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Game Preview: Lehigh at New Hampshire, 9/13/2013

WMUR 9 New Hampshire
"In their last meeting..."

You've probably heard a lot of that this week in regards to this big matchup against the No 7 team in the country.

It ended up being Lehigh's signature win last year, their 34-27 victory that only looked better when the Wildcats turned their season around and made a deep run in the FCS playoffs.

It also will be an impediment to any hope of sneaking up to Durham, New Hampshire and surprising New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell with their dynamic offense and good athletes.

That's because the Wildcats had a bye week last week, and McDonnell spent his weekend off scouting the Mountain Hawks.

"I was really impressed with their quarterback,, mentioning sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky, sophomore RB Brandon Yosha, and seemingly everyone else on the Lehigh offense by name in the CAA teleconference this week.   "He did a hell of a job doing the things he does well.  They did a lot of different things out of multiple sets, and they had a good mix against a good JMU team."

It was very obvious McDonnell had not forgotten last year's loss at Lehigh at all.

"We obviously had a very good win over UNH last year," head coach Andy Coen said this week on the Lehigh Football Report.  "I'm sure they were using that extra bye week to really get ready to beat us, because I know they were not very happy we beat them here last year.  Our goal is to make them unhappy again."

Twas indeed a good win.  A very good win.

Wins like Lehigh's victory over UNH last year offer a road map for the Mountain Hawks to potentially repeat the feat this time around as well, and it's worth looking at the recap of that game to see exactly how they managed to do it.

One theme we saw in the 34-27 win was how the offense fed off the defense, and vice versa.

"It's kind of like clockwork with the offense and defense," LB Nigel Muhammad said after that game.  "We're attached at the hip in a way, once the offense scores it give the defense life, and we get some more confidence.  That's something that's been happening the last three games, and something that came out today."

It seemed like big stops fed into big momentum on the offensive end, and in fact the game ended with the Lehigh defense denying New Hampshire's final drive as they were headed towards the end zone to tie the game.

It's also worth mentioning that Lehigh only allowed one touchdown (and two-point conversion) to the Wildcats in the second half in that game.  The Mountain Hawks' best defensive game last year allowed it to happen.

There was something else, too - an infections belief that Lehigh could fall behind, but they would somehow, some way, find a way to win football games.

The Mountain Hawks fell behind by double-digits twice, but rallied to win after a stellar second half.

"Tough game. Tough game. Really impressed again with the resiliency of Lehigh," McDonnell he said afterwards.  We talked about it an awful lot in the two weeks we had leading up to this game. They're a good football team that can stay the distance, have gone the course in all their games."

"The last few days we've been talking a lot about why we win these games," coach Coen afterward. "It's all about becoming a team. Being committed to yourself and committed to your teammates. Coming together as a team and building on that each week and getting tighter and tighter. There wasn't one guy who left this locker room that didn't 100 percent think that we were going to win this football game. That never wavered during the course of the game."

Matt Smith/The Express-Times
A year later, McDonnell got pretty animated talking about how Lehigh beat UNH last year, too.

"Lehigh did a tremendous job last year spreading us out, finding holes, finding spaces, in our secondary.  Again, our kids have to step up to the challenge."

New Hampshire will be fresh after an opening-day loss to Toledo of the FBS, a game where they actually competed fairly well early before the athleticism of one of the top teams in the MAC overcame them in a 54-20 defeat.

According to the New Hampshire players themselves, that extra time isn't good for the Mountain Hawks.

“The best way to get over a hard loss is to get out there and play,” UNH DT Matt Kaplan said. “So we had a lot of time to let it simmer, think about it, which unfortunately is bad for Lehigh, because we’re ready to go and can’t wait.  We had a six-hour bus ride to let it simmer home last year. I was sick to my stomach pretty much the whole way home,  We love talking about like we can’t wait to get back and play Lehigh again because the feeling of last year was unforgettable.”

There are a lot of Lehigh Valley kids, too, on UNH's roster, which makes a win over Lehigh a little bit sweeter, too.

“We don’t like to say we need extra motivation to come at a team, but it’s definitely something that we haven’t forgotten,” TE Harold Spears added.  “Me being from the Lehigh area (Perkasie), I worked out with some kids this summer that went to Lehigh, so I definitely didn’t really get a chance to let it go, but that’s been on our minds. You remember what happened last year. And it’s a little something extra that’s going into this Saturday.”

As much as Lehigh is up against the No. 7 team in the country on Saturday, they're also up against a year of simmering emotions up in Cowell Stadium, a place where Lehigh has only beaten UNH once in their history, a 16-3 win in 1979.

That only makes the task even more challenging.

Getting to Durham
Cowell Stadium
It's about a 5 1/2 hour drive to New Hampshire from Bethlehem - a very doable drive if you get up pretty early.  Catching 287, driving on Route 84 through Connecticut to 495 near Holy Cross to 95 North, and you're almost there for a 3PM start.

You can also take Amtrak from New Jersey all the way to Durham, transferring in Boston at Back Bay station.  But you have to stay the night in Durham if you do it that way.

Cowell Stadium is small, but has been improved over the last few years.  Slowly and steadily it is becoming a moderately bigger (and more modern) stadium - and UNH fans hope that some of the stories there, regarding freezing press boxes and old bleachers, will finally fade into history.

Game Notes
Lehigh's game notes reveal some banged-up bodies on the offensive line, notably senior OL Wenner Nunes.  He's replaced by sophomore OL Zach Duffy, one of the nine or ten "O" linemen that saw action last weekend.  Junior OL Matt Cohen is also off the two deep, possibly due to injury as well, meaning depth at that critical position might be a bit thin.

The good news is the rest of the roster seems unchanged.

You can find UNH's game notes here.

Weather Report
Up in Durham, New Hampshire, it may very well be the exact same type of weather the Mountain Hawks had this weekend at Murray Goodman, but a lot cooler.  The early forecast calls for a 40% chance of PM showers, with a balmy high of 64 degrees.  Bring your mittens.

Famous New Hampshire Alumnus You Didn't Know About
John Irving, writer of The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp, is an Academy Award winner and acclaimed writer who went to UNH.

LFN's Drink of the Week
I am no fool when it comes to superstitions, and this week, we have a double whammy.

If a "Drink of the Week" has delivered a great win in years past, I tend to use it again.

Logically, that's Yuengling Premium, one of my favorite beers to enjoy before (and after) Lehigh victories, and it also happened to be the same one that I picked as "Drink of the Week" before last season's New Hampshire game.

It also involves the fact that I always bring out the Yuengling as Drink of the Week when Lehigh needs a big win - because it never seems to fail to result in Lehigh wins.

For those two very good reasons - Yuengling Premium is the tailgating beer of choice this weekend.

Sensible drinking can be a part of a pleasant tailgating experience, but only if you drink responsibly and for God's sakes don't get behind the wheel of a car when having consumed too much alcohol.  Make a day of your tailgate, stay late and sober up before driving.


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