As you may have expected, the press roundup ain't pretty (though this picture, courtesy of Chuck Steenburgh via the Morning Call, is). It doesn't seem like anyone's real happy - all of Lehigh Nation is disappointed at a squeak-it-out win, and VMI is upset that they couldn't take advantage of all of Lehigh's "gifts". If I added the message board chatter from Any Given Saturday, it would get even more ugly and harsh. There are a lot of things I look at again in the box score that feel like dodged bullets. A missed VMI FG in the 3rd quarter that could have been the difference. A VMI backflip on the interception return that caused the 2-pt conversion try to be from the 18 yard line - which cost them the tie. Finally, junior FS Julian Austin's interception from the 21 yard line - had it been dropped... that could have been the difference.
But in every season, there's one game where nothing seems to go right - a tipped pass goes for a 90 yard TD run, muffed punts, interceptions, fumbles, penalties - and it has been said that it's the near-losses that show the character of a great team, not necessarily the wins. Some players come out and really show what they're made of, and the team is better for it. As badly as Lehigh struggled at times, there were positives that may pay dividends for the rest of the year.
It didn't affect the polls at all. Lehigh actually went up to #11 in the Sports Network poll, and they are #13 on Any Given Saturday. So the near-miss didn't really affect anything in the long run.
The defense played pretty well overall, especially in the second half. When Lehigh needed to run the ball, with senior RB Eric "TNT" Rath or senior FB Greg Fay, it was there. Senior WR Gerran "G" Walker had 178 all-purpose yards. As silly as it sounds, if you take away the turnovers we could have won 35-13 or 42-13. It's not the end of the world.
It's pretty clear who the game balls go to. These guys should be on your Lehigh watch list if they're not already.
On offense, game ball goes to senior RB Eric "TNT" Rath. 118 yards rushing and 3 TDs seals that game ball without a doubt. Also, he held onto the ball well in a key drive at the end of the game. That gets him Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week.. and a game ball.
For defense it's tougher, as senior DT Royce Morgan and senior LB Anthony "Graz" Graziani had good days, but junior DB Julian Austin gets the nod today. Returning a fumble for a TD probably would have been enough as it was, but also nabbing the game-ending interception couldn't have been bigger if he tried. Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week... and a game ball.
Special teams again goes to senior WR Gerran "G" Walker. 97 return yards to go with his 178 all-purpose yards makes him a constant threat to be reckoned with. He gets yet another Game Ball.
Your press roundup, and digest, are below.
Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Tops VMI In Spite Of Itself
Lehigh Played Better
Brown & White:
Hawks Escape VMI With Victory
Generous Guest Turns Into Grinch
It was homecoming at VMI on Saturday and Lehigh brought gifts. The Mountain Hawks, ranked 13th in Division I-AA, heaped offerings in the form of penalties and turnovers at the Keydets' feet.
But the Keydets couldn't get the bows untied.
Despite seven Lehigh fumbles, three interceptions and a handful of critical penalties, the Mountain Hawks held off VMI for a 28-26 victory at Alumni Memorial Field.
During a halftime radio interview, Lembo had called the first half "the worst half of football" he had seen during his eight years at Lehigh.
His mood hadn't brightened much by day's end, but he could still smile, because the silver lining could be that Lehigh had learned a lesson without losing a game.
His 13th-ranked Mountain Hawks hung on to beat VMI 28-26 Saturday before a Homecoming crowd of 6,524 at Alumni Memorial Field.
Few Mountain Hawks victories have ever been greeted with as little celebration.
"I'm real disappointed," Lembo said. "It wasn't pretty on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We showed glimpses of being the kind of team we can be, and then we seemed to fall apart again with some incredible miscues."
"We found a way to win a game that we probably didn't deserve to win," Lembo said...
VMI quarterback Jonathan Wilson agreed.
"They turned the ball over so many times, they gave us so many opportunities, the defense got us good field position and we'd get to the red zone and couldn't do anything with it," Wilson said. "We know we should have won the ball game."
"If we play this way again next week, we're going to get blown out," Lembo said.
"Obviously, we didn't play our best football, but we're not going to walk around with frowns," Borda said. "When we get home and look at this game film, we'll all realize we have tons and tons of work to do. We won today, but we have a long road ahead of us."
[Coach Lembo did have some praise:] "We came out and ran the ball well and ran it when we needed to,'' he said. ''I was pleased how well we were able to control the line of scrimmage in the run game. And there were certainly times when we stepped up and made plays on defense and on special teams. There were glimpses of the type of team I think we can be.''
Rath chalked it up as another learning experience, and, fortunately, this gridiron classroom didn't require a loss as tuition payment.
"We're disappointed," he said. "We got the 'W' but as a player at Lehigh, sometimes the 'W' isn't enough. We had a lot of miscues.
"We want to establish ourselves as one of the best teams in the Patriot League and we didn't show that today," Rath said. "The good thing about football is that there's next weekend. That's what we're going to look forward to.
"The first couple of weeks we opened up the offense and threw it around a lot," Rath said. "We have talented receivers, a good quarterback and a line that pass protects well.
"Today, we ran it more and the offensive linemen did an outstanding job. The linemen were calling for more running plays in the huddle and as a tailback, you love to hear that. Plus, Greg Fay had one of the best days since he has been at Lehigh and he's on his way to becoming one of the best fullbacks in the Patriot League."
In addition to making several lead blocks, Fay, a senior from Jackson, Tenn., ran twice for 13 yards and caught three passes for another 23 yards.
"I was in the right place at the right time," said Austin, a junior strong safety who also scored Lehigh's first touchdown with a 34-yard fumble return. "Give the credit to [linebacker] Matt Purdy because he made the hit to pop the ball free and I was just there to catch it."
[VMI QB Jonathan] Wilson looked to Price again in the middle of the field [on the game's last drive], but the ball was high and tipped off Price's fingertips and into the arms of Lehigh's Julian Austin.
"I should have took it myself or thrown it in the dirt and we could've set up a field goal," Wilson said. "I saw [WR Greg Price] for a second and I thought I could take it.
"I made the wrong decision throwing the ball."
"We have yet to play a complete game," junior strong safety Julian Austin said. "We have a lot of work to do. We know we played poorly, and it could have cost us a win [at VMI]. But fortunately, it didn't. Now we have to go back and work to get better."