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Is This Lehigh Squad Living On "Borrowed Time"?

As much as I sometimes regret to admit, I remember the group Styx, and I also remember the album Paradise Theater.

One of the songs on that album, "Borrowed Time" (today's "Sunday Word"), reminded me a lot of how Lehigh is winning football games right now.

The song, buried deep in my memory banks, perhaps not gracing my ears for more than two decades, struck me after the Mountain Hawks won their second improbable, impossible, game in a row.

"Don't look now, but here come the '80s!" lead singer Dennis DeYoung croons.

"Don't look now, but here comes the 2013 season!", the entire Lehigh football team seems to be telling me in the same way, flirting with danger, converting improbable plays into huge momentum swings, twenty-point deficits into touchdowns, losses into wins.

Like many people of my era, I liked Styx well enough.

I liked Best of Times, Come Sail Away, and some of their other rock radio staples.
Somewhere in my vinyl record collection (yes, I have a vinyl record collection), I have a dusty, not-very-well-worn copy of Kilroy was Here, complete with pictures and liner notes inside of one of the most cringe-inducing show/rock opera/concept thing ever invented by Mr. DeYoung himself.

(As a kid, I thought the liner notes were a joke, with characters such as Mr. Roboto, Dr. Everett Righteous, and Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (yes, Virginia, his initials are R.O.C.K.).  It was only later that I learned that the supporting tour, which essentially destroyed the band, was all too real, with a film and 10 minute play preceding all their live shows.  I can only imagine what the concertgoers, who all probably just wanted to hear Babe or something, endured.)

My friend Scott, though, didn't just love Styx.  He was obsessed with this band.

He didn't just want to buy "Styx's Greatest Hits" and listen to Too Much Time On My Hands all day.  No; he had to head to used record store after used record store, looking longingly at the records labeled 'S', anxiously looking to see if the a copy of the obscure Styx II album from 1973. say, or one of their other bits of vinyl from the Wooden Nickel days would turn up.  (Because, you know, he had to have the original copy of the song Lady.)

Scott and I would drag me to used record stores, first in Connecticut, then, once of a certain age, into New York City itself, the Mecca of Back Catalog Records.  It seemed, and felt, like there were used record stores on every corner in the Big Apple, complete with a unique version of Joe Jackson's I'm The Man released as a set of ten 45s.

We'd then go back home and we'd play them.  We'd listen to the weird 5/4 measures in The Grand Illusion, or listen to some obscure recordings.

I don't know if it was a better era for music then, or now, but what I do know is that a key part of listening to music back then was the fact that there was scarcity.  Sure, getting a new album was easy, but if you really wanted to delve deep into an artist's whole catalog, there was no reliable place to find it.  You had to go out of town, find the used record store on the wrong side of town, and hunt for it.

Owning Styx II or I'm The Man released as a set of ten 45s made you feel special, like a part of a special club of cool kids of which you were the only member.  Sure, Scott had that purple plastic copy of Purple Rain that nobody could ever play on a record player because it's a collector's item... but he sure didn't have this rare 1979 version of Devo's Duty Now for the Future, did he?

Listening to the music extended the ownership.  You'd own the music as you listened to it.  Sure, you could put the song on a tape and give it to your friend, but that wasn't ownership.  Ownership was owning the album, no matter how obscure.

It's a feeling of ownership that one simply doesn't get today when downloading a song from the internet today.  "Hey, you want a copy of Pieces of Eight?  Did you mean the song or the entire album?  I can download it in five minutes."

Is this feeling of ownership, of collecting everything in a series, better than today, when it's all available anytime, anywhere?  I'm not sure, but it feels like something is lost from that time where I identified more with the music.  Maybe it's just growing older, I'm not sure.  But it sure seems different.

Eventually, I lost track of Scott, and I never found out if he did end up getting the whole back catalog of Styx.  But I couldn't worry about it.  After all, everyone's living on "Borrowed Time."  Right?

*****

Which brings me back to the Mountain Hawks.

Like pretty much all of Styx's songs, "Borrowed Time" sounded a heck of a lot better than the lyrics, screaming for depth that wasn't there.
I was so cool back in sixty-five...
I had it made 'cause I understood what to do to survive...
I had my car, and I made the scene...
Didn't give a damn about no gasoline... 
Livin' high, living fine...
Livin' high on borrowed time...
Don't these lyrics, though, describe the Lehigh Mountain Hawks right now to a T?

This team knows how to win football games for sure.

Last week, the Mountain Hawks overcame a 20 point deficit, starting midway in the 3rd quarter, having an extra point hit the upright, and finally relying on a huge defensive stop to win 51-44 in double overtime.

In other words, just your garden-variety, three-touchdown deficit come-from-behind double-overtime victory.

This week, the victory came in large part from a crazy blocked punt, caught in mid-air by senior FB Zach Hayden, and advanced 37 yards in his first-ever Division I carry, setting up the go-ahead score.

In other words, just your typical game where a freaky play that few, if any, of the more than 5,000 spectators had ever seen in their lifetimes in large part determined the outcome.

Certainly these Lehigh football players know "how to survive", in fun and interesting ways, every week.  It defines this team.

And certainly, it's a great aspect for a team to have.  Many teams don't have it.  For many teams, it prevents winning.  Not Lehigh, obviously.

And this amazing ability has been a part of the team's DNA dating from last season, when QB Michael Colvin and company made almost every one of their 10 wins last season into close contests well into the 4th quarter.

You might remember last year's Monmouth game, where the Jersey Hawks had the ball on the last play of the game down by four, only clinched by Lehigh when a fumble was returned for a touchdown on the last play of the game to make the final score 27-17.

Or perhaps a memory comes back against the game last year at Liberty, where a quarterback draw from Colvin, followed three plays later by an interception return by LB Billy Boyko, helped Lehigh secure a 28-26 victory.

Or maybe you remember the trip to Worcester, when Holy Cross' game-winning field goal try of 43 yards had the distance, but went wide right, preserving another Lehigh comeback, 36-35.

Here's what I said in that recap:

It's amazing how, as fans, you know this Lehigh team has shown the ability to come back from deficits small and large over the course of the season - yet at times, the faith is weak.  When you see the deficits come up each time, something in the back of your head says, 'This is the one.  This is the time when the Mountain Hawks dig themselves in a hole they can't dig out of.'
You are continually surprised when the Mountain Hawks pull the same rabbit out of the hat every week - even though you've seen the same trick, over and over, all season. 
It's great.  It's fun.  Winning's fun.  My memories of all these games are fond.
How long, though, can this string of winning last, in this way?

Especially with this young team?

Sure, Lehigh has been "livin' high, and livin' fine" in the first two weeks of the season.

But you can't sugarcoat the fact that these amazing comebacks and historic plays have occurred against two 0-3 teams.

If Lehigh were North Dakota State, the No. 1 team in the country, pundits would take one look at Central Connecticut and Monmouth and think that Lehigh would crush them by 3 touchdowns or more.

Fair or unfair, it's a part of high expectations: if you're ranked in the Top 25, much is expected of you.  When you're "up there", the target is always there, and you get the best shot of the team you're facing.

And while it's not a perfect comparison, looking closer at the losses from the teams Lehigh has beaten does say something.

To look further into this, it's instructive to take a peek at what Holy Cross did to Central Connecticut State defensively this weekend, a 52-21 whitewash.

Against Lehigh, the Blue Devils gained 483 yards of total offense.  Against Holy Cross, 346.

Their star back, RB Rob Holloman, had great days against both the Mountain Hawks and the Crusaders, as was to be expected.

But CCSU's quarterback, QB Nick SanGiacomo, went 11/20 for 165 yards and 1 touchdown against Holy Cross.   Against Lehigh, he went 20/32 for 225 yards and threw for 3 touchdowns.

The picture doesn't get much better defensively looking at Monmouth, either.

The same Monmouth squad that racked up 517 yards of offense against the Mountain Hawks didn't get more than 300 yards of total yardage out of their first team offense in either of their two games against Montana State and Liberty.

Did the Mountain Hawk defense make some big plays in the end to get the win in both of Lehigh's wins?  Yes, they did.

But did they also spent a lot of the game giving up a lot of offense to winless teams, putting the team in position to lose those games?  Yes, they did that too.

"We always tend to make the big play when we need to," senior FS Tyler Ward said, "but we need to stop waiting until the end of the game to make it.  We need to make more plays during the course of the game."

Ward seemed to get that plays like that are not going to hack in in the weeks to come, especially involving teams that have actually won some Division I games.

There are a lot of Lehigh fans out there just hoping that the 2-0 start isn't just some sort of Grand Illusion.

For a team that has as a motto "No Opportunities Wasted," too, Lehigh's offense left a lot of opportunities on the field as well, a fact that Andy Coen did mention in yesterday's press conference.

"We need to keep improving on things in all phases," he said. "The kids understand that. We're not strutting around here like we're a championship team. We've kept the kids humble about that. The kids want to get there, and they're working very hard at it."

For a game with more than 500 yards of Mountain Hawk offense, there were long stretches, especially in the first half, where the offense didn't convert makeable drives.

The interception at the end of the first half, with Lehigh driving and coming close to breaking Monmouth's back early, ended up being a potential 10-point swing, with Monmouth turning the interception into a field goal a minute later.

The more time you give to a team to stay in a game, the more time they have to take the win away from you, and both winless teams had all sixty minutes - and then some, in the case of Central Connecticut - to win.

Am I being a bit harsh?  Maybe.  Wins are wins, after all.  It's a young team, and it's only the second game of the season.  Give the kids time, one part of me says.

But the other part of me says wins can't, and shouldn't, come this hard every week.  If they do, they have a nasty tendency to become losses down the road.

It is true that good teams win these types of games that Lehigh has played recently, the types of games where one play determines the outcome.

But great teams don't enter every game on the schedule living on "borrowed time".

Great teams know how to put teams away, in the first half if possible.  Great teams, playoff teams, championship teams, don't have their fans in the cardiologist's office every week: they have weeks where they simply take care of business.

To their credit, the athletes in the post-game press conference seemed to get that.

"I don't really look at [big passing] stats as a measure," senior QB Brandon Bialkowski said after the game.  "I just see that they scored 10 points off of turnovers.  That's got to get fixed."

And I'm sitting here looking at this Lehigh team right now, early in the season, and I see a good Lehigh team that knows how to win.

What I don't know is whether we have a great Lehigh team, one that will be favored to win all their Patriot League games that will determine the conference autobid, and one that will be a nationally-ranked team at the end of the season.

Maybe that's why I'm sitting here listening to Styx, wondering if I'm simply looking at a team that's living on "borrowed time".

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