Nationals

Ball St., UCF ready for Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

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Ball St., UCF ready for Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) The winner of the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl will finish with 10 victories this season. That is a major step forward for growing programs such as Ball State and Central Florida.

The Cardinals and Knights meet Friday night at Tropicana Field in a game that Ball State coach Pete Lembo and UCF's George O'Leary view as an opportunity set a nice tone for next season.

Ball State (9-3) is seeking its first bowl win in eight tries, while UCF (9-4) hopes to rebound from a loss in the Conference USA championship game in its final game before moving into the new-look Big East.

``I think one of our coaches mentioned this week that only 25 teams have the chance to win 10 games, so that would be huge,'' UCF safety Lyle Dankenbring said. ``A great way to go out.''

In two seasons at Ball State, Lembo has led an impressive turnaround that includes a pair of victories this season over members of BCS conferences. The Cardinals have won six straight following 3-3 start featuring losses to Clemson, Kent State and Orange Bowl-bound Northern Illinois.

``When we got to Ball State two years ago, one of our long-term goals was to get the program to a point where we could be playing in meaningful postseason games like this one,'' said Lembo, who inherited a team that went 4-8 in 2010. ``To be here as quickly as we are, in two years, is really special.''

The Cardinals improved to 6-6 in Lembo's first season. This year they rode an explosive offense to a surprising 6-2 record in the Mid-American Conference, as well as wins over Indiana from the Big Ten and South Florida of the Big East.

The three teams that beat them - Clemson and MAC rivals Northern Illinois and Kent State - are all headed to bowl games and finished have a combined record of 33-5. Beating UCF will give the Cardinals the third 10-win season in school history.

O'Leary is impressed with film he's watched of Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning, who's thrown for 2,878 yards, 22 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. His favorite target, Willie Snead, has 82 receptions for 1,070 yards and seven TDs, while Jahwan Edwards has averaged 6.1 yards per carry while rushing for 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns.

```Two years ago when this process started we talked about building a program the right way,'' said Lembo, who's 15-9 at Ball State after successful stints at Lehigh and Elon.

The Cardinals, appearing in a postseason game for the first time since winning 12 and appearing in the 2008 GMAC Bowl, were second in the MAC in total offense at 471.3 yards per game and have scored 30 or more 10 times this season.

UCF, which has lost two of three following a six-game winning streak, led Conference USA in scoring defense while allowing 162.4 yards per game on the ground and 217.8 per game through the air.

The Knights are in a bowl game for the fifth time in nine years under O'Leary, whose stint with the Knights began with an 0-11 finish in 2004.

They followed the second of two Conference USA titles they've captured under the former Georgia Tech coach with a win over Georgia in 2010 Liberty Bowl and are trying to finish with 10 wins for just the third time since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision.

UCF moved from the MAC to Conference USA in 2005 and posted double-digit wins in 2007 and 2010. Ball State won two of the previous three meetings between the teams, including 21-17 in 2004, the Knights' final season in the MAC.

``It's been an amazing five years here,'' Knights running back Brynn Harvey said. ``It flew by so fast, so every moment I have right now I am trying to soak it in with my teammates and seniors that I came in with.''

Both of UCF losses down the stretch were on the road at Tulsa, where the Knights dropped the Conference USA title game in overtime. They also suffered early-season losses to Ohio State and Missouri.

A balanced offense has been a big part of UCF's success. Blake Bortles has thrown for 2,787 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, J.J. Worton is the team's leading receiver with 41 catches for 562 yards and four TDs, and Latavius Murray was an all-Conference USA selection after rushing for 1,035 yards and 14 TDs.

The loss in the Conference USA championship game cost the Knights a trip to Memphis, Tenn., for the Liberty Bowl, however Harvey said winding up in St. Petersburg - just over 100 miles west of the UCF campus in Orlando - is not a bad consolation. UCF also played in the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl in 2009, losing to Rutgers.

``Every senior wants to go out with a bang, especially in their last game,'' Harvey said. ``You want to come out as the winner, and playing in the bowl game in St. Petersburg - in a great atmosphere and a great environment - you want to win here, too.''

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Howie Kendrick’s 6 best moments of the 2019 season

Howie Kendrick’s 6 best moments of the 2019 season

The Nationals took a significant step in building their roster for the 2020 season Friday when they reportedly re-signed Howie Kendrick to a one-year, $6.25 million deal with a mutual option for 2021.

Kendrick was limited to just 121 games during the regular season but played an important role for the team in the playoffs with some hits that will forever live in Nationals lore.

But Kendrick wasn’t just a clutch hitter in the playoffs. His 1.135 OPS in “late and close” situations—defined by Baseball-Reference as any situation in the seventh inning or later where a hitter’s team is either up by one, tied or the tying run is on deck—ranked second on the team among players with at least 30 such plate appearances last season.

Washington is bringing back the 36-year-old with hopes that he can continue to come through in key moments as his career winds down. But even if he doesn’t, Kendrick has cemented his Nationals legacy.

Here are six of his best moments from the 2019 season.

April 13 – Eaton, Kendrick spoil Archer’s big day

Chris Archer has had an up-and-down tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates since being acquired in a blockbuster trade midway through the 2018 season. His best start of the year, however, came against the Nationals on April 13.

Archer held Washington one run on four hits over seven innings, handing the game over to the Pirates’ bullpen with a 2-1 lead. Reliever Richard Rodriguez retired the first two batters he faced in the eighth before Adam Eaton came to the plate.

That’s when the pendulum swung, as Eaton left the yard only for Kendrick to do so a few minutes later. Sean Doolittle closed the door in the top of the ninth and the Nationals moved to 7-6 on the year.

May 9 – Kendrick drives in four against the Dodgers

Patrick Corbin may have been the story in this one by blanking the Los Angeles Dodgers over seven strong frames, but it was also one of Kendrick’s best games of the year.

His big hit didn’t come late, however. Kendrick took Rich Hill deep for a three-run homer in the top of the first to set the tone early. He then hit an RBI single with two runners on in the eighth before the Nationals eventually won 6-0.

June 9 – Kendrick hits the first of four straight homers

It was a 1-1 game when Kendrick came to the plate in the top of the eighth against the San Diego Padres on June 9. So naturally he saw a curveball heading for the center of the plate and pulled it into the left field seats for a go-ahead home run.

What followed was absolute madness. Trea Tuner homered. Then Eaton did. Then Anthony Rendon. It was the second time the Nationals went back-to-back-to-back-to-back in team history and more than enough to give Washington the win.

NLDS Game 5 – The greatest moment in Nationals history, for a few weeks

“Do you believe it!?”

That was the radio call Dave Jageler made when Kendrick hit a go-ahead grand slam in the 10th inning. It was the moment that delivered the Nationals’ first postseason series winning, putting to bed a history of disappointment for the franchise.

It was the single-most important hit any Nationals player ever had. That is, until a certain World Series game a few weeks later…

NLCS Game 3 – Kendrick hits three doubles en route to NLCS MVP honors

There was no way a list like this could be put together without a nod toward Kendrick’s NLCS performance. He reached base seven times in the series, driving in four runs and scoring another four of his own. But by far his best game came in Game 3.

The Nationals returned to D.C. with a 2-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and treated their fans to a blowout 8-1 win. Kendrick smacked three doubles, including a two-run, opposite-field gap plugger off Jack Flaherty in the bottom of the third that gave Washington a 4-0 lead.

World Series Game 7 – You know the one

When that ball clanked off the foul pole down the right field line, it changed the lives of D.C. sports fans forever. The magical run had one last bit of magic left, and of course it came courtesy of the man who gave the fan base real hope in the first place.

Kendrick is back for another run in 2020. The Nationals? They’re hoping his magic hasn’t run out just yet.

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How Ed Reed pulled off one of the best plays that Bill Belichick has ever seen

How Ed Reed pulled off one of the best plays that Bill Belichick has ever seen

Bill Belichick has seen a lot of football. A lot.

The New England Patriots head coach certainly knows what he's talking about and he didn't hold back when talking about Baltimore Ravens legend Ed Reed.

On a segment for NFL 100, Reed and Belichick recalled one of the former safety's interception against Manning, a play that Belichick called "one of the greatest plays I've ever seen."

Just listen to how giddy Belichick got talking about the play. 

Reed said he purposefully misplayed a certain coverage so that when Manning watched the film to prepare for the next game, Reed could fake him out the next time.

Manning became an all-time great because of his cerebral approach to football, so it's no hyperbole to say more men have walked on the moon than have outsmarted Peyton Manning on the gridiron. Reed is one of the few players to do so and became a Hall of Famer for playing that way his whole career.

Reed knew the entire time where the ball was going and made Manning look foolish for making that throw.

That's the stuff of legends.

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