This week's gut-check vitory at Princeton resulted in 0 what else? - another Patriot League Player of the Week award for senior QB Chris Lum,with his 384 yard, 4 TD, zero interception performance in Lehigh's 34-22 victory.
While the Morning Call folks might have found the award ho-hum, there was plenty of press surrounding this hard-fought game this weekend. (more)
Official Release: Mountain Hawks Earn Hard-Fought Win at Princeton
“We got the ball back with six and half minutes left and I knew we had to throw it,” head coach Andy Coen said. "We had a big throw early in the drive to get us going. To run the ball in there for those last 30-40 yards was really big. My hats off to the offensive line, they really stepped up.
“Princeton was trying to play both the run and the pass on an early down but we got senior WR Ryan Spadola behind them twice. We softened them up a bit and Ryan was able to make some great catches."
Morning Call: Another Big Night For Lehigh's Lum
Express-Times: Lehigh Rallies After Slow Start for 34-22 Win
"We didn't know what kind of defense Princeton was going to run and they ran a whole new scheme, so it took us awhile to get going," Spadola said after hauling in TD receptions covering 39, 12 and 46 yards.
"We made adjustments and found their weaknesses. Then things opened up."
"We've got a balanced offense," Spadola said. "We have senior WR Jake Drwal and senior WR Jimmy Jefferson on the other side, and with senior QB Chris Lum as quarterback you can't overload any side. Chris is so bright, he's going to find the open spots and hurt you."
The Mountain Hawks (2-1) needed just seven seconds to change the momentum of the game.
“That was huge,” said Spadola, who had nine receptions for 214 yards and three touchdowns. “You come out in the second half and go down and score in the first play. Emotionally for the other team, that’s a dagger. That was huge because it got momentum on our side and going in our direction.”
The team faced a fourth-and-1 on the Princeton 28 and went to reliable junior RB Zach Barket (15 carries, 44 yards), who picked up seven yards and a first down. Lehigh kept the ball on the ground for the final 28 yards and the insurance score.
“Coach was telling us all week that it’s going to be a tough game and when we get close to the end zone the key is going to be the run and the running backs have to get down low and get it in,” said sophomore RB Keith Sherman, who played for nearby Lawrence High School. “It feels good to be back in this area and getting in the end zone.”
Morning Call: Lehigh Had Plenty of Positives at Princeton
Groller's Corner (Blog) Gameday Blog: Lehigh at Princeton
It wasn't close to perfect, nor was it close to being Lehigh's best performance of this still young 2011 season.
But Princeton coach Bob Surace was still impressed by what he saw from the Mountain Hawks on Saturday night.
"That's as good of a team as we'll play all year," Surace said of the Mountain Hawks after Lehigh defeated his Tigers 34-22. "I told [Lehigh coach Andy Coen] they're a fun a team to watch from the sideline. You just don't want to play them. That's a playoff team."
Princeton didn't score a touchdown on four trips to the red zone, settling for three field goals. The Tigers also failed to reach the end zone on a two-point conversion.
The lone Tigers touchdown came on a kickoff return.
"We didn't turn the ball over on offense and we played really good red-zone defense," Coen said. "That's two years in a row we held Princeton to a lot of field goals."
And when Lehigh needed a drive to put the game away, the guys in the brown pants got it, going 61 yards over 10 plays to get a clinching Keith Sherman touchdown run with 1:54 left.
"Their quarterback/receiver connection … wow … Spadola is just phenomenal player," Surace said after watching the All-American candidate rack up nine receptions for 214 yards and three touchdowns. "He hurt us all game long."
"We feel we have the opportunity to make a lot of plays," Spadola said. "When we have those opportunities, we just have to take advantage of them. We just have to fix our mistakes and keep working hard."
Trentonian: Tigers Can't Overcome Powerful Lehigh
Trentonian: Stephen Cody Has Emotional Return To Field
Princeton Packet: Tigers Fall in Season Opener
Daily Princetonian: No. 19 Lehigh Holds On for 34-22 Victory
Daily Princetonian: New Season, Same Story
“There’s no moral victory,” Surace said. “I expect our effort to be good. I expect us to execute better than we did. I mean, golly, we had chances, we had a lot of energy in that first half against a good team, and we didn’t get the jump on them that we needed.”
“I’ve seen pro receivers, and they have guys that are close to pro receivers. If you double-cover Spadola, [Jake] Drwal comes out; if you double-cover Drwal, you don’t have enough guys on the field — you need to go to Canada and have 12 guys out there. With two receivers like that, it’s really, really difficult."
Down for much of the game, momentum swung Princeton’s way late in the fourth quarter. WR Ivan Charbonneau brought a Lehigh punt 92 yards back for a touchdown, and the Tigers recovered the subsequent kick. QB Tommy Wornham then completed a shovel pass to freshman RB Chuck Dibilio for a touchdown, bringing the game to 27-22 Lehigh.
“It was electric,” LB Stephen Cody said. “The whole crowd was going, and everybody believed we could win that game. That’s another thing: the attitude adjustment from last year to this year was phenomenal. There was never a time when the sideline was down or guys were feeling sorry for themselves. We always felt we were in that game.”
Lehigh answered with a touchdown march that all by iced the game, but Princeton had fought back to make it a game.
”I think our effort was there the entire night,” said Dibilio, who rushed for 58 of his game-high 86 yards in the second half.
“There’s some plays that didn’t go our way, like a couple first downs they got near the end, but I didn’t see a guy that wasn’t trying. There were some tactical mistakes, but we can fix that. If we have that effort there, that’s all we can ask.”
Dibilio had no trouble ensuring that he was ready. He grew up in the shadows of Lehigh University, but last year the Nazareth High graduate chose to continue his education and football career at Princeton. It was a bonus for Dibilio when the Tigers opened with his old neighborhood team.
”I actually grew up right across the street from the stadium,” he said. “We’d walk over there and watch the games. I went to (Philadelphia) Eagles training camp all the time. Then I moved to Nazareth. It was definitely something special to play them my first game, growing up with them. I just wish we could have got the W.”
Princeton scored first, but as was a theme until Dibilio’s touchdown catch, they couldn’t get it in the end zone. Patrick Jacob kicked three field goals for the Tigers. None of them were longer than 28 yards.
”I thought we had a good plan there,” Surace said. “We really worked hard on it all preseason. We missed a few opportunities and they stopped us. They made good plays. They have good players."
”We tackled for the most part really well,” Surace said. “We held them for the most part to the gains they should have had. We got good penetration. Our front seven played better.”
”The explosive plays we have to stop,” he added. “At the end of the day, the red zone and the explosive plays really affected how we played.”
"If we keep playing hard and hustling, we will be a good team."*****
Lynchburg News & Advance: Last-Second FG Lifts JMU over Flames
Lynchburg News & Advance: Liberty-JMU Notebook
Lynchburg News & Advance: Liberty Football Wrap
Liberty QB Mike Brown’s seat for the game-ending theatrics at Williams Stadium Saturday night was on the bench, somewhere far away from the action, a towel draped over his head.
He didn’t want to watch as James Madison’s PK Cameron Starke slammed a 40-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Dukes a 27-24 victory, their third straight over LU in Brown’s four years as a Flame. Instead, he heard the crowd reaction, then headed back to the locker room to absorb another frustrating defeat against an in-state CAA foe.
“It’s disappointing,” Brown said. “It’s a missed opportunity.”
The Flames played what Brown called “one of the worst first halves since I’ve been here,” yet they managed to get to halftime down just 10-3. The second-half was a back-and-forth battle. JMU never trailed, but the Dukes couldn’t stop Liberty’s offense, either. Every time the Dukes scored, the Flames answered.
A week after suffering a nearly devastating hand injury, Liberty WR B.J. Hayes had the game of his career against the Dukes, catching nine passes for 158 yards, both career highs.
Hayes suffered a dislocated left pinky finger while fielding a punt last Saturday against Robert Morris, but because the bone didn’t break, he was able to heal enough to play against JMU. His pinky finger was buddy taped to the ring finger on his left hand, and he caught everything thrown his way Saturday.
“They were pretty much double-covering WR Chris Summers all night,” quarterback Mike Brown said. “That basically left B.J. open in one-on-ones a lot of the time, and B.J. was able to use his speed to get behind the defense. He made some big-time plays.”
Brown finally got the Flames into the end zone on Liberty’s first drive of the second half, diving over the top for a 2-yard run that tied the game at 10. JMU answered with a 10-play, 74-yard drive capped by a 10-yard Scott TD run. After Brown fired a 5-yard TD pass to B.J. Hayes to tie the game at 17, JMU took the lead again on Scott’s third touchdown, a 2-yard scamper with 12:16 left.
On the Flames’ next drive, Brown hit Summers over the middle for a 43-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24. Liberty’s defense finally got a stop on the next drive, but the Flames couldn’t answer. After the holding penalty on the 32-yard completion to Summers, JMU’s DE Aaron Harper sacked Brown on 3rd-and-long to force a punt. It was only JMU’s second stop of the second half, and the Liberty offense didn’t get another chance to take the field.
“A great quarterback you have to interrupt his rhythm. And we just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t make a play,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. “He was throwing the ball very well.”
I got the feeling from Liberty's players Saturday night that they are absolutely sick of these come-close, moral-victory type games.
They've shown the last few years that they can play with just about anybody in the nation, but the Flames haven't been able to seal the deal. And that's Liberty's reputation nationally. It's a team that can rack up wins against the likes of Charleston Southern and Presbyterian but can't finish against teams like James Madison and William & Mary. The Flames have another opportunity to make a national splash this week at Lehigh. For the season's goals, it's not a must-win game. Liberty wants to make the playoffs, and the Flames need to simply win the Big South to make that happen.