My history goes way back with Lehigh, of course, and I really had to rack my brain. What loss to Colgate that I had witnessed was worse than this one?
I wasn't at Andy Kerr Stadium when Lehigh lost 61-28 in 1997 to a Colgate team that would win the Patriot League title - as a matter of fact, I'm fairly certain I didn't even find out about the score of the game until that night on ESPN, since the game wasn't televised where I was living at the time. The win set a Colgate school record for points scored vs. Lehigh - one that still stands today. QB Phil Stambaugh and RB Rabih Abdullah, both Lehigh football legends today, fumbled the very first exchange, and the game snowballed from there after Colgate converted the gift into an early 7-0 lead.
I wasn't at Andy Kerr Stadium when Lehigh lost 21-7 in 2007, but I remember following the game on TV, when an injured QB Sedale Threatt was reduced to a wildcat rushing option and backup QB Chris Bokosky struggles against a mighty Colgate defense with 3 interceptions. "The numbers weren't all bad," I said, "but Lehigh could not overcome five turnovers, a botched FG attempt, 1-for-8 on third down conversions, and 1-for-5 on fourth down conversions. Turnovers. Mental errors. A listless performance. Superstar Colgate RB Jordan Scott didn't need to score any touchdowns the way this team played."
That would put the worst-ever loss to Colgate I had ever witnessed to this point 2018's 48-6 shellacking by the Raiders, a loss which featured the most-ever points by Colgate in Bethlehem. It was a banner performance by QB Grant Breneman, who predictably roasted Lehigh's defense. And it was a loss that was pretty much expected by everyone at the time, as Colgate was undefeated (8-0) and had an all-time Patriot League defense featuring DT Nick Wheeler and LB T.J. Holl,. In contrast, Lehigh had a team in serious competition for its all-time worst at 2-8.
Even in this game, though, there was one tiny moment of pride for Lehigh - when the Mountain Hawks broke Colgate's defensive streak of 20 consecutive quarters without yielding a touchdown. "The long streak of first halves of games where Colgate hadn’t given up any touchdowns – eight consecutive – was now broken," I added, looking for silver linings in some very dark clouds.
But this past weekend, a 30-3 drubbing of Lehigh by a winless Colgate team, to me felt worse than all of those losses.
I went through the history. In every game I witnessed in person, or even took place from my undergraduate years to last Saturday, Lehigh scored a touchdown against Colgate.
You have to go all the way back to 1979 to find a game where Lehigh didn't do it, a 10-3 game that, all things considered, didn't ultimately end up feeling too bad because the Engineers would recuperate and end up in the I-AA National Championship Game. Lehigh at the time ran a Wing-T offense under head coach John Whitehead with QB Rich Andres, who got better as the season went along while the defense, led by legendary LB Jim McCormick, hammered opponents.
In that 1979 game, Andres was blitzed early and often, and ended his day 11-of-26 for 156 yards.
This past Saturday, Lehigh quarterbacks ended 13-of-20 for a grand total of 46 yards. No, that's not a typo - there's not a "1", "2", nor dare I say a "3" in front of it. Lehigh's passing attack netted 46 yards.
The numbers don't get any prettier on offense for the Mountain Hawks.
101 yards total offense.
1 extremely costly interception - on the third play of the game, resulting in the opening score.
Four first downs - which is honestly a bit misleading, since one of them came on the second to last play of the game. Two of the first downs came on one drive in the first quarter.
It may be the case that there was a lower yardage total or lower offensive totals in other games in the long history between these two schools, but I couldn't find one.
The only way to describe these numbers are "beatdown". There is no sugarcoating them, no silver lining to be found. It is just as ugly as can be.
Now it is theoretically possible that Colgate's defense will, when the season is done, be considered one of the best in the Patriot League, an all-time defense. Maybe, by the end of the season, this will make perfect sense. But if they are one of Colgate's all-time defenses, last Saturday was the first indication that they are of a historic Raider caliber. Against Stony Brook and William and Mary, neither team offensive juggernauts, Colgate were outscored 51-10.
I've never seen Lehigh seem so completely mismatched, so listless, and so low on fight as I did this Saturday against a team I consider a rival.
I've seen Lehigh lose to Colgate before. I've seen Lehigh fall behind to Colgate, and seen Lehigh rally from two-touchdown deficits when all hope seemed lost. As I pointed out above, Lehigh didn't win every time I watched them, but they almost always fought hard, especially when league play was at stake.
Even in 2007, with a team that was struggling mightily, the offense drove the length of the field to go up 7-0. Even in 2018, the team broke through an all-time defense one time to score a touchdown.
Last Saturday, late in the first half, down 24-3, on 4th and inches, Lehigh didn't hesitate to punt. No lining up to go for it, despite being down to a rival. Not only did it signal that the staff had no faith in the offense to pick up 4th and inches - it didn't even think a hard count could have been executed in order to get a Colgate player to jump offsides. Maybe it would have resulted in a turnover on downs, or maybe it might have lit a spark to get the offense going, given the team some confidence, and maybe even have resulted in Lehigh's first touchdown of the fall 2021 season. What would it have harmed to try?
Lehigh's season is not over. They can still win football games. This week they'll have the opportunity to win another college football game against Yale. Win that game, and the second half of this season might end up different than September. In a sense, this team is lucky that this past weekend's performance does not have to be the last word about this team or these athletes.
But they will have to crawl up from the mud to do win a football game. Lehigh is mud right now. Everyone associated with this program have to think of themselves as one thing - mud - and decide for themselves that they don't want to be thought of historically as mud.
To get out of mud, it requires a lot of determination, purpose, and above all survival. You have to decide you don't want to sink in the mud, and that you're going to fight like hell out of it. Fighting out of mud is a lot like fighting to win a football game. That's what needs to happen in this team - every person involved. They need to fight to get a victory the same way they might fight to get out of the mud. It's the only way.