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Lehigh At Holy Cross Game Preview: Cornered Crusaders Are The Worst Crusaders

No college football coach wants to face a team boxed in a corner.

In that way, Harvard was stepping into a purple hornet's nest last weekend when the nationally-ranked Crimson came to play the wounded Crusaders.

After their injury-riddled team failed to hold onto a win against Bucknell, ultimately falling 21-20, Tom Gilmore's team needed to make a stand against a really good football team in order to keep their season from a limp to the finish.

Even if they didn't win, they had to keep things close - few pundits gave Holy Cross much of a chance against the better bankrolled, historically dominant Harvard team that hadn't lost a road game a non-conference game in their last sixteen tries.

Cornered like rats, Holy Cross responded in a big way.  Six sacks and a second-half shutout later, the Crusaders would notch their first win over a nationally-ranked opponent since 2009, thus turning things around at the exact right time for them and the exact wrong time for Lehigh.

"This was a huge win under any circumstances," Gilmore said after the game.  "These guys never let the good or the bad get to them.  They just kept fighting."

The defense in particular, after giving up two late scores to Bucknell the week before, played a mammoth role in the win, forcing a fumble that was covered in the end zone for a touchdown, and forcing two more turnovers in the second half to preserve the victory.

“We felt going in that Holy Cross was a good football team and they outplayed us and outcoached us. And they deserved to win,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said after his team got upset. “Their defensive front seven is the best we’ve seen this season. They had a lot of pressure off the edge both blitz and non-blitz. We put ourselves under pressure at times by not establishing the run. We just didn’t control the line of scrimmage.”

This week, Holy Cross finds itself in the same boat as it did last week - a win puts them in a much better position to potentially sweep the rest of their Patriot League competition, maybe get some help, and possibly win the championship.

But a loss pretty much would put the 3-4 Crusaders out of the title picture and put them in real jeopardy, with Fordham and Colgate still to go, of finishing the season with a sub-.500 record.

There is a chance that this season, Holy Cross might be looking forward a little bit.

This season, it is Holy Cross and Fordham's turn to contest a football game at Yankee Stadium.

Two years after Lehigh and Lafayette tangled at Yankee Stadium, the Crusaders and Rams are competing for the Ram-Crusader Cup in the Bronx this year.

Like the 150th, both Holy Cross and Fordham alumni seem to have met the challenge in buying tickets for this most special of occasions.  Upwards of 30,000 fans are expected to go, and there are a slew of different Holy Cross and Fordham activities planned, including family trips to the Bronx Zoo, service projects, and (of course) formal and informal gatherings at places like Billy's Sports Bar.

It will be a bowl-like atmosphere for Holy Cross in their best-attended game in several decades.

While the 150th meeting of The Rivalry at Yankee Stadium was unquestionably a phenomenal social event for both Lehigh and Lafayette fans (and was a triumph at the gate, with more than 48,000 fans in attendance), the truth is Lehigh and Lafayette fans and players get treated to a bowl-like atmosphere every year with The Rivalry wherever it's played.

To put this in perspective, last year's home season finale for Holy Cross (vs. Georgetown) was contested in front of 5,785 fans, while Lehigh's finale vs. Lafayette was in front of another Murray Goodman sellout crowd of more than 16,000 fans.

This year, the size of the crowd at Yankee Stadium will more than double the number of attendees as The Rivalry at Lafayette (capacity at Fisher Field: 13,750), and will unquestionably be the best-attended Holy Cross football game since the Crusaders' big rival, Boston College, played their last game at Fitton Field in 1986.

In that game, Boston College, who were a few years removed from suiting up future Heisman winner QB Doug Flutie on that same field, beat Holy Cross 56-26 in front of more than 25,000 fans.

It's a great piece of excitement for the Crusaders, and frankly both Fordham and Holy Cross ought to be congratulated for having a game like this for both schools.  Bowl games like the Ram-Crusader Cup are great for both schools and great for Patriot League football in general - and go a long way towards dispelling the myth that Patriot League students and fans are apathetic towards a big-time college football event.  Done the right way, they can be a lifetime of memories.

But that's not likely to be big on the mind of Holy Cross players and coaches this week.  They're still playing for a Patriot League championship, and their backs are no less on the wall than they were last week.  They'll throw everything they have at the Mountain Hawks, and that makes them as dangerous as can be.

Game Notes And Injuries

Two big injury concerns came from last weekend's game against Georgetown: senior OT Tim O'Hara, who came down wrong on his leg last Saturday and didn't finish the game, and senior QB Nick Shafnisky, who seemed to suffer or re-aggravate a leg injury as well.

Oddly enough, O'Hara might be the bigger concern going into this weekend.  If Shaf can't go on Saturday, Lehigh Nation has a tremendous amount of confidence that sophomore QB Brad Mayes will be able to shoulder the responsibility of starting (since he has so much experience in that matter).  While senior OL Evan Sweeney ably stepped in when O'Hara went down, the depth behind him and senior OG Micah Tennant will almost certainly be a freshman or sophomore.  Also, O'Hara I would consider one of the top offensive linemen in the Patriot League.  If he's healthy and can play, he's a huge boost.

Looking over the game notes, it's interesting to see the role of junior DB Marc Raye-Redmond beginning to expand as well.  On defense, he's backing up at both corner and safety, and he's clearly on the field in long passing situations, and on special teams he's back on kickoffs as well.  He's really worked his way up the depth chart and seems to be making the most of the opportunities presented to him.

Weather Report

For the first time this season, Lehigh may be playing in an environment that isn't 70 degrees and beautiful, almost summerish temperatures.

The current weather forecast has a high of 55 with a 71% chance of showers.  It is more of the "occasional rain and drizzle" variety, but what really bears watching is Friday's weather in the Worcester area, which calls for a steady, heavy rain overnight.  This could mean some sloppy conditions on Saturday, and it bears watching.

Though the game should end well before nightime temperatures dip into the high 30s, it also bears mentioning that it should be pretty cold by the time the game ends - just a very different experience than the other games this year contested by Lehigh.

Special Stuff Happening

click here and see if there are any openings if you're interested.
In terms of "extras", there isn't any specific Lehigh-themed events up at Fitton Field in Worcester.  The South Side Boosters have a bus trip (that is sold out) that leaves Friday, stays over in Mystic, CT, and then head up Saturday morning for the noon kickoff time.  Cancellations do occur, though, so you can

Tickets are available at this link.

[UPDATE: In their Holy Cross/Lehigh game zone, Holy Cross has updated a lot of their family-frindly activities for the game.  Of note to Lehigh fans is the opening of the tailgate lots at 9:00 AM, and that the first 1,500 fans at Fitton Field get a Gordie Lockbaum bobblehead.  Full details are here.]

One of the interesting aspects of this weekend's game is that it is going to be Holy Cross' final home game at Fitton Field this season, and thus it will be their "senior day".  It also means there will be a Most Valuable Player award, the Dr. Edward N. Anderson Award, for the MVP of the game.

From Lehigh, the car trip is a little over four hours, which means a very early Wawa bagel egg and cheese sort of morning if you're making the trip to the game for the noon start.  Getting to the stadium and parking area for Holy Cross is very easy off of route 230.

Famous Holy Cross Person You've Heard Of

"You mean coach Gilmore ran on third down and 21?"
You remember him from Swingers, his turn as the lovable but unlucky-at-love tutor from Rudy, the guy who directed Iron Man and The Jungle Book...

No, not that Jon Favreau.

This is the Jon Favreau that graduated from Holy Cross as valedictorian with a degree in political science, and has had a, um, pretty good career too: notably as President Barack Obama's Director of Speechwriting for four years.

Currently he's a columnist for  The Ringer (run by another well-known Holy Cross alumnus, Bill Simmons) and co-host of the Keeping It 1600 Podcast.  He's also a pretty big Twitter celebrity, too, on top of everything else (@jonfavs).  Recently quoted about his debate analysis from such press luminaries such as Maureen Dowd, politically connected and blessed with good looks, it's clear he's destined to be a political punditry star among the Democrats.

About the only thing he has going against him is that his dog is not as cute as mine.  I think.

LFN's Drink of the Week (#DOTW)

The Gin Fix Fixes Everything
In accordance with tradition - the "tradition" that if a Drink of the Week worked last year it should work again this year - it was an easy choice to bring back last year's favorite that "fixes everything".

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.  Sip, and enjoy.

Last year, the Gin Fix "fixed" Lehigh's title run, taking relative uncertainty and turning it into meaningful November games.  It seems apropos to bring it back for this week, too.

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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