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From Dream to "Nightmare" In Three Hours on Saturday

I didn't get much sleep this week.

And when I did get sleep, I had this "nightmare", which I swear on my grandmother's grave is what I had pass through my head this week.

It was a vision of some office - nobody's office, really, just the type of sunny, airy office that only exists in the world of dreams.

In it were Lehigh head coach Andy Coen, offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini, and myself.

Both men were grim.  There were going over game film of a blowout loss to Bucknell.

As each lowlight hit the computer monitor, coach Coen and coach Cecchini would just get angrier and angrier - and would look sideways at me, as if I, somehow, were really to blame.

What was kind of funny was that even though I'd had this psychic dream of Lehigh getting crushed by Bucknell this Saturday, I still didn't believe it could actually happen.

Waking up on Saturday, I saw no reason to believe that my dream would in any way be indicative of what would actually happen.  I actually talked myself out of it - chalking it up to stress, the job, the long season.  Lehigh will win, I told myself.  It's what always happens when Lehigh plays Bucknell.

After all, Lehigh was 6-1, No. 15 in the country, and had just played their best game of the season last weekend against Georgetown.  What could possibly go wrong?

Who are you going to believe, what you've been reading the last nine weeks, or some stupid "nightmare"?


"The net of it was we were outcoached and outplayed in all three phases," Coen said after the Bison stampeding all over this Mountain Hawk team. "We were really never in this game. It's hard for me to say that, but that's the reality. They ran it and threw it on us and we struggled to get going offensively. I don't have anything positive to say."

It's hard to argue with coach Coen's assessment of the game.

And it's also hard to argue that nobody knew that Bucknell had it in them to win this game, either.

My "nightmare" nonwithstanding, coach Coen did tell his players that Bucknell is a dangerous team.

“We talked to the kids (Friday) night that this is a team that has a very good defense, they’re getting their leader (Wesley) back on offense, they haven’t beat you in 15 years so they’re going to be a really hungry football team and all of those things came true,” Coen said. “I’m going to stop saying things like that, I guess. We got beat plain and simple.”

Lehigh fans have become spoiled, in ways, to the incredible success of the program over the last three years.

"Nightmare" games like this are not supposed to happen to teams like Lehigh, and in fact you have to wade through a lot of games before finding ones where the Mountain Hawks didn't just lose, but were dominated.

Last year's only loss, the disappointing 35-24 loss to Colgate, wasn't really a "nightmare", even though you could pick other adjectives for it, like "heartbreaking" and "frustrating".  Lehigh actually led by two touchdowns at one point, and led by 10 points halftime in that game.  It was a heroic second-half effort by Colgate QB Gavin McCarney that would be the difference in the game.

In 2011, Lehigh lost twice, once to a playoff team, once to a national champion.  Neither were "nightmares".

Their 48-41 loss to New Hampshire came in overtime, and the Mountain Hawks came very close to coming away with a victory.  Down by three scores, Lehigh rallied to take the lead, to watch New Hampshire come back to tie, and barely win, in overtime.

Their 24-0 loss to eventual national champion North Dakota State, the game where WR Ryan Spadola was sidelined with a 1-game suspension, was very much a game in the first half before the Bison pulled away in the second.  One of the things that was so impressive was that how players fought until the bitter end of that game, like LB Mike Groome, standing up Bison RB Sam Ojuri on the goal line down 17-0.

(They even gave North Dakota State a tougher time than Georgia Southern, a team supposedly better than the Mountain Hawks that year.)

You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find anything remotely like the domination we saw this weekend.

When Lehigh was shut out at home 35-0 by Villanova, they were facing a team that were the defending national champions and had a tremendous athlete, WR Matt Sczcur, opposing defenses needed to stop.

Like this weekend, the Wildcats racked up over 300 yards rushing, and like this weekend, the Mountain Hawks let up some big plays to set up scores, but that's where the similarities end.

First of all, Lehigh forced a lot of turnovers in that game, but were unable to capitalize with an offense that hadn't yet become the Air Lehigh we've come to know over the past few years.

This weekend, Lehigh forced no turnovers, and do have a Walter Payton award candidate on offense, senior WR Lee Kurfis.  They should have been able to capitalize somewhere, on something.  They didn't.

Second, Villanova were, as mentioned, the defending national champions.

Bucknell is perhaps better than their record says they are, but they're also not the defending champs.  They haven't even been nationally ranked since the 1990s.

Head coach Joe Susan really had his team ready to play on Saturday, and he deserves every accolade that goes his way.  This was the day for his team to showcase their true worth on a somewhat national stage, and they did so spectacularly, in a way that even the most staunch Bucknell fan would have never predicted.

You have to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last time Lehigh had lost this badly to a league opponent, or an unranked opponent, when Lehigh was humiliated by Holy Cross 59-10 at Murray Goodman Stadium.

"'We embarassed the Brown & White today,' coach Coen said...  And I'm not all that sure much more needs to be said," I wrote after that game in one of my angriest posts on Lehigh football.

"Want reasons? Why list them? Let's just say that Lehigh was outplayed in every phase of the game on offense, defense and special teams. We couldn't stop them, and we couldn't do anything consistently on offense on them either. We didn't hit, we didn't tackle, we weren't tough, and we didn't battle. We didn't hustle off the field," I wrote.

To me this game last weekend wasn't as bad as that "nightmare" home defeat to Holy Cross, but it comes awfully close.

*****

One thing over all else made this game to me a true "nightmare" instead of simply just a bad loss to a team that last beat us when Good Will Hunting was up for an Oscar and Titanic was a thing.

That is the awful injury to senior QB Brandon Bialkowski in the third quarter.

While it's important not to speculate too much and there's no official word just yet on the extent of his injury, everything about the play and the way BB was helped off the field screams "uh-oh".

Game pictures of the Gilbert, Arizona quarterback with ice on the collarbone area seems to indicate that there's some sort of injury there, which, if it's as severe as feared, would mean he is out for the rest of the regular season.

If he's out, that's a 64% completion percentage, 18 TDs, and a guy who's spent most of the season developing a rhythm with senior WR Lee Kurfis being removed from the lineup.

Injuries happen in football.  They happen in practice, on the field of play, and they're all something you hate to see.

But this injury, to this reporter, is devastating.  It makes an already tough task in winning three more regular-season games just that much harder.

Breaking in, essentially, a brand-new QB is trying even in the best of circumstances, but with three must-win games to make the playoffs, there's not a lot of time for junior QB Matt McHale, junior QB A.J. Visconti, or freshman QB Nick Shafnisky to get up to championship-caliber level.

Even with a bye week that's a tough assignment.  Hopefully, though, not as much of a "nightmare" than I currently believe.

*****

It's been amazing how, in this short football season, how fragile the concept of athletic success has been.

For the second time this season, loss, injury, and doubt has come crashing down on the Lehigh athletic program after a week where everything seemed like puppy dogs and ice cream.

While Lehigh was losing to Fordham, former Lehigh G C.J. McCollum was looking to throw himself into the lineup of the NBA's Portland Trailblazers.  But then a seemingly minor play caused foot injury sidelined him for weeks.  It went from one of the most thrilling, awesome rides to the NBA, to then be crashed to reality, at least for now, with this injury.

While Lehigh was losing to Fordham, former Lehigh WR Ryan Spadola was on the 53 man roster of the New York Jets, but then, inexplicably, was cut from the team.  Eventually he would get signed to the Miami Dolphins' practice squad instead, but it was a huge blow to a Lehigh fan base that has seen Ryan fight and claw his way onto the 53 man roster, seemingly get into the good graces of head coach Rex Ryan, just to get cut a few weeks later.

It's as if the Big Guy Upstairs leaves no middle ground: it's either the heights of the highest success at their respective level, or a complete crash back to earth.

A week ago, coming off a resounding victory over Georgetown, I think most Lehigh fans were thinking about how favorably the schedule seemed to line up for the Mountain Hawks, with two big home games and a tough road game at Colgate that has been circled on the calendar all season.

Now, though, the three games that seemed lined up so perfectly now seem like gigantic question marks.

In part, that's because Holy Cross, with exciting freshman QB Pete Pujals, surging Colgate, with senior QB Gavin McCarney, and overdue Lafayette, with freshman QB Drew Reed, look different now than they did earlier in the season.

But that's also due to Lehigh's loss this weekend - the loss and the "nightmare" of potentially losing the quarterback that got them here.

“After last week’s game we were on cloud nine, senior RB Keith Sherman said after this weekend's game. "Everyone felt the team was finally coming together and today we did the exact opposite of what we did last week.  We keep taking two steps forward and one step backward it seems. Hopefully this bye week we can get it together and move forward.”

The good news is Lehigh is still in control of their own destiny.  If they win the rest of their football games, they will win the Patriot League autobid, be able to make the Patriot League championship rings, and find out where they'll be playing a playoff game.

But in the span of three hours, one extremely humbling defeat and one potentially giant injury later, Lehigh has gone from Cloud 9 to a "nightmare" - one that the Mountain Hawks will have to wake themselves from quickly if they hope to be Patriot League champions again.

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