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Sunday's Word: Typecast

Last night, I was writing my summary of the Fordham game and I noticed something which ultimately led me to this Sunday's "Word".

Heartbreaking last-second losses are like movies where you want to rewrite the ending. If you're a writer of fiction, your team never has to lose on missed 4th-and-1 conversions or excruciating last-second touchdown passes in the right corner of the end zone - you just write something else. You write in the script the offensive line making a heroic push to get that extra yard to get that game-winning field goal. You write in the script the defensive back making the play of a lifetime.

Writing the recap of the Fordham game, I was struck how often I was thinking back to not only the excruciating losses in the Princeton and Cornell games this year, but also last year's loss to Fordham as well.

Last year's Fordham game was won in the fourth quarter. In my fictionalized account of the game, Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt would connect with a across-the-body throw to senior WR Sekou Yansane for the game-winning catch in a 25-21 victory. Lehigh, of course, would ride the momentum of that win all the way to the Patriot League title, beat "That School in Easton" 50-0 and of course beat UMass in the playoffs - and fight so valiantly against Appalachian State (another team of destiny, of course) that for years Mountaineer fans will talk about the game they almost lost to "that school in Bethlehem."

But that's all that would ultimately be: fanciful fiction. Instead, what really happened when Lehigh was driving for the game-winning touchdown, Fordham linebacker Earl Hudnell would return an interception for a touchdown with just under five minutes to play. That would give Fordham a ten point lead and effectively ice the game.

After that game, I had a pretty impassioned "Sunday Word": "If". "How long do I have to wait for players to deliver on the wonderful potential that I and others have seen in spots for the past three years?" I said. "At some point, potential for greatness simply becomes the present, and your record is right there, live in front of you. And it's happening to this team, right here and right now."

It was a big moment in the season - in my opinion, bigger than the blowout loss to Holy Cross a couple weeks later. The reason was that the plotline had been written for the rest of the season - and, as it turns out, beyond.

Lehigh didn't play well last year against Fordham. Threatt was hurt much worse than anyone knew at that time, and he looked nothing like the Patriot League preseason player of the year. But looking back on the game, there were more troubling signs on this team. In that game, nobody stepped up as a go-to guy on offense. There were defensive lapses. Special teams had some vital mistakes that took points off the board. There was a severe lack of sync that was troubling.

The script was set: Lehigh wasn't what it used to be. They were a team that couldn't score at will anymore, and weren't always mentally in the game - and now they weren't winning the close ones against top competition. Sure, they had enough talent to put up 45 points on Georgetown and outlast Bucknell. But against "that school in Easton?" Again, the same old script: give up a late touchdown, and once again Lehigh couldn't deliver a big-time play at the end of the game to win.

The "typecasting" continued into this year. Against Drake, Lehigh again had enough raw talent to win that game. Against Villanova, Lehigh lost against one of the better teams of the CAA (maybe even a team that ultimately will be a Top Ten team when all is said and done). But against Princeton and Cornell, the same old plot: lapses at the end of the game. 4th-and-inches against Princeton - no push on the line. A toss to the end zone - and sophomore CB Jarard Cribbs can't make the play.

This week, though, against Fordham, I saw a team that simply refused to be "typecast". And it appeared to start at the end of the first half.

The play was 1st and 10 on the Lehigh 25. Lehigh was up 23-14, under 30 seconds to play. Skelton attempted a pass from just about the same place that Cornell quarterback Nathan Ford did. He lofted a pass to nearly the exact place that Cornell wide receiver Jesse Baker made the game-winning catch last week.

But something happened. Cribbs refused to be "typecast".

This time, he made the break, and made a great play to defend the pass. The ball was batted away before Fordham wide receiver Asa Lucas could get his hands on it. Fordham would get points out of the drive, making it a 23-17 game at halftime.

After that, you could see the plot lines change.

Senior RB Matt McGowan ran extremely hard, ultimately getting 110 tough yards on the ground and another 59 through the air. Sophomore QB J.B. Clark didn't throw the big interception that would be returned for a touchdown. I marked three occasions where Lehigh's "O" line needed to come up big and get a big push to keep a drive alive in short yardage - and all three, they made the grade.

What does the Fordham win ultimately mean? It's hard to say. The optimist looks at Fordham and sees the Rams as last year's Patriot League champions, a very good quarterback and an awesome stable of receivers that will play better the rest of the way. But others see a team that has been maddeningly inconsistent, a defensive line that is missing some key pieces from being a top Patriot League unit, and a quarterback that for all his physical tools still can't carry Fordham on his back completely.

Folks very well might look back at this game and only see a win at home over a sub-.500 team.

But it is very possible that we may look back on this game in particular and say that this was the game where Lehigh determined that they simply refused to be "typecast" as a team that loses the big one.


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