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Know Your 2015 Opponents: Yale, Princeton, and the Ivies

Lehigh's relationship with the schools of the Ivy League go all the way back to the 1880s.

Yes, really.

1887 was the year that Princeton, one of the first institutions of higher learning that sponsored o football program, first squared off against Lehigh, throttling them 80-0.

And it would be 1890 when Yale, another one of the early football powers, first hosted Lehigh, with the Eli ending up as 26-0 winners.

These traditional Ivy League football opponents appear on Lehigh's football schedule for 2015 and will be a critical litmus test for this your Mountain Hawk football team after Lehigh hosts Penn.

These games, too, will not simply be speed bumps in the schedule, either.  There's a lot more emotion in these games for Lehigh than meets the eye.


In 2013, Princeton went 8-2 and were Ivy League co-champions, one of the better teams in the Ivy League.

WR Lee Kurfis gets a key reception (NJ.com)
Princeton was also the site of one of the best Lehigh games of the 2013 season as well.

Down 22-3 at halftime, the Mountain Hawks' early undefeated run seemed like it was going to come to an end.  In the second half, though, QB Brandon Bialkowski and the Lehigh offense managed to help Lehigh pull a rabbit out of a hat and complete one of the most amazing Lehigh comebacks in recent memory to come back and win 29-28.

Lehigh had four second-half offensive drives, all which went for touchdowns, while Princeton could only manage a turnover, touchdown, several punts and a blocked field goal during that second half, setting the stage for that massive comeback.

After the 8-2 season came great expectations for the Tigers in 2014, which were never realized.

After an offseason where their team captains said it was unacceptable for them to lose a game, Princeton went ahead and lost five of them, including their season opener at a non-scholarship school, San Diego.

Perhaps with that in mind, Princeton head coach Bob Surace focused on "continuous improvement" at the beginning of this spring season.

"If we stay the same, people are going to pass us by," he said.  "Let's make this an atmosphere where it's an event when we go practice.  We bring guys in and say, let's keep pushing.  Let's keep pushing every day."

Bulking Up The Osaka, Japan Way This Spring
In order to make sure their spring practice was an event, Princeton went on a road trip - fielding their spring game in Osaka, Japan.

"I was pleased by the execution and balance we showed on offense and how physical we played on defense," Surace said. "We rarely get live special teams work in the spring, and both junior LB Luke Catarius and sophomore LB Mark Fossati led an impressive day. We have a lot to work to do in the next six months prior to Lafayette and I'm looking forward to our finishing off the spring getting stronger and faster."

While junior QB Chad Kanoff seems to have the early lead in the battle for starting QB from the spring in the quest to replace graduating QB Brett Epperly, senior RB DiAndre Atwater (484 yards, 7.4 yards per carry in 2014) will undoubtedly be viewed as a leader in the Tiger's backfield of talented running backs.

Princeton's fast-break offense will certainly involve a lightning-quick pace on offense, a lot of rotation between different guys, and even, possibly two- or three- quarterback formations.  Two years ago that's exactly what Surace did in jumping out to their 22-3 lead.

Senior CB Anthony Gaffney (25 tackles, 4 passes defensed, 3 INTs) and senior S Matt Arends (56 tackles, 2 INTs) will highlight the Tiger defense, with the secondary being an unquestioned area of strength.

Worthy of mention about the Tigers in 2014 was that in all five losses, Princeton gave up more than 30 points in each of those games.  The key to the Tigers' season will be keeping opponents under 30 points per game.  If they can do that, there's no reason to believe that they can't be competing once again for the Ivy League title.

*****

Lehigh Came So Close Last Year
Yale is also an Ivy League title contender.  Right before they upset Army in the Eli's first game against an FBS team since 1996, they also beat Lehigh last year in another agonizingly near-win for the Mountain Hawks.

"On a day when Lehigh saw eight players go down to injury, including LB Colton Caslow, Yale ultimately out-physicaled and out-scored Lehigh -- not only rallying from two 21 point deficits twice, but shutting the Mountain Hawks out in the final quarter to seal the 54-43 win," I wrote last year.

On most afternoons, one 21 point lead, let alone two, would be enough for a win, but not that fateful Saturday, where the Bulldogs racked up 683 yards of total offense and 7 touchdowns.

Five of the seven touchdowns came on plays of 20 yards or more.

"We had a 28-7 lead and they came back largely thanks to big plays," coach Andy Coen said afterwards.  "They made some big plays. We left too many big plays out there. Ultimately that's the ballgame."

Powerful Yale would finish 8-2 and do similar offensive damage against most of their schedule last season.  Unfortunately for Yale fans, though, they weren't able to deliver in that way against the biggest foe on their schedule.

Similar to the Lehigh game, Yale would rally to tie Harvard at 24 late in "The Game" with 3:44 left to play.  But the Crimson's late touchdown would give hated Harvard a 31-24 victory and their eight straight defeat against them.

"This was a great football game between two very good football teams", Yale head coach Tony Reno said after that game. "In the end, Harvard made a play on the last drive and we unfortunately did not. That was the game."

Since the Ivy League chooses not to participate in the FCS playoffs and Army won't be playing Yale next season, without question the biggest game on the Eli schedule next year is the one in the Yale Bowl against Harvard.

Just What This Guy Needs - More Weapons
Yale loses a player who is spending his summer in an NFL camp, the deadly and versatile RB Tyler Varga.  Lehigh fans are thrilled they won't be seeing his jersey again, but they will be seeing the jerseys of senior RB Candler Rich (502 yards, 7.5 yards per carry) and senior QB Morgan Roberts (3,220 yards passing, 22 passing TDs), which will be a huge challenge for Lehigh's defense.

To these two all-Ivy League candidates comes a transfer from a Power 5 school, NC State, WR Bo Hines, possibly making an already-potent offense even more daunting.

On defense, junior LB/S Foyesade Oluokun (79 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 blocked kick) is the big standout on a defense that sees every starter from last years' final game return.

On Lehigh's schedule, Yale really stands out as a powerful, scary team to face.  They might be as good as, or even better than, James Madison.

****

After a few down years, the Ivy League looks like it's back as strong as ever, with Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton all with legitimate shots at taking the title.  It's easy to see one key injury, or the emergence of one key player, being the difference in the whole title race.

The only catch with that is that it seems like rebuilding Penn, Columbia, Cornell and Brown have little chance of busting through against these four teams.  Of the four Brown has the best chance, but I'm not going to pick them in the top four.

1. Harvard
2. Dartmouth
3. Yale
4. Princeton
5. Brown
6. Penn
7. Columbia
8. Cornell


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