Friday, November 09, 2012

Lehigh/Colgate Top Games No. 2: Lehigh 21, Colgate 14, 10/30/2004

The best part of this particular game was not only the win for Lehigh, and not only the fact that it ended up clinching a playoff game, in retrospect, for the Mountain Hawks.  It's that it was my first-ever real sportswriting piece, for the now-defunct I-AA.org, detailing Lehigh/Colgate and the rivalry that had built up in the years before.


Below the flip, behold my first "I-AA Diary" of the game, in its entirety, pulled from the top-secret LFN archives as the No. 2 "Hate the 'Gate" classic.

Thursday, October 28th, 2004

What I’m aiming to do with this online diary is to report (from the Lehigh fan’s point of view) the clash between Lehigh and Colgate coming up in 2 days.  I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about a rivalry game between two Patriot League schools that is just starting to become more well known around I-AA nation.  Many people know about the visceral dislike that Lehigh has for arch-rival Lafayette, but fewer know about a game that for the past seven years has been more important to determine the Patriot League’s automatic I-AA playoff representative.

To educate those people that think Lehigh is some city in France and Colgate is a brand of toothpaste,  Lehigh and Colgate are members of the Patriot League, which was formed in 1987, as a collection of private schools who emphasized non-scholarship athletics.  Strictly speaking, Patriot League schools do not offer traditional scholarships as many other I-AA schools do, though the amount of "grant-in-aid" students have the effect of being like scholarships. 

Colgate had a great run in the I-AA playoffs last year, where they beat a whiny UMass team, a gritty Western Illinois team, and an overconfident Florida Atlantic team.  While most of I-AA nation were collectively shocked that non-scholarship Colgate was destroying supposedly better scholarship competition, this reporter was not in the slightest.  I had seen Colgate.  They were no patsy.

Lehigh and Colgate have played each other every year since 1960.  Since 1997, either Lehigh or Colgate has won or shared the Patriot League title.  In the past four years, the average margin of victory in the game has been a little over a touchdown.  Basically, this is a bona-fide rivalry game that will be intense and competitive, and the players know how much is at stake – this year’s game has been billed as the "Patriot League Game of the Year" and the "Patriot League Championship Game".

You'd think with this sort of history, with titles and I-AA playoff hopes on the line, that Mountain Hawk fans would feel towards Raider fans the same way General Douglas MacArthur felt towards the Red Chinese.  Similarly, you'd think Colgate fans would flood their message boards spouting lines from "Braveheart" switching all references to the English with "Mountain Hawks". 

To gauge fan feeling, I did what any good researcher might do in this case.  That is, go to my favorite Lehigh and Colgate message boards and try to see how people really felt in a quasi-moderated anonymous environment (in other words, a "free-for-all"). 

Despite my best efforts to stir up controversy for such an important rivalry game, strangely I was simply unable to do so.  Instead of finding lots of colorful language and interesting limericks staring with "There once was a student from Colgate", I found a love-fest.  The term "mutual respect" came up a lot, along with things like "sibling rivalry", “class act”, and "I'm a Lehigh fan, and I was rooting for Colgate in the playoffs last year!"  Granted, there was a lot of anticipation for this weekend’s game - everyone seemed to think the game would be close, and that it would live up to its billing.  But the fans were so academic about it, it was downright frightening.  Where were the "Who's your Daddy?" chants?

Part of me is shocked by this, quite frankly, un-American behavior.  In this election year, the importance of election horse-races, and separating people into winners and losers, loving your team and wishing a pox on the other team is as American as apple pie and “The Apprentice”.  However, I have to admit, even in the depths of my own soul, I find it hard to hate a classy school and athletic program like Colgate’s. 

Strangely, the only trash-talking came from Delaware fans who migrated in from somewhere in cyberspace, and Lehigh and Colgate found another issue to agree on – mutual hatred for Delaware.  (Is that in the Patriot League Charter somewhere – to be a member, you must take an oath to always hate Delaware football and everything it stands for?)

In a nutshell, to most Lehigh fans, losing to Colgate would be a major disappointment, and a huge blow to our postseason I-AA playoff hopes.  But it would be like losing to a brother.  It wouldn’t be humiliating, like, say, losing to Lafayette.

That’s a possibility so horrifying, I can’t even stop to contemplate it.

Friday October 29th, 2004

The day before the biggest game of the year for Lehigh, one can only imagine what’s going on with coach Pete Lembo and his players. 

After last week’s win 40-17 win against Bucknell, coach Lembo brought all the players into the locker room for what was charitably described by the Easton Express-Times as an “obscenity-laced tirade”.  Although you’d think most coaches would be happy with a 40-17 win, Pete Lembo was rightfully aggravated.  Coach wasn’t happy at certain players taunting Bucknell players.  He also wasn’t happy at a lot of mental mistakes in the game, including a boatload of turnovers, and special teams problems.

That must have made for a colorful week in practice.  That and the absence of two of Lehigh’s top defensive players – defensive lineman Royce Morgan and free safety Kaloma Cardwell – means that Lehigh Football Nation is not coming into the game cocky and confident.  Of course, on the forefront of their minds must be the fact that Colgate has beaten us the past 2 years running must be weighing heavily as well.

That’s not to say Mountain Hawk fans ever go into games particularly confident.  When Lehigh beat Stony Brook 25-2 on opening day, the moaning began.  “Why are we starting Mark Borda at quarterback?”, started being heard, even before the game got finished.  “Coach Lembo is too conservative, he should pass the ball more.” 

Of course, Lehigh in the past three weeks has made Pete Lembo’s head coaching decision resemble Bill Walsh’s decision to start that scrawny quarterback from Notre Dame called Joe Montana.  After Mark Borda won three straight Patriot League offensive player of the week awards (scoring 11 touchdowns), curiously, the criticism ceased.

Personally, I think Pete Lembo is an excellent coach, under whose regime we have hosted our first 1-AA playoff game in 2001, won a Lambert Cup (given to the best northeastern 1-AA school, also in 2001), and, most importantly, beaten Lafayette twice.  (I did find it in my heart to forgive him sometime last year for losing to the Leopards in 2002.)

But some Lehigh fans are a funny bunch.  Like so many Yankee fans, they sometimes seem spoiled by success. Patriot League championships are expected, along with the 1-AA playoff tickets that result, and the fact that they have gone 2 years without going the playoffs has not sat well with some fans.  (Try telling that to fans of Hofstra or Richmond.)

Having said that, most Lehigh fans seem fairly confident that the Mountain Hawks will win.  Home field advantage is often cited as the reason, as well as a solid defense and a vastly improved offense.  But there are some worries.  Will the injuries in the defense make a difference?  Can Borda and the offense get the job done against one of the best teams they’ll see all year?  And will we be able to get through an entire game without kicking the ball out of bounds?

My wife and I, after putting our 1 year-old son Eric to bed, came up with our gameplan for tomorrow.  We’ll grab lunch on the way to the game.  We’ll see the fans in the tailgate area to get a feel of the confidence level.  Hopefully the weather will hold up so we can sit in the grassy bowl behind the goal posts  - the forecast called for thundershowers at last check – and experience the game where it was meant to be seen, in the stands with the fans.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am sure excited.

Pregame

My wife dropped me off at Murray Goodman stadium on a humid, overcast day.  There was a surreal mist in the air over South Mountain covering the brilliant fall foliage, making for an eerie but interesting effect.  From there, it was time to make a tour of the alumni tailgates to get a feeling of the fans before the game.

The first thing that greeted me was a tailgate that had enough hard alcohol and mixers to stock a large wedding.  From there, it was seeing the guys that were wearing the Engineer hats (obviously "old-school" - for many years the team name of Lehigh was the "Engineers").  And from there, it was a bevy of different personalized tailgates.  Not a lot of outdoor grilling due to the weather, but you could still see the occasional football being tossed around, not to mention a fair amount of “Yuenglings” (clearly the beer of choice).

There is definitely a feeling of optimism in the air in this packed tailgating atmosphere.  Hard to explain, but the regular fan feels like Lehigh has the edge in this game.  There's not a sense of worry at all, even a sort of calm.

Reinforcing what I discovered a couple of days ago, there's not a lot of animosity towards the Raiders.  Everyone seems to be looking forward to a well-fought game, and people are downright deferential to Colgate and their fans.  Although it still seems unnatural to me, I decided to bite my tongue and head over to the game.

I bought my ticket and went inside just before kickoff, and the home stands were already packed.  There also were going to be a significant amount of Colgate fans as well, as you could see their football boosters and pep band already set up on the other side.  There are going to be a lot of fans here, I can tell.

1st Quarter

I decided to sit in ultra-friendly territory -- the "Hawk's Nest", the student booster section for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.  Colgate gets the ball first after the kickoff and proceeds to drive.  A few Nest-ers start the "dee-fense" chant.  Ah, young Jedi's, I thought.  When you know the ways of the "dee-fense" chant, you shall learn that you need to save it for the third and fourth quarters.

This reporter, the self-appointed wizened Jedi Master of Lehigh Football, saw Colgate Kicker Lance Schwartzberg miss a 32 yard field goal.  A good start for the Mountain Hawks.

Next drive, Lehigh scores, and the home stands erupt!  They did it with a mix of the pass and run.  QB Mark Borda gets a key 3rd down run up the middle after lining up in the shotgun.  Great job there!

A quick 1st quarter ends with Colgate driving.  Not exactly shaping up to be a defensive battle early… Colgate wideout Luke Graham came up with a huge 4th down reception on a play where QB Chris Brown was clocked right before he released the ball.

7-0

2nd Quarter

I'm thinking there has to be more than 14,000 people here.  I can't remember a game this crowded since Lehigh/Lafayette last year.  I definitely can't remember a game this crowded with these weather conditions -- Lehigh is known for have some (nameless) fans that don't show if there is a 5% chance of rain, snow, cold, or humidity.  No rain, yet.

1st play from the second quarter, DeWayne Long is wide open for the TD pass.  This seems like it might be a long game.  It's a bit disconcerting that we couldn't stop them on 2 straight drives…

Lehigh gets the ball back, and drives for a TD!  Ending with a nice grab in the end zone by Thompson, his second of the day!  Give that kid a game ball!

The Nest-ers come out of nowhere with free hotdogs and Pepsi for everyone in the section!  Whoo-oo!  The young Jedi's have definitely learned a very important lesson - the way to an Engineer's heart is by offering free food!

They are trying to get things going, but the fans are strangely subdued.  It seems like worry is creeping in. After a kickoff out of bounds (grr), Colgate is driving again, and Lehigh just got called for a dumb penalty on 3rd down (the first of the game) for defensive holding in the defensive backfield.

Colgate scores, after another reception by Long set them up first-and-goal, and then Payton-award candidate Jamaal Branch punched it in.  Branch has been kept in check up until now - Brown has been beating us with his arm.

Lehigh puts together another impressive drive (with 3 QB rushes by Mark Borda!)… but PK Matt McNeils misses a 29-yard field goal.  Ugh.

This makes the game 14-14 at halftime.  I'm a bit disconcerted, since Lehigh could have been up 17-0 had 2 plays going their way on defense, and had McNeils drilled that FG at the end of the half.  Momentum seems to be in Colgate's camp, who have to be happy tied at 14 at halftime.  Still, we get the ball back to start the second half.

14-14

Halftime

A few fans sitting around me start to get up and head out.  I think to myself, if you're going to get up and go out of a Lehigh/Colgate game tied 14-14 at halftime, you just don't get it.  Maybe their Yuenglings were getting warm in their cars.

Never trust these people with the secret plans of the French Resistance.  They'd go right to Conrad Veidt with them, I guarantee it.

3rd quarter

Lehigh goes 3 and out, and I get that sinking feeling that Colgate will take this game over.  I saw this two years ago when Colgate beat Lehigh 28-14, and Chris Brown single-handedly orchestrated the demolition of our defense, sans Jamaal Branch.

Lehigh "D" stops Colgate.  Some life in the Lehigh crowd!  And some momentum comes back!  Branch still doing nothing, but Brown still the bane of our existence with his arm.  He seems to be making every big pass on every Colgate drive.  A big non-call on pass interference on 3rd down causes the Colgate faithful to boo lustily at the refs. 

Lehigh gets the ball back, and gets to the 42 before a punt.  The Nest is now starting to stir, and the louder fans are starting to get into the game as well (including, it must be said, your correspondent here at the game).  It's not looking like Colgate will take the game over - the defenses are starting to stiffen.  Nice punt by Kyle Keating, pinning Colgate deep.

Branch loss of 5.  He's not running like a Payton-award candidate today, that's for sure.  Now all the home fans are starting to cheer "dee-fense".  (This is where you start the chant, young Jedi's.)

Sweep, Lehigh nearly gets a safety!  The Lehigh crowd can smell it now.  Everyone on their feet!

Interception!!!!  Brown rushed a pass under intense pressure, overthrew Long and FS Karrie Ford came up with it!  Whoo!!!!  Fans going wild!!!!  This could be the Mountain Hawk break we need - now just convert!

Rath scores!!  Borda pitches to Rath on the option!  Key play on the drive: Rath converting a huge 4th and 1 for a gutty 6 yard gain.  Score now 21-14, and momentum is back on Lehigh's side!  The fans, subdued after a worried first half, are back in the game now!  (Where are those halftime-leaving traitors now, huh?)

Ensuing kickoff, Colgate fumbles the ball!  Someone, fall on it!  Too bad, Colgate recovered.  Had we gotten that ball…

Colgate driving - another interception over the middle!  Here Lehigh could put things away if they can march down and score!  (Lehigh 3-and-out.  Oops.)

There's the end of the 3rd quarter.  It's clearly still anyone's game at this point, although the other fans seem vocal, loud, and confident.  This has been a great game so far.  The fans have been treated to a back-and-forth affair.  Time to get the defibrillators ready?

21-14

4th quarter

Colgate 3-and-out.  Jeff Brown had a real chance for a big gainer, but Chris Brown overthrew the ball…

Lehigh drives… but just falls short.  Keating kicks it again.  I love when Luke Graham fair-catches the ball at the 8 yard line.  He can do that all day as far as I'm concerned.

Colgate 3-and-out.  Whew, Garrin Rose nearly had a TD throw had the ball not been overthrown!  What a nerve-wracking game!  One play either way, and this game is tied, or Colgate has the lead.

Punt.  Fumble by Lehigh!  For Pete's sakes, get the ball!  Get the ball!  We do, back behind our own 10 yard line.  Excuse me while I give my heart a kick-start.  There is too much excitement, for all the wrong reasons!

Drive by Lehigh stopped on 4th at 7 at the 27 yard line.  TE Adam Bergen got the ball, but just couldn't get the first down.  Too bad - if Lehigh had gotten away with points there, we could have all gone home!

4 minutes to play, Colgate has the ball.  Lehigh's "D" needs to make one more stop here.

3rd and 6 - Long again with a big reception.  Long has been killing us.  Under 2 minutes.  Gotta stop them…  Both sides standing at this point.

1:26 to play, Colgate is on the Lehigh 33.  Come on, defense!  The Lehigh fans are loud, trying to make the difference here!  Getting nervous now.

0:39 to play, timeout Colgate on the Lehigh 21.  Unsurprisingly, it's Long again with the killer reception.  He has had a great day today…  Deee-fense!!!

0:13 to play, timeout Colgate on the Lehigh 12.  It will take a great play by Brown to get it in.  Lehigh fans are nervous!  No one is sitting anymore.

Interception in the end zone!!!! Game over!!!!  Brown threw a ball over the middle right in the hands of the defender!!  It must have been a timing pattern that the receiver missed!  Pandemonium!!!  Hawks win!!!  Hawks win!!!

Final Score: Lehigh 21, Colgate 14

What a game.  This one lived up to it's billing, and I predict it will go down in Lehigh history as one of the best, especially if it results in a Patriot League title for Lehigh.  Like two heavyweights at the end of a prizefight, both teams punched and punched but they couldn't knock the other one out until the last play of the game.

These teams were evenly matched.  Clearly a play one way or another might have resulted in an unhappy ending for Lehigh.  Had Brown hit a couple of wide-open wideouts, or had Lehigh’s fumbled punt been recovered by Colgate, this could have very easily been a Colgate win.

I really can't take anything away from Colgate here.  Their fans were classy, the team played great, but just came up a little short.  Chris Brown had a very good day throwing the ball, and wideouts Luke Graham and DeWane Long killed us most of the game.  Fortunately for the home team we got turnovers when we needed it.

I was expecting Lehigh to run, but I was surprised that they ran early, often, left, right, draw, and option against Colgate.  On top of that, Jamaal Branch was nearly completely bottled up on defense.  A solid overall effort by the Mountain Hawks on both sides of the ball.

In the end, the turnovers were the difference, setting up Lehigh's go-ahead TD, and sealed the game for us in the closing seconds.

The Yuenglings tasted extra-sweet tonight in the Lehigh Valley after Lehigh’s huge win today.

No comments :