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Game Breakdown, Holy Cross at Lehigh, 11/7/2015

We break down the Holy Cross game - and we give our fearless prediction below the flip.

If you look at the statistics, you might think that this game may be a barn-burner.  In the Crusaders' last three games, they've put up more than 30 points each time.  Lehigh has eclipsed 30 point in their last two games as well.

If it does end up being a high-scoring affair, it may end up echoing a Holy Cross/Lehigh game that took place twenty-four years ago, and is considered by many to be the most exciting non-Lafayette-related football game ever played at Murray Goodman Stadium.

In 1991, Holy Cross was a Division I-AA powerhouse.  Though Gordie Lockbaum had graduated much earlier, the Crusaders' scholarship athletes kept Holy Cross' 34 game winning streak over I-AA opponents alive.  Lehigh, also ranked nationally, was the best chance for Holy Cross to be upset in many years.

Both had some of the top offenses in I-AA.  And in front of 14,055 fans, both teams treated the fans in attendance to an incredible show.


Tied 7-7 at halftime, it didn't initially seem like it would be such an instant classic of a game, but both teams would explode for 28 points on four very short drives to start the second half, setting up an incredible back-and-forth finish.

Lehigh's passing/catching combination of QB Glenn Kempa and WR Mark Lookenbill, would combine for 3 touchdowns, scratching and clawing back to make the score 35-34 with 3:46 left in the game.

Head coach Hank Small picked out a favorite 2-point conversion play to reclaim the lead, the now-illegal "fumblerooski" play, where the quarterback lays the ball on the ground and forces the flow of the game to the right, while a guard or tackle picks up the ball left on the ground and walks into the end zone.

He Was Stunned, Too (Getty Images, Best Of Sport)
It worked, and as Lehigh reclaimed the lead 36-35, the fans in the stands exploded.

Two more touchdowns were to come, when QB Tom Ciacco marched the Crusaders down the field in two plays to score a go-ahead touchdown to go up 43-36.  But Kempa would find WR Horace Hamm on a 45 yard bomb to get within one point.

Small didn't hesitate.

"We came here to win a football game, not go for the tie," he said.  "The two-point play we had ready to go."

Kempa's quick slant, though, was just outside the reach of WR Rich Clark, concluding one of the most thrilling football games every played at Murray Goodman.  I know; I was there.

It was big news, too, with a write-up and photos of the game ending up in Sports Illustrated.  Back in those days, both Lehigh and Holy Cross were considered "non-scholarship" schools and, like the Ivy League, chose not to play in the I-AA playoffs in football.

Small had some opinions on that.
When Lehigh coach Hank Small was asked about the Patriot League's no-playoff policy in football, he minced no words. ''It's a damn shame,'' he said, ''especially when every other sport in our league is allowed to go [to playoffs]. I think it's a crime, to tell you the truth.''

Breaking Down Holy Cross
Offense
“We are excited to get back into league play for the final stretch of the season,” Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore said in the Crusader game notes. “Lehigh is always a tough place to play, but we are looking forward to the challenge. I have been very impressed with their offensive production.”

Lehigh fans could say the same thing about the Crusaders.

Not a Patriot League Offensive MVP Trophy - Yet
Holy Cross' offensive philosophy hasn't changed a lot over the three years junior QB Pete Pujals has been there: pass-intensive, spreading around the ball on offense to every available wideout, back, running back and tight end, use the pass to set up the run.  FOr every fiver plays the Crusaders call, three of them are passes.

Of course, even though you know it's coming, the best quarterback in the Patriot League is still awfully difficult to stop.

"Petey Pigskin", who has had his football exploits mythologized almost as soon as he set foot on Holy Cross' campus, is everything the Holy Cross offense requires to be successful.  He's athletic and evasive, opening up the types of plays that the Crusaders can run, including option plays.  He has been great getting the ball to his receivers, which he's done at nearly a 60% clip this year.  If nothing develops, he can take off with the ball - something he's done extremely effectively, leading the team in rushing with 266 yards.

Making matters worse is that Pujals has three top-notch wideout targets to throw the ball to.

WR Brendan Flaherty
Start with junior WR Brendan Flaherty (742 yards, 13 TDs), who will almost certainly be on the postseason Patriot League all-American team when all is said and done.  Flaherty is 6'2, 200 lbs, and is difficult to bring down, making him a matchup concern.  He also has two touchdowns on running plays.

Then there's the speed demon, 5'9 senior WR Khalif Raymond (643 yards, 5 TDs), who can slide behind the defense easily if a defense focuses too much on Flaherty.  Though Brendan is more of the go-to guy, Raymond has burned opposing defenses and has great speed.

Jenifer Toland of The Worcester Telegram talked to Raymond, where he "humbly" admitted he was the fastest player on the team.  (4.31 40 yard dash his sophomore season.)  “God willing, I’d like to be the fastest in the Patriot League,” he said. “I’m not there yet. I’m not as fast as I want to be, but I’m working on it so I can have an impact in the game.”

“He’s got great speed,” Gilmore said, “but he also understands what to do on these routes, and he does these little subtle things to influence coverage — just getting people to open their hips just a little bit to make the final move, just pressing up the field a little bit. The last two weeks, he’s been open by very big margins and not just because of his speed. His understanding of the game and using technique to get open has been the improvements in that area, and that’s very noticeable this year.”

Finally, junior WR Jake Wieczorek (318 catches, 3 TDs) returns this week, who also has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver when completely healthy.  If he's 100% now, he also poses a concern in the pass catching game and causes defenses to have to respect him as well, opening up more opportunities for Flaherty and Raymond.

It's worth mentioning that Pujals has spread the ball around to more than fourteen different targets, so any number of possible players could break out an be a bigger part of the gameplan, like junior TE Lucas Nikolaisen (4 catches, 58 yards), who is also returning this week after injury, junior RB Gabe Guild (11 catches 67 yards) or freshman WR Richie DeNichola (11 catches, 105 yards).

Like Georgetown last week, the group out there this weekend has had lots of time to develop rapport with Pujals.  Many have been with him since the beginning.  There will be few rookie mistakes.

RB Diquan Walker
The other interesting thing is that the Crusaders, as per usual, doesn't have a very potent running game.  When they do need to grind out some yards, Guild (265 net yards) and sophomore RB Diquan Walker (257 net yards) are the two-headed running team Gilmore uses.  Walker, with 4 rushing TDs, is the most prolific of all the rushing backs in terms of scoring.

The Holy Cross offensive line is mostly asked to pass block and protect the quarterback, which they've done very effectively this year.  Some of that is Pujals' athleticism and escapability, but 6'6 ,306 lb junior OL Rob Kosharek has a lot to do with that, too.  If you're looking at a potential NFL player on this offense, aside from Pujals, Kosharek might be worth a look, too.

Defense

Holy Cross finally bit the bullet and not all that long ago switched to a 4-3 defense, and it's hard to argue with the results.  Though not the top defense in the Patriot League, they are only allowing 23 points per game, good for the middle of the pack.

Senior DE Dewayne Cameron (36 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks) is having a great season on the Holy Cross D Line, joining senior DT Mike Galantini, sophomore DT Jack Kutschke, and junior DE Dean Doe on the 1s.  Galantini, interestingly, has 2 interceptions on the year, which likely means that Holy Cross defenders are doing a great job disrupting the pass game through tips and the like.

SS Matt Bhaya
At linebacker, Holy Cross has been seriously banged up, but junior LB Kyle Young is having a fantastic year, with 59 tackles and 5 tackles for loss.  Freshman LB Andre Chevalier has been pressed into service with the injury to sophomore LB Nick McBeath, while senior LB J.T. Frank rounds out the unit.

The strength of the Holy Cross unit has been the secondary, with all-league candidates senior SS Matt Bhaya and junior FS Luke Ford.  Finally on the same unit, they have combined for 73 tackles and 3 interceptions, and always seem to be around the ball.  Sophomore CB Alim Muhammad and senior CB Coan Calabrese round out the secondary.

Special Teams

KR Khalif Raymond
Senior KR Khalif Raymond's acknowledged speed makes him an extra-dangerous return man.  With 159 punt return yards and 168 kickoff return yards, he has over 980 all-purpose yards on the season to go with two touchdowns on returns, including a critical one last weekend vs. Bryant.  He's such a dangerous weapon it is tempting to always kick it away from him, or even perhaps punt out of bounds.

Senior P/K Connor Fitzgerald has been a fairly strong kicker for the Crusaders, averaging 41.2 yards per punt and fairly good accuracy on field goals inside of 40 yards.  His longest is 41 yards, but if the opportunity presents itself to require a long kick, junior PK Zane Wasp has been the one that has taken those kicks.

Worthy of mention is two of Holy Cross' last three games had made field goals at the end of regulation.  Wasp's 48 yarder sent their game vs. Fordham to overtime, while Fitzgerald's kick last weekend game Holy Cross the win.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. North B and South B.  Fordham's recipe to beat the Crusaders was to develop a run-heavy gameplan, and Lehigh can certainly do the same with outside runs by freshman RB Dominick Bragalone and freshman RB Micco Brisker.  That hopefully will soften up the defense for some big pass plays.

2. The Defensive Trench.  The key to this game may very well be Lehigh's defensive front vs. the offensive line of the Crusaders.  If Lehigh can win this battle and put pressure on Pujals, it could be a long afternoon for Holy Cross and a great afternoon for the Mountain Hawks.

3. Forcing Turnovers.  Turnovers have been very costly for the Crusaders all season, and have made victories into defeats, especially in the second half of games.  Forcing turnovers could be a massive swing at home for Lehigh, and could be the key to a victory and keeping the championship drive alive.

Fearless Prediction

Everything points to a close game, a shootout, an interesting game possibly worthy of the ones in seasons past.  1991 was a legendary game, but Lehigh fans would probably be happier with a 3-0 win and another meaningful game next weekend.

The matchup is interesting.  Both teams' offensive strengths seem to map to each other's weaknesses.  All signs point to the shootout.  Will it happen?

I'm not sure, but I know it should be a great game tomorrow.  Gilmore always brings his A game to Bethlehem, and Lehigh can't just show up and win a game against a Gilmore coached team.  But the Mountain Hawks have the goal in sight - the Patriot League Championship - and at home, I see them just barely finding a way to get it done. 

Lehigh 36, Holy Cross 35

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