana 99, West Liberty 94 (OT) | Final Stats
—Jeni Jordan scored 18 of Urbana’s 20 points in overtime as the Blue Knights stunned No. 24 West Liberty, 99-94.

Jordan finished with 26 points in the game. Kate Francisco led Urbana (1-6, 1-3) with 31 points. Kennedy Boggs scored 10 and Katy Barkley pulled down 10 rebounds.

Jasmin Kiley led WLU (5-2, 3-1) with 22 points. Liz Flowers added 19 for the ‘Toppers who played without Hillary Southworth. Jenn Mohney led all players with 12 rebounds.

Shepherd 80, Charleston 76 | Final Stats
—Shepherd remained unbeaten in MEC play with an 80-76 road win over Charleston.

Alex Weakland led the Rams (6-2, 4-0) with 18 points. Cara Mason had 15 and dished out nine assists, and Liz Myers added 15.

Kayla Dozier led UC (5-2, 2-2) with 16 points. Monet Saunders had 11 points and Kiara Johnson had 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

Glenville State 94, UVa-Wise 81 | Final Stats
—Glenville State’s Keyanna Tate scored 30 points as the Pioneers broke open a close game at the half and won 94-81 over UVa-Wise.

In addition to 30 points, Tate also had eight rebounds for GSC (2-3, 2-2). Briauna Nix had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Angenay Williams chipped in 13 points. The Pioneers forced 30 turnovers in the game.

Kayla Carey scored 23 and had 20 rebounds for the Cavs (3-4, 3-1). Katie Jo Dockery netted 22 and Blair Harding had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame 78, Wheeling Jesuit 73 | Final Stats
—Notre Dame outscored Wheeling Jesuit 9-4 in the game’s final two minutes which proved to be the difference in a 78-73 win over the Cardinals.

Martha Nagbe poured in 33 points and added eight rebounds to lead NDC (3-4, 2-2). Molly Ritz scored 11 and Lauren Langenderfer added 10 for the Falcons.

Jaila Bryant and Emily Robinson each scored 19 for Wheeling Jesuit (3-2, 1-2). 

Fairmont State 70, West Virginia State | Final Stats
—Fairmont State erased a three-point halftime deficit and outscored West Virginia State 42-24 in the second half on its way to a 70-55 win over the Yellow Jackets.

Emily Lohr had a double-double for Fairmont State (7-2, 2-2) with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Emily Puskarich had 19 and Hailey Garrett contributed 10.

West Virginia State (2-5, 0-3) was led by Ashley Current who scored 15 points and added nine rebounds.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  No. 24 WVU women roll past Coppin State 83-43

Averee Fields and Lanay Montgomery recorded double-doubles and Bria Holmes scored 20 points as No. 24 West Virginia crushed Coppin State 83-43 in women’s basketball action.

The Mountaineers (6-1) shot 50 percent, dominated the boards and plucked 16 steals, which added up to their 13th consecutive home win.

“I thought we got any shot we wanted,” said Mountaineers coach Mike Carey. “We weren’t shooting well, but I thought Linda Stepney played extremely hard. I thought Lanay Montgomery played extremely hard. I thought Bria Holmes played hard. I thought Averee (Fields) played hard and I thought that Crystal Leary played hard. The problem is that I need to find about two or three more that play hard.”

Fields finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Montgomery added 12 rebounds and 10 points, while tying a career-best with five blocks.

Holmes grabbed seven rebounds, collected five steals and handed out four assists.

Freshman Teana Muldrow scored 10 points, and point guard Linda Stepney added eight points, even assists and six rebounds.

Coppin State (1-6) was no match, being outscored 54-16 in the paint. Tanaysa Henderson scored 13 and Bria Harris had 10 for the Eagles, who trailed 41-16 at the half and shot only 26 percent overall.


►  After being stunned by LSU’s comeback, No. 16 West Virginia aims to rebound as it visits mid-major

No. 16 West Virginia, fresh off a come-from-ahead loss to LSU, makes a curious nonconference stop on Sunday night.

At Northern Kentucky. Home of the Norse, of course.

If you haven’t heard of them, it could be because this is only the program’s third season in Division I. If the namerings a bell, it could be because back in 2011 the Norse waylaid West Virginia 77-74 in an exhibition stunner.

Tonight’s game is slated for a 6 PM tip on ESPN3 inside the Bank of Kentucky Center, a 9,400-seat like-new arena that shows NKU’s commitment to basketball.

Bob Huggins would like to see West Virginia (7-1) commit itself to making more shots in the paint after countless point-blank misses proved costly in the 74-73 loss to LSU. He noticed several defensive failings too, even though West Virginia forced 24 turnovers to remain the national leader in that category.

The fallout from that defeat, in which WVU blew a 14-point second-half lead, saw point guard Juwan Staten shouldering blame and vowing to refocus his teammates. That resonated with newcomers like freshman guard Daxter Miles, whose hustling tip-in off a missed free throw had given WVU a late lead.

“Many more (games) to come,” Miles said. “Of course we’re mad about the loss but we have to bounce back and practice hard. We’re not trying to let this happen again. This is definitely a learning process for us.”

Here’s our three-point scouting report on Northern Kentucky (3-4), where the process continues.

1) Multiple Kentucky connections: Three reasons explain why the Mountaineers are traveling to face an Atlantic Sun team—Northern Kentucky assistant Kevin Schappell, NKU guard Anthony Monaco and Mountaineers forward Devin Williams.

Schappell was a graduate assistant under Huggins from 2008 to 2010, a span during which West Virginia reached a Sweet 16 and a Final Four. Monaco is Huggins’ nephew (and a decent 3-point threat at 43 percent). Williams grew up in Cincinnati, right across the Ohio River.

NKU will repay West Virginia with two future games in Morgantown.

2) Flattened by the big boys: The Norse, picked fifth in the A-Sun preseason poll, have played two ranked teams this season, losing 62-31 at No. 3 Wisconsin and 80-61 at then-No. 21 Nebraska. NKU was out-rebounded 42-28 by the Badgers, struggled through 26-percent shooting and drew only nine fouls.

NKU also fell 81-60 at Eastern Washington and, most recently, lost 71-56 at home Wednesday to UT-Martin. The victories came at Idaho (79-74), vs. North Carolina A&T (68-55) and vs. D-II Ohio Mid+Western (98-48).

3) Persons of interest: In an oddity, freshman point guard Tayler Persons leads the Norse in scoring (11.3), assists, (3.1), steals (1.3) and rebounds (4.6). The former Indiana high school all-star should get an eyeful of long, aggressive West Virginia defenders trapping him tonight.

With no player taller than 6-foot-7, Northern Kentucky is a guard-oriented roster that figures to have trouble keeping WVU off the glass. With coach Dave Bezold still feeling out his lineup, 10 players have started games this season.

Prediction: West Virginia 72-53



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, December 06)


Final Score: (2) Wisconsin 49, Marquette 38

Frank Kaminsky scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, leading second-ranked Wisconsin to a 49-38 victory over Marquette on Saturday at the Bradley Center. Josh Gasser hit four 3-pointers and added 12 points for the Badgers (8-1), who bounced back from an 80-70 home loss to fourth-ranked Duke on Wednesday. Wisconsin beat its state rival for the second straight year and won for the fourth time in the last six meetings. Matt Carlino provided most of the offense for Marquette (4-4) with 18 points. The Eagles shot just 28.9 percent and fell to 0-3 against ranked opposition this season. Marquette also lost to Ohio State and Michigan State last month.


Final Score: (3) Arizona 66, (9) Gonzaga 63

Arizona’s winning streak at McKale Center survived a stiff test from Gonzaga, as the third-ranked Wildcats stole a 66-63 win in overtime from the No. 9 Bulldogs in a battle of unbeatens. These programs matched up in the NCAA Tournament in March, and Saturday’s top-10 showdown oozed that madness feel, albeit with a pro-Arizona crowd on hand. The Wildcats (8-0) trailed most of the day, but a Brandon Ashley jumper late in regulation forced overtime. T.J. McConnell scored six of his 12 points in the extra session, and Arizona won its 26th straight on its home floor. Gonzaga (7-1) committed five turnovers in OT but still had a chance to pull even after Elliott Pitts fouled Byron Wesley shooting a 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining. Wesley, though, airballed his first attempt and missed the next two to end the Bulldogs’ chance at an upset. Ashley finished with 14 points, while Stanley Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski netted 11 apiece for the Wildcats. Kyle Wiltjer paced Gonzaga with 15 points, and Przemek Karnowski recorded a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds in a losing cause.


Final Score: (7) Virginia 74, VCU 57

Justin Anderson’s status heading into Saturday’s game was questionable. He appeared fine on the court, however, and his performance spearheaded seventh-ranked Virginia’s 74-57 win over VCU. Anderson, who sprained his left ankle in Wednesday’s win over No. 21 Maryland, missed the two days of practice leading up to the game, then scored 21 points with eight rebounds to lead the Cavs. Anthony Gill supplied 18 points and Malcolm Brogdon added 15 for Virginia (9-0), which has won 11 of its 13 all-time meetings with the Rams. Treveon Graham did all he could late for VCU (5-3), but his team-high 17 points was not enough to slow down Anderson and company. Melvin Johnson was the only other Ram in double figures with 15 points.


Final Score: (8) Wichita State 81, Saint Louis 52

Ron Baker scored 18 points to lead No. 8 Wichita State to an 81-52 drubbing of Saint Louis on Saturday. Evan Wessel and Rauno Nurger each chipped in with 15 points for the Shockers (5-1), who responded from a 69-68 overtime loss to 25th-ranked Utah earlier in the week that snapped a 35-game regular-season winning streak. Wichita State shot 54 percent from the floor and had a 32-10 edge in the paint. The Billikens (5-3), meanwhile, lost their fifth straight game against a ranked opponent. Austin Gillmann led them with nine points off the bench.


Final Score: (10) Villanova 74, Saint Joseph’s 46

Josh Hart scored 12 points with eight rebounds as 10th-ranked Villanova cruised to a 74-46 win over Saint Joseph’s on Saturday. Darrun Hilliard and Phil Booth each had 11 points for the Wildcats (8-0), who never trailed en route to extending their Big 5 winning streak to eight games. Ten Villanova players scored at least two points as head coach Jay Wright went deep into his bench, which nearly outscored the Hawks by itself. The Wildcats’ reserves combined to contribute 40 points. DeAndre’ Bembry led Saint Joseph’s (4-4) with 13 points and Chris Wilson and Brendan Casper scored nine apiece.


Final Score: (14) Ohio State 70, Colgate 50

D’Angelo Russell scored 19 points to lead No. 14 Ohio State in a 70-50 rout of Colgate on Saturday. Marc Loving posted 17 points and five rebounds while Kam Williams gave 11 points for the Buckeyes (6-1), who bounced back from a loss at Louisville on Tuesday. Ethan Jacobs scored 18 points with five rebounds and Damon Sherman-Newsome scored 12 points with four boards for the Raiders (1-7), who have dropped five straight.


Final Score: Green Bay 68, (15) Miami-Florida 55

Carrington Love posted career-highs of 20 points and nine rebounds, helping Green Bay beat 15th-ranked Miami-Florida 68-55 on Saturday. Keifer Sykes scored 18 points with seven boards for the Phoenix (6-2), who held the Hurricanes to 32.8 percent shooting. Deandre Burnett paced Miami (8-1) with a personal-best 21 points. Sheldon McClellan finished with 16 points and eight rebounds and Angel Rodriguez added 12 points but shot 2-of-15 from the floor.


Final Score: NJIT 72, (17) Michigan 70

The New Jersey Institute of Technology is the only independent program in Division I men’s basketball. The power conferences aren’t going to want to schedule the Highlanders any time soon. Just ask Michigan. Damon Lynn scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half, as NJIT pulled off a stunning 72-70 win over the 17th-ranked Wolverines on Saturday at Crisler Center. Ky Howard and Winfield Willis each chipped in 17 points for the Highlanders (3-5), who played a top-25 team for the first time since joining the Division I ranks in 2006-07. Caris Levert tried to keep Michigan in the game with a career-high 32 points, connecting on 6-of-8 from 3-point range, but the Wolverines (6-2) came up short and had a two- game win streak stopped.


Final Score: (19) Michigan State 85, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 52

Travis Trice and Matt Costello each scored 15 points as No. 19 Michigan State thumped Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 85-52, on Saturday. Branden Dawson scored 12 points with seven rebounds and Bryn Forbes added 12 points for the Spartans (6-3), who were coming off back- to-back losses, including a one-point overtime setback to Notre Dame on Wednesday. Marcel Mosley had 19 points and Ghiavonnie Robinson added 13 for the Golden Lions (1-7), who have dropped their past five games.


Final Score: (21) Maryland 82, Winthrop 62

Jake Layman scored 21 points and Richaud Pack added 16, leading 21st-ranked Maryland to an 82-62 victory over Winthrop on Saturday. Melo Trimble contributed 16 points with seven assists and five rebounds for the Terrapins (8-1), who bounced back with a solid effort after suffering their first loss of the season on Wednesday at former conference rival Virginia. Jared Nickens chipped in 12 points, while Damonte Dodd finished with nine and 10 rebounds in the victory. Maryland shot 47.8 percent and made an efficient 29-of-35 free throws. Keon Moore scored 20 points and Keon Johnson added 18 for Winthrop (3-4), which has lost two straight and four of its last five.


Final Score: (23) Butler 65, Northwestern 56

Kellen Dunham had 19 points, Roosevelt Jones scored 12 and No. 23 Butler pulled away for a 65-56 victory over Northwestern on Saturday. Alex Barlow and Tyler Wideman each scored eight points for the Bulldogs (7-1), who have won three games in a row. Kameron Woods added seven points and nine rebounds. Bryant McIntosh led Northwestern with 12 points, followed by Alex Olah with 11. The Wildcats (5-3) suffered their third straight loss after a 5-0 start.


Final Score: (24) Illinois 70, American 55

Malcolm Hill posted 13 points as a balanced No. 24 Illinois used a first-half surge to dispatch American, 70-55, on Saturday. Rayvonte Rice contributed 10 points for the Illini (7-1), with Jaylon Tate and Maverick Morgan totaling eight apiece. Pee Wee Gardner picked up a game-high 16 points for the Eagles (5-4). Jesse Reed had 13 points and John Schoof poured in 12.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Saturday, December 06)


Final Score: Philadelphia 108, Detroit 101 (OT)

Robert Covington scored 25 points off the bench to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 108-101 overtime win on Saturday. Michael Carter-Williams had 20 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds and Luc Mbah a Moute added 14 points with 11 rebounds for the Sixers, who have won two of their last three since opening the season 0-17. Meanwhile, Detroit has taken the dubious distinction of basketball’s longest losing streak as it dropped an 11th straight game. The Pistons have not won since a Nov. 14 decision over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Josh Smith totaled 23 points with eight rebounds and Kyle Singler added 21 in the setback.


Final Score: Golden State 112, Chicago 102

Stephen Curry continued his shooting struggles at United Center, but Draymond Green picked up the slack. Green scored a career-high 31 points and stuffed the stat sheet as the Golden State Warriors pulled out a 112-102 road win over the Chicago Bulls to extend a franchise-best win streak to 12 games. Green made seven 3-pointers as part of an 11-for-20 shooting performance while also contributing seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Klay Thompson added 24 points and Curry scored 19 for the Warriors, who haven’t lost since a home setback to San Antonio on Nov. 11. Curry handed out a game-high seven assists but shot just 5-for-14 from the field in his first career win against the Bulls in Chicago. He hit a combined 19-for-55 in four previous losses. Jimmy Butler’s 24 points and Pau Gasol’s 22-point, 20-rebound effort weren’t enough for Chicago, which fell to 2-5 at home this season.


Final Score: Houston 100, Phoenix 95

Patrick Beverley returned from a hamstring injury to give the Rockets a big lift, scoring 19 points in Houston’s 100-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns. Beverley, who had missed Houston’s last five games, knocked down 5-of-8 attempts from 3-point range and added six rebounds off the bench. Trevor Ariza also had 19 points in a game the Rockets led from start-to-finish en route to their seventh win in eight outings. James Harden offset a 5-of-21 shooting night by posting 12 rebounds and seven assists. He finished with 15 points, while Donatas Motiejunas had 16 along with 11 rebounds. Phoenix received 23 points from Eric Bledsoe and 16 from sixth man Gerald Green, but couldn’t overcome a slow start and build off Friday’s 118-106 win at Dallas.


Final Score: San Antonio 123, Minnesota 101

Marco Belinelli led seven Spurs in double figures with 20 points as San Antonio cruised past the Minnesota Timberwolves, 123-101, on Saturday. The Spurs shot a scorching 57.3 percent from the field even though Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker took the night off. Tim Duncan recorded 13 points and 10 rebounds, Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph netted 18 points apiece and Boris Diaw scored 17 points off the bench in San Antonio’s 10th win in its last 11 games. Zach LaVine led Minnesota with 22 points and a career-high 10 assists, while Shabazz Muhammad chipped in 20 points in the club’s fifth straight setback.


Final Score: Orlando 105, Sacramento 96

Tobias Harris scored 27 points and the Orlando Magic took down the Sacramento Kings, 105-96. Victor Oladipo added 16 points and seven assists and Evan Fournier scored 15 for Orlando, which finished a six-game road trip with a 3-3 record. Darren Collison had 22 for the Kings, losers in five of their last six games.


Final Score: LA Clippers 120, New Orleans 100

Blake Griffin had 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 120-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Griffin went over 7,000 points for his career on Saturday. He came into the game needing 12 to hit the mark. J.J. Redick made five 3-pointers en route to 21 points for the Clippers, who have won seven in a row. Jamal Crawford tallied 20 points and Chris Paul donated 18 points and 16 assists. Anthony Davis ended with 26 points for the Pelicans, who have dropped two straight and five of six. Omer Asik had 10 points and 10 rebounds.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Saturday, December 06)


Final Score: Pittsburgh 3, Ottawa 2

Christian Ehrhoff scored with 1:50 remaining to snap a tie and lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Sutter also scored for the Penguins, who bounced back from a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Vancouver on Thursday and won for the third time in their last four games. Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves in the victory. Milan Michalek and Mika Zibanejad scored second-period goals for Ottawa, which has lost five in a row and seven of its last eight. Craig Anderson stopped 30 shots in defeat, but had little chance on Ehrhoff’s winner. The Penguins worked for the puck deep and Sidney Crosby emerged with it along the left boards. He backhanded a cross-ice pass to an unchecked Ehrhoff, who moved into the right circle alone and blasted a shot from the dot into the upper right corner of the net for his second goal of the season.


Final Score: St. Louis 6, NY Islanders 4

Martin Brodeur picked up his 689th career win and his first as a member of a team other than the New Jersey Devils. Subbing for an ineffective Jake Allen, Brodeur came up with 14 saves on 15 shots through the game’s final two periods as the St. Louis Blues rallied from three goals down to claim a 6-4 victory over the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. T.J. Oshie began a three-goal final stanza with a power-play marker, while Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko added late scores for the Blues, who had lost back-to-back divisional road games. Allen gave up three goals on 12 shots in the first period. Frans Nielsen, Ryan Strome, Michael Grabner and John Tavares supplied offense for the Islanders, who had won their previous three contests. Jaroslav Halak was on the hook for all six goals on 40 shots in defeat.


Final Score: Philadelphia 2, Los Angeles 1

Steve Mason stopped 37-of-38 shots to help the Philadelphia Flyers steal two points from the Los Angeles Kings in a 2-1 victory Saturday at Staples Center. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds tallied for the Flyers, who finished the California portion of their five- game, cross-continent road trip at 1-1-1. Philadelphia, which completes its travels on Tuesday in Columbus, also snapped a season-high six-game losing skid. Justin Williams registered the lone goal and Jonathan Quick made only 14 saves for the Kings, who had blanked Boston, Arizona and Minnesota in their last three victories.


Final Score: Toronto 5, Vancouver 2

Jake Gardiner and Richard Panik scored 45 seconds apart late in the first period and Jonathan Bernier made 44 saves, as Toronto raced out to a four-goal lead then held on to beat Vancouver, 5-2, from Air Canada Centre. Peter Holland and Joffrey Lupul tallied early in the second to complete the burst and David Clarkson added a late marker for the Maple Leafs, who have won five of their last seven. Daniel Sedin and Christopher Tanev provided offense for the Canucks, who had recorded road wins against Pittsburgh and Washington but fell to 3-2 on their seven-game road trip. Ryan Miller was pulled after giving up four goals on 14 shots in almost 26 minutes. Eddie Lack finished up by halting all 13 Toronto chances for the remainder of the contest.


Final Score: Detroit 3, NY Rangers 2

Darren Helm recorded the tie-breaking goal 7:40 into the third period as the surging Detroit Red Wings rallied for a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings trailed 2-0 deep into the second period before getting goals from Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening just over a minute apart. Jimmy Howard stoned the Rangers over the final two frames, finishing with 26 saves in Detroit’s sixth win in seven games. Cam Talbot stopped 31-of-34 shots for New York, which received early tallies from Kevin Klein and Rick Nash in its second straight loss.


Final Score: Columbus 3, Tampa Bay 1

Sergei Bobrovsky made 33 saves and the Columbus Blue Jackets topped the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Saturday. Boone Jenner and David Savard scored first-period goals for the Blue Jackets, who have won three straight games on the heels of a six-game slide. Jack Skille padded the lead in the third, and Bobrovsky stopped 33-of-34 shots he faced to help secure the win. Ondrej Palat spoiled Bobrovsky’s shutout with 1:13 left in the game, but it wasn’t enough for Tampa Bay, which had won five of six. Ben Bishop yielded all three goals on 20 shots.


Final Score: Florida 3, Buffalo 2

Nick Bjugstad scored the eventual game- winner in the closing seconds of the second period as the Florida Panthers downed the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, on Saturday. Brad Boyes and Tomas Kopecky also scored, and Aaron Ekblad assisted on all three of Florida’s goals in the club’s fifth straight win over Buffalo. Roberto Luongo, who shut the Sabres out on Oct. 17, stopped 26-of-28 shots, while Michal Neuvirth’s 34-save effort went for naught. Drew Stafford and Brian Gionta accounted for Buffalo’s offense.


Final Score: Washington 4, New Jersey 1

Jay Beagle scored the winner in the second period as the Washington Capitals grabbed a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Brooks Laich posted a goal and an assist while Karl Alzner and Evgeny Kuznetsov also lit the lamp for the Capitals, who have won their past two. Braden Holtby stopped 33 shots. Patrik Elias had the only goal while Cory Schneider allowed three goals on 28 shots for the Devils, who have lost six of their last seven.


Final Score: Chicago 3, Nashville 1

Marian Hossa scored two goals and the Chicago Blackhawks ended the Nashville Predators’ seven-game home winning streak with a 3-1 win on Saturday. Brandon Saad had one goal and an assist for the Blackhawks, who have won six in a row. Scott Darling made 32 saves. Chicago moved ahead of Nashville for the Central Division lead. Colin Wilson scored the lone goal for the Predators, who fell to 11-2-1 at home this season. Pekka Rinne stopped 28-of-30 shots.


Final Score: Dallas 4, Montreal 1

Tyler Seguin finished with two goals and an assist to lead the Dallas Stars to a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt also scored, Jamie Benn assisted on both Seguin markers and Kari Lehtonen turned aside 16-of-17 shots for the Stars, who ended a four-game skid. Seguin leads the league with 21 goals and 35 points this season. Sven Andrighetto scored Montreal’s lone goal in his NHL debut and Carey Price made 25 saves in defeat. The Canadiens have now lost six of their last seven games.


Final Score: Boston 5, Arizona 2

Brad Marchand scored twice to lead the Boston Bruins in a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. Simon Gagne, Loui Eriksson and Kevan Miller all scored for the Bruins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Tuukka Rask allowed two goals on 26 shots in the win. Joe Vitale and Mikkel Boedker lit the lamp for the Coyotes, who have lost six of their last seven. Devan Dubnyk was tagged for four goals on 24 shots while Mike Smith stopped 8-of-9 in relief.


Final Score: San Jose 3, Calgary 2

Patrick Marleau scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period as the San Jose Sharks extended their winning streak to four games with a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday. Logan Couture and Justin Braun each had a goal and an assist and Tommy Wingels supplied two helpers for San Jose, which received 33 saves from Antti Niemi. Mark Giordano and Johnny Gaudreau each scored for the Flames, who had their four-game winning streak halted. Karri Ramo stopped 27-of-30 shots in defeat.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Donald hanging on to lead at Nedbank Challenge

Luke Donald saw a 4-shot lead quickly evaporate on Saturday, but a birdie at the last helped him regain the lead after three rounds at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Donald fired a 3-under 69 at Gary Player Country Club Saturday and he leads by one shot over a surging Danny Willett. Donald, a seven-time European Tour winner who last won at the 2012 BMW PGA Championship, finished 54 holes at 13- under-par 203.

“I’m pretty pleased with the score,“ Donald said. “I could have played a little bit more solid on the back nine, but to be honest, around this course, I think with a lead, shooting a 69, that’s kind of what the game plan was, to go out and shoot a low round and keep myself ahead and in position for tomorrow.“

Willett, playing in the penultimate group Saturday, shot up the leaderboard with a 7-under 65 and he is nipping at Donald’s heels at 12-under 204.

First-round leader Ross Fisher struggled at times in his third round, but a strong finish helped him end three behind the leader at 10-under 206 through 54 holes. Fisher shot a 2-under 70 in round three.

The next-closest player to the trio of Englishmen is Marcel Siem, who is alone in fourth at 5-under 211 following a 71 Saturday.

Donald, leading by two over Fisher and five over Willett at the start of his round, extended his advantage to three shots with a birdie on four. Fisher, who traded a birdie on the second with a bogey at the third, got back to within two after another gain on the par-4 fifth.

Another birdie for Donald on the par-3 seventh put him at minus-12 and back up by three shots. Both Donald and Fisher poured in birdies on the ninth, keeping Donald’s advantage at three.

In the meantime, Willett was making his move on the front nine. The 27-year- old used gains on two, five and six to get within striking distance before going on a run. Willett’s next two birdies on nine and 10 got him even with Fisher at minus-10 and three shots behind Donald.

Donald used his second consecutive gain on No. 10 to push his lead to four and it appeared as if he was beginning to pull away. However, Willett drained his third straight birdie on No. 11 to get within three.

Both Donald and Willett made bogeys on 13 before Willett drained his seventh gain of the day on 14 to get to within two. Another Willett birdie on 16 paired with a Donald bogey on 17 all of a sudden had the duo tied atop the leaderboard at minus-12.

After Willett finished up with pars on 17 and 18, Donald’s approach out of the left rough on the last dropped to within five feet of the hole. He kicked that in for a birdie to retake the lead heading into the final round.

“I’m excited to be in that position again,“ said Donald. “That’s why we work hard and that’s why we practice so much, and I’m excited for the challenge tomorrow.“

Fisher was quiet on his back nine, but never fell too far behind. He made six straight pars from No. 10 before falling back to minus-9 with a bogey on 16. The 34-year-old salvaged his round with a nice birdie putt at the last to get to three behind Donald.

“Tomorrow is going to be a big day,“ Fisher said. “I just need to go out and play how I’ve been playing the first three days and how I putted on the first day. If I do that, I feel like I’ve got a really good chance of winning it.“

NOTES: Donald is also a five-time winner on the PGA Tour ... Willett, whose lone European Tour win came at the 2012 BMW International Open, had seven top-10 finishes last season without a victory ... Fisher has won five times on the European Tour ... Defending champion Thomas Bjorn shot his best round of the week with a 4-under 68 and he is tied for 24th at 4-over 220.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 07, 2014


National Football League
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (705)
Houston at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (706)
Baltimore at Miami, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (707)
NY Jets at Minnesota, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (708)
Indianapolis at Cleveland, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (709)
Tampa Bay at Detroit, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (710)
Carolina at New Orleans, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (711)
NY Giants at Tennessee, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (712)
St. Louis at Washington, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (713)
Kansas City at Arizona, 4:05 PM - CBS, DSS (714)
Buffalo at Denver, 4:05 PM - CBS, DSS (715)
San Francisco at Oakland, 4:25 PM - FOX, DSS (716)
Seattle at Philadelphia, 4:25 PM - FOX, DSS (717)
New England at San Diego, 8:30 PM - NBC


National Basketball Association
Washington at Boston, 1:00 PM - CSN-DC, New England, DSS
Denver at Atlanta, 3:30 PM - Altitude, DSS
Oklahoma City at Detroit, 6:00 PM - FS-Oklahoma, DSS
Miami at Memphis, 6:00 PM - SunSports, SportSouth, DSS
Milwaukee at Dallas, 7:30 PM - FS-Wisconsin, Southwest, DSS
Portland at New York, 7:30 PM - CSN-Northwest, MSG, DSS
New Orleans at LA Lakers, 9:30 PM - FS-New Orleans, Time Warner, DSS


National Hockey League
Anaheim at Winnipeg, 3:00 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, TSN3, DSS
Detroit at Carolina, 5:00 PM - FS-Detroit+, Carolina, DSS
Vancouver at Ottawa, 7:00 PM - CITY TV, TVA Sports, NHL Network, DSS
San Jose at Edmonton, 9:00 PM - CSN-California, SNET-West, DSS


College Basketball
Towson at Georgetown, 12:00 PM - FS1
Colorado at Georgia, 12:00 PM - SEC Network
Northern Colorado at Colorado State, 2:00 PM - ROOT-Rocky Mountain
Milwaukee at DePaul, 2:00 PM - FS1
Limestone at UNC Asheville, 2:00 PM - Big South Network
Charlotte vs. George Washington, 2:30 PM - MASN
East Carolina at North Carolina, 3:00 PM - ESPN U
Illinois State at UAB, 3:00 PM - CSN-Chicago, American Sports Network
Radford at Virginia Tech, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
California at Nevada, 4:00 PM - CBSSN
Missouri State at Oral Roberts, 4:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Ole Miss at Oregon, 4:00 PM - FS1
Utah State at USC, 5:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Arkansas at Clemson, 5:00 PM - ESPN U
Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky, 6:00 PM - SEC Network
West Virginia at Northern Kentucky, 6:00 PM - ROOT-Pittsburgh, ESPN3.com
Creighton at Nebraska, 7:00 PM - Big Ten Network
San Diego at UCLA, 7:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
San Diego State at Washington, 9:00 PM - Pac-12 Network


Women’s College Basketball
South Carolina at Duke, 1:00 PM - ESPN 2
Kentucky at Louisville, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Texas A&M at TCU, 2:00 PM - FSN
Florida at Florida State, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Towson at Maryland, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Tennessee at Lipscomb, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Nebraska at Alabama, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Colorado at Iowa, 3:00 PM - Mediacom, Big Ten Network+
Rutgers at Arkansas, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Baylor at Ole Miss, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
SE Louisiana at Mississippi State, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Michigan State at Georgia, 4:00 PM - SEC Network
California at Kansas, 6:00 PM - FS1


College Football
Playoff Selection Show, 12:45 PM - ESPN


Major League Soccer - MLS Cup
New England at Los Angeles, 3:00 PM - ESPN, TSN


International Soccer
West Ham vs. Swansea City, 8:30 AM - NBCSN
Aston Villa vs. Leicester City, 11:00 AM - NBCSN


Golf
EUROPEAN - Nedbank Challenge, 6:00 AM - Golf Channel
PGA - Hero World Challenge, 12:00 PM - Golf Channel
PGA - Hero World Challenge, 1:30 PM - NBC

Sports News   141203

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Michigan fires Hoke after 4 seasons

The University of Michigan has reportedly fired head football coach Brady Hoke after four seasons.

The Detroit Free Press, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, reported the firing Tuesday.


►  UAB shuts down football program

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has dropped its football program over what it says are the “fiscal realities” of rising operational costs that have placed a strain on the athletics budget and made it too hard to keep a competitive team on the field.

The 2014-15 academic year will also be the last for its bowling and rifle programs, the school announced Tuesday.

Despite the rumors surrounding its future, the Blazers football team went 6-6 this season and is bowl-eligible for the first time in 10 years.

UAB is the first school to shutter a major football program since Pacific in 1995.

“The fiscal realities we face—both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint—are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the athletic department and UAB,“ said university president Ray L. Watts.

“As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the athletic department, football is simply not sustainable.“

Watts said “the financial picture” currently facing the athletics department—mainly, that it would cost too much to keep a competitive football team—made the decision to drop the program “very clear.“

Funds will be redirected to the remaining athletic programs, he said.

“We will not cut the current athletic budget, but in order to invest at least another $49 million to keep football over the next five years, we would have to redirect funds away from other critical areas of importance like education, research, patient care or student services,“ he said.

“These are challenging times in higher education with flat or reduced state and federal funding, and it is more important than ever that we take a close look at overall operations, set priorities and aggressively align our resources in the areas where we have the potential to make the most difference.“

UAB said it will honor the scholarships for athletes and contracts for coaches whose programs are being canceled.

“It is our No. 1 priority to make this transition as easy as possible for our student-athletes, coaches and others affected,“ Watts said. “We will support our UAB family and help impacted individuals make the best decisions for their futures.“

UAB became bowl-eligible with a 45-24 win over Southern Miss on Saturday. The week before, it held a lead into the fourth quarter against then-nationally ranked and unbeaten Marshall before losing on a late fumble in the end zone.

UAB coach Bill Clark praised his players after the Marshall game.

“I am so proud of them,“ he said. “With all the adversity and turmoil that has been surrounding them, to come out here and fight like they did today was unbelievable. That is what I expected.“

The Blazers lost the only bowl game they played in, falling to Hawaii in the 2004 Hawaii bowl.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NFL Fantasy Player of the Week - Week 13

Even in the “Year of the Pass” this past week was special. Until Sunday, we had never seen three quarterbacks throw five or more touchdown passes on the same day and they have been playing professional football for a very long time.

But Ryan Fitzpatrick (6), Drew Brees (5) and Andrew Luck (5) accomplished the feat against Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Washington, respectively.

The following players were the best at their positions in Week 13.


Quarterbacks -

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston - Not only did Fitzpatrick throw a Week 13 high six touchdown passes, but he also earned his fantasy owners the 300-yard bonus. Too bad he wasn’t in many starting lineups. To show you how few people directly benefited from his performance, in my FOX Sports league he’s owned in just 5.5% of the leagues and was started in a minuscule 1.4% of them.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis - No surprise here. Luck still leads the fantasy world in points, adding to his lead with a 370-yard, five-touchdown virtuoso performance against Washington. What’s really impressive is that he threw just 27 passes to amass those totals.


Running Backs -

Tre Mason, St. Louis - The Rams demolished the floundering Oakland Raiders to the tune of 52-0 and much of the damage was done by Mason. He scored the first points of the day with a 35-yard reception in the opening quarter and broke the game wide open with a stunning 89-yard run early in the second quarter. He finished with 164 yards from scrimmage and the two scores worth 39 fantasy points.

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh - Bell was outstanding in a losing effort, totaling 254 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 95 yards and a score and caught eight of 11 targets for 159 yards. That’s why he’s so valuable to fantasy owners. Whether the Steelers are ahead or behind, Bell is still an integral part of the offense.


Wide Receivers -

DeAndre Hopkins, Houston - We are seeing a “changing of the guard” in Houston where Hopkins has assumed the top rung over former fantasy star Andre Johnson. Behind a great game from their just re-installed starting quarterback, Fitzpatrick, Hopkins posted career-best numbers - 238 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit - Megatron’s fantasy owners have waited since Week 1 for the star to strut his stuff and on Thanksgiving Day he did just that. Johnson consistently exposed the Bears weak secondary catching 11 of 16 targets for 146 yards, two touchdowns and 35 fantasy points.


Tight Ends -

Coby Fleener, Indianapolis - As expected Dwayne Allen was inactive and Fleener had a very productive afternoon in his absence. He opened the Colts’ scoring with a 30-yard touchdown reception and his second TD catch, a 73-yarder in the third quarter, put the game out of reach.

Jordan Reed, Washington - Reed finally showed fantasy owners what he is capable of with nine receptions for 123 yards, but he was still the second- best tight end on the field, behind Fleener.


Kickers -

Matt Bryant, Atlanta - Kicking indoors is always an advantage late in the season when the weather around the country turns bad and Sunday it paid dividends for fantasy owners who starter Bryant. The Falcons place-kicker hit all five field goal attempts to win the position.


Defense/Special Teams -

St. Louis Rams - There were a lot of surprising defensive performances in Week 13, but the 52-0 shutout of Oakland topped the list. The Rams intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown, recovered a pair of fumbles, sacked the Raiders quarterbacks six times and completely throttled the Oakland offense for 34 fantasy points.

And the winner of the TSN Fantasy Player of the Week is ... Houston wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Just think what he could do if he had a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. Or if the Texans could just get their quarterback situation settled.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  MEC Men’s Basketball Player of The Week

Concord’s Mike Boyd has been named Mountain East Conference Player of the Week for his efforts in leading the Mountain Lions to a 2-1 week.

Boyd, a senior guard from Cincinnati, Ohio, averaged 20 points, 5.6 rebounds and six assists in three games for the Mountain Lions. In a league win over Urbana, Boyd scored a career-high 31 points to become the 36th player in CU history to score 1,000 career points, and also had 10 rebounds against the Blue Knights. He added 15 points in a win over Bluefield State and 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds in an overtime loss to Francis Marion to conclude the week.

Other Top Performances:

Seger Bonifant (WLU) had 31 points in a win over West Virginia State ...

Donte Morales (GSC) had 25 points and 13 rebounds in a league win over Fairmont State ...

Lawrence DeArmond (NDC) tallied 29 points in a win over UVa-Wise ...

Vince Dillard (UC) averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in a 2-0 week for the Golden Eagles ...

Jamel Morris (FSU) played in one game last week and scored 35 points in a non-conference victory over Lincoln (PA) ...

A.J. Carr (SU) had a game-high 18 points in just 21 minutes of action against West Virginia Wesleyan ...

Haywood Highsmith (WJU) averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds in a 1-1 week ...

Dominic Phillips (WVSU) averaged 17.3 points and 3.7 assists in two games ...

Chris Dewberry (WVWC) averaged 14 points and three assists in a pair of contests.

2014-15 MEC Players of the Week
Week Player (Team)
November17 Seger Bonifant (WLU)
November 24 Donte Morales (GSC)
December 1 Mike Boyd (CU)


►  MEC Women’s Basketball Player of The Week

The University of Charleston’s Nichole Perry has been named Mountain East Conference Player of the Week after leading the Golden Eagles to a 2-0 week.

Perry, a senior from Poseyville, Ind., averaged 14.5 points and shot 64% from the field in UC’s two wins. She led all players with 17 points in a MEC win over Wheeling Jesuit, and then helped the Golden Eagles to a 50-47 non-conference win over Malone with 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Other Top Performances:

Hillary Southworth (WLU) scored 22 of her 25 points in the second half to lead the ‘Toppers to a win over West Virginia State ...

Keyanna Tate (GSC) scored 23 points to get the Pioneers their first win of the season ...

Alex Weakland (SU) averaged 14.5 points in a 1-1 week ...

Kyle Molisee (CU) had 14 points and 16 rebounds in a road win over Urbana ...

Blair Harding (UVa-Wise) averaged 19.5 points in a 1-1 week for the Cavs ...

Jeni Jordan (UU) had her first career double-double against Concord ...

Amanda Ruffner (FSU) came off the bench and had 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots against Glenville State ...

Jaila Bryant (WJU) had 16 points and six rebounds in a loss to Charleston ...

Kelsey Miller (NDC) averaged 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in two games.

2014-15 MEC Players of the Week
Week Player (Team)
November17 Hallie Gunnoe (FSU)
November 24 Hailey Garrett (FSU)
December 1 Nichole Perry (UC)


<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Tuesday, December 02)


Final Score: (3) Arizona 91, Gardner-Webb 65

Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson led four Wildcats in double figures with 18 points and No. 3 Arizona used a big second half run to take down Gardner-Webb, 91-65, on Tuesday. Fresh off winning MVP of the Maui Invitational and Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for the first time in his young career, Johnson shot 6-of-9 from the floor and pulled down eight rebounds for the unbeaten Wildcats (7-0). The future lottery pick has scored at least eight points in every game this season and has reached double-figures in six straight. Gabe York also scored 18 for Arizona, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kalec Tarczewski posted 11 and 10, respectively. Tyler Strange’s five 3-pointers in six tries gave him 15 points to go along with six assists for Gardner-Webb (3-4), which upset Clemson in the opening round of the Paradise Jam last week before consecutive losses. Tyrell Nelson also scored 15 points and Jerome Hill tallied 13 with six rebounds and six assists.


Final Score: (5) Louisville 64, (14) Ohio State 55

Terry Rozier’s clutch 3-pointer with 46 seconds remaining helped No. 5 Louisville hold off 14th-ranked Ohio State’s late comeback attempt for a 64-55 victory on Tuesday. Trailing by five, Ohio State received the ball following a Chris Jones traveling violation with 1:12 to play. D’Angelo Russell made it a one- possession game by making a pair at the line, but Rozier’s timely trey gave Louisville breathing room for a 59-53 advantage. Following Amir Williams’ thunderous dunk, Anas Mahmoud made a free throw and Montrezl Harrell rebounded Mahmoud’s miss on the second shot to force a foul and put the game away with a foul shot with 28 seconds remaining. Wayne Blackshear had a game-high 22 points with six rebounds and three steals, Harrell finished with 13 points and 10 boards and Rozier supplied 11 points, seven rebounds and seven helpers for the Cardinals (6-0), who won their third straight game against the Buckeyes. Russell had 17 points and seven assists to pace the Buckeyes (5-1), who were coming off a 73-56 win over James Madison on Friday.


Final Score: (6) Texas 63, Texas-Arlington 53

Myles Turner scored 14 of his 18 points at the free throw line, pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked five shots in No. 6 Texas’ 63-53 win over Texas-Arlington. Turner shot just 2-of-10 from the field, but he got to the line 17 times to make the Mavericks pay for their fouls. Jonathan Holmes led the Longhorns with 16 rebounds, and he also chipped in nine points. Texas (7-0) out-rebounded its in-state foe, 52-25. Jamel Outler and Greg Gainey each scored nine points to lead the Mavericks (3-4). Johnny Hill had five points, six rebounds and four assists.


Final Score: (9) Gonzaga 76, SE Louisiana 57

Kyle Wiltjer totaled a game-high 20 points as No. 9 Gonzaga claimed a 76-57 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the first-ever meeting between the schools from McCarthey Center. Domantas Sabonis had 14 points and Kevin Pangos added 12 for the Bulldogs (7-0), who head to Arizona on Saturday. Joshua Fillmore picked up 14 points while DeVonte Upson and Zay Jackson added 12 points each for the Lions (2-6). Andrew Guillory totaled 10 with three assists in the setback and Upson had a team-high eight rebounds.


Final Score: (15) Miami-Florida 70, (24) Illinois 61

Deandre Burnett scored 19 points and No. 15 Miami beat No. 24 Illinois 70-61 on Tuesday night as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Manu Lecomte added 15 points and Sheldon McClellan had 14 for the Hurricanes (8-0), who have won their first eight games for the first time in five years. Rayvonte Rice had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead Illinois (6-1) and Malcolm Hill scored 13.


Final Score: (17) Michigan 68, Syracuse 65

Spike Albrecht totaled 11 points and a career-high nine assists with no turnovers off the bench as No. 17 Michigan held off Syracuse, 68-65, in this installment of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Albrecht, who became a household name when he scored 17 first-half points against Louisville in the National Championship game two years ago, broke a 63-63 deadlock when he stepped into an NBA range 3-pointer with 31 seconds to play. Michael Gbinije got a quick two at the other end, and Syracuse (5-2) had two chances to take a lead after Michigan missed two free throws but squandered both. Chris McCullough, who secured Derrick Walton’s miss from the line, overthrew Kaleb Joseph on his outlet pass. LeVert then missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Joseph lost the ball on a drive to the basket. LeVert sank two with 4.5 to play, and Joseph’s final look from 3 hit nothing but air as the clock expired. Zak Irvin led Michigan (6-1) with 18 points while LeVert and Ricky Doyle scored 12 apiece. The Wolverines improved to 5-0 at home this season.


Final Score: (20) Iowa State 96, Lamar 59

Bryce Dejean-Jones had 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and No. 20 Iowa State pulled away starting late in the first half for a 96-59 win over Lamar on Tuesday. Matt Thomas led the Cyclones (4-1) with 14 points and Georges Niang scored 13, including seven during a big run at the end of the first half that pulled them out of a three-point hole. Iowa State bounced back from a loss to Maryland last Tuesday in the final of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic and collected its 23rd consecutive win at home against non-conference opponents. LeMon Gregory scored 13 points to lead Lamar (2-5), which has lost five of its last six.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Nothin’ but Net: Pump the brakes on realignment

It’s no big secret the Western Conference is miles better than the Eastern Conference.

It’s been that way for some time, but the disparity in quality has led to a lot of discussion by smarter people than me about a way to fix it. Zach Lowe and Tom Ziller have floated ideas about realignment or even scrapping conferences all together.

There are eight teams in the Western Conference with double-digit victories compared to only four in the Eastern Conference. The East is a woeful 26-64 against its big brother, but are these relatively nuclear options really necessary?

No, because basketball, like White House occupancy, trends in jeans and almost everything else in life, is cyclical.

The West is best now, but it won’t be in perpetuity. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich will retire. Kevin Durant will go to the Washington Wizards. Just like that, the balance of power will shift.

That’s assuming you buy the premise. The sample size for western domination is still small, but does anyone believe LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers won’t figure things out by season’s end? Does anyone think Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, when healthy, (if such a thing exists in Bulls Land), won’t be major contenders by May?

The Toronto Raptors have the third-most wins in the NBA. They gave the Memphis Grizzlies, the league’s best, one of their only two losses.

So, maybe, just maybe, this notion that the league is so lopsided that change is needed, is a little too quickly conceived.

The San Antonio Spurs are a modern dynasty. They are the defending NBA champions, but the Miami Heat won the two before that. Miami is very eastern. The Eastern Conference champions are 4-6 in the last 10 NBA Finals. That’s hardly worthy of changing the structure of the league.

Realignment is not an easy step. There’s different travel requirements and hurdles to leap both in ownership and with the players’ association. Lowe reported that Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns is interested in change. Of course he is. His team narrowly missed the playoffs last season despite going 48-34.

Mark Cuban is also an advocate for change. He opined on ESPN’s broadcast of the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks Wednesday night that the three Texas teams could go east with three Central Division teams heading to the Western Conference. Part of the rationale was change for the sake of competitiveness, the other part was that the trips are equidistant to Portland. That hardly seems like a reason to realign - mileage to Portland.

There is inequity in the depth between the two conferences, but sounding the alarm button so drastically as to realign is too much. For all of the chatter about how supreme the Western Conference is, if the NBA seeded the top 16 teams and sent them to battle last season, only the Atlanta Hawks would have been out in favor of the Suns. The Hawks took the Indiana Pacers to seven games and should have pulled off the rare 8 over 1 upset.

Yes, it stinks that the Sacramento Kings, or Denver Nuggets, or, heaven forbid, even the Oklahoma City Thunder may miss out on the playoffs because the West is so great. Yes, it seems unfair that this incarnation of the Pacers may make the playoffs when any of the above-mentioned teams would have a better chance of advancement.

But, is the answer really tinkering the infrastructure? That’s so drastic. What happens when lottery picks like Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and the entire 76ers roster pans out?

As Lowe pointed out, what happens when the Nets and Knicks spend the money they have coming to them? Won’t free agents want to come East because it’s an easier path to the Finals?

The balance could change, so what happens then when Texas becomes Eastern? Does the NBA change conference positioning every two seasons based on competitiveness? That’s nonsensical.

Reshuffling the deck is fun. It’s even a valid theory with some merit because the ultimate goal of sports is to come up with the best champion through any means necessary. We’ve begged college football for years to come up with a playoff. It’s a true test and you want the best teams competing.

Taking the step of shifting conferences is too much. It’s unnecessary and the idea that it’ll make it more competitive for a year or two is not enough of a reason to pull something this huge.

If a Western Conference team wants to compete for an NBA title, my advice is to qualify for the postseason. Will it be difficult? Of course it will be, but that’s how the league operates at the moment.

Changing schedules and conferences because one is so clearly better doesn’t change anything significantly other than give a Dallas or Houston homecourt in the first round of the playoffs if they were in the Eastern Conference. (That’s not a small thing, as Lowe illustrated. There’s a little thing called money involved.)

Realignment is just not needed at the moment. Even if you buy the premise that the disparity is so monumental, pushing the panic button should be the final resort and the league is nowhere near that yet.

The best player resides in the Eastern Conference. Basketball legacies like the Celtics, Knicks and Sixers are there, too, and while they’re in decline, they don’t need the Dallas Mavericks interfering with their storied pasts.

The balance of power resides now in the Western Conference, at least during the regular season. It stinks that all of the great teams out there, first have to play each other more, but also won’t see the postseason.

Can’t blame geography for everything.

If realignment was needed because of travel problems like say Memphis to Portland, then it’s an important topic for discussion. If realignment is brought up to make the Eastern Conference better, just wait for the Eastern Conference to get better.

It will. It’s cyclical.


►  NBA Game Results

(Tuesday, December 02)


Final Score: Cleveland 111, Milwaukee 108

Ever since LeBron James called the Cleveland Cavaliers “fragile” last week they’ve been anything but. Kyrie Irving had 28 points and six assists, Kevin Love added 27 points and 10 rebounds and Cleveland defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 111-108 on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers have won four straight games since James made those comments, outscoring their opponents by a combined 73 points during the stretch. One of those was a 26-point beatdown of the Washington Wizards, who handed Cleveland a 13-point defeat during a four-game slide the Cavs endured prior to their winning stretch. James provided 26 points and 10 helpers in the triumph. Brandon Knight posted 27 points, eight assists, six boards and three steals, while Jabari Parker supplied 22 points and eight rebounds for Milwaukee, which has dropped two straight on the heels of a 6-2 stretch.


Final Score: Atlanta 109, Boston 105

Kyle Korver was the linchpin to Atlanta’s comeback on both ends of the floor as the Hawks rallied from 23 points down to upend the Boston Celtics, 109-105, at Philips Arena. Korver scored 13 of his 24 points in the second half and helped slow down Rajon Rondo and the Celtics, who committed 23 turnovers and shot just 35.0 percent from the field after the break. Paul Millsap totaled 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Hawks, who capped their four-game homestand with three straight wins. Jeff Green netted 25 points for the Celtics, but he missed a potential tying jumper down the stretch as Boston dropped its fifth straight.


Final Score: LA Lakers 106, Detroit 96

Jordan Hill put up 22 points and 13 rebounds and the Los Angeles Lakers remained unbeaten against the Eastern Conference with a 106-96 win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. Kobe Bryant finished with 12 points and 13 assists, but was responsible for 10 of the 14 Lakers turnovers. Bryant posted the unofficial triple-double two days after recording the 20th legitimate one of his career. Nick Young added 19 points off the bench as the Lakers won their fourth straight against the East to start the season. They are just 1-13 against the West. Josh Smith filled the stat sheet with 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and Andre Drummond pulled down 13 boards, but Detroit lost its ninth game in a row. The struggling Pistons have dropped six home games in that stretch, their longest since a 10-game slide in March, 2013. Only the winless 76ers have a worse record than the Pistons, who fell to 3-15 on the season.


Final Score: Brooklyn 98, New York 93

Brook Lopez had 23 points and eight rebounds, Joe Johnson added 22 points, eight boards, six assists and three steals and the Brooklyn Nets defeated the New York Knicks 98-93 on Tuesday night. Deron Williams posted 19 points, five boards and five helpers for the Nets, who are 3-2 on the heels of a five-game losing streak. Carmelo Anthony tallied 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists for New York, which has dropped five straight to fall to 4-15 on the season.


Final Score: Dallas 132, Chicago 129 (2-OT)

Monta Ellis scored 38 points, and the Dallas Mavericks outlasted the Chicago Bulls, 132-129, in double-overtime on Tuesday. Ellis, who shot 16-of-35 from the floor, sent the game to overtime with three free throws and essentially won it with a 3-pointer in the second overtime to help the Mavs win their fourth straight. Chandler Parsons deposited 24 points and Dirk Nowitzki netted 22 on 8-of-22 shooting in the win. Devin Harris added 20 points off the bench. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 29 points to go along with 14 rebounds, while Jimmy Butler dropped in 23 points and Mike Dunleavy chipped in with 20. Derrick Rose, who banked in a 3 to tie the game as time expired in the first overtime, had 18 points and 10 assists. Chicago had its two-game winning streak snapped in its return to the United Center following a seven-game circus road trip.


Final Score: New Orleans 112, Oklahoma City 104

The Thunder welcomed back Kevin Durant on Tuesday, but Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans gave the reigning MVP a glimpse of the uphill climb Oklahoma City faces the rest of the season. Davis totaled 25 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four blocks, and the Pelicans never trailed in the second half en route to a 112-104 victory over the finally-healthy Thunder. Durant was aggressive in his first game of the season following right foot surgery in October and showed flashes of being in midseason form. He finished with 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting and played nearly 30 minutes. The Thunder went 5-1