It's not enough for the soccer nation that brought us Pele, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho to simply win their soccer games against the rest of the world: to the high-maintenance fans of the seleção, every game involving the Brazilian nation team needs to had flair and panache: style points. They can still win, but if they win boring, the fans become restless.
Similarly, Lehigh fans looked to the Mountain Hawks to go up to the upper tip of Manhattan and heap on a stylish win filled with scoring, crispness, and focus. For some Lehigh fans, Saturday's game wasn't supposed to be about the win, it was about the style of the win.
If they were looking to win on style, they didn't get that.
But more importantly, the Brown and White did get the win, notching a 24-10 victory, inching closer to their goal of a Patriot League title and the all-important autobid.
It wasn't crisp, and it wasn't pretty, but it was enough to allow Lehigh to cross the George Washington Bridge with a 5-1 record.
"It's good to be back in the winner's seat coming off a loss last week," head coach Andy Coen said after the game. "The defense really played very well today but the offense was not clicking the way it had been in prior weeks. The defense was stressed a couple times during the game and really did a great job. They did a much better job on third downs; a couple key third down stops in the third and fourth quarter that were very important in this game."
Columbia would strike first, moving the ball very well behind the running of RB Marcorus Garrett and some precision passing from QB Trevor McDonagh to advance the Lions' first drive to the Lehigh 5, but Lehigh's defense would hold firm, thanks to a big play by freshman LB Colton Caslow and some good pressure.
Columbia would convert that drive into a 23 yard FG by PK Luke Eddy, making it the sixth time this season that a Mountain Hawk opponent scored first and putting Lehigh in a hole.
It was then that Lehigh responded after a beautiful drive orchestrated by senior QB Brandon Bialkowski, where he went 7-for-7 passing and could do little wrong.
A big 10 yard sack off an interior blitz by Columbia S Marquel Carter, though, stopped Lehigh's momentum and had the Mountain Hawks instead settle for a 22 yard FG from freshman PK Ryan Pandy instead.
Midway in the second quarter came the sequence that would ultimately lead to the Lehigh victory. It wasn't elegant by any stretch of the imagination, but it did the job effectively.
After a missed 46 yard FG attempt by Columbia, Bialkowski chipped away with the pass before senior RB Sean Farrell ripped a 39 yard run through a giant hole on the right side of the line, setting up a play where Bialkowski rolled left, and then threw across his body right to a wide-open junior TE Tyler Coyle, who pulled it in for the touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff - which was squibbed by Pandy, since the wind was picking up at Robert A. Kraft field - the ball hit an up-man where senior FB Zach Hayden, the guy you'd expect to be around the ball on a big special teams moment, wrapped up the loose ball.
From there it didn't take long for senior RB Keith Sherman to advance Lehigh into scoring position, and then have Brandon find senior WR Lee Kurfis, who had come out a few plays before with an unspecified injury, come back to haul in a sailing 10 yard pass to give Lehigh a two touchdown lead.
“It means the world to us going into Patriot League play,” Kurfis told Michael LoRe of the Express-Times after the game. “It wasn’t the win we were looking for -- we were hoping to get the younger guys playing with a bigger win -- but ultimately we got the win. The first half of the season is gone; there’s no looking back now. It’s great momentum.”
Yet after that cushion, the Mountain Hawks would only score one touchdown the rest of the way, as would Columbia.
Two turnovers, including one off a screen pass that would end up in the hands of Columbia DT J.D. Hurt that was only prevented from being a touchdown by Sherman's saving tackle, loomed large in grounding the Mountain Hawk offense.
That also didn't include two more potential turnovers that probably helped the Lehigh Valley caridiologists, too, one overturned by a rare (but completely accurate) defensive holding call, and the other off a muffed punt that was largely saved by sophomore DB LaQuan Lambert shoving a Columbia player out of the way and coming up with the loose ball in the ensuing scrum.
Two turnovers, two almost turnovers, and an uncharacteristic 7 penalties for 50 yards made for a frustrating afternoon for Lehigh Nation, despite another amazing effort by Kurfis, with 14 catches, 130 yards, and 2 TDs. Bialkowski would end 33 for 50 and 320 yards, getting some big completions at the end of the game, too, to run out the clock on the Lions.
Statistically, too, it was much improved game for the Lehigh defense, holding the Lions to 223 total yards and only 71 net passing yards on the afternoon. Junior DE Tim Newton was harassing both McDonagh and QB Kelly Hilinski all game, sacking the freshman twice at the end of the game to squash any potential Lion rally.
But in a Lehigh football season, it's not the prettiness of the win that counts, whether it's a come-from-behind-by-three-scores win or a somehow-score-three-inelegant-touchdown win. It's the fact that it's a win, and that Lehigh can head into the conference portion of the schedule with a 5-1 record.