As the fine folks at Lehigh Sports remind us, the 2010s were particularly great from an aggregate standpoint. A Lambert Cup-winning season (given to the best FCS team in the East), a 7-3 record against Lafayette, and a whole lot of individual achievements are just the tip of the iceberg.
The 2010s were very good to us...— Lehigh Football (@LehighFootball) December 31, 2019
4️⃣ @PatriotLeagueFB titles 💍💍💍💍
2011 Lambert Cup 🏆
2️⃣l Playoff wins
.595 winning percentage
42-18 PL Record
7️⃣-3️⃣ vs. Lafayette
1️⃣8️⃣ game PL winning streak
1️⃣ Walter Payton Award runner-up#GoLehigh pic.twitter.com/buLimC0nSX
But in this wonderful decade there were individual games that were things to celebrate as well. I strove to pick the ten best here, including two FCS playoff victories.
You can read the detailed recaps I wrote about each game if you click the links below.
Honorable Mention (just outside the Top 10)
September 21st, 2013: Lehigh 29, Princeton 28: This was the "pull the rabbit out of the hat" game in 2013 that was one of the most remarkable I've ever seen. Down 22-3 at halftime, the Mountain Hawks, on the road at Princeton stadium, Lehigh would score touchdowns on four consecutive second half drives while blocking a FG attempt and limiting the Tigers to one touchdown and a missed 2 point conversion in the second half. LB Isaiah Campbell intercepted Princeton's last-gasp drive to seal a remarkable win.
October 1st, 2016: Lehigh 63, Yale 35: In the Yale Bowl, records dropped everywhere as QB Brad Mayes lit up the Yale Bowl in a shootout. Mayes went 33 of 46 passing, with 524 yards, 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, and WR Troy Pelletier hauled in 13 passes for 213 yards and 3 TDs.
September 24th, 2013: Lehigh 51, Central Connecticut State 44 (OT): This was the awesome breakout game for WR Lee Kurfis, as he, QB Brandon Bialkowski and RB Keith Sherman rallied from a 20 point deficit to force overtime and win an amazing game in Murray Goodman. Kurfis had 7 catches, 222 yards, and 2 TDs.
November 21st. 2015: Lehigh 49, Lafayette 35: This was the high-scoring affair where QB Nick Shafnisky "threw" aside Lafayette en route to a satisfying end to the 2015 season. In many ways this win set up the very successful Patriot League championship year of 2016.
November 16th, 2013: Lehigh 31, Colgate 14: In the remarkable 2013 season, this was the game where RB Keith Sherman carried the Mountain Hawks on his back with 27 carries, 184 yards and 2 huge TDs to break open a close game to set up a Patriot League title game against Lafayette the following week. It also was QB Nick Shafnisky's second collegiate start.
With a heaping helping about the uncertainty of Lehigh's place in the 2019 season, the Mountain Hawks headed to the Bronx with first place on the line and delivered with a thrilling come-from-behind 30-27 overtime win. The status on WR Dev Bibbens was uncertain all week, but he suited up in the Bronx and showed Lehigh Nation how critical he was for the team - not only did he catch 10 passes and 2 touchdown passes (one from QB Tyler Monaco and the other from QB Addison Shoup), his downfield block allowed freshman QB Zaythan Hill to rumble for a 94 yard touchdown run.
LB Keith Woetzel was also everywhere on defense, forcing an early interception and notching 13 tackles and 4 sacks.
"Over the last couple weeks we've had some good stops on defense," Lehigh/Lafayette LB Al Pierce said. "We've been playing really physical and that's something we pride ourselves on defensively."
The Lehigh/Lafayette MVP could have gone to the entire defense as a unit, but what sets this game apart was an iconic moment on a goal line stand at the 1 yard line where LB Mike Groome hurdled linemen not once, but twice, to stop Lafayette short and force them to settle for a FG.
It was a viral moment before the age of Twitter.
"Emontionally [the stand] was huge for the whole team," Groome said, who ended the day with 16 tackles, and no three bigger than the ones made on the goal line stand. "It's always good for the defense to come up with a huge stop. Every one made their assignments, and I was able to do my part. I love being out there and playing."
8. October 7th 2017 - In 41-38 Win Over Colgate, Lehigh Buries Memory Of Winless 1966 Season, And Gives Themselves Potential For More This SeasonTurning 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. Going into this game, the season truly felt like it was attempt to pull the season out of the headlong nosedive. A win, and Lehigh had a chance to turn things around. A loss, and a losing season would have been assured. And few impartial folks thought Lehigh had any sort of chance.
But the 2017 Mountain hawks did indeed pul out of the nosedive. They won a hard-fought 41-38 contest that turned things around in the nick of time to allow Lehigh to claim a Patriot League Championship and the most improbable Mountain Hawk trip to the FCS playoffs.
RB Dominic Bragalone had 186 yards rushing and 2 TDs, 1 on the ground and one critical one at the end of the first half, a 35 yard swing pass from QB Brad Mayes to keep the game close. RB Micco Brisker would get 3 rushing touchdowns and Mayes would have 2 TDs, the final one coming in the closing minute to WR Troy Pelletier in a place where only he could catch it. Tumbling in the end zone, Lehigh would get their first lead and only clinch the win when LB Mark Walker would recover a game-clinching fumble in the final minute.
“Before the drive, I told the defense I was going to get them a win,” Mayes told Keith Groller of The Morning Call. “That’s not being cocky, that’s just playing with confidence. Our defense did a great job today and I wanted it for them.”
7. September 24th, 2016 - With 0.3 Left In First Half, Lehigh Ties Game, Then Never Looks Back, Beats Penn 49-28Never was a 4th and 1 play so critical for a football season. The box score might have read "Nick Shafnisky 1 yard gain, TOUCHDOWN", but the momentum of that one play before halftime seemed to propel Lehigh to a 49-28 win over Penn and a 9 game winning streak that would give the Mountain Hawks a Patriot League Championship in 2016.
Head coach Andy Coen and the rest of the team knew that the Mountain Hawks would get the ball first to start the second half, so that certainly played a part in the decision to go for the touchdown, to put the faith in the offense to get that yard.
"I think what it came down to was, we were more physical than they were," he said afterwards. "They jumped on us early in the game, both on offense and defense, but it was great to see not only the players step up and get it done, but the coaching staff as well."
6. November 17th 2018 - Christmas Comes Early for Lehigh As They Convert Gifts Into 34-3 Win over Archrival LafayetteRarely do Rivalry games hinge on one singular play, and one singular swing of emotion, but they did in the 153rd version of The Rivalry.
Lehigh came out in a four-man defensive front, with DE Julian Lynn lined up on the right and “Hawk” DE Davis Maxie on the left. It was a standard four-man rush, with linebackers falling back to cover the short pass, and Lynn beat his man on the inside, attacking QB Sean O’Malley from his blind side.
As Lynn’s outstretched arms made contact with the Leopard QB, the ball squirted out of O’Malley’s grip, falling almost perfectly into the arms of Maxie, who had the ball and forty yards of uninterrupted green in front of him.
“It was like a present,” a giddy Maxie said afterwards, looking like he did, indeed, receive a present in the press conference. “It just floated into my hands. I would have had to move my hands to drop it. I had a flashback to the good old days when I was a TE at St. Andrews [in Boca Raton, Florida].”
Defensive coordinator Donnie Roberts, who got exactly what he wanted on this Lehigh Christmas day, was so excited that he bumped into an official on the field during the play, resulting in a 15 yard penalty and a sideline warning.
It was a blowout win over their Rivals that had a heaping helping of meaning for the Lehigh football team - most importatly, the victory that would allow head coach Andy Coen to retire tied for the most head coaching wins in program history (with Bill Leckonby). It would also allow RB Dominick Bragalone to finish his Lehigh career with an MVP trophy, and the school record for most career points scored.
“I can’t count the number of guys on the offense talking in my ear saying to that we need to get you that last touchdown for the record, and that last touchdown for the MVP,” he said. “That shows how much a family we have, how selfless people are on our team. It probably means more to them than it does to me. And we knew there was a lot riding on this game. Even though our record wasn’t what we wanted, there was still a lot to play for and getting Coach Coen that record was one of them. He’s done a lot for us, so we wanted to do this for him.”
Down 19-3, the Lehigh offense embarked on a 13 play, 55 yard drive, ending with a beautiful connection by senior QB Brandon Bialkowski to an off-balance senior RB Keith Sherman in the end zone. The pass was lofted just over the outstretched hand of leaping UNH LB Shane McNeely, missing his fingers by perhaps six inches.
And right before the end of the half, Lehigh would embark on a 14 play, 71-yard drive that would chew up four and a half minutes and end in a 19 yard FG by freshman PK Ryan Pandy, allowing Lehigh to chip away at the lead by halftime, only down 19-13.
"The last few days we've been talking a lot about why we win these games," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said. "It's all about becoming a team. Being committed to yourself and committed to your teammates. Coming together as a team and building on that each week and getting tighter and tighter. There wasn't one guy who left this locker room that didn't 100 percent think that we were going to win this football game. That never wavered during the course of the game."
FB Zach Hayden got some of the toughest yards and first downs in this game as Lehigh clawed back with a pass to WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto and a paid of vultured rushing touchdowns by RB Sean Farrell. Defensively LB Nigel Muhammed and LB Cody Kondas headed a defense that consistently got stops when they were needed.
"Hat goes off to Andy," New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell said. "They executed all their stuff late in the game and did a hell of a job. Another game they came (from) behind and won in the fourth quarter."
4. November 27th, 2010 - Lehigh defense Shuts Down the University of Northern Iowa 14-7 In the FCS Playoffs
The conventional wisdom was: UNI never loses in the first round of the playoffs. In sixteen years, they hadn't lost a first round game. And the Patriot League doesn't win in the first round of the playoffs. Since 2003, there had been plenty of moral victories but no real victories - you know, where the Patriot League team ended up with more points than the other team.
But this group of Lehigh players did not go slack-jawed once they made it to the UNI Dome.
All things considered, it was a pretty well executed day of football - if you enjoy punts, tackles for loss and turnovers.
Both teams combined for 8 of 30 on third-down conversions - which resulted in fifteen punts on the afternoon in the 72 degree climate-controlled environment in the UNI Dome. The whole game seemed like a battle of field position at times - with both defenses coming up with big third-down stops and forcing the punting unit to be on the field often. Not content with junior P Alex Smith to get all the credit, even junior QB Chris Lum got in on the act with a late quick-punt in the 3rd quarter as well - a nice 36 yard boot that was close to being downed at the 1, but instead was a touchback.
Interceptions by FS John Venerio, CB John Kennedy and SS Casey Eldemire loomed large in the win. CB Jarard Cribbs would block a critical FG attempt to keep the pressure on.
"We were confident coming in, but I was real impressed with how we played," Veniero, seen sporting a mohawk, told the Morning Call's Keith Groller after the game. "This is probably the best opponent we've beaten and we were just relentless. We shut down their run, didn't let them throw the ball. A game like this reassured me of how good our defense is."
Lum would find Kansas native WR Jake Drwal for a 62 yard game-tying touchdown, and later would find WR Ryan Spadola for the 28 yard game-winner.
“This is a very good football team that we played,” said head coach Andy Coen after the game. “We’ve had some very good wins this season and this is without a doubt the best, the best football team that we’ve beaten. They're champions of a conference that we have a tremendous amount of respect for. It’s great that we could come and represent the Patriot League and Lehigh University very well today. I’m very proud of our team and everybody associated with our program.”
In pre-expanded Williams Stadium, Lehigh beat Liberty 28-26 in the battle for the "real LU" in front of a FBS-like gameday experience of 17,139 fans.
Lehigh finished 10-1 in 2012 with a win over a Liberty team that for all practical purposes was like an FBS team, but were not granted an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs, the only at-large team with 10 Division I wins that has ever been denied an at-large bid since the playoffs was expanded to 24 teams.
Down 20-14, and facing a critical 3rd-and-1 on the Liberty 38, Lehigh needed a big play. And in a big spot, senior QB Michael Colvin delivered.
Fading back to pass, Colvin instead accelerated past the hole that senior C Tom Ruley and senior OL Vinny Pelligrini opened up, and saw nothing but green turf and white-shirted blockers in front of him.
It didn't seem like a big thing at the time during the pregame when it was announced that Pellegrini and sophomore OL Matt Douglas would be switched on the depth chart as first-team right and left guards.
But in a game that seemed like it was going to turn on one or two big plays, it was one of the big plays for Lehigh, who took the game by the horns in that huge 68 yard TD run.
"It’s not always pretty, but we have the will to win, we know how to win and we have to keep finding ways," Colvin told the Express-Times' Michael LoRe after the game. "We knew Liberty was a very, very good football team, much better than their 0-3 record. They played us very tough."
As the third quarter came and went, Lehigh's offense still couldn't get past the Liberty 40 yard line, but the defense, who was still getting smacked in the mouth pretty good, stiffened and made the Flames settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.
Then came the huge momentum shift to the Mountain Hawks from Colvin's touchdown run - and, feeding off that energy, a tipped ball by junior LB John Mahoney and senior CB Gabe Johnson would find its way into the hands of senior LB Billy Boyko - who took it to the house for a 39 yard touchdown run.
Liberty, though, wasn't through yet, mounting a 10 play, 75 yard drive to cut the deficit to 28-26, ending with a 3 yard run by Woodrum with just under a minute to play.
But Lehigh's defense bent, but didn't break.
On Woordrum's rollout on the 2 point conversion, Andrews perfectly anticipated the play to Kelly - Mr. Reliable all night - and the critical pass tipped incomplete, ultimately ending the Flames' bid to win the game.
"When it ran my way, I had a feeling it was coming to me," CB Bryan Andrews said after the game. "It was actually a play we were aware of, so I already knew what to do."
Once done, it was up to senior RB Zach Barket to get the winning first down - giving Lehigh their first 4-0 start since 2001.
"It was a dogfight," Boyko said after the game, "but we fought through it as a team."
2. December 3rd, 2011 - Game-Winning Safety Is The Difference In Lehigh's 40-38 Win over Towson in the FCS PlayoffsTowson had already chartered their flight to Fargo before the game was even played, but they didn't need the flight. Tiger RB Terrance West emerged from the pregame procession into the stadium holding up a WWE-style Championship belt, but it didn't leave the state of Maryland.
In an exhilarating, bizarre FCS playoff game that has to be one of the top playoff games of the decade, Lehigh won an offensive shootout with, of all things, a game-winning safety.
Befitting a game that faced the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the ECAC Lambert Trophy poll, the poll for the best team in the East, it was an instant classic that featured six ties and seven lead changes.
The amount of momentum shifts and offensive responses to touchdown drives in the game resembled a classic Ali vs. Frazier title fight. This game literally had everything - a handoff, jump-pass touchdown pass to TE Jamel Haggins; a 99 1/2 yard touchdown drive; a fake punt by Towson stuffed by FB Zach Hayden; a onsides squib kick that hit a Towson player that was recovered by Lehigh; 13 catches, 152 yards and 1 TD from WR Ryan Spadola; QB Chris Lum going 36 of 48 for 351 yards and 2 TDs.
"It was awesome," Lum said afterwards. "We knew we could do it, a lot of us were here last year (a playoff loss against the CAA champion Delaware) and we knew we could do it. We stayed the course, and we kept making plays."
Nothing, however, topped the game-winning safety by DE Tom Bianchi.
It was second down and 7 from the 8 yard like, Towson head coach Rob Ambrose called a naked bootleg, which essentially leaves the quarterback unprotected from one side. It was a particularly gutsy call by Ambrose, but a risky one.
On the particular play, Lehigh senior LB Colin Newton and Bianchi had switched assignments so when QB Grant Enders turned to run right, where there was no protection, he turned into a full-speed Bianchi for the safety.
“It was a perfect play call,” Bianchi said after the game. “All of a sudden, I saw the quarterback spin outside, and I was right there. As soon as I tackled him, I wasn’t sure it was a safety. Once I got up and saw everyone celebrating, I knew it was a safety.”
Equally as crucial, the safety gave Lehigh the ball back - where Lum would take over, hitting Haggins, Drwal, and Hayden to move the sticks three times to seal the Mountain Hawk victory.
No three first downs were as exciting as those conversions by Lum and the offense in the closing minutes.
1. November 8th 2017 - Down by Double Digits, Halftime Speech Sparks Lehigh's #Rivalry153 Rally As Lehigh Wins 38-31
It seemed like everything that could go wrong, was actually going wrong. Three fumbles resulted in three Lafayette recoveries. A third down conversion incompletion by Lafayette QB Sean O'Malley became an unexpected first down, thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that kept their drive alive. A 14-7 first quarter lead became 17 unanswered points, leading to a 24-14 deficit against the best defensive team in the Patriot League.
Then halftime happened, and everything changed.
"The first half really didn't go as we planned," senior OL Brandon Short said. "We went back in the locker room, and said we just needed to control what we can control, and take it one play at a time. We weren't going to score 10 points on one play, so, we did that, and we did our job."
"Personally, I think the biggest spark for me and the rest of the team came from the speech OL Zach Duffy gave at halftime about the seniors - about how this could be their last game, and how we need to go out there, and do it for them," FS Riley O'Neil said. "With that in the back of our minds, that gave us a spark."
"I told Duff [at halftime], 'I'm hurt,'" Mayes said. "And [after that], I don't think there was a single Lafayette player near me the rest of the game. That's a credit to those guys, the coaches did a great job of keeping me in the pocket and a great credit to my offensive line, doing an outstanding job up front."
"We were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot," Zach said. "I told Brad at halftime, you're the best quarterback in this league, and you're going to have the half of your lifetime."
And that's exactly what happened, as Lehigh fought and clawed their way back to tie the game at 31 behind Mayes, Portorreal, Pelletier and Bragalone.
It would take a highlight-reel catch to finally put Lehigh over the top to WR Gatlin Casey a 41 yard grab that was, and is, pure perfection.
Lehigh's defense would be called upon for one more stop. Four plays, a holding penalty and -2 net offensive yards later, Lehigh would get the ball back - and then grind down the clock on Lehigh's third-straight win over Lafayette, and the only one that would clinch back-to-back Patriot League championships and allow, for the first time since 1999, a win over Lafayette to clinch a playoff berth for the Mountain Hawks.Mayes hits Casey down the middle for a 41-yard TD as Lehigh regains the lead! #Rivalry153 pic.twitter.com/RntHe6sZa3— Lehigh Football (@LehighFootball) November 18, 2017