Archive For October 8, 2017
It was a very different time for Lehigh football, but in 1966, the Engineers started out the season 0-5, and had to travel up to Hamilton, New York to take on the Colgate Red Raiders.
“Lehigh faces its toughest opponent of the season tomorrow afternoon in the Red Raiders of Colgate, at Kerr Memorial Stadium in Hamilton, N.Y,” the 1966 Brown and White preview read.
After their 21-15 loss to Colgate in 1966, the Engineers would fall to 0-6 and eventually finish 0-9 on the season, the last time Lehigh started a season 0-6 and the last time Lehigh would go winless in a season as well.
It was that sort of historic elephant that the 2017 Mountain Hawks had on their backs this Saturday, whether they realized it or not.
Had they lost to their Chenango Valley rival, they would have been the first Lehigh football team to go 0-6 in more than fifty years. 0-5 entering this game, ironically their sixth shot at a football victory would involve going to the same venue to play the same opponent they played fifty-one years ago trying to avoid a 0-6 start.
Turning around an 0-5 start could be one of the hardest jobs in football, especially against a hated conference rival, and especially in a place that has always been a difficult place for Lehigh to play.
And it wasn’t easy. The 2017 Mountain Hawks had help, both from some tough calls against Colgate and from some boneheaded penalties against the Raiders that were justified.
But this group of athletes achieved that goal that eluded the same goal of the Lehigh Engineers of 1966. The football team playing this Saturday won a hard-fought 41-38 contest that maybe, just maybe, might have turned things around just in time.
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It was Colgate 28, Lehigh 14 as the first half was coming to a close. The Mountain Hawks had the ball, but the pall over Lehigh fans everywhere was very evident – “here we go again,” most seemed to be thinking.
You couldn’t blame fans necessarily for thinking that way, of course. The Mountain Hawks hadn’t found out yet this year how to pull out a game like this, and normally, a two-touchdown deficit to Colgate feels like a four-touchdown deficit, the way they run the ball and gradually crush the spirit of opposing teams.
Driving and scrambling – somewhat of a broken play – junior QB Brad Mayes found junior RB Dominick Bragalone downfield with a big 35 yard touchdown pass, cutting the deficit to 28-21.
And then, gradually, over the course of a half of football, Lehigh put mistakes behind them just as the uncharacteristic mistakes by Colgate seemed to mount. One Colgate touchdown would be called back. Then another. And Lehigh would battle back to tie the game twice, fall behind by a field goal with 5 minutes to play, and then score the winning touchdown and get a game’s only turnover at the exact right time to preserve the win.
Somewhere, Al “Just Win, Baby” Davis was smiling.
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Not headed to the the frozen tundra this afternoon to catch the Lehigh/Colgate rivalry?
OK. I do sort-of understand. My sled dogs are in the shop, too. Besides, it is really tough on them to pull the smoker up to central New York when the temperature is 80 degrees.
So how do you catch the game?
Never fear. LFN’s here.
“We’re looking for positives,” Steve Degler of Lehigh Sports Central said several times.
And coach Andy Coen did mention a few positive things, like the play of junior RB Dominick Bragalone, and the improved play of Lehigh’s defense.
But he also mentioned how important it was to “educate his players” about the rivalry Lehigh has with Colgate as well – how playing up in Hamilton is never easy and this game is a rivalry game.
“Next to the Lafayette rivalry, I look to Colgate next,” Andy said. “We have to educate our young players that this rivalry is a very, very tough one, and I know Colgate view themselves as the toughest guys going, and we need to prove they are tougher than they are.”
Lehigh and Colgate is always a big game, whether both teams are going in undefeated or, as in this case, an 0-5 team is squaring off against a 2-3 team.
In a testimony to how evenly matched both of these teams have been over the years, Colgate and Lehigh have split their last 10 meetings, and no team has won more than 3 straight against the other since the inception of the Patriot League.
Colgate and Lehigh have faced off 54 times, and the overall record has been, fittingly, close, with Colgate holding a slender 29-23-2 advantage. The last tie came in 1980, a 17-17 tie at Taylor Stadium in which Lehigh’s John Whitehead and Colgate’s Fred Dunlap faced off as head coach. In a way, that hotly-contested tie sort-of epitomizes the competitiveness of this rivalry today.
Sometimes, the lawnmower engine you’ve pull-started five times finally gets up and running after the sixth time you’ve pulled the recoil starter handle – the gas igniting, the smoke billowing, the engine humming.
And other times, after you pull the recoil starter handle, you hear the parts stirring, something in there wanting to fire, but it doesn’t. Something’s amiss – some debris, something out of tune – but the upshot is, ignition doesn’t happen.
This is the place where Lehigh football is right now.
The lawnmower that is Lehigh football has ignited – a little. The engine has had power, and created a whole lot of smoke. But in the end, each time the system has returned to rest, unable to use the power to get the job done and achieve a single victory. Things are out of tune.
It’s not ideal to have to be in a must-ignite moment against, historically, the second-biggest rival on the football schedule, the team against whom so many epic battles have occurred for the Mountain Hawks – many of them which helped determine the Patriot League Championship and FCS Playoff autobid.
And yet, here we are, with the recoil starter handle in hand, hoping that this time, the sixth time, everything is tuned correctly and everything starts firing all at the right time.
I don’t officially vote in any of the FCS Top 25 polls, but I do share who I think deserves to be in the Top 25. And this wasn’t a week where a lot of teams dropped out, but it was a week where there were a bunch of epic Top 25 clashes that caused some reshuffling in the ranks.
For example, Youngstown State humbled South Dakota State 19-7 at home in a defensive feast, Central Arkansas overcame Sam Houston State 41-30 in a shootout, and South Dakota continued their dominant early-season performance by jumping to a 38-6 lead and then holding off a furious Leatherneck rally to survive in a 38-33 win over Western Illinois.
You could say that following Lehigh football through the first five weeks has been an exercise in frustration.
That’s probably understating things quite a bit.
The season was not supposed to unfurl itself in this way.
The Mountain Hawks, rated in the Top 25 to start the season, remained that way after losing a tough game against Villanova, but then fell out of the national rankings when they followed that up with a loss to Monmouth.
And since, the team has just kept losing, each week more excruciating than the last.
Some Lehigh fans appear to think that the Mountain Hawks could turn things around and make a run at the Patriot League Championship in a world where the Patriot League is a combined 9-20 against out-of-conference foes.
I suppose it is still possible.
But to this fan, this goal can’t be the focus of the coming week.
Speaking as a fan, I feel the focus of all the players and coaches needs to be on one singular goal: how to win one, singular, football game.
In their last 3 football games against Division I competition, Wagner scored a grand total of 34 points in three losses.
Tonight on a cold, windy evening in Staten Island, the Seahawk offense came to life against Lehigh.
The Seahawks scored on their first offensive drives of the first half and second half on big plays, a 50 yard run by RB Ryan Fulse and a 30 yard pass from QB Ryan Massei to WR William Dale. Fulse would add a touchdown and RB Denzel Knight would add touchdown runs of 24 and 60 yards to put up five touchdowns on the Mountain Hawk defense.
Unlike prior weeks, Lehigh maintained a lead against Wagner during stretches of the first half. Junior RB Dominick Bragalone got a 26 yard run to give Lehigh and early lead, and junior QB Brad Mayes would take it in on a read option to go up 14-7.
But then the Seahawks would go on a 30-6 run after that aided by five Mayes interceptions.
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