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Game Preview: Holy Cross at Lehigh

(Photo Credit: Associated Press via the San Francisco Examiner)

It's been a strange week this week for the Lehigh football program.

When they came home after their 45-25 win over Colgate, they came home to a dark campus.  A power outage had knocked most of the lights on campus - including the electricity in the Lehigh athletics office.

Which, in the run up to the home game against the Crusaders this weekend, is par for the course.

Since head coach Tom Gilmore became the head of the Holy Cross football program, whenever the Crusaders have come to Bethlehem, strange things have happened - and the Mountain Hawks have come out on the losing end of the deal.
The freak October snowstorm affected the Crusaders, too - but not in a good way.

Facing off against Georgetown at home in a critical Patriot League game, the Crusaders gave up a two field goals to the visitors while the first snowflakes fell on Fitton field - and then were unable to mount a serious offensive challenge once the snow got thicker and the field got more messy.

Hampered by five turnovers, including three fumbles alone in the first half, Holy Cross actually outgained the Hoyas 300-240, but ultimately could not convert on drives in the second half - turning over the ball three times on downs, and twice in the Hoya red zone.

But Holy Cross still has designs on a Patriot League championship - which is still possible, despite the loss to Georgetown - and will be coming to a place where Lehigh has had trouble with the Crusaders in the past.

In 2005, head coach Pete Lembo's final year as head coach, Lehigh lost at Murray Goodman 13-10, in a freakish rainstorm that left the grass field with huge puddles.   The Mountain Hawks had ten fumbles on the wet afternoon, losing three of them, and the Crusaders would win on a punt return for a touchdown and a late touchdown pass.

In 2007, head coach Andy Coen's second year as head coach, Lehigh suffered their worst-ever loss at Murray Goodman - a 59-10 whitewash that was a true statement game by Gilmore.  Losses to Lafayette hurt the most, of course, but this one hurt almost as much as those due to what it signified: that Lehigh was no longer an elite team, able to show up on Saturday having half won the game already.

In 2009, the final season of record-setting Crusader QB Dominic Randolph, Lehigh, battling to possibly save Coen's job, lost a close one, but still lost, 24-20 at Murray Goodman. "This weekend, Lehigh got the respect back," I wrote at the time. "The effort wasn't as good as pulling off the upset of the decade, but still ought not to be fogotten. It should be an important building block for this young team for the future. If Lehigh plays like this the last two games, they will have a chance to win both."

And this week, it's a power outage that throws Lehigh's preparations for Holy Cross for a loop, according to Keith Groller of the Morning Call:

"Fortunately, we have enough guys who live off campus that we were able to have guys who live on campus stay with them. And there was one dorm that was operational and a lot of our young guys were in there." 
From a football standpoint, Coen appreciated how the Lehigh administration handled all of the arrangements, and he also thanked Moravian football coach Jeff Pukszyn and athletic director Scot Dapp for sharing some space in their complex on Sunday. 
"We also got some help from Lafayette with our digital video exchange from Georgetown because we didn't have any access to get it and we were able to go over there and upload our stuff there, so I want to thank them for being so cooperative," Coen said. 
Lehigh actually moved its football "offices" into the Best Western hotel at Routes 22 and 512 for a couple of days. 
"We never had a chance to see all of our kids until 2:15 [Tuesday] before practice," Coen said. "Sometimes this stuff bothers coaches more than it does kids, but we just checked and made sure everyone was all right. It seems like our guys handled it well." 
But Coen said a full sense of normalcy wasn't going to be felt until Wednesday night's practice.
"Between the support of the people on campus, starting with [athletic director] Joe Sterrett, and the other schools and that hotel, we were able to get our work done," Coen said. "I think we're where we need to be and we've prepared the kids. But it certainly has been a crazy week. Everything has felt different and we've been out of our routine, which you don't like as a coach because we're creatures of habit."

Is the power outage, and the strange week, going to affect this Lehigh team on Saturday?

Game Notes
This week's game notes show something highly unusual - namely, the same starting offensive line, of senior OL Troy McKenna, senior OL Keith Schauder, senior OL Jim Liebler, junior OL Mike Vuono, and sophomore OL Matt Lippincott - from last week to this week.  For the first time in weeks, there has been continuity in the front five, and throughout this team, as the exact same starting unit will return from last week.

Even better news is the return of two linebackers, senior LB Tanner Rivas and junior LB Sam Loughery, to the depth chart after weeks of absence. Loughery is questionable for this weekend, but the entire team seems as healthy as they've been all season.

Weather Report
In stark contrast to the freak snowstorm last weekend, this weekend's game will be beautiful November weather, with a scheduled high of 51 and "mainly sunny" skies.   A perfect weekend for tailgating at Murray Goodman - and lending your voice to cheer the home team for a "W".

A Word on Holy Cross
Murray Goodman Stadium has been the site of an amazing number of struggles for the guys in Brown and White, including a classic game twenty years ago that stands as one of the greatest games in stadium history.

In 1991, 19th-ranked Lehigh accomplished something they hadn't done since 1957 - go undefeated in their first six games.

But standing in Lehigh's way of their first-ever Patriot League title was No. 3-ranked Holy Cross, who was also undefeated, had arguably the best quarterback in all of I-AA, QB Tom Ciaccio.

The Crusaders, who had won their last 34 games against I-AA opponents, were still on a different stratosphere as Lehigh.

"This is exactly what we wanted," Lehigh QB Glenn Kempa told the Brown & White at the time. "We couldn't ask for anything better than to be going against them with both teams being undefeated."

What transpired at Murray Goodman was a classic - a game that is still talked about twenty years later by the players and fans that were there.

With both offenses held to a 7-7 halftime score, the 14,000 fans that filled the stadium witnessed a second half that was an incredible chess match of offensive execution by Kempa, Ciaccio, Lehigh head coach Hank Small and Holy Cross head caoch Tim Duffner.

Lehigh and Holy Cross would convert four straight touchdowns, taking up about eight minutes of play.  But a pair of interceptions by Kempa - including one which was intercepted by DL Corey Vincent, and then lateralled to DL Greg Draddy which he converted for the touchdown - were converted into touchdowns, making the score Holy Cross 35, Lehigh 21.

But Lehigh would come up with two huge defensive plays of their own - with DL Rik Ripak "ripping the ball out of Ciacco's hands and rumbling 71 yards to the Crusader 4 yard line", the Brown & White said.

Then another fumble, this one forced by LB Lee Picarrello, would set up another Lehigh touchdown, making the score 35-34 with 3:46 left in the game.

That set up the play that was supposed to win Lehigh the game: the "fumblerooski" play.  Recently, a member of that team, going by the moniker "Doc QB", talked about the play.

Another grad assistant, Al Snyder, was a former LU back-up QB who backed up Kempa the year prior. LU scored to pull within one, and it was Al who said to Coach Small, "How about the fumblerooskie?" That was to be our game winner, as we had just scored late (only three minutes or so remained), and a successful two pointer there would seal the game, first win over HC ever, and conference crown.  
Well, it worked, and it was awesome. But Ciacco drove HC right back and scored and HC went up AGAIN. And with little time left, Kempa somehow rallied us for another score. With our best two point play spent, our next one in the bank was an endzone combo pattern, some teams call it a smash route, a high-low on a hard corner with inside guy running a corner route, wide guy a pirouette five yard in route. Always tough to defend, as the CB is isolated. Tough to defend unless you have six men under in coverage, the so called "picket fence." Which is what HC did, our two pt play fell imcomplete into very tight coverage.
I remember that game very well as a student among those 14,000 fans watching this epic battle of unbeatens.

Even though Lehigh lost, there was this feeling in the air that we had witnessed something that doesn't happen every day in the world of college football - our own, smaller version of Stanford/Cal in 1981, or Harvard "beating" Yale 29-29.

It's worth commemorating the twenty year anniversary of this particular game - a game that gave the Patriot League a credibility, and an identity.

LFN's Drink of the Week
It's going to be a cool, November morning, and 50 degrees at kickoff.  You'll have burgers, hotdogs, maybe some deviled eggs or maybe even a clambake.  What drink, praytell, does with all of this?

That's easy: A classicYuengling traditional lager.  Perfectly in tune with grilled beef or steamers, the roasted caramel malt, pointed hop flavor and smooth finish perfectly complements any wacky tailgating food you throw at it.

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that.


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