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

“We didn’t execute as well as we wanted coming out of the half,” he said. “In the past we may have crumbled a little bit, but we kept fighting. We kept working through the adversity.”

You might think these were the words of someone from Lehigh this weekend, perhaps Mountain Hawk head coach Andy Coen or freshman QB Brad Mayes.

The words were not theirs, however. They were the words of Holy Cross junior QB Pete Pujals after their thrilling 34-33 win over Bryant.

Holy Cross comes into this weekend's game at Lehigh with an identical record as the Mountain Hawks, 4-4.  Like Lehigh, they are playing to finish the season strong and force their way into a playoff conversation by winning their last three games to finish at 7-4.

Listing to Holy Cross' post-game press conference from last week, you can pluck many more words from Pujals and head coach Tom Gilmore that could have been taken from Lehigh's.  "Believing".  "Character."  "Finding a way to win."

The Crusaders will definitely be another test as to how far Lehigh has come this season.

Recently, there was an article about one of the most well-known Holy Cross football players in history.

RB/DB Gordie Lockbaum
I remember reading about RB/DB Gordie Lockbaum back in high school, getting the issue of Sports Illustrated with him in it and reading about how he was the last of the great two-way players, invoking OL/DL Chuck Bednarik and how, at a small school called Holy Cross, he was a stupendous player, not only starting on offense and defense, but also returning kickoffs and punts.

Head coach Mark Duffner asked Gordie if he felt like he could play both ways, and he answered "yes".

Before Gordie would encounter such fame, he would start off the 1986 season against Lehigh, in Hank Small's first game as head football coach and Lehigh's first game in the Patriot League, which was then called the Colonial League.  Up on Worcester, Gordie forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, a critical play in the Crusaders' 17-14 win over the Engineers.

Few folks might have thought that Gordie might then mount a campaign for the Heisman, but after beating Army, the national press started to take notice, and the Lockbaum legend was in play.

In 1987, Lockbaum didn't amass a lot of statistics for his Heisman campaign against Lehigh, but that was because everyone else surrounding him did plenty.  The Crusaders torched Lehigh for 736 total yards, with a whopping 470 yards through the air from QB Jeff Wiley, to pound the Engineers 63-6 in their most lopsided loss since 1944.  (It remains the most lopsided Lehigh defeat at home in more than a century.  Only a 76-0 loss to Cornell in 1892 was worse.)

Looking back, reading about Gordie Lockbaum was my first exposure to Patriot League football.  I didn't know who Lehigh was at that time, but I did know who Army was and who Gordie Lockbaum was and who Boston College was - the only team that would beat a Lockbaum-led Holy Cross squad in his two years of playing both ways.

I had always loved football, and about the only think I liked more than playing backyard football was reading about football, and poring over those Sports Illustrated back then, I had no idea I'd take on writing about one of Holy Cross' division foes, or writing something about the great two-way player today.

*****

In his weekly recap, coach Coen said that "it's very exciting to be playing meaningful football in November".  He certainly speaks for fans, players, coaches, and everyone involved with the Mountain Hawks.

Don't Count Them Out
That's because Lehigh, should they win the rest of their games, would be no worse than Patriot League co-champions.  Whether it results in an autobid to the FCS playoffs or not, it's a big deal if they go from a disaster 3-8 season last year to a co-championship at 7-4 this time.

Holy Cross, too, has an outside chance at a co-championship as well, but their path is tougher.

Though they have a 4-4 record, they hold a 1-2 record in the Patriot League, having lost two late heartbreakers to both Colgate (31-14, whose outcome was will in doubt in the 4th quarter) and Fordham (47-41 in overtime).

They would require more to happen to get into the co-championship equation, but don't count them out.

Holy Cross has always made a game of things against Lehigh, no matter what the records.  The Mountain Hawks hold a 16-13-1 series edge on the Crusaders, but it seems like every game the past two or three years has been close.

And at 7-4, they could certainly get into the conversation for the FCS playoffs, too.  Like Lehigh, their case woudn't be great, but if they win out they'd be on a five game winning streak with two close losses to possible playoff teams Fordham and Towson.  They'd also have a win over a CAA team, Albany.

Aside from the championship implications, there could be a lot of action for the scoreboard operators as well.  Both Lehigh and Holy Cross have averaged more than 32 points per game in conference games.

Everything points to parity in the league between Lehigh, Georgetown, Holy Cross, Fordham, Colgate, and Bucknell, too.  Every single game contested between these teams were in doubt well into fourth quarter.

All of this spells a very critical game in October for both teams.  The winner will survive to play another meaningful game next week.  The loser will be thinking more towards next season.

Game Notes and Injury Report

Should be reporting for duty
On the tip of everyone's tongue going into the pre-game press conference this week were questions about the health of junior QB Nick Shafnisky and senior LB Noah Robb.

Shaf, who came in for a few critical plays on offense last week, is recovering from a hip pointer suffered in the Fordham game, while Robb, who suffered an ankle injury, didn't return.

Robb's loss was felt immensely last week, not so much on the pass rush or running came, because junior LB Evan Harvey filled that role very well, but in pass support, where Georgetown QB Kyle Nolan made a lot of hay in the area where Robb would have normally been patrolling.

The good news about Noah Robb comes from Greg Joyce of The Express-Times:
In the case of Shaf, the quote from Joyce's article is that they "didn't want to rush him back," meaning that there's still a good chance that freshman QB Brad Mayes, who played a great, zero-turnover game last week, will see plenty of snaps.  Like last week, it seems like we won't know until that first offensive huddle whether it will be Mayes or Shaf under center.

"We have a little more confidence now knowing that Brad can step in and play," Coen told Keith Groller of The Morning Call.  "Nick, at the very least, will be in there on short-yardage and goal-line situations."

Another interesting tidbit as seen on Lehigh's game notes is the the presence of senior LB Cody Kondas starting on the outside over junior LB Pierce Ripanti.  Both should continue to see plenty of time on defense, but the larger Kondas seems to be seeing more of the field of late.

Weather Report

The weather for Military Day at Murray Goodman looks like another gorgeous fall day.  The 70 degree days of this week may be a bit too much to ask for November, but a beautiful, sunny afternoon with a high of 60 is not.

The Mountain Hawks have lucked out big-time with the weather so far this season, and this weekend seems like it will keep the streak alive.

Famous Holy Cross People You've Heard Of 

Did you know, dear Reader, that one of Pennsylvania's most legendary legislators is a College of the Holy Cross alum?.

"I approve of Lehigh winning this weekend"
Senator Bob Casey went to Holy Cross on a basketball scholarship before embarking on a political career that saw him become the governor of Pennsylvania.  'All the smart guys said I would lose,'' he said. ''I was 17 points down in August and the other guy was the son of a former governor, son of an ambassador. He had $1 million. I didn't have a penny. But I never doubted I would win.''

Casey may be best known for his pro-life views that were not allowed to be aired at the Democratic National Convention when they were nominating Bill Clinton.  Casey ended up being a maverick, but was a member of the Democrat's "big tent" in the 1990s.  You wonder if today he'd still be a member of that big tent.

Casey's son, Senator Bob Casey, Jr., is one of Pennsylvania's senate representatives, and also, oddly enough, is a Holy Cross alum as well.  There's no way of knowing whether the senator might be at Murray Goodman this weekend, but let's hope he has the sense and common decency to root for the Mountain Hawks.

LFN's Drink of the Week (#DOTW)

This weekend's Drink of the week was a lot harder than I imagined.

My first suggestion presented to me, I'm saving for the Colgate game.  It's red.

Maybe Jeb! Can Fix It, But My Money's On This
My second go-to move, looking in the archives for the last #DOTW offered in a Lehigh win over the current opponent, was a bust - I've already used Yuengling as my #DOTW this year.  No repeats.

Last year was a good one, but Lehigh didn't win.  That meant I needed to start over, and find a brand new, appropriate drink.  I looked up purple drinks.  No, we won't be doing purple drinks.

Finally I stumbled upon the drink I wanted.  It's simple, and fixes everything - fixes my way-too-late preview, fixes my too-long work week, and fixes the problem of trying to find an appropriate drink.  Quite simply, it's the Gin Fix.

It couldn't be simpler to make.  2 parts gin, 1 part water, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of sugar, and whatever fruit you have handy for garnish.  Apples?  Yes, we have apples.  And yes, we have the Drink That Fixes Everything, Including Lehigh's Championship Run.  Sip, and enjoy.

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.

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