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Game Preview, Columbia at Lehigh, 10/6/2012

If Columbia head coach Pete Mangurian ever wants to take on another line of work, he'd be a great blogger.

Perhaps it's understandable that he hasn't done a lot of blogging in his first year as the Lion head coach - I can imagine he's, um, a bit busy -  but his blog makes for interesting reading when he does.

Last weekend, after a particularly tough 33-6 defeat to Princeton,  Mangurian made the game about something other than the lopsided score, or the turnovers - he made it about the fans.

It also highlights that Mangurian is in the middle of a rebuilding job at Columbia, and the fact that there will be growing pains as he crafts a winning football team in upper Manhattan.

Here's Mangurian's blog posting:

The highlight to last Saturday’s game versus Princeton was YOU. You came, you yelled and you were into it – don’t quit now. Don’t be haunted by those people who live in the negative, have all the reasons why it can’t be done, isn’t being done and has never been done. Don’t allow their voices to be louder than yours. There will be growing pains.  There are a lot more issues here than dropped passes and missed tackles. You guys be the constant.  You guys keep coming, keep screaming, keep painting yourself blue (that was awesome), and keep expecting more from us.  We will deliver and you are helping. The “ghosts” out there tell me you won’t come.  I believe they are wrong.  I’ve seen it in person and it was great.

The day is approaching where everyone will want to be a part of what we are doing. As crazy as it sounds, we need your help more now than we will then. Our seniors will not be here to realize the full reward of their work, but they are a huge part of this effort. Some of you may not be around to see it all come together, but rest assured your presence is instrumental in these efforts. Keep coming to the games.  Keep screaming.  Have fun and be a part of our efforts.

I have been to Wien Stadium, Columbia's home at the upper tip of Manhattan, and it's a beautiful place to watch a game, if a bit tough to get to.  The crowds generally aren't huge, even when they are winning - only 4,469 made it to see the Lions take on Princeton - but they are loud, and a surprising number of students do make the fairly long subway ride to watch the game, making it a fun gameday atmosphere, especially when they play a local team like Fordham.

However, while Mangurian was clearly impressed with the fans that did show up, there were some interesting statements buried in his post.  "There are a lot more issues here than dropped passes and missed tackles," implying that they are issues.  "Don’t be haunted by those people who live in the negative, have all the reasons why it can’t be done, isn’t being done and has never been done," implying that there are people that do live in those places.

Mangurian's point, I'm sure, is not to emphasize that his team is missing tackles, but to change perceptions.

It is true that the New York media very rarely takes time out to cover the FCS programs in its backyard, and when they do, it's frequently to emphasize that they're not LSU and that they're "small college football", conveying the impression that it's all about less-than-talented players, turnovers and incompetence, rather than scoring more points than the other guys,.  After all, so the flawed reasoning goes, isn't Columbia an Ivy League School, so they couldn't care less about football?

It's not true at all, of course.  Columbia, like all Ivy League teams, attract NFL-caliber players to their ranks.  I'm not just talking about NFL hall-of-fame QB Sid Luckman, either: more recently, DE Marcellus Wiley parlayed his time in Manhattan into an NFL career and a post-NFL career as an football analyst and national radio celebrity.

For Columbia, the historic losing streak of the mid-1980s seems to perennially dog the Lions when it comes to national coverage.  It already wouldn't be easy to break through the media fog, with the NFL's Giants a preseason favorite to return to the playoffs, the NFL's Jets with QB Tim Tebow-mania, the Yankees potentially headed to the October Classic, the Knicks poised to be resurgent, and countless other distractions.

Even though they don't even hold the record anymore for consecutive losses (Prairie View A&M now holds that ignominious record), and the fact that it happened more than a quarter-century ago, the stink of losing from that streak appears to still persist, thanks largely to the laziness of the New York media in covering their local teams.  To them, if it ain't LSU, the New York press snootily seem to assert, it ain't worth covering.

That's the "people who live in the negative" that Mangurian is referring to.

That puts Columbia, in Year One of the Mangurian rebuilding effort, with only one or two shots to get their names in the New York papers at all this year - and one of those shots would be by beating nationally-ranked Lehigh in Murray Goodman Stadium this Saturday.

Mangurian even seemed to imply as much in his blog post.  "Our seniors will not be here to realize the full reward of their work," he says, "but they are a huge part of this effort. Some of you may not be around to see it all come together, but rest assured your presence is instrumental in these efforts. Keep coming to the games.  Keep screaming.  Have fun and be a part of our efforts."

He knows that, barring a big upset of, say, Lehigh or perhaps Harvard, Columbia's efforts this season probably won't get much notice in, say, the New York Post.  Their gameday efforts this year will more likely be a legacy to build on for future teams to compete for Ivy League championships (or, in most Ivy League fans, players, and coaches' dreams, the FCS playoffs).

But every college football team is out there to compete.  They live for these moments - to line up against the best on their schedule, and win.  And Lehigh offers Columbia their chance this week - at the moment, the highest-ranked team on their schedule.

It can unite a team: make them play out of their minds, and give them that one thing, especially the seniors, they can look back upon fondly when their playing careers are over.

Is that enough to make this a game?  Certainly.  Any Given Saturday, and sophomore RB Rich Sodeke in particular didn't seem like he was overlooking Columbia whatsoever.

"Columbia has a very, very good 'D' line," he said, "and they're very good tacklers in the secondary.  It's going to be a tough game, but we need to make people miss and make big plays when we're supposed to."

"Some people might call it one of those trap games, you come off an emotional win, a non-league opponent," head coach Andy Coen said.  " I just talked to our players and said, 'hey, watch the film against Fordham.'  Columbia had every opportunity to take them out, and we were just in a dogfight with the Rams.  I think they're a very capable team.  Traditionally, they're not one of the powers, but every year they've got good, talented football players."

"I think they're going to be coming out fast," senior DE Anthony Verderame said.  "They have speed with their skill players - not like something we haven't seen before, but that could hurt us.  I think we need to put our best effort out on the field and make sure we do everything in our power to maintain our intensity for the entire game."

For Lehigh, in a way it's the last tune-up game before the league games, the ones that will determine the Patriot League's autobid.  It is a final chance to tweak, to look at things, before league play begins.  But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.  Every opponent is looking at the Mountain Hawks and circling the schedule, wondering if this will be the week, will they be the team, that knocks Lehigh off their perch.

Even if coach Mangurian finished his blog posting with, "See you at Dartmouth!" - skipping over away games with Lehigh and Penn in the next two weeks.

Lehigh fans might be hoping that Columbia is overlooking them this week at Murray Goodman, but nothing, I'm sure, could be further from the truth.

Game Notes
Sadly, it wouldn't be a week in Lehigh football with another injury, and re-shuffle, on the offensive line.  With the injury to senior OL Vinny Pelligrini, in the game notes this week we see the return of junior OL Matt Lippincott this week in his left guard spot, and it might not be surprising to see senior OL Lex Utt in that spot, too, at times.  For those scoring at home, it's the sixth different offensive line configuration in six games, and that's not even counting senior TE Jamel Haggins, who missed two games early in the year.  (Thankfully, he's still the starter this week.)

Other than that, though, Lehigh got through the Fordham shootout relatively unscathed, though sophomore DB Jason Suggs will not be available this weekend with an unspecified injury. To fill in for him in dime packages is sophomore DB Stephen Wilmington, and for special teams I'm guessing freshman WR Derek Knott would be the backup returning punts.

Weather Report
After a blast of Indian Summer weather, about the only thing we know for sure about this weekend's weather is that it will be cooler, with a high of 68 at gametime.  There's currently a 30% chance of showers, according to Weather.com, but they should be sprinkles, not downpours, so by all means don't let it deter you from coming to Murray Goodman.

A Word on Columbia

It seems like I've physically attended more than my share of Lehigh/Columbia games over the years.  Not only did I attend the "bus game" in 1999, I also attended the thriller in Wien Stadium in 1998, and the last tie in Lehigh history.  It seems like Lehigh and Columbia has a strangeness associated with it in the last fifteen years.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am perennially late for everything, and October 2nd, 1999, was no exception.  I was still on Route 78 when I tuned in the news that Columbia's bus - if memory serves me right - was stuck in massive traffic after a big accident, meaning the Lions were late in being available for the walkthrough and pushing the kickoff past 1:30PM.

To me, who was unsurprisingly late for kickoff, this was a great boon - I could actually stop and tailgate with my friends before rolling into the stadium before the game.  The late kickoff was actually the latest kickoff ever at Murray Goodman, since at that time early season kickoffs were at 1:00PM, unlike the season-long 12:30PM kickoffs that have since been instituted.

When we did get into the stadium, we saw Lehigh's championship offense move the ball at will against the hapless Lions, with QB Phil Stambaugh and RB Ron Jean lighting up the stat sheet with 600 total offensive yards.  Under then-offensive coordinator Andy Coen, the 63 points scored in that game was only eclipsed once in the past 13 years, by Lehigh's 69-0 win over Georgetown in 2002.

The game in 1998 was a lot more thrilling - a 20-19 win at Wien Stadium that the 5-0 Mountain Hawks took, thanks to a 47 yard FG by PK Jaron Taafe in the final minute.  The Lions, in the last five minutes of the game, had an extra point hit the upright, and missed two field goals to end the game, including a 33 yarder and a 57 yarder.

It was a cold day, and the visiting bleachers reeked of cigar smoke, but my friends and I went home very happy.  Speaking after the game, Taafe didn't mince any words: "That's about my limit," he said.

The 28-28 tie came in 1994, a game which was a sloppy affair, but had as a bright spot the play of DE Rich Owens, who would later spend some time in the NFL.  His blocked extra point would preserve the tie for Lehigh.  It was head coach Kevin Higgins' first year as Lehigh head coach, and his Mountain Hawks would finish 5-5-1 - which was also Lehigh's last .500 record as well.

LFN's Drink of the Week
Columbia has a blog about their student life - or, perhaps, I should say bwog, the "blog incarnation of the Blue & White" newspaper.  Lucky for me, looking at their blog, er, bwog, I found some helpful tips for disguising alcoholic drinks in regular old drink containers.  I thought, what better place to find a "Drink of the Week"?

My favorite, in honor of the Baby Blue of Columbia, is the "Blue Nalgene" - 1 part vodka, 1 part Sprite, and a splash of blue curacao.  While it's very unclear to my how hiding this in a Snapple bottle would fool anybody, the "Blue Nalgene" seems like an appropriate drink to have at the tailgates this weekend - whether in an old Snapple bottle, or a tumbler on the rocks.

I implore you to please drink responsibly when tailgating.  As always, I don't mind folks enjoying a few drinks, whether it be Champagne, Blue Nalgenes, or any alcoholic drinks  - but for Heaven's sakes don't get behind the wheel of a car afterwards. Thanks.

The Five Songs on my Mixtape for Columbia
Ever feel like you were too clever by half?  After using up my best New York-themed songs for Fordham, I subsequently forgot to leave myself any for the game against Columbia.  Let's hope that's not an omen for this weekend... and let's hope my creativity will be something that Lehigh can dial up this Saturday as well.

1. Blue Moon (The Marcels)
2.  F***ng Perfect (Dark Intensity Remix) (Pink)
3. Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones)
4. Boom Boom Pow (David Guetta Remix) (Black Eyed Peas featuring LMFAO)
5. New York, New York (Frank Sinatra)

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