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2014 Season Report Card

It's been hard to put the season into words.

Believe me, I've tried many times.  Many postings trying to summarize what happened, what is happening, and where to go from here.

In the end it was easier to think of the season as a report card.

It's a cliche, I know.  I was trying to avoid going there.  But in the end, it was the only way to really put the final word on the 2014 season together.  Going into the season, there were expectations on this team.  The report card is the place where the analysis is done on the performance of the team.

Below the flip, check out the analysis.  (Warning: it might not be pretty.)

I kind of covered the theme of the Lehigh football semester in my season in review.

In that piece, I called the season one of "almosts" - how Lehigh almost got some great wins against James Madison, Monmouth, but came up short.

You can measure this team in this way, for sure.

By expectations - they were picked in the preseason to finish second - and actual results, where they finished sixth after falling to 2-4 in conference play.

Judging on record, it was clearly a "failed to meet expectations".

You could also say that this team had some extenuating circumstances, too.

That sophomore RB Brandon Yosha, expected to shoulder a huge load for this football team, went out with a twisted knee in the third game of the year, and wasn't the same player when he returned.  That two-thirds of the offensive line, notably senior OL Shane Rugg and sophomore C Brandon Short, were lost that day for the season, affecting the Mountain Hawks' offense in a multitude of ways for the rest of the season.

Similarly, you could take a look at the defense, and see improvement from week to week.

It probably wasn't a surprise to see Lehigh give up over 600 yards to a variety of different potent opponents during the year, like Fordham, New Hampshire, James Madison, or Yale.  (Three of those were FCS playoff teams, and the fourth, Yale, might have been in the conversation if it wasn't for the Ivy League's antiquated thought to not allow their teams to consider FCS playoff places.)

By the end of the season, there was a lot of improvement, especially against Colgate.  Lehigh the Raiders to "only" 319 yards in a 30-27 win.  Junior LB Matt Laub had a monster day for the Mountain Hawks with 3 tackles for loss and an interception.

But for this season, it ended up that the first ten games were merely the preseason when it came to the 150th game at Yankee Stadium - the final exam for the season, one that makes up the majority of the grade.

I haven't been able to watch the game again.  I couldn't.  I'm not sure I will be able to.

And I'm not alone.

Words can't express the disappointment I have in the outcome in this game - not even so much the fact that Lehigh lost, but how.

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I could have lived with a heroic effort that ended up in a loss for the Mountain Hawks.  When I wrote up the 149th meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette, I penned more than 6,000 words describing the efforts of some of the young men on the field.  Against a fair amount of odds, they battled extremely hard and very nearly came away with the game.

But whatever happened on the field at Yankee Stadium, the 150th wasn't that.

There were mistakes that were not acceptable in a practice game, let alone the nationally-televised stage that was the game in Yankee Stadium.

A personal foul that game Lafayette a first down in Lehigh territory.. on 4th and 15.  A bad snap on 3rd down that was a 12 yard loss that caused the Mountain Hawks to have to punt.   Facing a 3rd and 9... and running out of bounds after a 2 yard gain.  Knowing that Lafayette RB Ross Scheuerman was coming - and being unable to scheme to stop it, even after halftime.

When people in the stands are calling Lafayette's plays, and you can't stop them, that's bad.

You could try to be kind and dismiss it, and say that this was the absolute worst time that Lehigh chose to play its worst game of the year.

But the truth is you can't, and shouldn't, be kind about it.

It was the kind of game - even now, weeks later - that makes you wonder what the worst all-time Lehigh loss was, and if this one eclipses them all.  Was the 59-10 loss to Holy Cross in 2007 worse?  The 35-0 shutout at the hands of Villanova?  The 54-20 game against Lafayette in 1994 where RB Keith Marsh ran all over us?

It would be one thing if Lehigh had decided to field all walk-ons for the game and there was a giant talent mismatch.  In a lot of games this season, the Mountain Hawks were outmanned, and sure, you could say that they played their toughest schedule in a generation.  I can't remember the last time the Mountain Hawks played one that was tougher.

But Lehigh was not outmanned by Lafayette.  This should have been a battle of equals.

You cannot tell me that Lafayette had more talent on the field than Lehigh on that day.  They had just as many good athletes as Lehigh did, and had just as much disappointment as the Mountain Hawks going into the game.

But Lehigh took that talent on the field and made Lafayette look like they should have been contenders for the Patriot League title, and when you look at their report card, they clearly weren't.

Lafayette's grades look like the D- student needing to ace the final in order to get a passing grade, and scoring a 98 to get a solid C+ after underachieving all semester.

No disrespect to Scheuerman, who is a very good back and is a player who has now entered the legend of the Lehigh/Lafayette Rivalry.  But you cannot convince me that Lehigh helped make him that legend - not just the defense, not just the offense, not just the players.  Everyone on Lehigh's side of the field helped make him a legend.

It's the game that made a legend - a game I would prefer not to revisit - maybe not ever.

The closest memory I can come to this particular game was 1994, one of the very few Rivalry games I left early.

But when I left that 1994 game early to the taunts of Lafayette fans, somewhere deep down I knew that Marsh was the best athlete on the field that day and the Leopards deserved to win because they were simply a better football team.

And that's what I can't shake.

I can't say Ross Scheuerman was such an outstanding athlete that Lehigh can't compete with Lafayette - I don't have that luxury.  Instead I have a Lehigh team that coulda and shoulda hung with this team, and how they failed to do so.

That's the failing grade that makes the assessment of the season so tough.

I can accept losses where the team was outmatched, like vs. Villanova.  I can even accept losses against Lafayette when there's a mismatch, or accept losses where individuals give such heroic efforts that you can't help but respect the effort, whether in victory.

But I do not stand for losses like this.  Nobody should.

*****

Part of life is to suffer setbacks.  It happens to everyone.

And the key to life is to figure out how to come back from setbacks and get better.

This failing grade isn't meant to pile on, or state the obvious.  It's a way to state what the state of the program is, and to say how to make it better.

One place where we might want to look for inspiration, somewhat ironically, is that of Yosha, who decided he was going to end his football career and transfer to Indiana to be closer to his family.

The Express-Times Greg Joyce sat down with Yosha as he explained his reasons.

The swelling on Yosha's right knee had flared up [after the Yale game] and he knew something was wrong.
An MRI after the game confirmed that Yosha had torn his lateral meniscus. He underwent surgery a few days later to have a "good chunk" of his meniscus taken out, and the doctor told him the typical rehab process for the injury would take four to eight weeks.
"It was deja vu all over again," the sophomore said.
Yosha went on to play sparingly in three of Lehigh's final four games, but the explosive back that displayed his talents in the first three games of the season was never the same.
"I don't know if that's maybe because I rushed back a little bit too soon for that Fordham game because it was such a big game," he said. "But I don't feel like I was anywhere near as productive after returning from the injury."
Once the season ended, the thought that had first come up after the Yale game filtered back into Yosha's mind. Knowing that he might not be the running back he was at the start of the season, thinking about going through more painful workouts with a banged up knee and being able to walk away from the game on his own terms all led to Yosha meeting with head coach Andy Coen last Wednesday.
After "careful consideration" and reflection, Yosha told Coen his football career was over.
"It was the toughest decision I've ever had to make," Yosha said. "I'm giving up the game that I've loved my entire life. If I thought if I could come back and play at the same level as the first three games, I probably would've continued to play. It's tough going through that another time."
In a strange way, Yosha's classy way he handled his knee injury needs to be the exact way Lehigh needs to deal with the entire 2014 season - walk away from it, and start over.

Folks I talked to see the potential of the young players that got playing time this season.

Freshman WR Troy Pelletier looks like the type of wideout that could blossom into the Next Great Lehigh Wideout.  Freshman RB Chris Leigh showed the explosiveness in the Mountain Hawks' only real highlight of the 150th game.  On offense, nine of eleven starters return, including sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky.

On a team that had never seen so many freshman and sophomores on the depth chart, many, many underclassmen will return next season with a lot of experience under their belts, like sophomore LB Colton Caslow and sophomore LB Pierce Ripanti.

Lehigh has a lot of talent, and will continue to get a lot more talent, based on the early reports from the recruiting trail.

There's hope for 2015.

But before you can have hope for 2015, you need to own it.

Own the setback; it was a painful setback.  The season wasn't a success - it gets a failing grade.

But walk away the failing grade from 2014, and enter 2015.

You can own a bitter disappointment from one season, use it to get better, and from that experience, it can drive you to win a Patriot League championship the following year.

It can be done.  I've seen it before.

But for the first time since I can't remember when, there is no security blanket for a Lehigh team.  Expectations will be lower from the league, with the Mountain Hawks coming off of a 3-8 season, but the expectations from Lehigh fans will continue be high, at a bare minimum competing for the Patriot League title and putting hearts and blood out on the field to try to achieve those goals.

Life without a security blanket doesn't promise be easy, but if you're a football player at Lehigh, you should want it no other way.

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