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Game Preview, Lehigh at Princeton, 9/26/2015

Rarely are scouting opportunities so accessible.

Shortly after Lehigh beat Penn last weekend, there was an opportunity for a Patriot/Ivy doubleheader for FCS football mavens, and a chance for Lehigh football fans to get a sneak peek at next week's competition.

What they saw couldn't have made any Mountain Hawk fan breathe easy.

What they saw was a dominating performance by the Tigers, a 40-7 walloping that had local sportswriters like Brad Wilson of the Express-Times dig down deep to describe the depth of the blowout.  "If Frank Tavani had seen Saturday's train wreck of a 40-7 loss to Princeton by his Lafayette football team coming," he wrote, "he'd have done everything in his power to derail the Leopard Express from proceeding down the track to Disaster City."

In Wilson's defense, the depth of the completeness of the win over Lafayette was hard to adequately describe.  Princeton only allowed six first downs in the first half, and only let up a meaningless touchdown with five minutes to play to allow Lafayette to avoid a shutout.  On offense, Princeton would rack up 573 yards of offense, including more than 300 on the ground, against what was thought to be Lafayette's strength this season, the defense.  Special teams?  Princeton 2/2 on field goals.  Lafayette 0/1.

Based on this great statistical performance, and watching the replay, what to make of Lehigh's chances against the same squad this weekend that seemed as dominant as the national championship Princeton football teams of 100 years ago?

There's a pretty good line in this week's Princeton game notes.

"Princeton leads the all-time series 30-10-2, but 25 of those Tigers wins came before the ’06 season.

"That would be the 1906 season."

Princeton would indeed win 25 straight times against Lehigh in the early days of football, the ultimate play-up game for the Brown and White during that time.

From 1887 to 1906, the Tigers always beat Lehigh, and most of the games were shutouts.  Only six Lehigh/Princeton games were played at old Lehigh field, and they were always accompanied by a Princeton home game as well.  (Back in those days there were no restrictions on only playing each other once, so nearby schools frequently played home-and-homes during the same season to save money on travel.)

In a very real sense, when Lehigh played Princeton it was not a matchup of equals.

In those early years, Princeton would not only lure students that had already matriculated at other schools, they also got players that frequently were not conventional undergraduates, some of the players being in their mid-20s.

Ballin' Like Balliet
In one case, the transfer of star Lehigh center D.M. Balliet to Princeton was the cause of immense controversy.

In 1891, after becoming a Walter Camp all-American at Center for Lehigh, he transferred to Princeton to play on the Tigers' football team for the next two years, picking up an unofficial national championship in 1893 along the way.

Princeton was roundly criticized for prying Balliet away from Lehigh.  In the past, the Tigers had talked a good game in regards to students competing on their football teams, but the presence of Balliet made them seem like they were not beyond enrolling mercenaries when it suited the school.

It was a big enough crisis to cause all the members of the old, powerful Intercollegiate Football Association (one of the assiciations that preceded the NCAA) and cause a crisis in the direction of college football.  Shortly thereafter, eligibility rules started to crop up between schools.

(You can read more about Balliet and the early days of Lehigh football in my book The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series, now available in paperback on Amazon.  In addition, there's also a great history of Balliet's playing and coaching career at this blog post here, including his Harlem Globetrotters-like trick to secure a turnover versus Penn.)

In those early days, even more so than the "play-up" games versus elite FCS or FBS teams today, the games then were even bigger mismatches.  In fact, when Lehigh would score on Princeton it would be big news in The Brown and White.

In 1893, both Princeton and Lehigh would have terrific football seasons.  Princeton would become national champions, as declared in the press.  And Lehigh would be only one of two schools to score against the Tigers all season.  In fact that score seemed to propel the Brown and White through the rest of the year.

"Lehigh Scores On Princeton" booms the headline in 1900 when the Brown and White actually scored a touchdown against the Tigers in a close 12-5 loss.

"For the first time since the [Carlisle] Indian game in '96 Princeton was scored on on her home grounds on Saturday and it fell to Lehigh's lot to carry the pigskin behind the Tiger'r [sic] goal posts," the student account said.  "McCormick punted down the field, Meir touched the ball with the ends of his fingers and fumbled.  Gearhart who was down the field like a shot grasped the coveted oval with a grip like grim death and with a clear field before him carried the ball behind the goal after a run of twenty yards."

After 1906, Princeton and Lehigh would play each other sporadically through the 1910s, 20s, and 30s.  The Tigers were not quite as dominating as during the earliest years but still sported a 7-2-2 record against the Brown and White with some fairly large blowouts.  In the 20s, Princeton's dominance coincided with a steep decline in Lehigh's teams as new academic standards and practice restrictions set the Brown and White even further from the top teams.

In 1985, Lehigh and Princeton saw their rivalry renewed, coinciding with the decision of all the Ivy League schools to abandon their pursuit of I-A (FBS) football.  As a unit, all eight Ivy schools reclassified to I-AA, and not coincidentally Lehigh started to show up on Princeton schedules again.

Since 1985, Lehigh has been downright dominant against Princeton, going 16-5 during that stretch, though many of the games have been competitive and close.  Five of the last eight games were determined by a touchdown or less.

That includes the last time these two teams met in Princeton, which could have been the most memorable of all of those meetings.

Broadcast nationally on the NBC Sports Network back in 2013, the Mountain Hawks fell behind 22-3 at halftime before playing one of the most extraordinary halves of Lehigh football to come from behind and magically beat the Tigers, 29-28.

Still gives me chills 2 years later (NJ.com)
Everything had to go right on offense, defense, and special teams in order to Lehigh to come back, and it did, with four drives resulting in touchdowns, a blocked field goal, and three Princeton drives stopped.

"We weren't really focused in the first half," Coen said after that game.  "We were getting banged around, no question.  It was frenetic, and we weren't finishing drives. Our drives were longer in the second half, and that kept our defense off the field longer.  That didn't happen in the first half."

What did help was an incredible game from WR Lee Kurfis, who was the offensive rock Lehigh leaned on with 13 catches and 152 yards.  He didn't score a touchdown, but he sure set up every second-half touchdown the Mountain Hawks scored that evening.

Bob Surace, Princeton's head football coach, has the same high-tempo system that Lehigh has already encountered this season at James Madison.  Dukes head coach Everett Withers and Surace share the same philosophy of the up-tempo, speedy, maximize-plays-per-minute offense.

But seeing what Princeton did to Lafayette last weekend - and recalling what James Madison did to Lehigh a couple of weeks ago - it's hard not to see this upcoming game as a big test as to where the Mountain Hawks might be able to go this season.

Princeton brings back several of the same names that took the field against Lehigh in that game back in 2013, some of them who are poised to be big contributors for Princeton the rest of the Tigers' season.  They haven't forgotten, either, which means this matchup steeped in history will have a special meaning for them.

Some Ivy League games don't bring as much juice as others.  But this one does for both sides, for reasons of both history and measurement.

Princeton will be looking to avenge 2013 to some degree, and fans will be looking to see what sort of season might be lying ahead for the Tigers.   In the preseason, they were picked fourth by the Ivy League voters, but a big win to complete the sweep over both Rivalry teams might turn some heads and demonstrate that the Tigers are a real contender for the Ivy League title this year.

And Lehigh will be looking to keep critical momentum going and to win back-to-back games for the first time since that 2013 season, where they went 8-3 and were in the Patriot League championship conversation most of the year.

Win this game, and one might rightfully put Lehigh in the conversation for the Patriot League title.  Lose, and those whispers will probably disappear.

Princeton has always been a yardstick game for Lehigh.  This year, it takes on more importance than usual.

Game Notes & Injury Report

As Greg Joyce of The Express-Times reported yesterday, there was some good news and bad news in regards to Lehigh's injury report from this week.

The good news that freshman RB Dom Bragalone, who started last Saturday but came out after an issue with his ribs, had recovered from his injury and was slated to be the starter again vs. Princeton.  The bad news was that freshman RB Micco Brisker, last weekend's Patriot League Freshman of the Week who racked up 100 yards on the ground after Bragalone came out, was found to have a broken bone in his hand, an injury sustained during the game last weekend when someone stepped on his hand.  He'll be out this weekend.

To back up Bragalone, coach Coen has a multitude of options.  Last week junior FB Kenny Crawford stepped in and had a big day, so it's likely we'll see plenty of him.  Other options include senior RB D.J. Kee, freshman RB Nick Thevanagayam, and sophomore FB Nana Amankwah-Ayeh, all of whom bring different skills to the table.

Also on the bright side sophomore DE Tyler Cavenas and sophomore S Quentin Jones return from injuries that held them out of the Penn game, and not a moment too soon.  Also look for sophomore CB Mark Raye-Redmond to be on the field a lot more, returning kickoffs and in pass coverage after some solid play last week.

On the minus side senior DE D.J. Bourgeois will almost certainly be out with a leg injury sustained during the Penn game.  Sophomore DE Harrison Johnson was plugged right in on the depth chart, though, and he did fairly well with 3 tackles and 1/2 tackle for loss.  He'll be the new backup behind junior DE T.J. Stubbs.

Weather Report

For a while it was looking like storms might affect the tailgating and gameplay at Princeton stadium this weekend, but as of right now the five day forecast is calling for a beautiful, mild, overcast afternoon with (most notably) a 0% chance of rain.  Might be worth checking again on Saturday morning, but right now it's looking like a temperate, partly cloudy day, perfect for a fall football game.

Tailgating at Princeton Stadium

A secret I will share with you is that Princeton is indirectly responsible for how my wife and I met for the first game.  Finding parking for football games at Princeton is not very intuitive, and we met for the first time when we both parked fairly far away from the stadium and she approached me to ask me if I knew where the stadium was.  Princeton's parking is frustrating, but I forgive them, because had it been more straightforward I would have missed out on, well, everything.

Princeton has two different lots: the "reserved" lots (purple) and the "general" (brown) lots.  "Reserved" lots are for paid, registered tailgates and are by far the most convenient way to get into the stadium.  The "general" lots are a bit of a walk to the stadium (as I found out when I met my future wife), but they are a pleasant walk through one of the most beautiful campuses anywhere.  You can park outside the range of the campus and walk to the game (as many Princeton fans do), but it can be a fairly long hike.  My suggestion: get there early.  And be friendly and offer to guide strangers to the stadium.  Because you never know.

Famous Princeton Alumnus You Didn't Know About

Pretty sure the Federalist Papers call for no-huddle
Princeton and James Madison's football programs are not the same, but they offer many similarities - great football stadiums, a breakneck offense, and head coaches with an aggressive approach to the game.  Oddly enough, James Madison, the man and President is a Princeton alumnus and was the very first Princeton graduate student.

Madison was the shortest president at 5'4 and reportedly not ever weighting more than 100 lbs in his lifetime.  Breaking from most Virginians at the time, he didn't choose to go to the College of William and Mary because he was worried about mosquitoes harming his "delicate health."  (Why he thought New Jersey would be healthier is a mystery.)

At Princeton, he allegedly proposed to his roommate's sister, Mary Frenau, and was turned down.  The most important thing about this revelation is that now I can claim that I have something over our fourth President: I can say in regards of marriage proposals to people I've met at Princeton, I'm batting 1.000.  James Madison: Not 1.000.

LFN's Drink of the Week (#DOTW)

Normally I have a fallback for Drinks of the Week, especially when the last time Lehigh played them was not only a victory, but an incredible victory.  I simply look at the #DOTW from the pregame of that game, and use that.

Imagine my horror to discover from that game preview there was no #DOTW.  (Yes, really.)  Was it laziness?  A fit of morality?  I'm not sure, but it poses a dilemma.  Do I make up a new #DOTW, or do I go with tradition and voodoo, and simply not declare one again?

It was #4 on Slate, But #1 In Our Hearts This Week
I decided to go with another #DOTW that is Princeton-based.  Fortunately it's a cocktail that fits the 5PM game start and definitely associated with Princeton.

Slate calls it Princeton Cocktail #1, but I'm going to rename it the Old Nassau Tiger Tail, because, dammit, that's what it should be called.

The recipe is 2 ounces Old Tom gin, 2 dashes orange bitters, ¾ ounce ruby or tawny port, and orange or lemon peel to twist.  The trick is to combine the bitters and the gin in the ice shaker and shake, pour into a chilled martini glass, and then pour the port in extremely slowly to make the layered effect.  "[It] is not, moreover, a thing to be attempted after having drunk more than three of any cocktail," Slate's author helpfully adds.  "You need a steady hand in order to achieve the layering effect, the niftiness of which is the drink’s big selling point."

The article goes on to say that it's one of the rare drinks that gets more interesting the longer you take to drink it as it warms up.  That also makes it ideal for a long-running tailgate like Saturday, I think.  Pour one, at most two, and take your time drinking it.  I think it's a good enough cocktail that we'll brave the Gods and offer it up as #DOTW.

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that.  And leave plenty of time to sober up.

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