When head coach Andy Coen was asked where the win this weekend ranks with him - excluding the wins against Lafayette in "The Rivalry", of course - a smile escaped.
Coen wasn't the only smiling Mountain Hawk fan this afternoon, either.
In a game that was billed as one that would probably be a dogfight until the very end, Lehigh jumped out to a 31-0 lead and never really looked back in a 44-14 stomping.
The Maroon Marauders that were supposed to run all over Lehigh's "bend but don't break" defense with the top rusher in FCS, RB Nate Eachus, didn't. The Lehigh offense, that was supposed to struggle against a top-flight team, didn't. This Lehigh team, which was supposed to lose the close games against the great opponents, didn't.
It had to be the most satisfying non-Lafayette win in coach Coen's career. (more)
Coach Coen and special teams coach R.J. Ryan knew something was not quite right with the Colgate side about a half an hour before gametime as Colgate was going through pregame warmups.
"Coach Ryan turned to me and said, 'Who's their quarterback out there?'", noting that QB Greg Sullivan, the preseason Patriot League Player of the Year, wasn't throwing the ball, and backup QB Scott Rizzo was instead.
Sullivan's absence - as well as WR Doug Rosnick's, also unavailable due to injury - were two major surprises to emerge from the Colgate bus this afternoon. Without any pregame injury report from Colgate, or Colgate media day, and not a thing mentioned in Colgate's pregame notes, there was no word to anybody in the press box or anywhere else that key players could be missing.
But that didn't change much as to how Lehigh's defense was going to work on Colgate's attack.
"We had a plan in which we were accounting for both the quarterback and tailback," Coen said, "Sullivan is a magician at their game, and not having him slowed them down a little. But I still thought our guys played an outstanding, inspired game."
The defense did play an inspired game for sure. For starters, they held Eachus, Mr. Tailback extraordinare, to 124 yards and 0 TDs. They held the Raiders to 215 yards rushing - seventy yards below their average. They held Colgate to 7 of 21 on 3rd and 4th down - and even on their successful conversions, like a 4th-and-inches from their own 30 that Eachus made, he got stood up strong by junior LB Mike Groome (15 tackles) and punished by a brown swarm of Lehigh defenders.
They racked up 11 tackles for loss, including 4 sacks, against the normally run-happy Raiders. Senior DE Ben Flizack was a force up front for the Mountain Hawks in particular, with 6 tackles and 1 1/2 of those sacks.
"The plan was to get Rizzo out of his comfort zone a little bit," Flizack said. "The 'D' line stepped up to fill the gaps on the run. We pride ourselves on stopping the run. If we stopped the run, we felt we had a pretty good chance of winning this game. Once we did that, and forced them to pass, we thought we had a pretty good chance of winning."
The biggest tackle behind the line of scrimmage on the afternoon, however, may not have registered on the stat sheet.
Midway through the second quarter, senior LB Al Pierce absolutely crushed Rizzo as he tossed the ball to his wideout - which ended up underthrown and into the hands of senior CB Jarard "Main Man" Cribbs, with nothing but green ahead of him. His pick six made the score Lehigh 24, Colgate 0, and really seemed to deflate the 'Gate.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’re playing your technique,” Cribbs said. “He can throw you one and you’ve got to capitalize off of it. That’s what our defense is about. Once the situation arises, you’ve got to win a play and step up if you want to make plays and win championships.”
As fantastic as the defense played - only allowing two touchdowns, one after a very short kickoff and another after a muffed punt - it was the offense's performance, against Colgate's healthy defense, what really stood out.
Junior QB Chris Lum started the game with four straight completions, ending with his first TD of the game, a 16 yard toss across the grain to freshman FB Sean Farrell that was caught at about the 8 - and Farrell, building a head of steam, locomotived to the pylon and tagged it with the football.
On the ensuing drive Lum suffered three incompletions.
He would only have two more incompletions the entire game.
Lum would finish with by far the best game of his career, going 17-for-22 passing for 310 yards and two TDs, while adding 6 yards rushing and a 1 yard sneak for one of the six Lehigh TDs on the afternoon.
Sophomore WR Ryan Spadola was still Lum's favorite target, grabbing 6 catches for 96 yards, but senior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn, with 5 catches and 107 yards, left it all out there on senior day to lead the Mountain Hawks in receiving yardage. Seven different Lehigh players caught passes with junior WR Jake Drwal and senior TE Alex Wojdowski getting touchdown grabs. Sophomore QB Michael Colvin connected with "Wojdo" on a faked Wildcat run, then lofting a perfect rainbow pass to him in the end zone without a defender in sight.
Lum credited a strong game from his offensive line - who didn't allow a sack all day, and gave him lots of time to throw all afternoon - and his sure-handed receivers.
"All around, I think we were clicking very well," Lum said. "I always felt we were capable of doing what we did today. We had shown flashes before, but we were inconsistent. Today, we just did it on almost every single drive. It was a lot of fun."
It would have been an impressive surgical dissection of any defense, but to the seniors possibly playing their last-ever home football game, what made it especially memorable is that it came against Colgate.
"This is my first time beating Colgate since I've been here," Cribbs said after the game. "How we put it together, the defense was giving the ball to the offense, everything's clicking, and we're all working as one cohesive unit, it really feels great."
"I really enjoyed today, I ain't gonna lie," Coen said, just barely hiding that smile. "Because our seniors hadn't beaten Colgate. It's the best win... until, hopefully, next week. They haven't beaten Holy Cross, either."