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Sunday's Word: Granite

The talk all this week in the lead-up to the opening of the 2011 season was about the right things - focusing on Monmouth.

And despite my prediction that it was "extremely unlikely that Lehigh would put up a 50 spot on the Hawks", Lehigh came awfully close to doing so - falling just one point short in a stunningly resounding 49-24 win.

For sure, this team - whose businesslike demeanor caught the attention of Morning Call columnist Keith Groller - took Monmouth seriously.

But you can tell with this team that while beating Monmouth was a good thing and the desired outcome, the first game they circled on the calendar this past offseason was the contest against New Hampshire - the team from the "granite" state that was one of the few blemishes to the 2010 season.  (more)

"It seemed like this offense was finally getting ready to blossom. I wasn't sure they could win a tough game in New Hampshire, but I had high hopes that they could score a few times, feed off some momentum shifts and maybe make a game of this thing," I wrote in my "Sunday Word" after Lehigh's 35-10 drubbing at the hands of the Wildcats last year. "Another week, though, and another week that my assumptions would be wrong. Lehigh's offense couldn't get more than 10 points off of silver-platter opportunities either set up by defensive turnovers, great special teams plays, or just flat-out boneheaded penalties from New Hampshire."

It was an ugly game, especially on the Lehigh side. With senior QB Chris Lum making the trip, but unable to start at quarterback due to a leg injury sustained versus Princeton the week before, junior QB Michael Colvin instead made the start and couldn't get anything going on offense.

As I noted in the offseason, that New Hampshire game seemed like the final appearance of the tentativeness of the Lehigh offense in 2010.  Afterwards, you know the rest of the story - the season-changing game over Harvard, the run through Patriot League play, and the playoff victory in Northern Iowa, with the dream ending in Delaware in December.

But there was always that regret about the loss in the "Granite" state - the thought about what could have happened if the offensive explosion had simply happened one week earlier.

Talking with a few members of this team this offseason and head coach Andy Coen, you know that the New Hampshire loss was one that really stuck in their minds from last year, despite all the success they had.
"After that game, I was furious," Coen said to me at Patriot League Media Day. "I was probably the most furious I've been at any loss, because we were in that game but we couldn't really push them, and in the end we just didn't."

"We have Monmouth first and I am looking forward to that game, but I am really looking forward to New Hampshire," Lum told Keith Groller at Media Day as well. "I didn't get to play against them last year because of an injury. We didn't play well up there, so we're really looking forward to that. It should be a great atmosphere."

"Those games showed there's still room for improvement because we really struggled," senior LB Mike Groome added in the same interview. "You always have a place on your shelf for next season when you lose to someone. We don't play Villanova or Delaware this season, but we play New Hampshire and that's a big game for us."

Even in the postseason interview from the Monmouth game, there was that little reveal that while the win was sweet, this team is going to be immensely fired up to see New Hampshire the following week. 

It's as if they have been waiting almost an entire year to make up for that bad performance in Durham, New Hampshire.

*****

When regular folks think of "granite" these days, they generally don't think about the state of New Hampshire, nor to they think of "granite" drink chillers, the perfect tool for drinking scotch so that the water doesn't ruin the drink.

They tend to think of it in terms of kitchens - as in countertops. 

"Granite" counters in a kitchen are meant to show off a kitchen - their buffed surfaces able to withstand the wear and tear of cutting or cooking, of course, but more likely to be a show for guests to see, and dazzle them, when they come into someone's house.

"Granite" can be pretty, but it's also tough as hell.  It's heavy, and can withstand a lot of abuse from people, which makes it a great countertop.  A beautiful counter can look good for the first day or so, but if it can't handle the workload necessary, forget it.

This weekend, Lehigh will be entertaining a team from the "granite" state - but they'll be looking to put on that show, too, that a "granite" countertop offers a kitchen.

It's likely to be a marquee matchup nationally - possibly involving two Top Ten teams.

It also guarantees that there will be more eyes watching this Lehigh home opener than ones in the past.  Folks nationally will be watching, basicially to see: is this Lehigh team for real?  Or, will New Hampshire really start the year 0-2?

The Wildcats are in no position to give away a game this season.  Their 55-28 loss at the hands of FBS Toledo on September 1st certainly had to have been a humbling experience for a team that has made beating FBS teams its calling card.

Winning this game will take "granite" for Lehigh.  They'll have to build even more on the success of last season - and the big win last weekend - to have a chance.  They'll also have to be tough as hell against a 63 scholarship, deep playoff run sort of team of the CAA.  Lehigh played three CAA teams last year, and they lost every one of them: they weren't even close.

The Monmouth win was great.  But this coming weekend will give an even better indication of who this Lehigh team actually is.

If it's "granite" - we've got a chance.

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