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Lehigh 34, Holy Cross 17, Final

It seems like this season Lehigh's football seniors were busily trying to tick off everything on their "bucket list" they'd meant to do before they graduated.

Beat Princeton: Check. Have a winning season against the Ivy League: Check. Chest-bump head coach Andy Coen: Check. Come back from a three-score deficit: Check. Douse coach Coen with ice water after a victory: Check.

There was last weekend's win against Colgate, too. Sure, that game also was a check mark, but that meant a lot more than just that. It would erase three years of futility against head coach Dick Biddle and the Raiders, sure. But to beat them for the first time - and in such successful fashion - meant a whole lot more than just the victory.

And it also would allow the seniors to make another more important check mark: Winning Season: Check.

It was a brisk, perfect football Saturday at Fitton Field this Saturday where Lehigh finally beat Holy Cross 34-17. And in the process - and a Lafayette loss to Colgate - the Lehigh seniors crossed off two more very big items off of their bucket list this week.

Beat Holy Cross: Check. Patriot League Championship: Check. (more)

It had been a while since Lehigh had played a game that meant this much.

There were three Lehigh/Lafayette games, of course, two of which resultied in big wins. They were games that carry with them large expectations against their longstanding and most-played rivals. Beating Lafayette comes with the territory - they mean a whole lot more than just another regular-season game.

But the last three years, these games were the "bowl game" at the end of the season: the seniors knew that, after "The Rivalry", that would be it. Not to play down what the wins over Lafayette meant - they were not only key checkmarks on the bucket list, they were incredibly important wins - but after their "bowl game", there would be no title, no shot at a national championship afterwards.

Up in Worcester today, though, a win over Holy Cross would mean a lot more than just another item they could check off their bucket list. It would mean a perfect 3-0 record in Patriot League play - and if Colgate could do Lehigh a favor and beat Lafayette this afternoon, Lehigh would clinch a share of their first Patriot League title since 2006. They'd only need to win one of their final two games to win it outright, too, and win the autobid for their first playoff appearance since 2004.

Going into the game, they wouldn't know that Colgate would knock off Lafayette 24-14, as that game would end much later. All Lehigh knew was that this game meant a lot, and that winning in Worcester against the guys in purple would mean at worst being in control of their destiny in the title race.

The first half saw both teams struggle to grab the momentum, starting out a little surprisingly as a defensive struggle.

"I don't think our offensive execution was real sharp early in the game," coach Coen said, "but we did make some plays to get the lead. I was not happy with the penalties, or the turnovers - as a coach, sometimes you say you're not happy about certain things, but then you look and say, wow, you beat a pretty good football team 34-17 even though you made all these mistakes."

"I started out a little slow, but we're a good offense," junior QB Chris Lum said. "We keep plugging, and good things are going to happen. Our offense is very confident. We know we can move the ball, but we were upset on offense that we didn't score as much as we could have."

Lum got the scoring started with a misdirection to the right, and then found a wide-open senior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn on the left side.

But the play that really showed that momentum was wearing Brown & White came on the last play of the first half.

With 17 seconds left at the 5, Lum rolled right, turned around, threw left across the field to senior TE Alex Wojdowski at the 5 yard line, catching the ball with about 5 seconds left to play, A Holy Cross defender had him stood up - but "Wojdo" did a side step out of "Dancing with the Stars" to cause the defender to miss the tackle at the 3, and crossed the goal line with no time left.

Just like that - despite a sluggish first half - the hafltime score read Lehigh 14, Holy Cross 3, and it felt like an even bigger deficit than that.

"I went through my progressions, and Wojdo was open," Lum said. "He made a great play after the catch, like all our receivers. That was big for us, huge momentum."

"We kid about it, but we drill those one-on-one tackling situations a lot during training camp," Coen noted, "and he's always been out best guy with the tight ends and the running backs. For some reason he's got a knack for that. A lot of his touchdowns were wide-open types: I joked with him, I told him: 'You finally worked for one.'"

All game Lehigh and Holy Cross were battling for momentum, but Lehigh's prevention of some big plays going the other way also played heavily in the outcome.

A fumble recovery early in the third quarter that looked like it was going to be returned for a touchdown by LB Alex Johnson - but senior OL Will "Got Your Back" Rackley made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Holy Cross 28 yard line, which ended up being a three-and-out.

"I couldn't really see it, it was all the way across the field," Coach Coen said, "but that would have been huge for them had they could have gotten points out of that. The defense stepped up and stopped any momentum they could have had there."

Also in the third quarter, Lum's day featured a new dimension that had never fully been seen before - a hitherto undiscovered running game.

On some critical third down situations in the second half, the Crusader defense's blanket coverage caused Lum to make the decision to take off with the ball - and get some critical third down conversions.

When Lum was shown the stat sheet and told he led the team in rushing, he smiled and said, "That's a first, I can tell you that."

"In my highlight DVD my senior year in high school, I have one play of me running the ball - and it was a designed pass play. I don't run the ball that much, but we saw they made some adjustments with sophomore WR Ryan Spadola, so there was nobody there. It was there today, so I ran the ball for some key first downs. It's about reacting and instincts."

Lum had eight rushes for 64 yards - not including a 15 yard run for a TD, but was brought back on a holding penalty - and on every run he was punished by the Holy Cross linebacking unit.

After one of those big runs, Lum once again went across the field to hit junior WR Jake "Drizzy-J" Drwal with a fingertip catch, which he took in for the touch to make the game 21-3.

But Holy Cross didn't give up quietly. Despite Lehigh's scoring, many times during the game momentum was definitely purple. Aided by some big rushes by QB Ryan Taggart, a pretty reception by WR Mike Fess and a 3rd-and-10 penalty on Lehigh, a designed rush by WR Gerald Mistretta cut the deficit to two scores - and made it look like momentum could indeed come back to the Crusaders.

But it was the running game's turn of Lum (with another huge third down conversion), sophomore QB Michael Colvin, senior RB Jay Campbell and sophomore QB Zach Barket, who ended a time-consuming drive with a beautiful 17 yard scamper that brought Lehigh's lead to three touchdowns once again.

After that, Lehigh was able to really make their win - and, ultimately, Patriot League championship-winning - game firmly in the win column.

"We talked about it during the week, what [Holy Cross] was good at was playing their defense," Coen said. "They don't take a lot of chances, the play their defense and they play it very well. We knew that were were going to need to be consistent."

It wasn't always pretty; but it was pretty enough. And don't tell these seniors anything different as they continue checking things off their bucket list.


HC73 said…
Well deserved win!! Good luck in the playoffs and make the PL proud.
Anonymous said…
What a great season this is shaping up to be. Chris Lum, if not for a slow start to the season, would be a shoo-in league MVP candidate, and might still be. PLEASE dear lord, stay healthy these next 2 weeks.

Holy cow..W&M or Delaware await..

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