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Yale At Lehigh Game Preview: Reclaiming Swagger Requires Facing Uncomfortable History

“The past is the past and we aren’t concerned with it. We have learned from our mistakes, and we are ready to move on.”

That comes from junior RB Micco Brisker, who was quoted two years ago after the Mountain Hawks came back from a trip to Princeton where Lehigh fought hard, but fell, to the Tigers 52-26.

The similarities between that week and this week are something that I cannot shake.

Like this week, Lehigh came back home that season to face off against Yale after a tough, physical loss.  Like this week, the Mountain Hawks were coming off a school record being set by senior WR Troy Pelletier in a losing effort.  Like this week, Yale started RB Deshawn Salter, a mild surprise after the expected starter went down to injury.  And like this week, Lehigh came back home after a loss looking to right the ship.

In 2015, Lehigh lost the game.

In 2015, Brisker and LB Colton Caslow talked a good game about being prepared for that week, fixing mistakes and moving forward.  But it didn't result in a win, nor did it result in a Patriot League championship season.

The summary of the two games in 2015 that seem tied to this moment make for grim reading for Lehigh fans.

Back in 2015, the game that knocked the swagger out of Lehigh was the New Jersey business trip to Princeton where the Tigers put up 52 points on the Mountain Hawk defense in a 52-26 defeat.

Seth DeValve, Lehigh Killer (
After taking a 13-10 lead, Princeton attacked Lehigh's defense with RB Joe Rhattigan's running and TE Seth DeValve's receiving, the latter a current, productive member of the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

Princeton scored two touchdowns in the span of two game minutes, going from a 3 point deficit to a 11 point lead.

I went to coach Andy Coen and asked him after the game whether they had to play the perfect game to beat Princeton.  "Absolutely not," he said in probably the most gruff response to any of my questions, ever.  "I'd line them up and play them again right now."

In the week after that loss, the players seemed genuinely convinced that they had worked on their mistakes and corrected them.  And in a lot of respects, they played better.

But it wasn't enough to beat Yale, who pushed the Mountain Hawks around and limited Lehigh to one touchdown in a physical 27-12 defeat.

"I think Yale really handled the line of scrimmage, dominated the line of scrimmage in my opinion," Coen said after that Yale game. "What was disappointing to me was how well they ran the football against us. That's a conversation that we'll have to have a little bit just to figure things out in that respect. ... Over 200 yards can't happen."

Yale RB Deshawn Salter
The "over 200 yards" guy that Yale started in that game was an underclassman, RB Deshawn Salter, who would run more precisely for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns.  (In a twist of fate, he'll be the starter this week for Yale at Murray Goodman stadium since the expected opening-day starter, RB Alan Lamar, hurt himself in non-contact drills and is now expected to be out for the season.)

"We thought we did a better job of tackling this week than in previous weeks, but there's still a lot of room to improve," Coen said that week of the Yale loss.  "They came out and hit a lot of cutback gaps and we just really weren't ready for it in the beginning.  Obviously 27 points is unacceptable.  We allowed a lot of third downs converted, didn't do a very good job there."

Another striking feature of that 2015 game was the way in that Lehigh wore down at the end of the game.

The Mountain Hawks were shut out in the first half, managed to claw back a touchdown to make it a game in the opening moments of the 3rd quarter, and then couldn't find their way into the end zone again.  The remainder of their points came from a 27 yard FG by PK Ed Mish after a promising drive stalled in the red zone, and a 98 yard failed 2 point-conversion try by Yale returned by LB Pierce Ripanti.

What was especially frustrating as a fan was that Lehigh's offense seemed to have some things working to some degree the prior week against Princeton - QB Nick Shafnisky found WR Troy Pelletier 15 times through the air, setting a Lehigh single-game record.

Shaf-to-Pelletier was still reasonably effective the following week vs. Yale - 10 catches for 104 yards - but none of the other receivers, which included WR Sasha Kelsey and WR Gatlin Casey, could break one for a big scoring play.

(Photo Credit: Austin Vitelli/Brown and White)
Lehigh folks reading this Yale preview might be flinching from what they're reading here about the 2015 season.  They might vastly prefer reliving the Mountain Hawks' visit to the Yale Bowl last year, where Lehigh won 63-35.

But the Mountain Hawks entered that Yale trip last year in vastly different circumstances than they find themselves today.

During their trip to the Yale Bowl last year, Lehigh was riding the confidence and swagger of two straight victories and came in firing, scoring on their first five possessions and making the game a laugher and coasting to a record-breaking victory.

But the context of this weekend's game seems to me to be a lot closer to 2015, where the Mountain Hawks were coming off a tough New Jersey road trip needed to reclaim some swagger at home against a tough, physical Yale team that knows how to run the football.

This is a new, different season than 2015 or even 2016, and the Mountain Hawks will have a new possible direction before and after this Yale game.  The key is how the team, and the coaching staff, responds.

WHO: Yale (0-0) vs. Lehigh (0-2)
WHEN: September 16th, 12:30 PM
WHERE: Murray Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, PA

Game Notes and Injuries

The game notes confirm one key injury from the Monmouth game: junior WR Luke Christiano will not be suiting up on Saturday due to a injury he sustained getting sandwiched between two Monmouth defenders.  It's unclear when he'll be back, but he's definitely out this week.

Fortunately Lehigh has a more than capable guy to step up in his place, junior WR Sasha Kelsey, who caught 8 passes last week.  Freshman WR Jorge Portorreal will also get increased time in the slot as well.

During the Monmouth game, junior RB Dominick Bragalone went out with an injury after getting tackled for a 3 yard loss in the 3rd quarter.  I am hearing that he is 50/50 to go this week, and the running back duties will likely be shared with Bragalone, senior RB Nana Amankwah-Ayeh, and junior RB Micco Brisker, who returns after an appendectomy.

It's also possible that we might see some appearances from senior RB Marc Raye-Redmond or freshman RB Evan Chadbourn out there this weekend as well.  It's certainly something worth watching.

Weather Report

The weather report for this weekend might be worth monitoring over the next few days, but overall it looks like a terrific day for football: "partly sunny with a shower in places", high of 81 with minimal wind, is the current forecast.  If that "shower in places" becomes "shower in no places", it could be perfect early fall football weather.

Special Stuff Happening

On Saturday, Lehigh will compete in the Game Day Recycling Challenge, a nationwide competition between universities to reduce waste at football games. The challenge is to educate fans about waste reduction, and weigh all trash and recycling from one game. Lehigh will implement its waste production program and will track and report waste reduction and disposal data.

At the Rust Pavillion, it's "Lehigh Football young Alumni Day", sponsored by the Lehigh Football Partnership.  If you are a football alum from 2006 to 2017, stop by and enjoy that party with food, games, and fun.

The Yank Townsend Trophy

One of the interesting quirks of this rivalry, of sorts, is that it's actually a trophy game.

In 2006, the Lehigh/Yale series got a trophy. Called the "Yank Townsend Trophy", it was named after the only Yankee (i.e., student from Connecticut) who was in the Lehigh class of 1895.

Ironically, during the period of time when Yank Townsend was at Lehigh, the football team struggled with a multitude of different teams not named Lafayette.

Lehigh Actually Won This Once, In 2011
The one year Lehigh played Yale during "Yank's" student days was 1894, where they played twice and lost 34-0 and 50-0, both times, oddly enough, after rainy conditions.

"The rain last Saturday was a great drawback, as the grounds were so slippery that the men could not get a firm enough foothold to withstand the heavy weight of their opponents," The Brown and White said of the first game.  The second game, played at the old Polo grounds, saw "one end of the field entirely submerged," The Brown and White reported, made "somewhat improved by the sprinkling of sawdust."

(Though no level of field maintenance would allow Lehigh to be at all competitive with Yale in that time, where Lehigh's students would largely going against grown men and some of the best football players of their generation.)

After graduating, "Yank" would relocate to New Haven to be close to the rest of his family, where he would design many buildings and residences and cement his legacy for generations.

It was Yank's descendants who sponsored the trophy to be presented to the winner of this game, and it was presented back to Lehigh at the Yale Bowl last year after the Mountain Hawks won.

Mmmm... RARE
LFN's Burger of the Week (#BOTW)

Who knew that I might wander into a contentious debate this week for "Burger of the Week"?

When looking for this week's Burger, I stumbled upon a place in New Haven called "Louis' Lunch". Founded in 1895 - a year after Hank Townsend relocated to New Haven - Louis' Lunch is known for it's - get ready for this - "hamburger sandwich".

"All of our burgers are cooked to order in the original cast-iron grills dating back to 1898," their website tells us.  "We want you to experience the meat’s true flavor, so we serve it on white toast with only cheese, onion, and tomato as garnishes."

So not only does this restaurant prove that a hamburger is a sandwich, it also gives a way for us to recreate their burger at the Lehigh tailgates this weekend, if not on a 100 year old vertical broiler.  Start with at least three different cuts of meat, ground together, grill and spread with Whiz (yes, really!)  At the same time, grill some large onion slices on the same grill and some Pepperidge Farm white bread.  When they're done, assemble bread, patty with Whiz, grilled onions, sliced tomato and top with the final bit of bread.  Voila - a facsimile of Louis' Lunch's classic, and something that Philly Cheesesteak lovers will undoubtedly enjoy as well.

LFN's Drink of the Week (#DOTW)

The theme of this LFN preview is "facing uncomfortable history head-on in order to improve," and I, dear Reader, am not an exception to this rule.

Usually when a "Drink of the Week" is offered up in a losing cause, I abandon it, the bad luck of the drink being simply too risky to trot out another time.

But one drink I consider a classic is the Elm City Iced Tea, since tainted because I picked this as the "Drink of the Week" during a particularly bad Lehigh defeat to Yale.

To make these at home (my guess at portions), just get some gin (2 parts), some brewed Earl Grey tea (2 parts), some lemon juice (1 part) and a simple syrup (2 parts), and serve it over the rocks.  If you don't want to make the simple syrup, you can use Agave Nectar, a good substitute.

Everyone can be better if they acknowledge uncomfortable truths and use them to improve.  I am no different.

Sensible drinking can be a part of a pleasant tailgating experience, but only if you drink responsibly and for God's sakes don't get behind the wheel of a car when having consumed too much alcohol.  Make a day of your tailgate, stay late and sober up before driving.


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