Horse Racing

Lynch, Huskies arent changing approach for Orange Bowl

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Lynch, Huskies arent changing approach for Orange Bowl

DEKALB -- Several campus buildings were still bathed in celebratory orange lights on Friday even as Northern Illinois University shut down for a holiday break.

But on the Huskie Stadium turf, quarterback Jordan Lynch and his teammates were too busy to notice as preparation continued for next month's Orange Bowl showdown with Florida State.

"It's starting to sink in (and) practices have been going good," said Lynch, the record-setting setting junior quarterback who's guided Northern Illinois to a 12-1 record.

(But) its been kind of crazy since that one eventful weekend -- winning the MAC championship, losing Coach (Dave) Doeren, having Coach (Rod) Carey step in and then getting the Orange Bowl pick," he said.

Attention on Lynch and the Huskies continues to rise since they beat Kent State in double overtime for the MAC title and then crashed the elite Bowl Championship Series party to earn a major berth.

And while notice for the program and university is welcome, Lynch and the Huskies arent changing their approach while preparing for the Seminoles.

Florida State looks fast and physical on defense, from what Ive been seeing (and) they pride themselves on turnovers, he said. This will be the best defense weve played all year.

Well make a few wrinkles here and there on offense, but were going to do what got us here and stick to what we do.

Lynch has been a potent threat as both a passer and runner this season. He leads the nation in rushing (1,771 yards), total offensive yards gained (4,733) and is tied with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel for second nationally for points responsible (258).

His rushing total is the most ever for an FBS quarterback, topping the mark of 1,702 set by Michigans Denard Robinson in 2010.

Seventh in Heisman Trophy voting this month, Lynch was the only FBS quarterback this season to pass for 150 yards and run for 150 on four separate occasions. Other top quarterbacks like Manziel, Robinson and three others did it just once this year.

Hes truly one of the best players in the country, Toledo coach Matt Campbell said after the Huskies beat the Rockets 31-24 on Nov. 14 to clinch the MAC West crown. Hes been the essence of consistency...His ability to run the football with such power, yet throw the ball with great consistency and (also) have the ability to sustain that success, a lot of credit has to go to him.

Lynch spent several years as a backup to former Huskie Chandler Harnish -- another quarterback proficient as a passer and runner -- and is quick to credit Harnish as a mentor.

He was always there, he was a big brother always there helping me out, Lynch said. I was his understudy for three years and anytime I had questions he was there to help me.

While the recent ride has been heady for the first-year Huskie starter, there was no certainty hed have a major college chance despite playing for the legendary Chicago-Mt. Carmel program.

As a Caravan senior, he passed for 1,221 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 848 yards in Mt. Carmels triple option attack. He also earned the Lawless Award as the Catholic Leagues top player.

But colleges didnt show a lot of interest. Those that did looked more at Lynchs athletic skills than as a quarterback.

The only school that gave me a chance at quarterback was Northern, Lynch said. It worked out, I guess.

Caravan coach Frank Lenti told then-NIU coach Jerry Kill he was confident Lynch would make a mark.

"When (Kill) asked me about him, I said 'Coach, I can promise you one thing. No one in your program will ever outwork Jordan Lynch,'" Lenti said. "When he steps out on the field, the leadership level rises dramatically."

But to Carey, who will juggle head coach and offensive coordinator duties for the Orange Bowl, leadership is just one of Lynch's qualities.

"He's brought a lot, to summarize is hard," he said. "He a good leader, he's a good person, he's a good teammate. On top of all of that, he's a good player. We wouldn't be talking about none of that if he wasn't.

"But the best thing out of all those is that he's a good person. Guys like to be around him."

Among them is running back Akeem Daniels.

Hes an amazing person, Daniels said. Hes a freak of nature as everyone can tell. He takes me back to my Pop Warner day -- a quarterback back doing things that are unbelievable -- and I just feed off that.

The Huskies were originally set to train at the indoor DeKalb Recreation Center. But skies were clear and temperatures hovered in the mid-40s as Carey opted to switch outdoors for a 90-minute session.

With rain in the forecast for Saturday, Northern Illinois will likely be back indoors. The Huskies are scheduled to train daily through next Thursday, break for Christmas and then reconvene Dec. 26 for an early morning trip to Florida.

There's no rainouts in horse racing

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There's no rainouts in horse racing

It is playoff time here in Chicago. The hometown Cubs are back to their third consecutive NLCS. The Bears have played in gorgeous weather to open their season. The Bulls and Hawks get optimal conditions indoors. In racing, this isn’t always the case and last Saturday was one of those instances. 

After nearly two months of drought conditions in the Chicagoland area, racing at Hawthorne Race Course to close out the summer harness season was optimal. While the sprinklers were used constantly to keep the turf course green, the pond at Hawthorne had nearly dried up.

All of that came to an end last week at Hawthorne as Mother Nature was not quite as generous to open October. With the fall thoroughbred season commencing, the skies opened as well, with rain falling on numerous occasions to kick off the season. That was clearly the case last Saturday, when over five inches of rain came down during the course of the Hawthorne racing card.

In baseball, there would be a rain delay or cancellation. Youth sports teams get the day off. Outdoor attractions closed as flooding was prevalent in numerous locations. Here at Hawthorne…..we race.

At any racetrack, the equine stars are the showcase, but there are so many others necessary to put on the show. The folks brave the conditions and have to be well prepared.

Five stories above the racetrack, Hawthorne track announcer Peter Galassi provides the play-by-play for the racing action. With over 65,000 races called on his career, Peter has seen it all.

“I’ve called races in every weather condition possible and what we raced in Saturday was one of the tougher conditions to call in,” Galassi said. “When I announced races at Balmoral Park, fog would be my biggest concern. Fog was the worst. We had an occasion where myself, and our track stewards had to go from our location on the roof down to trackside for a race because the fog was so bad. We had to get below the fog to get a vantage point. Here at Hawthorne, dealing with the rain, especially at the rate it came down last Saturday, is very tough. Consider the windows of my announcer’s booth being the windshield of a car, but without window wipers. Streaks of water rolling down the panes of glass in your direct view. Add to that the glare of the lights off the glistening racetrack and thoroughbreds and riders covered in mud. It isn’t always the easiest, but what these athletes deal with on the track and in those conditions are far worse than what I am subjected to.”

Moving trackside, the race begins at the Hawthorne starting gate. Veteran assistant starter Bill Fultz and crew are responsible for safely loading the horses into the gate and keeping the horses calm in preparation for a fair start. While the job is complicated and dangerous on a clear day, the focus needed on a day where the weather conditions are menacing only increase.

“When the weather is tough and we are dealing with rain or snow, additional clothing and gear for our crew is needed,” Fultz said. “This is a physically demanding job as we are in the mud, working with horses, making sure they are safe, while also focusing on our safety. Fortunately we have an experienced crew that takes a lot of pride in their job and I feel it shows in the horses’ clean starts and performances.”

On horseback, the jockeys are limited in numerous aspects. On a good day, a rider has to not only worry about maintaining their weight, but also controlling a 1,000 lbs. thoroughbred, racing at 35 MPH, while balancing on a pair of two inch wide metal stirrups. In harsh weather conditions, limited additional clothing is allowed as the jockeys goggles become one of the most important pairs of equipment. Last Saturday was a good day for Hawthorne’s second all-time leading rider Chris Emigh as he won a pair of races in the monsoon.

“I figure you can either go out there and be miserable or go out there and have fun,” said the affable Emigh. “A lot of dirt and water gets thrown back at you and you just have to find a good spot in between the sprays of water and mud. Goggles are the key, a normal race I may have three pairs on, but on Saturday that amount doubles. We are controlling our mount, keeping balance, and trying to flip down to a clean pair of goggles numerous times each race. I get concerned when I come to that last pair and still have a quarter of a mile to go. When that happens, we just focus on what visibility we have and your finger becomes your window wiper.”

As all of the action takes place, cameramen positioned in towers around the track televise the action. Positioned at the finish line are Ryan Thompson and Nicole Thomas, the track photographers for Four Footed Fotos that work tirelessly to capture the Hawthorne action. When others may choose to wait until the last minute to capture to winner on the finish line, Ryan and Nicole take the weather as an opportunity to capture great images.

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

"NOT IN OUR HOUSE!" a Cubs coach yelled as he walked through the media throng awaiting entry into the clubhouse.

There was Kyle Schwarber standing at his locker, emphatically saying, "we're not gonna go down quietly."

There was Jake Arrieta, already making plans for what he would do to celebrate after the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.

What a difference a day makes.

The Cubs looked completely beat and worn down after Game 3 Tuesday night. Kris Bryant echoed the same line — "why not us?" — he delivered last fall when the Cubs were down three games to one in the World Series, but this time, it just didn't feel the same.

Bryant looked shellshocked and admitted the team was drained after the NLDS and traveling across country to get steamrolled by the Dodgers in the first two games of the NLCS.

Wednesday night, things were different.

Even though the offense still hasn't broken out. 

Even though all the Cubs' runs still came off early homers — they have yet to score in this series not off a longball.

Even though Wade Davis is unavailable for Game 5 Thursday — the Cubs haven't won a game this postseason in which Davis did not pitch.

Even though the best pitcher on the planet — Clayton Kershaw — awaited the Cubs Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

The belief was back in the home clubhouse at Wrigley, even if it was just for one day.

But was it just for one day? 

I've been saying it all fall — the only time this Cubs team has played up to their potential is when they've had their backs against the wall. Your back couldn't possibly get more against the wall when down 0-3 in the NLCS, a deficit only one team in baseball history has come back from.

Conceivably, yes, the Cubs can pull this off. They can climb all the way out of this hole and make a second straight World Series.

If any team can do it, it's the group that erased the longest championship drought in American sports history and did it in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Will the Cubs be able to pull it off? 

I have no idea, honestly. I know that's a cop-out, but screw predictions at this point of the postseason. 

There's a very real possibility the Cubs offense finally breaks out and takes one more step toward writing this team's entry into the baseball history books.

There's also a very real possibility Kershaw comes out and slams the door on any talk of Cubs magic and finally pitches his way into the World Series for the first time.

Either way, the build-up to Thurday night around Wrigleyville is gonna be fun as hell.