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Know Your 2017 Opponents: Penn

Last season, there were two iconic games that set the tone for the Lehigh football season - one a tough loss, the other a tough victory.

The first iconic moment was simply called "the Monmouth game" - the season-opening game where the Mountain Hawks started out slow, allowed the other Hawks to build up a double-digit lead, and after a furious comeback, Lehigh came up just short.  Lehigh had multiple opportunities to seize control - but didn't.

It threatened to become the narrative that defined the season - that is, until the second iconic game, which was simply called "the Penn game", and also broke down to a specific moment - the end of the first half.

From my recap of the game:

"They had seen this last season, too.  Lehigh had the ball first and goal against Colgate, ready to tie the game near the end of a game that would have given them a chance at a Patriot League championship.  On 4th down, a few yards from the goalline, the pass would be batted down.  The Raiders won, clinching at least a share of the Patriot League championship.

"Why should this critical drive be any different?  Why wouldn't it also be a dollar short, like we had seen before?

The Drive
"The funny thing is, it wouldn't be a dollar short, a stop short, a yard short, a second short.  It would get exactly the right number of yards and, with 0.3 seconds left, either a touchdown or nothing the result, the Lehigh offense did not end up getting stopped short, and in so doing seemed to do a lot more than simply tie the game."

My recap stands as a pretty good description on where the Penn game, and ultimately the season, rested for Lehigh.  The game-tying touchdown seemed to see the Mountain Hawks turn a corner, and they wouldn't lose another regular-season game in a Patriot League championship year.

On the Quaker sideline, however, it was a tale of once again of trading blow for blow with Lehigh, and not being able to go the distance.

Penn hadn't been on Lehigh's football schedule for many years, even though the Quakers have a very deep and rich history of playing both Lehigh and Lafayette.  (My favorite story of their rivalry comes from the late 1800s, when Penn, Lehigh, and Lafayette briefly would compete for the mythical trophy for the "Championship of Pennsylvania".)

But once Al Bagnoli stepped down as Penn's head coach and longtime assistant Ray Priore took over, Lehigh was back on the Quaker football schedule, and Lehigh and Penn have played each other every year since.

Priore has had great success with the Quaker program over the last two years, including back-to-back Ivy League co-titles.  He's also developed one of the more deadly quarterback/wide receiver combos in the FCS.

WR Justin Watson
Last season, QB Alek Torgerson, who hails from Norway and who seems like he will stick on the Falcons' roster as the third-string QB, broke a lot of school records as a part of the Quaker offense.  He ended his career as the school leader in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage, so when Penn comes to Murray Goodman later this season, it's anyone guess right now as to who the QB will be.

One thing that's not in doubt, though, is Penn's likely next NFL player, WR Justin Watson, will be taking the field.

The 6'3, 210 lb senior from Bridgeville, PA led the Ivy League in receiving yards (1,115 in a 10 game schedule), receptions (89) and receiving touchdowns (8).  He'll be the primary focus of defensive coordinators facing Penn all season.

It might also be a game where NFL receiver scouts might be found as well: both Watson and senior WR Troy Pelletier, not to mention senior WR Gatlin Casey, will all be catching passes at the game and trying to impress the scouts to get the chance to play on Sundays.

The Penn game in the course of Lehigh history has definitely been a rivalry with a little r, always a stern test for the Lehigh football program from the late 1800s to today.  This year's game at Murray Goodman Stadium will be no exception.

PENN

When: September 23rd, 12:30 PM
Where: Murray Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, PA
Overall Series: Penn, 44-15
TV: Service Electric 2, Patriot League Network
Last time out: 2016, Lehigh 49, Yale 29
Key player Returning: WR Justin Watson


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