At West Long Branch, New Jersey today, the Mountain Hawks fell behind 7-0 to Monmouth - and then, with a crispness and confidence on offense not seen in quite a while on South Mountain, Lehigh ripped off three straight impressive touchdowns on their first three possessions, and Coen's team never looked back in an impressive 49-24 win. (more)
In some ways, it was a typical first game of the season, with mental lapses, some giveaways of first downs on penalties, and points where there was a of lack of focus.
But while that will give the coaching staff something to drill into the players this week, fans will likely be reveling in senior QB Chris Lum's best day every passing the ball as a member of the Brown & White.
The first drive, where it seemed like it might be a quick three-and-out, Lum instead found junior WR Ryan Spadola down the right side for 26 yards, and got the first down. From there, Lum would lead the way on a 12-play, 64 yard drive, hitting senior WR Jimmy Jefferson on a key third down and leading to a 4 yard TD run up by junior RB Zach Barket.
After the defense forced a Monmouth punt, it took all of one play - a 74 yard strike to Spadola down the right side, with Ryan turning on the jets and leaving his defensive back in the dust at around the 20 yard line.
"He's a great player," Lum said of Spadola in the post-game press conference. "I knew he would separate (from his defender)."
Spadola's reception, who was recruited by the Hawks and grew up "fifteen minutes from Monmouth", made it a particularly sweet homecoming for him.
"I had a lot of people at this game - that kind of gave me an extra surge," he said. "After going down 7-0, I kind of felt like it gave the offense more adrenaline. We went out there with something underneath us, and went to go put some points on the board. It opened up our eyes a little bit, and made us see that this was going to be a ball game."
With the lead and the momentum, Lum then engaged on a 9 play, 85 yard drive, the offense in full gear at that point. With another key 3rd down grab by Jefferson and and an impressive 21 yard strike to senior WR Jake Drwal, the Monmouth defense looked dazed as confused the next play when a beautifully constructed screen pass to Barket, with three massive blockers around him, allowed the Schuykill Haven back to rumble into the end zone to make it a 21-7 lead.
What shouldn't be lost in the three first drives was the tremendous play by the "O" Line, led by senior OL Keith Schauder and senior OL Jim Liebler. On Barket's rumble in the end zone they protected beautifully - and gave up zero sacks in the game as well.
"They all did a great job today," Barket mentioned in the post-game press conference, mentioning Schauder, Liebler, sophomore OL Matt Lippincott, junior OL Mike Vuono, and junior OL Tom Ruley. "A lot of them went through last year watching OL Will Rackley and OL Rickey Clerge play, and today I think that really showed with them. Also the tight ends, and senior FB Bryce Arruda opened up a lot of holes for me. They were really doing a good job manhandling their front seven. That makes my job a lot easier out there."
(While there were a few popcorn vendors he failed to credit for his 3 TD performance, I'm going to still go ahead and christen Mr. Barket with the nickname "Man Beast".)
The superlatives on the offensive side of the ledger jump off the page. Lehigh’s 529 total yards were its most since gaining 517 versus Fordham in 2005. Lum went 22-of-35 for 346 yards and 4 TDs. Barket got three TDs all by himself, including another beautiful 29 yard run down the right to put Lehigh up by more than three scores. And Lum’s 72 yard touchdown pass to Spadola was the longest by Lehigh since QB J.B. Clark connected with WR Sekou Yansane versus Drake in 2008.
Also something that shouldn't be lost in the offensive surge is the first interception by junior FS Billy O'Brien, three pass breakups by senior SS Jon Littlejohn, and a big tackle on third down by junior NG Sajjad Chagani, in their first games as starters.
But this day belonged to the offense - and the thought in many Lehigh fans' minds as well: is "Air Lehigh" back to stay?
"We're very confident," Lum said of his performance this afternoon. "And this performance will only help our confidence."