This year, once again Lehigh was shut out at home - but this time it was to Villanova - the defending national champs, and arguably the most powerful team in the most powerful FCS conference in America.
Not even an unnaturally warm summer day could slow down Villanova WR Matt Szczur and the Villanova offense, which would rack up more than 300 yards rushing on the afternoon.
Going into the game, some thought that the Mountain Hawks would be able to hang with the national champs and the team that ought to be the No. 1 team in the country. They were proven spectacularly wrong by halftime. (more)
It's easy to think that the Wildcats will be able to dominate other teams this year in a similar fashion to the way that Villanova dominated Lehigh this afternoon. But that is little solace for a Lehigh team that had opportunities to take advantage of Wildcat mistakes and turn this into a game, but couldn't.
Out the the Wildcat formation, a 30 yard pass by WR Matt Szczur to a wide open WR Norman White - who was interfered with heavily by senior CB Jarard Cribbs, but still came down with the ball - got the party started for Villanova after both teams, in front of an energized Lehigh student section, started out a little flat on offense. The next play, an 11 yard rush by RB Aaron Ball - following a simply awesome set of blocks on the Lehigh defensive line by OL Ben Ijalana - would be Villanova's first score of the game.
After another set of 3-and-outs, Cribbs made a great break on an underthrown pass by QB Chris Whitney to set up shot on the Villanova 24. But in a sequence that would sum up the day completely, Lehigh would end up going backwards on a delay of game and a sack of junior QB Chris Lum by LB Marquis Kirkland, setting up a 4th-and-21 from what could have been a golden opportunity to score. Electing to go for it, Lum threw a pass to sophomore WR Ryan Spadola at the marker that was high, but catchable - but the super sophomore could not pull it down.
Lehigh would get no closer to the 24 yard line of Villanova all afternoon, despite an interception by senior CB John Kennedy and a fumble recovery by senior FS John Venerio that would stop Villanova offensive drives. While Villanova's bread and butter came from their spread offense and the Wildcat, it was through the air that head coach Andy Talley's team would really kill Lehigh with big plays. Two huge passes to WR Dorian Wells - one a 39 yard TD and another for 46 yards that would set up an 8 yard TD run by RB Angelo Babbaro - would make it a 21-0 game at halftime, and send the students back to the tailgates.
"You play teams like this, you see them as a great opportunity. I think when we look at the film we'll find we made too many mistakes, " said coach Coen after the game. "We talked a lot about limiting big plays, and make a team go the length of the field, and unfortunately we gave up three really big plays that led to scores for them. When you play a team like Villanova, you have to contain those things, an three's too many in that respect."
There were some positives to be found in the rubble, notably the three forced turnovers and five forced fumbles - though only one was recovered. Junior LB Mike Groome (8 tackles, 1 sack) and senior FS John Venerio (7 tackles, 1 sack) were a part of the defense that created those chances, while junior WR Jake Drwal (9 catches, 72 yards) and sophomore WR Ryan Spadola (8 catches, 88 yards) also had some flashes of good play, connecting from Lum and getting a rhythm going.
But even when it seemed like some momentum would swing Lehigh's way, sometimes even the crazy stuff wasn't breaking Lehigh's way. After two nicely executed Lam-to-Drwal connections, a bobbled pass reception ends up in the hands of S Ronnie Akins, killing one great scoring opportunity. Another time honestly - the umpire got in the way of a third down play, stopping another Lehigh drive.
Overall it was an intensely frustrating day for everyone in Brown & White on Saturday. Going into the game, every Lehigh fan had the dream of taking the Wildcats to the wire, and maybe even winning the game. Fans weren't necessarily expecting a win, but they were expecting a hard-fought game and maybe putting a scare into the Wildcats - not getting shut out on offense and getting dominated at the line of scrimmage.
You hate to use words like "dominated", considering it's only Week Two and there is still plenty of football left in the season. But it does jump easily to mind concerning this particular game. Lehigh had 8 first downs on the game, with a grand total of 215 total yards of offense and 29 yards rushing.
Having said that, it's really easy to read too much into this one game. There is plenty of time to learn from mistakes, clean things up, and become - potentially - a championship team.
But you have to go back to 1995 - a 35-14 win over Lehigh by New Hampshire - to find another out-of-conference loss at Murray Goodman that came close to seeing Lehigh dominated like this. After countless wins and close contests at home against Villanova, Delaware, Harvard and so many others, Saturday's game holds the ignominious record for the worst out-of-conference loss in stadium history.
Defending national champs or not, that hurts.