The No. 13 team in the country. The Mountain Hawks written off by pretty much everyone, including me. And Lehigh didn't just put forth a great effort, they very nearly shocked the world, pressuring Holy Cross senior QB Dominic Randolph intensely and making the superhuman Crusader QB look a lot more like a regular human being.
You got the feeling this one would be different from the opening drive. Lehigh got the ball first and junior QB J.B. Clark led the offense right down the field, punctuated by big runs by junior RB Jay Campbell and a 14 yard TD pass to junior TE Alex Wojdowski.
When the Lehigh defense would stop Holy Cross' initial drive at the 7 yard line, forcing the Crusaders to settle for a short FG, you got the feeling that this was going to be a game.
It would never be beyond one score all afternoon, with two ties and four lead changes. Against a team that had scored over 30 points six times, over 40 points four times and over 50 points once this year, Lehigh held them to ten first-half points.
The playbook was emptied -we discovered that junior RB Jay Campbell is a lefty, as he took a pitch from Clark, and then completed a pass to a wide-open Wojdowski to tie the game at 17. Aside from his first-ever TD pass, he had a fantastic day running the football with 131 yards on 21 carries as well and was the engine that made the Mountain Hawks go.
There were big 4th down conversions, including a big one to junior WR Craig Zurn to keep a drive alive. There was a 4th and inches on our own 30 yard line - that junior RB Jaren Walker converted.
The defense, led by senior LB Troy Taylor's 9 tackles and 1 1/2 tackles for loss, were effective in disrupting Randolph all day - and Taylors forced fumble in the 4th quarter (recovered by senior DT B.J. Benning) led to a 4th quarter lead against the Crusaders - after a drive ended in a 38 yard FG by freshman PK Jake Peery to make the score 20-17.
"The whole game he was running with the ball out," Taylor said in the post-game press conference. "I just used a move we've been working on since training camp to dump the ball out for a big play in the game, give our offense the momentum."
"The Lehigh kids came out and they blitzed," a relieved Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore said after the game. "They did a good job changing things up. One time, a play would be there, and the next time we'd get back to it, they had it defended. I thought they did a good job changing things up."
And yet Lehigh, with their first fourth-quarter lead against a team not named Bucknell or Georgetown this year, couldn't make the big 4th quarter play to actually seal the deal and pull off the upset.
Twice, the defense stopped Randolph, with senior LB Matt Cohen in his face the whole time, pressuring him. But twice the offense couldn't drive to get that score that would have sealed the deal. You can only give Randolph so many opportunities to beat you, and the third time for him was the charm.
"Coach McKenzie told me [at the beginning of the last drive] 'forget what whatever you've done, just go out there and play football'. It kind of brought me back down to realize that it's just a game, and we were a little more loose during that last drive. That gave us the opportunity to move the ball."
Two big passes to Holy Cross junior WR Freddie Santana - one a 32 yarder to get into Lehigh territory, and his final catch on the afternoon - a catch in between two Lehigh defenders, crunching him, but still holding onto the winning score - were what ultimately did Lehigh in this afternoon.
The effort wasn't as good as pulling off the upset of the decade, but still ought not to be fogotten. It should be an important building block for this young team for the future. If Lehigh plays like this the last two games, they will have a chance to win both.
"There's a lot of young kids playing, and they're good players," coach Coen said afterwards. "JThey keep working hard every week, and they've gotten better. "
I was at the game two years ago when Randolph and the Crusader offense put up 59 on Lehigh, and I remember the post game interview. That afternoon, Randolph didn't have a lot of respect for the Lehigh defense, and it showed - he said that they could do "pretty much what they wanted to all day". And to be fair, Lehigh's defense didn't earn the respect.
This weekend, Lehigh got the respect back.