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Lehigh At Monmouth Game Preview: Revenge for the First Half Shutout

The word "Monmouth" last season became a sort-of shorthand for a humbling experience, a game that should have gone much different than it actually did.

It was usually used in the context of:

"Don't pull another Monmouth."

"Lehigh's been doing pretty great - but they have to be careful not to have another Monmouth."

The memory of last year's loss to the Jersey Hawks stung particularly hard, because it had ramifications that slowed the recognition of Lehigh as a legitimate title contender.  Wile their loss last season wasn't stated as a reason why the Mountain Hawks didn't earn a home game in the FCS Playoffs, it was the one, big blemish on Lehigh's record that may have prevented them from being in consideration for a possible seed (and, by extension, at least one home game).

And yet, last year's Monmouth loss also was important in that the loss in that first game of the year seemed to galvanize the Mountain Hawks, sending a potent message that winning every game was going to be hard and nothing was going to come easy.  The lessons learned from that game carried through the season, and, in a way, set up everything good that was to come.

One thing was for sure going into the 2016 season - Lehigh had a potent offense.  The consensus was that the Mountain Hawks were a step behind Colgate, Fordham, Bucknell and Holy Cross, but one think that Lehigh could do was put up a lot of points.

Behind the veteran QB Nick Shafnisky and an array of potent weapons, the Mountain Hawks could score and perform against anybody.

And then came Monmouth to Murray Goodman Stadium, where the visiting Hawks shut out the home team in the first half.

"Like A Boa Constrictor, Monmouth Squeezes Life out of Lehigh In 23-21 Win" was the title of my recap of that game, and it was an accurate depiction of how the game went - Lehigh's offense starting slow, Monmouth holding onto possession after possession, getting points out of their drives, and then, once Lehigh was unable to make the final stop on defense, Monmouth would emerge the victor.

Monmouth won the game not totally because Lehigh came out slowly, but that was a contributing factor.  Monmouth won because they're a pretty good team that is the equal in Lehigh in many ways.

Monmouth Hawk Bedeviling Lehigh Football Team?
They don't share a conference - the Mountain Hawks are in the Patriot League in all sports, while the Jersey Hawks (my name for Monmouth's mascot) compete in the Big South in football, and the MAAC in all other sports.  (And their mascot looks suspiciously like a Murkrow from Pokemon Go.)

But athletically, in terms of everything from enrollment, participation to overall athletic department spending, Monmouth and Lehigh are like peas in a pod.  They are both universities; they both have between 4,000 and 5,000 undergrads; and the size of their athletic departments are similar as well.

The Mountain Hawks and the Jersey Hawks have also been frequent opponents of the other in football and men's basketball as well.  Since 2010, Lehigh has played Monmouth twice in men's basketball and five times on the gridiron.  (Recently, it was announced that Monmouth's hoop squad and their wacky bench antics will be headed to Stabler this fall to play Lehigh hoops as well.)

The problem has been, on the Lehigh side, managing expectations whenever they play Monmouth, because the Hawks have changed immensely since the Mountain Hawks first played them in 1999.

Monmouth's athletics program in 1999 and Monmouth's athletics program in 2017 are completely different animals.

Twenty years ago, Monmouth was in the NEC and was a non-scholarship program.  Its basketball program was an afterthought, and their field was little more than a singular structure with a looming battle with the local township on zoning.

Kessler Stadium
But now, Monmouth has left the NEC to join the MAAC in all sports but football, and have built two new gleaming venues that would be the equal of any Patriot League team: OceanFirst Bank Center, a 4,100 seat basketball facility that is the envy of many East Coast mid-majors, and newly-renovated Kessler Stadium, which seats 4,200 and just got christened last week with a 31-12 win over Lafayette.

Eerily, Monmouth's win over Lafayette went very similar to how Monmouth's win over Lehigh happened last year - entering halftime with a 7-0 lead, extending that lead to 14-0, then running out the clock with a victory.

WHO: Lehigh vs. Monmouth
WHEN: September 9th, 1:00 PM
WHERE: Kessler Stadium, West Long Branch, NJ

Lehigh LB Matt Butler
Game Notes And Injuries

This week's game notes sees not a lot of change from last week on the depth chart.  The most significant chance was that freshman OL Jackson Evans was brought to the 2's on the offensive line, while junior OL Eric Hawkinson, who seems to finally be completely back from an injury he sustained in camp, is back as the starter at LG.

With so much offense last week and such a strong performance on that side of the ball, junior QB Brad Mayes was names Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week despite the fact that Lehigh lost.

He will have his full set of receivers again, including senior WR Troy Pelletier, who is on the verge of breaking WR Rennie Benn's receptions record, senior WR Gatlin Casey, who had two touchdowns last week and added 127 yards on kickoff returns, and junior WR Luke Christiano, who had a breakout game with 143 yards and a touchdown.  All of them are going to be back this week.

On defense junior LB Matt Butler will man the middle once again after leading the Mountain Hawks in tackles last week with 9 (8 of them solo tackles).   He was also credited with a forced fumble on a punt return, setting up a critical early score for Lehigh.  LFN's looking forward to how his game will be expanding in the weeks to come.

Weather Report

At West Long Branch, New Jersey, this weekend's perfect weather forecast (high of 70, perhaps a few gusty winds) stands in contrast to the looming forecast down south, where Hurricane Irma is barreling towards Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Irma technically won't be affecting the games being played up here, but the players with family and friends in Florida (which include a significant number of Lehigh players) might be thinking about the storm preparations and the potential devastation down there.

Special Stuff Happening

Monmouth Stadium is not far off of interstate highway 195, and is about an hour and a half from Bethlehem.  Getting to their campus isn't too bad off the highway, and as you can see to the right, there is ample room for parking and tailgating.  It's a 1:00 PM kickoff.

The weather is going to be a high of 70, so perhaps it's not going to be an ideal day to go the the beach afterwards.  But that doesn't mean there's nothing to do: there's plenty of tailgating activity planned.

Specifically, the Lehigh Football Partnership is planning a tailgate at Monmouth.  If you'd like to attend, and would like to tailgate with other Lehigh Football supporters, email Harry Lawrence ( for more information.

Monmouth's stadium got rave reviews from the local press, and while nothing can be Murray Goodman Stadium, it should be a great place to watch Lehigh football.

LFN's Burger of the Week #BOTW

Did you know that today was National Beer Lover's Day?  Before you respond with "every day is National Beer Lover's Day", National Beer Lover's Day is actually a thing and a Twitter hashtag, and as everyone knows, a hashtag automatically makes it a thing.

In that vein, this week's Burger of the Week is Beer-Soaked Burgers, which - yes! - are officially a thing.  The trick is to mix the beef, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper in a bowl, and add 1/4 cup of beer, let it marinate, and then form into burgers, throw a slab of Swiss Cheese on them, and throw them on the grill.  For my taste, a burger like this is best accompanied by sweeter toppings, like relish, sweet peppers, or a very ripe tomato.

LFN's Drink of the Week #DOTW

Normally I don't like to go back-to-back beers with the Drink of the week, but considering it's National Beer Lover's Day, I decided to make an exception.

Rather than go with a Pilsener I will be nominating instead a classic Black and Tan - which is not really an Irish drink, but is an American concoction with Irish Harp poured on the bottom, and Guiness slowly and deliberately poured on top to make "Black" and "Tan" layers.

Happily, this type of drink, while extremely filling, goes incredibly well with Beer-Soaked Burgers.

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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