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Princeton At Lehigh Game Preview: Hoping "The Hangover 4" Doesn't Hang Over Mountain Hawks

What a win it was.

The consensus from anyone on the Lehigh side was that the 0-2 Mountain Hawks needed a win.  Any win.  And it wasn't going to be easy, against last year's Ivy League champs, out for vengeance.

And then it happened - the sort of half of football that makes all the loss experiences worth it, the type of tale of redemption after the disappointment of being so close to tasting victory and possible national recognition, only to have it taken away by a few yards in a game of inches, or a drive where the defense couldn't get that one final stop.

Suddenly, all the narratives that defined the first two losses were overturned.  Times when the offense were stopped short became touchdowns.  The defense became a Steel Curtain.  The win was as definitive as it was season-affirming.  It was difficult to find much to criticize in Lehigh's 49-28 victory over Penn that had spent all offseason plotting their vengeance against the Mountain Hawks, yet Lehigh still did that to them.

And that's the big, looming danger of this week: that the Mountain Hawk hangover from the win, from the party, from the exhilaration of the flipping of narratives, is so great that Lehigh gets blown off the line of scrimmage early by a talented Princeton team that most certainly has that capability, and had it on display at home last week vs. Lafayette.

"I was happy how our kids responded [at halftime]," head coach Andy Coen said in the post-game presser after the Penn game.  "They got things moving on the right foot offensively,  and then you saw what happened out there with our offense.  We [as a team] played one of the best days I can remember."

At about the same time Lehigh was putting up points and making stops in Philadelphia, in Princeton, New Jersey, the Tigers were holding on for dear life against a team they throttled 44-7 the year before.

Celebrating Win over Lafayette (We Understand The Feeling)
After the Leopards took a brief 24-21 lead against the Tigers, RB Joe Rhatigan took over, taking the lion's share of carries on a touchdown drive that gave Princeton the lead, including a 1 yard score, and again on a 17 yard TD scamper after a series of turnovers by both sides.

Once Princeton got the lead, Lafayette QB Drew Reed orchestrated a 8 play, 80 yard drive, ending with a 24 yard touchdown strike to WR Matt Mrazek to cut the deficit to four.

“[Offensive coordinator] James [Perry] told the huddle, ‘you are going to run the ball and you are going to finish’ and the guys’ eyes lit up like ‘Yeah we can do it!’” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace.  That's exactly what the Tigers did, rushing the ball and mixing it with some passes to secure a scary, sometimes sloppy, but ultimately satisfying win, 35-31.

"There are no ugly wins," Surace said.

The first thing a Princeton opponent needs to visit on the box score to evaluate one of their games is "total offensive plays".  Against Lafayette, the number of plays was "79", which was pretty good, but what really sticks out is the number "5", which represents rushing touchdowns.

Princeton, like Lehigh, plays fast, which could mean quite a helping on offense at Murray Goodman on Saturday.  It might be a bit cliche to say that it's a track meet, but with nine total  rushing touchdowns scored by both Lehigh and Princeton in their games last Saturday night, it seems particularly apt.

That's precisely why it cannot do to have a hangover going into Saturday after their first win.

Returning home having finally erased the bad taste of the home loss to Monmouth, the Mountain Hawks should be eager to show the home fnas how much they've improved as a football team.

But in a track meet, a slow start might be enough to sink the home team's hopes of riding the momentum of the Penn win to a great season.

There's also that little matter of last year's game.

“It was a disaster last year,” Coen told Madison Welker of The Brown and White. “The game started and we were pretty neck and neck, and then we turned the ball over and they scored right at the end of the half, which is where things fell apart for us. In the second half, we had six possessions and turned the ball over on five of them, which you can’t beat anybody when you play like that.”

The 52-21 game ended up a blowout, thanks to the turnovers, and when I interviewed Andy after the game last year, he was as agitated as I'd ever seen him.

No Turnover On This Bragalone Run
"The turnovers, the penalties, the blocked extra point, losing momentum there, that was all stuff we had control over," Coen said after the game last season, seemingly wanting to get back onto the field right then and there, with the fireworks going off, and play the game all over again.  "They had no control over that.  It was our problem jumping offsides, it was our problem dropping balls, our problem not being focused enough.  And if you are not focused enough, then someone else will play."

It was a strange football game last year, as Lehigh/Princeton games frequently are.

There was over 1,000 yards of total offense in that game: Lehigh with 561, Princeton with 497.

But only one side was lighting up the part of the scoreboard that mattered, thanks partially to great plays by Princeton, with a huge assist from Lehigh's self-inflicted wounds.

As the Andy Coen quote says, it wasn't just the turnovers, though there were a lot of those - it also was drops, untimely penalties, and blown assignments that led to Princeton touchdowns.

Like last year, this year's contest points to a high-scoring, rip-up-the-Kentucky-bluegrass sort of game on Saturday.

The big question: can Lehigh avoid those "disastrous" self-inflicted wounds - and others - this year, and avoid a dreaded victory hangover from the Penn game?

Ballin' Like Balliet

One of my favorite stories concerning Lehigh and Princeton involves the late 1890s and a player that played for both teams, D.M. Balliet.

In those early years of collegiate football, 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.

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.

In the media, Princeton was roundly criticized for prying Balliet away from Lehigh.  The reason for this was, 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 crisis - big enough, in fact, to cause all the members of the old, powerful Intercollegiate Football Association (one of the associations 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 in my book "The Rivalry".  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.)

Game Notes And Injuries

An interesting switch on the defensive line has junior DL Tyler Cavenas switching to starting defensive end, where last week, the Mahanoy City, PA native backed up senior NG Jimmy MItchell in the middle.  It ends up being a switch with freshman DL Colin Nace, who goes from backing up at DE to NG, and sophomore DE Julian Lynn goes from a start at DE.  With the rotation of defensive linemen, Lynn should still be getting a lot of defensive snaps.

On offense, junior WR Sasha Kelsey has been working on rehabbing from an injury to his leg.  The last two weeks, he's been a "gametime decision" with the decision both times ending up being "no".  Kelsey Watch will be in full effect in the run-up to the 12:30 kickoff again for sure.

Weather Report

Pretty Sure This Has Been Every Lehigh Game So Far
Not that I'm complaining, but, has it been hot this September?  I mean really, really, hot?  I'm accustomed to some games in the summer eclipsing 80 degrees, but every game this season has been played in unseasonably hot weather, even in the evening.  This Saturday, the last weekend in September, promises to finally dip below 80, with early reports for abundant sunshine with a high of 76.  It wouldn't be surprising, though, to see one more burst of sunshine to give one last summer-like weekend for Lehigh football.  Once again, it should be perfect tailgate weather.

Special Stuff Happening

College football coaches around the country, including coach Coen, will once again be joining the fight against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  By wearing an arm band with the Coach to Cure MD insignia, coaches will show their support for Coach to Cure MD, the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) charitable project. This is the ninth consecutive year of the Coach to Cure MD project, with Coen's Lehigh teams being regular participants.

At halftime, the 1991 team will also be honored on the field with a ceremony, thanks to the Lehigh Football Partnership.  Also, Fran McCaffery's late 1980s basketball teams are also going to be honored on the field as well.

Princeton Person You've Never Heard Of

"Bet Jason Garrett Never Won One Of These"
When it comes to picking a Princeton alumna or alumnus to profile, what really stands out is the sheer number of figures to choose from: politicians of all stripes, actors, writers, and all-around interesting people.

One of my favorites?  Former Princeton football player Dean Cain.

Cain, who came to Princeton from Santa Monica, California, was a genuinely tremendous Ivy League football player.  A quarterback in Santa Monica High school, where he palled around with Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen, he converted to safety in college, where he met and dated Brooke Shields on campus, the subject of tabloid stuff.

In his senior year in a 16-15 win over Lehigh, Cain got a critical interception to help seal the victory, orchestrated by a future NFL head coach and his brother, Jason Garrett and Judd Garrett.

Cain obviously loved showbiz and loved the movies, and has had a long, working, successful career in that field where so many fail miserably, not only as an actor, but also a screenwriter.  But he's best known for his biggest role, that of Superman in the TV series Lois and Clark (alongside 1980s-version-of-me's-dream-date Teri Hatcher).

That iconic role would saddle him with the so-called "Superman Curse" - namely, once you've played Superman, you never reach those heights again.  Fortunately, it seems like a Princeton education helps in that area.

LFN's Drink of the Week (#DOTW)

Last year, I put in this space a complex mixed drink called "The Princetonian", which subsequently led to a mistake-riddled poor Lehigh performance.  You know what that means - The Princetonian gets relegated to the dustbin.

It's a game where Lehigh, and the Drink of the Week, goes back to basics - those old classic hits, those time-and-again proven winners that are a part of everyone's party fridge.  That's right - Yuengling Traditional Lager.

Longtime readers of this space know that I usually only trot out the ol' refreshing, smooth Yuenglings when I see a real need for a victory - that little something extra that hopefully turns an "uh-oh" into a win.  (It also tends to happen when it's late, I'm lazy, and I want to get this preview done, ut you don't need to know about that part.)

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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