People want games in Murray Goodman Stadium that are sunny and 70 degrees, with perhaps just a hint of wind. Instead, despite the fact that a threatened hurricane never arrived, temperatures dipped into the 50s to go with some cold, gusty winds, which caused not a few people to get runny noses.
Homecoming is supposed to be a happy time, but the dark, overcast skies didn't make the game feel like a warm, welcoming place. Though the Marching 97 tried their best, as did the Alumni band, the dreariness hung over the stadium like an unwelcome guest.
Home fans always want a win on homecoming, hopefully with exciting, crisp, vibrant execution from the guys in the brown jerseys, but again, that too would end up being the opposite of what Lehigh fans were hoping for on this afternoon.
Yale would turn over the ball three times, be penalized 11 times for 94 yards, and be limited to 200 yards passing on the afternoon. But they would also enjoy over 200 yards rushing from RB Deshawn Salter, playing in his first career start filling in for injured RB Candler Rich, and that, coupled with plenty of mistakes on the Lehigh side, would amount to a comfortable 27-12 win for the Buldogs.
“I thought we started fast on both sides of the ball, and we finished strong on both sides of the ball,” Yale head coach Tony Reno said. “Was it perfect? No. Is there lots of room for improvement? Yes, but I’m definitely happy with the effort and us taking a step forward at our level of execution.”
Yale's first score set up on a terrible missed call. On 3rd and 12 in the red zone, senior CB Olivier Rigaud was tackled from behind and a flag flew. The initial indication from one official was that it was pass interference on the offensive player, but when the foul was announced, it was switched to the defense, which was met with a chorus of boos.
It would set up the first of Salter's two touchdowns on the afternoon, a 2 yard run through the center of the Bulldog offensive line. Yale would never trail.
"Not a good day, today, at all, particularly offensively," head coach Andy Coen said. "Inthink Yale really dominated the line of scrimmage and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They were not allowing us to really get anything going in the run game at all. I've said this before, but we have to have the balance. We have to be able to run the ball and we have to be efficient throwing the football."
Lehigh would punt six times in the first half, only looking dangerous on offense during one drive that stalled at the Yale 26. Despite a fumble recovery by senior LB Matt Laub and a interception off a deflection by sophomore S Quentin Jones, Yale would surge to a 13-0 lead at halftime.
At the start of the second half, Lehigh's offense finally looked like the dangerous team that showed flashes of production over the course of the first half of the year. Junior QB Nick Shafnisky would go 4-4 passing on the drive, finding sophomore WR Troy Pelletier and junior WR Trevor Soccarras through the air. The drive sprinkled in a little bit of hard-nosed running by freshman RB Dom Bragalone, and it would finish in the end zone with a beautiful 24 yard run by Shafnisky to cut it to 13-7.
But the subsequent offensive drive would see another set of mistakes that seemed eerily reminiscient of the turnover-laden 3rd quarter of the Princeton game last week.
It started with a holding penalty that negated a beautiful catch-and-run by sophomore TE Drew Paulsen, negating his 20 yard catch and keeping Lehigh pinned back to the Lehigh 4.
Three ineffective offensive plays later, the punt snap went through the hands of senior P Austin Devine and caused a safety.
After a big play on Salter's second touchdown run, a 51 yard scamper through an enormous hole through the offensive line, Lehigh's offense would stall again, and Lehigh defense again would stop Yale's offense cold.
"It was disappointing to me how well they ran against us," Coen said. "The young man who played for them did a great job today. But we can't have that."
But Pelletier, back for the first time fielding punts, would muff the kick, allowing Yale to set up shop in the red zone.
"Penalties hurt us," Coen said. "A couple of big plays, turnovers. Troy was just trying to make a play, late in the game when we were trying to get back into it, but I think that really took a lot of wind out of the sails. Disappointing stuff."
Lehigh would make some isolated big plays. Junior LB Pierce Ripanti intercepted Yale's two-point conversion screen pass and taking it back all the way for two points. Pelletier would take a pass from freshman QB Brad Mayes and make an acrobatic catch, reminiscent of WR Odell Beckham, Jr.'s iconic catch last year. Freshman PK Ed Mish would continue his great, steady play with another 27 yard field goal.
"I thought special teams would be one area where we could gain an advantage," Coen said, "but it's not working out that way right now. The freshman kicker has been the bright spot, but we have some veteran guys who are struggling still. That's discipline."
But just like last weekend, the isolated big plays were not strung together enough to come away with a win.
"We've got a ways to go here to be more consistent," Coen said. "That's our deal. When we've played consistent football, we've done well and that's really one football game out of the five that we've played right now. We're 2-3, and we're going into league play this week, and that is what it's really all about, and we're looking forward to doing that.
"Everybody's got to get better," Coen said.