After watching the game up there, I still feel that to be true.
But Lehigh did not play the perfect game up in New Hampshire.
The 31-10 victory shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lehigh still has a lot of work to do if they hope to win the Patriot League this year - and have a successful season. And the gap between the FCS Top 25 and Lehigh is as big as ever. (more)
Early on, it looked like Lehigh was going to put up a strong fight.
After an early pass to WR Joey Orlando, Lehigh's defense responded on New Hampshire's opening drive with two big tackles for loss - the first by junior DE Andrew Knapp who stuffed Wildcat RB Dontra Peters with great acceleration through the gap, and then senior LB Al Pierce with a big sack of New Hampshire QB R.J. Toman to set the early tone. New Hampshire would have to settle for a 37 yard field goal from PK Michael MacArthur to take the early lead.
After Lehigh's offense stalled, a 45 yard by junior P Alex Smith downed inside the 2 yard line pinned New Hampshire's offense into a 3-and-out, and good field position after a Wildcat punt became great field position after a 15 yard personal foul penalty set Lehigh up at the 30 yard line.
But in what would be a recurring theme during the afternoon, Lehigh would be given golden opportunities to come away with points but could not get anything going offensively. Lehigh's drive stalled at the New Hampshire 24, and would have to settle for a 42 yard FG by sophomore PK Jake Peery to tie the game at 3.
After Lehigh tied the game, Toman and the Wildcat offense wasted no time getting back ahead after a 51 yard fly pattern to WR Kevon Mason, which led 3 plays later to WR Joey Orlando's first TD on the afternoon. Again, though, senior CB/KR John "Prez" Kennedy would recover a bobbled kickoff and turn it into a spectacular 76 yard return that was narrowly stopped by SS John Greer from being a touchdown.
Golden opportunity #2, however, became negative yards after a 5 yard loss on a fumble instead became a 45 yard FG attempt from Peery - which fell short.
Golden opportunity #3 was a turnover created by junior LB Colin Newton's forced fumble after a bubble screen from WR Terrence Cox, pounced upon by sophomore CB Bryan Andrews. After sophomore QB Michael Colvin lost the ball running a 3rd and 11 on the New Hampshire 26, a heady recovery by senior TE Alex Wojdowski afte rthe ball went forward four yards resulted in a critical first down - which would lead to an 11 yard TD run by senior RB Jay Campbell on a beautiful misdirection around senior OL Will Rackley.
After tying the game at 10, however, the Wildcats put the hammer down on a Lehigh defense that was already wearing down from overexposure and injury.
With Pierce and Kennedy out at this point from injury, New Hampshire embarked on a 8 play, 69 yard drive that ended with a 21 yard pass to WR Terrance Fox to give them the lead again. And the Wildcat defense would not let up a significant first down until the 4th quarter. Aside from a meaningless first down at the end of the first half, Lehigh would gain only three first downs the rest of the way: in a drive that would end with an interception by CB Hugo Souza at the New Hampshire 1 yard line.
Even two more drive opportunities in New Hampshire territory, thanks to interceptions by senior FS John Venerio and sophomore CB Bryan Andrews couldn't get the offensive juices flowing.
“We knew we were playing a very good football team here, one that’s traditionally top teams in FCS football,” said visibly frustrated coach Andy Coen in the official game recap. “When you play a team like that you have to take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. They presented a lot of opportunities to us. The defense created turnovers. We had a big kick return on a great individual effort. Offensively, we just weren’t able to take advantage of any of those opportunities with the exception of one. You’re not going to beat many teams when you do those things.”
"Way too many procedural issues," a perturbed Coen added in the video recap. "Collectively as a team, we're not feeding off each other. We need the bye week to do some work. To get some guys to really decide how good we want to be. I think we still have a chance to be a good football team, but not if we play like we did today."
With Lehigh's offense only holding onto the ball for about 20 minutes, it's not surprising that the defense - on a supernaturally hot 85 degree day in Durham - wore down. A 14 yard TD run by RB Dontra Peters - where he came in essentially untouched - illustrated perfectly the perils of a worn out defense with a slew of important players out with injury.
It would be myopic to say that Lehigh's offensive struggles were completely their own fault - New Hampshire has one of the best secondaries in FCS, and they made life for sophomore QB Michael Colvin miserable, especially late in the game when he had to force the action. LBs Alan Buzbee and LB Matt Evans were every bit the tackle machines they were advertised to be.
But this was a beatable team. I still stand by what I said before the game. Had Lehigh played the perfect game, they could have competed with New Hampshire and still had a real chance to win. But they didn't play the perfect game. They didn't come close.