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Lehigh 35, Columbia 14, Final

Highlight reels can be very misleading.

I'm not saying, dear reader, that Lehigh's 35-14 win over Columbia was bad.  Not at all.  The Mountain Hawks went to 6-0 this afternoon at Murray Goodman Stadium, in front of a pacing break crowd of a little over 5,000 fans.

But if you simply judged this game by looking at the highlights, you wouldn't get an accurate impression of how this game unfolded.

Sure, Lehigh jumped to 14-0 and 21-7 leads, and the Mountain Hawks made some bursts of impressive plays to score touchdowns on Columbia.  But it was critical Lehigh mistakes that led to the Lions' 14 points - which put a bit of a damper on the post-game celebrations for Lehigh head coach Andy Coen.

"I thought the kids started out the game pretty focused," Coen said, "before going into a little lull there.  But there were too many things I wasn't pleased with."

Out of the gate, the Lehigh offense surged on a 12 play, 75 yard drive to take a quick lead.  Starting with three strating plays to senior RB Zach Barket for a first down, the opening drive would finally allow senior WR Ryan Spadola to get the monkey off his back in terms of scoring in the 2012 season after receiving a looping pass from senior QB Michael Colvin in the right hand side of the end zone for the opening score.

On Columbia's first drive, QB Sean Brackett would hit his intended receiver in the numbers, but senior CB Bryan Andrews would get there at the exact same time and get a hand in and nab the interception, returning it 55 yards and setting up Colvin's pass over the middle for senior TE Jamel Haggins putting Lehigh up 14-0 and seemingly sucking the life out of the guys in baby blue.

All great plays.  Two nice passes from Colvin, including a bull into the end zone by Haggins.  All great things for the highlight reel at the end of the year. 

But then, the same script that seems to come into play almopst every week played itself out yet again for the Mountain Hawks, where they would jump to a 14-0 lead, miss a chance to really put the game out of reach, and then let the Lions into the game.

A second interception by senior CB Gabe Johnson gave Lehigh fantastic field position for the second consecutive drive, but after Columbia held firm, Spadola got called for a false start, and senior PK Jake Peery's field goal attempt clanged off the left goalpost, no good.

Then, after a an ineffective Columbia offensive drive, a punt by Lion P John Delaney would be downed inside the 5.  And from there, Colvin's protection would break down on 3rd down, and to avoid an inevitable sack, Mike would chuck the ball upfield - a lame duck that went right at Columbia LB Zach Olinger, who would zip untouched into the end zone to cut the deficit in half.

Two plays for the highlight reel were followed by a bunch of plays that will very much be on the cutting room floor.

"Obviously a bad decision there," Coen said in the post-game interview on Service Electric 2's broadcast.  "You got to just take the sack, or throw the ball out of bounds.  But he tried to make a play... He's just got to continue to grow, as do a lot of our guys."

To the kids credit, though - and again, something that seems to happen every week with these guys - the Mountain Hawks picked themselves up off the ground and started to look more like a Top 25 team.

"It's really important," junior WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto said in the post-game press conference, "even though we stall sometimes, we get back up and we, as a team, step up make the big plays."

"After the interception," Haggins added, "Mike came over to the bench, and said, 'The interception is gone.  Next play.  Let's do this.  Just keep rolling.'   You need a leader like that on the field.  Honestly, coaches are going to get you on your mistakes, but it's important that he's there to say to just correct them, keep your head up."

After the defense would stuff the largely ineffective Columbia offense, first with a sack by senior DT Sajjad Chagani and then with a hurried throw from the pressure of senior LB Billy Boyko, the offense would get to work.

Colvin made some big completions to Soto, one a 29 yard strike that saw Sergio dance along the sideline in his gold cleats to stay in bounds.  On that one drive alone Fernandez-Soto would have 3 catches for 59 yards, which actually helped negate 20 yards in four penalties on the drive.

What was most important, though, was the 14-play, 80-yard drive - 100 yard drive, actually, if you take away the negative yardage in penalties - was that it ended with a 3 yard run by Colvin for the score, putting Lehigh up 21-7 with 55 seconds to go in the half.

'There were ten penalties this week," coach Coen said, "after being relatively clean in the last two weeks.  We seem to be our own worst enemy at times."

"It all comes down to focus," Haggins said.  "I don't know if it's because to come out on top early, it's frustrating, scoring two touchdowns, and then having three drives where we punt, but those are things that we need to keep working on in practice during the week."


In the second half, Lehigh played better, and certainly good enough to win, but it also wasn't the perfect half either.

Out of the gate, Lehigh again stopped the Lion offense from getting past the 38, thanks largely to an amazing sequence by senior LB Sam Loughery, where the senior would sack Bracket for a seven yard loss, tackle WR Louis DiNovo short of the sticks on 2nd down, and tipp a pass at the line of scrimmage to force a punt.

"We played well against the run," Loughery said.  "They tried to play-action us a lot, they schemed us well.  But it was just a team effort, spread the tackles around, and we came up with the 'W'.  When my number was called, I made the plays."

After the defense's second big stop, Colvin would find Haggins again down the middle for a 30 yard touchdown pass - Haggins' first two-touchdown game of his playing career.

"I remember once in high school I came a yard short of a two-touchdown game," Haggins said.

But again, after the two highlight-reel plays, came two plays on the cutting-room floor that would give Columbia hope to get back in the game.

After the defense stopped Columbia yet again - the Lions would only get 245 yards of total offense - Lehigh's punt unit made a mistake that would give Columbia another golden opportunity to score when a Mountain Hawk gunner ran into senior RB Marcus Dormevil just as the ball got to him on the kick, causing a fumble and recovered by Baby Blue.

One play later. RB Marcoreous Garrett would bounce outside and zip into the end zone, making the score 28-14 and still not putting the game out of reach despite the statistical advantage.

"We can definitely grow as a defense," Loughery said.  "We missed a few plays here and there."

Loughery would bounce back, though - sound familiar? - and after yet another stop of a Brackett scramble by Loughery and sophomore DE Tim Newton, his pressure would force Brackett to a 4th down incompletion, and Lehigh would finally, in the 4th quarter, put the finishing touches on the victory.

It would end with a 24 yard pass to a wide-open Fernandez-Soto for his first touchdown as a Mountain Hawk, making the score 35-14 and bringing Lehigh to 6-0.

It would also cap off a very good statistical day for both Fernandez-Soto (8 catches, 120 yards, and the touchdown) and Colvin, who, despite the pick-six interception, ended the afternoon with 29/38 passing, 296 yards, and 4 touchdowns.

But despite the postgame smiles and chest-bumps, impressive-looking statistics, the TV highlights and the 6-0 record, it was clear there is still plenty of work to be done going forward, especially according to coach Coen.

"This team still hasn't played nearly up to its capability," he said.  "Now, there's a heightened sense of urgency in league play.  We can't have ten penalties in a game in league play.  We'll wind up losing the game."


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