Skip to main content

Villanova 26, Lehigh 21 Postgame Thoughts: It's Not How You Start, But How You Finish

I like winning.

Who doesn't?

Admittedly, it is a bit of a selfish impulse on my part.  It is always easier to recap a heroic made-for-TVesque Lehigh win than a loss.  Narratives and nicknames flow like water when games have outcomes like that.

Not so today, after Lehigh's 0-2 start.  It's harder to pull together the game recaps when the outcomes of the games instead show a team that is on the brink of learning how to win, but hasn't been able to figure out how to turn that corner.

Two games into the season, I don't see a Lehigh team that is necessarily bad, or pointed in the wrong direction.

Instead, I see a team that is trying to figure out how to put away a tough opponent and win football games.

And frankly, there's nothing wrong with that yet.

*****

Trying to hit the right tone after a loss like Saturday's poses a special challenge.

I've seen all sorts of Lehigh wins and losses.  I've seen all the highs and the lows of the Andy Coen era.

Makes Me Smile, Always
I've seen the most thrilling FCS playoff win I've ever seen in person at Towson, and I was at Yankee Stadium in November of 2014, the worst of all the Rivalry defeats by a team sporting Brown and White.

But by far the hardest games to get right are these "moral victories," where Lehigh plays a truly strong game across the board against a team that is expected to be a playoff team, but falls just short.

By any measure, Villanova is a strong team at this point of the year.  Their defense held Pitt to only 28 points, a squad that turned around and hung 42 on Penn State.  If you're grading on a curve, Lehigh's offense scoring 21 points on this daunting unit - not bad.

Sitting at No. 19 in the FCS Coaches' poll, the Wildcats were a playoff team last year, and were picked to finish 4th in the CAA, behind the No. 2 team in the nation that eviscerated Virginia in Week 1 (Richmond), and two current Top 25 teams that were also FCS playoff teams last season, William & Mary and James Madison.

Given a recent history like that, many rightfully expected that Lehigh might struggle against the Wildcats, as is befitting their ranking.

They Are Pretty Good
But that's not what happened.

On the road, the Mountain Hawks came in and came back from a 6-0 deficit to go up 14-6 at half, stuffing the Villanova run game on 4th-and-1 and orchestrating two excellent scoring drives.  At times during that half, Coen said in the post-game presser said that the Mountain Hawks "dominated the line-of-scrimmage at times."  Against such a quality team like Villanova, that's very positive.

We all know the rest of the story: in a game of inches, Lehigh came up just short on 4th and 10 to turn over the ball on downs.

Yet that escapes a key point: against the No. 19 team in the country, the Mountain Hawks were in a position to win.

Which is, of course, the conundrum of the coverage of the game.  They were right there!  They had a chance to win what could have been a season-defining game that pushes them through a daunting out-of-conference schedule that features three awfully tough Ivy League opponents in defending Ivy League co-champions Penn, always-tough Princeton, and Yale at the Yale Bowl, a place where Lehigh hasn't won in over a decade.

But it didn't happen that way.  Instead, Lehigh starts out 0-2.

The end result is a mix of happiness that the Mountain Hawks were in it, and yet undeniably frustrating that Lehigh, on the brink of achieving a season-defining upset, came one or two yards short of the goal.

I think the most important thing to remember is how this loss, in the end, will not define Lehigh's season.

My mind keeps drifting back to Colgate, and the Raiders' 2015 season in particular.

If you were "Colgate Football Nation" at this stage of the 2015 season, two games in, the Raiders started the season 0-2.

They got trounced by Navy, 48-10, and then got pulverized by New Hampshire the following week, 26-8.

Would Colgate Football Nation have rushed to the exits, saying that things needed "fixing" and saying the season was on the brink of disaster?

Sure, there was a higher level of concern among the fans when Yale pulled off a miracle comeback to beat the Raiders the following week, 29-28, to give Colgate an 0-3 start.

Not a Panic Moment for Colgate Fans
But, crucially, the wheels didn't come off most of that fanbase.  Frankly, they're used to an early-season schedule of incredibly daunting opponents, a trend that continued last weekend when their ancient Rival Syracuse pounded them 33-7 in the first game of the Dino Babers era.

After Colgate's 0-3 start, in what was unquestionably the most crucial game of the season, an away game at Holy Cross, it was the Raiders successfully pulling away late in the second half for a 31-14 victory.

It set the tone for the rest of the season, and you know the rest of that story.  It ended with a Patriot League championship, wins over Fordham and Lehigh, a rematch win over New Hampshire, and a shock victory over James Madison.

Looking back now, it's easy to see that Colgate team as one that took some time to find itself.  But they did, and it happened in spite of the two hugely lopsided losses in the first two weeks.

Colgate fans that stayed the course after their 0-2 start were rewarded.

What about other fanbases after this past football weekend?

Is Fordham Football Nation ready to put their team in the FCS national championship game after eviscerating an 0-2 Division II team 83-21, a game that was 31-0 at one point and ended up as a glorified practice in the second half?

Is Georgetown Football Nation starting to panic after only beating Marist 20-17, relying on a 4th down touchdown pass to preserve victory?  Are they asking to revoke the need-based aid of their starting quarterback?

Probably not panic button time for Bison
Is Bucknell Football Nation in the dumps after giving up 30 points to last year's NEC champions and FCS playoff participants Duquensne?  Are they calling for the offensive coordinator's head and asking for a switch to the Wing-T?

What about the two other Patriot League teams that lost last weekend, Holy Cross and Lafayette?  Are their fanbases crying that the season is over after losing to New Hampshire and Delaware last weekend?

If they are, they are missing the point of this part of the preseason.

The nature of the first two games of the season is that they're an "incomplete".  Would season-defining wins been welcome?  Definitely.  But they're no reason to panic.

For my part, after sleeping on it and getting over how Lehigh was this close to beating the No. 19 team in the nation, I see a lot to be hopeful about for the rest of the season.  There was a lot of improvement from the first weekend, and there's no reason to believe that the improvement won't continue going into next weekend's visit to Franklin Field.

I don't know what the future has in store for Lehigh in the next three out-of-conference games, before a no-doubt-about-it important game vs. Colgate in October.  But what I do think is that this team deserves everyone's patience over the next three weeks.  Based on a very good performance on Saturday - one that came up a yard short - that's the least we can do for them.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Remembering Lehigh's Battles With The Late Tubby Raymond

(Photo Credits: Delaware Online)

When I heard the news Tubby Raymond, legendary Delaware head football coach, died last week at the age of 92, two immediate memories came rushing back to me.

One occurred on October 16th, 1999, when Tubby had made a complaint to the local paper or radio in the run-up to Kevin Higgins' Mountain Hawks beating his Blue Hens on Delaware's homecoming, 42-35.

I have no idea if the quote even actually happened, but my recollection is that Tubby said that Lehigh had "St. Bartholomew's" on their schedule, and hadn't played anybody.  It was a verbal jab that many Delaware fans took with them to the stands to heckle the Mountain Hawk fans that made the short trip to Newark.

Up until that point, I had watched a bunch of Lehigh football games over the years.  I experienced their rise in the 1990s.  I enjoyed wins, and championships, and playoff victories.

But never had I felt a win so viscerally vindicating than the one over Tubby Raymond&…

Lehigh Wrestling Gets Superstar Treatment at PPL Center. Lehigh Football Needs The Same At Murray Goodman.

"We knew it would be nice," Lehigh wrestling head coach Pat Santoro said. "But it was even better than we expected."

Pat was talking about the reception his Lehigh wrestling squad experienced at Allentown's PPL Center this weekend, when a sellout crowd over nearly 10,000 people came to watch No. 1 Penn State grapple with No. 5 Lehigh in a collegiate wrestling event.

It was, by all accounts, something special to behold. 

"I thought it was really cool and an exciting place to wrestle," said Penn State wrestler Nick Nevills. "These fans were really into it, a rowdy bunch. It's a lot more fun as an athlete to wrestle in an environment like this. I'd say it was one of the most exciting times I have had in my career."

The sense of spectacle at the PPL center, though, puts a spotlight on what more can be done at Lehigh itself to make their athletic contests into spectacles.  It requires money to be spent and energy to be expended.  But the…

Troy Pelletier Hasn't Stopped Outworking His Rivals On His Journey To Professional Football

Many Patriot League football fans remember the 153rd meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette, one that ended happily for the Mountain Hawks.

They might remember the MVP performance of QB Brad Mayes, or perhaps the halftime speech by OL Zach Duffy that seemed to spur the Mountain Hawks to victory.

Or perhaps they might remember the spectacular single play of Mayes rolling right and finding WR Gatlin Casey in the end zone to give the Mountain Hawks a lead they didn't relinquish.  It was an incredible play by Mayes, who returns this upcoming year for his senior season, and Casey, who, having exhausted his eligibility at Lehigh, will be playing one more year at Middle Tennessee State.

As great as those individual moments are, though, they are not my biggest takeaway of that game.

Too many Lehigh people forget that Lehigh was down 31-21 at half, and that victory was no sure thing.  And they sometimes forget that so much of that victory came from the grinding of WR Troy Pelletier, deliver…