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Sunday's Word: I

It's one the oldest, but best, cliches there are: there's no "I" in team.

And looking back on Lehigh's gut-check 27-24 win over nationally-ranked Liberty, you can't help but look over the team aspect of football, and how the Mountain Hawk's team play resulted in the huge win at Murray Goodman this weekend.

It's clear that the players on this Lehigh team weren't looking at themselves in the mirror this past week, basking in a 2-1 record, a "moral victory" against New Hampshire, and getting caught up in their statistics.  Instead, they were working on their team play, their gameplan for the week, and the wrinkles they'd put in the playbook.

The Mountain Hawks players' attention to those details is what made the win on Saturday.  (more)

Right after the post game press conference, head coach Andy Coen wanted to highlight something to the members of the media present.

It was a patch, that he wore on his sleeve (and many other college football head coaches around the nation this weekend) highlighting the "Coach to Cure" program, to find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

That he would want to highlight this worthy program - at a time when he could have held court in the post-game press conference, focusing on his great coaching decisions, or heaping praise on himself - says a lot about this football team and the players on his team.

When you get right down to it, football is the ultimate team game.

In no other sport do you need to get forty or fifty athletes on the same page, executing the same play, making the proper substitutions, doing all the right things.

And looking over at the Liberty sideline, it's easy to get caught up in looking at the individual statistics or talent level of the players involved.

Senior QB Mike Brown is indeed a great player, as is senior WR Chris Summers, and they indeed showed exactly how good they are - individually, that is - on Saturday.

Brown and Summers are great football talents - the 6'5 Summers in particular looked like he had the speed, height, and ability of an NFL receiver, making not one but several highlight-reel catches.

There were times when Summers show a burst that made the Lehigh defense look bad.  His weaving touchdown play of 52 yards in particular is an interesting clip you can catch on ESPN3, for example.

But as great as both individual players are for the Flames, it seems like much of the time that they weren't playing as well together as a team as they might have been able to.

Seven penalties loomed large against the Flames, and it was well documented that the Flames had three scores called back due to penalties - an extraordinary statistic.

One, a personal foul, that was completely unnecessary and erased a touchdown early in the game.

But the penalty was only half the story.

The flag came on third down and five from the Lehigh 11 yard line.  The infraction brought them to the Lehigh 26, meaning they needed 20 yards to get a first down.

On 3rd down, instead of going for the sticks, Brown instead went towards Summers on the right side - where he then, inexplicably, went out of bounds at the 13 yard line.

Summers could have tried to turn and reach the sticks, but didn't.

And the ensuing missed FG, kicked from the more-difficult right hashmark, ended up being the difference in the game.

While it's easier to focus on an individual series, overall one got the sense that Liberty's heads weren't completely in the game this weekend, based on some of the blown assignments, boneheaded penalties, and untimely turnovers.

Contrast that to coach Coen, who focused on the team aspect of the game this week to his squad, eerily sensing that perhaps the team aspect of the game might be the X-factor that gives Lehigh the victory on Saturday.

“We talked to the kids last night about being a team, not just 'this guy is a good player, that guy is a good player'. In all three phases the kids really fed off each other,” Coen said. “We preach to the kids about physical toughness and mental toughness and showed a lot about both those things today. That gave us the opportunity to beat a good football team.”

Lehigh certainly was not flawless when it came to execution, either - with some untimely Lehigh penalties, a bad snap on a punt, and allowing some big plays on defense, and coach Coen, junior LB Billy Boyko and senior RB Zach Barket said as much, too, in the postgame press conference.

When you look at Billy's comments in particular, he talked more about his disappointment in giving up big plays rather than his joy at beating Liberty.

"We had a lot of blitzing to keep contain on him, make him uncomfortable," he said. "I think we did an OK job with that, but there were a few big plays that we gave up, and we have to get better at that."

All three, too, focused on the team elements of the game as well, and how it all works.

"Everything works together," Boyko said.  "When our offense makes a big play, we get hyped up, and if they get let down, we need to step up.  We always work together.  I think we worked real well as a team today, since - when someone needed to step up, they stepped up."

"Sophomore RB Keith Sherman is a heck of a player," junior RB Zach Barket said in his characteristic, selfless way.  "and sophomore FB Sean Farrell made a heck of a play, along with a couple big plays by a bunch of guys.  The common theme of today was big plays by everybody.  It was a real team game out there.  I think it was a total team effort out there today."

"The defense saved us," he added.  "We can't play like that in the fourth quarter again and expect to win a game".

*****

What was probably the most impressive thing about Lehigh's win this weekend was the fact that they didn't play their best game.

They made mistakes - they gave up some big plays - yet still won.  Against a nationally-ranked team.

But it's the little, team things they did that won them this game.

Junior CB Bryan Andrews, grabbing onto Summers long enough to contain him, leading to the Flames settling for 3 points instead of 7.

A perfect onsides kick by junior PK Jake Peery, allowing the momentum shift and the touchdown connection, Lum to junior WR Ryan Spadola, one play later.  The kick had everyone on Liberty fooled.

Senior QB Chris Lum, making way for Wildcat junior QB Michael Colvin, to get some key yards - and to execute a critical 4th down conversion, pitching a perfect option to a not-quite-100% Barket, to keep the chains moving.

All phases of the game had big plays to win this game - plenty more than can be recounted here.  And despite the kinks and some things that need to be worked out, the team came together enough to win.  The "team efforts" truly were the difference between beating Liberty and a 33-17 defeat to the Flames.

It seems like this team is at a point where they know, and understand, that it's not all about personal accolades or highlight-reel catches.  If it doesn't result in the victory, it couldn't be more hollow for them.

And most importantly, it looks like this team isn't focusing on me, myself, and "I".

If the Mountain Hawks continue to keep their focus on the team, not focus so much on their individual performances, and learn from their mistakes and improve every week, it could be a very, very special season for these guys.

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