The fans didn't get an offensive explosion, but they ended their day happy anyway.
Their hard-fought 21-17 close victory was no less sweet - and probably made the burgers, still going strong after the game, taste just a little bit better, too. (more)
Going into the game, the fans and Lehigh's coaching staff were well aware of the potential explosiveness of QB Blake Wayne and the Fordham offense. That meant it would be critical for Lehigh to convert third and fourth downs - and to prevent Fordham from converting third and fourth downs of their own.
After Lehigh and Fordham started the game trading possessions, it would be Lehigh who got some momentum as they engaged in a 12 play, 72 drive that featured three big conversions on third down. The first, junior QB Chris Lum spun right on a designed run to get a first down. The second, junior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn took a bubble screen from Lum on the left side and created a first down. And the final one - where Lehigh's "O" line gave Lum a long time to throw the ball - sophomore WR Ryan Spadola grabbed Lum's rifle pass and landed on a Fordham defender. While it looked like Spadola was down, the play wasn't whistled dead, and he waltzed into the end zone for Lehigh's first score.
Fordham would respond with their own 9-play, 50 yard drive - but on 3rd down from the Lehigh 10 yard line, Wayne juggled a bad snap and junior LB Mike Groome made the most of it, flying to the quarterback and notching a 5 yard sack. They'd settle for a 32 yard field goal attempt from PK Patrick Murray to cut the lead to 7-3.
A Lehigh 3-and-out would lead to another big drive by Fordham - but would also end in an impressive goal-line stand by the defense. Facing a 3rd-and-1 from the Lehigh 2 yard line, Forfdham RB Jamir Livingston thought he would be ableto high-jump the pile in order to get an easy touchdown. Junior LB Mike Groome, however, had other ideas, stuffing Livingston cold, and leading to a scrambling 4th down by Wayne that would end after Wayne moving from the right side of the field, all the way back to the left, and then getting sacked on the very next play.
"I saw right away that the lineman just cut everyone," Groome said, "so I knew exactly from the get-go that he was going to try to dive over the line. I just met him up there and took him down."
"He's our goal-line expert," head coach Andy Coen added, reminding all present that he had another big goal-line stop in last year's Lafayette game, too. "Our defense stepped up, did a nice job."
After the goal-line stop, though, Fordham bounced back and took the lead after a big 3rd down conversion of their own. After finding WR David Moore for a 10 yard gain on 3rd down, Wayne would loft it deep down the right side and hit Moore again for a 39 yard TD pass to give the Rams a 10-7 lead.
Lehigh would then bounce back - starting with a 33 yard kickoff return by Zurn, and with both QBs running the ball to get key first downs on the 7 play, 53 yard touchdown drive. With Lum running a designed play to convert a 3rd-and-3, and sophomore QB Michael Colvin then faked a pitch right and then bowled into the end zone to make it 14-10 Lehigh.
Fordham got the ball in the opening kickoff of the second half, and the drive stalled at midfield. On a 4th and 3, and Fordham lined up to punt. But - it's a fake! The ball gets hiked to 300 lb NG Justin Yancey, who rumbles forward for first down yardage. But - who else - LB Mike Groome and another backer hit Yancey in the hands, causing him to drop the ball. Lehigh senior FS John Venerio recovers!
Lehigh wasted no time taking advantage of the only turnover of the game. Lum, rolling out and all day to throw, found sophomore RB Zach Barket in the right side of the end zone, who leaned out and drags his foot for the TD. Sophomore PK Jake Peery's extra point was good making the score Lehigh 21, Fordham 10.
"How about that call?" Coen said in the post game press confernece of the fake punt attempt. "That was a big play (recovering that fumble). We grabbed the momentum, really picked up the tempo to keep that drive going."
As it turned out, that touchdown would be the last score Lehigh needed to win the game, though the end of the game did have, according to coach Coen, chances for the offense to put the game away at the end that were not seized upon. "There were some things there," he said. "If we hit a wide-open guy in the end zone, the score is 28-17, and the game is not as exciting. If we get an inch on a 4th down conversion, you make three more plays to make something really good happen. We have to keep working at that."
Still, three thrilling fourth-down stops by the defense - and some key, clock-grinding runs by senior RB Jay Campbell to keep drives alive - kept the game in the win column for Lehigh.
"I just want to make sure to just always keep plugging," Campbell said. "The 'O' line was doing a great job all day. They just kept getting after them, and eventually that wears a defense down. By the end of the game, the defense was worn down, they weren't real aggressive, so I was able to break a couple."
The "great" defensive stops - and the play of the "O" lne - finally added up to what every Lehigh fan really ultimately wanted this Saturday - the win.
"I'm happy that we found a way to win the football game," Coen said.