`Yankee' Doodle dandy of a football game; peculiar interception

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Figuratively speaking, last Saturday's Richmond-Massachusetts football contest was a game and a half. It almost literally fit that description as well. The teams battled through four overtimes (yes, overtimes) before Richmond prevailed, 52-51. In order to virtually assure that the conference championship will be decided on the field, members of the Yankee Conference play until someone wins. This unusual arrangement pretty much eliminates the need for tie-breaking formulas in identifying which school gets the league's I-AA playoff berth, since head-to-head results can break any deadlock for first place, except in some rare instances of multiple ties.

Now if only it were so easy to explain what a college situated in the former capital of the Confederacy is doing in the Yankee Conference.

Most of Richmond's league opponents are located in New England, with the closest conference school being Delaware. The most distant is Maine, which joins Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Boston University, and Connecticut in completing the Yankee roster.

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The way Saturday's overtime worked is that each team was alternately awarded possession on the opponents' 25-yard line. They matched field goals in the first overtime, and touchdowns and conversions in the next two. In the fourth OT, however, UMass missed a critical extra point.

In one sense, of course, there was really no loser. Both sides gave it their all, a fact acknowledged by an umbrella organization called the Eastern College Athletic Conference, which named Massachusetts quarterback Dave Palazzi (284 yards passing, 148 rushing) and Richmond running back Erwin Matthews (six TDs) as its Co-Offensive Players of the Week.

While these two players were dazzling folks in Richmond, another pair of opponents were running wild in Pittsburgh. The University of Pittsburgh's Craig Heyward rushed for 171 yards on 21 carries, but it was an even bigger day for tireless Todd McNair (213 yards on 41 carries) and his Temple teammates, who sprung a 24-21 upset of the nation's 16th-ranked team. The Owls have really been a Temple of doom for Pitt, beating the Panthers three of the last four years. The shock this time was that one player could gain so many yards (181 more than two previous opponents) against Pitt's top-ranked rushing defense. Strange pass theft jars Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers were once major benefactors of a bizarre pass reception. Last Sunday, however, they were burned by perhaps an even stranger pass interception in Pittsburgh's 34-10 loss to Cleveland in the NFL's final pre-strike weekend of play.

With the score tied 10-10 in the third quarter, Steeler quarterback Mark Malone threw to Louis Lipps, who dropped the ball and inadvertantly kicked it into the hands of defender Mike Johnson just before it hit the ground. The pickoff quickly led to Cleveland's go-ahead touchdown, which not long after was followed by a field goal, set up by another interception made when Lipps couldn't hold the ball.

For Steeler fans, of course, the happier memory will always be of the catch Franco Harris made at his shoetops in 1972 of a pass that ricocheted out of a collision between intended receiver Frenchy Fuqua and Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum. Harris caught the ball on the dead run and raced 60 yards for a last-minute, game-winning TD that gave Pittsburgh its first-ever playoff win. Touching other bases

Lori McNeil's decision not to become a billboard for a day is an interesting footnote to this year's US Open tennis championships. Equipment manufacturers and corporations reportedly pay top players thousands of dollars to wear sponsor patches in televised matches. McNeil and fellow black pro and doubles partner, Zina Garrison, are both Top 20 players, but neither had attracted any major endorsement offers until Lori upset Chris Evert in the quarterfinals. Suddenly the business people came out of the bushes with lucrative offers if she would wear their name or logo in the semis. She declined, partly on the advice of John Wilkerson, who coaches both McNeil and Garrison. ``I told the girls we didn't want to get in the position of feeling like we have to do well to get endorsements,'' he said. ``If they had so much faith in us now, why didn't they have it two weeks ago?''

A ``Robin Hood'' is what occurs when an archer splits one arrow with another. If apples ever replace bull's eyes, the sport presumably will have a ``William Tell,'' too.

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