Football is a physical game, and it requires a tremendous amount of strength to line up, play after play, to push people around down after down.
As a result football games sometimes can evolve into contests where the teams push each other around, and such games can end up where one team gets worn down and the other pulls away for a big victory.
That's what happened this weekend at Monmouth.
The Hawks started out behind the eight-ball early, falling behind by two scores, and then rallying to take a 27-21 lead relatively early in the third quarter. But the physical beating, slowly and surely, took its toll, eventually knocking the offense out of kilter and the pushing the defense out of the way for their powerful running game. In the end, Lehigh only could be punched in the mouth so many times, and fell, 46-27.
It was an especially hard loss to take because this isn't how the 2017 season was supposed to happen.
"The tougher man wins," head coach Andy Coen said after the game. "They were a lot tougher and more physical than we were."
The national ranking was Lehigh's this week. They were still a Top 20 team in the nation, and thus were entering this game with a level of expectation not seen in the Lehigh Valley for quite some time.
They battled hard against Villanova last week, falling in a tough game, 38-35, and though there were mistakes, Lehigh fans - and Top 25 voters - gave them a pass, impressed by Lehigh's offense and chalking up some of Lehigh's mistakes to pre-season jitters.
But the excuse of jitters couldn't be used here.
From the very first kickoff return by RB Pete Guerrerio of 70 yards, Monmouth set the tone with their running attack that would be a familiar refrain over the course of the game.
Head coach Kevin Callahan ran the ball 41 times and passed it 21 times - it wasn't a secret most of the time that a run was coming from the pistol formation. And over and over, Monmouth succeeded, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
Falling behind 14-0 in the first 5 minutes was the worst possible outcome at the beginning of the game, but the Mountain Hawks did rally after that tough start and took the lead.
|WR Troy Pelletier (Justin Lafleur/Lehigh Athletics)|
After another drive ended with a 5 yard touchdown to junior RB Dominick Bragalone, Lehigh would enter the locker room with a slender 21-20 lead.
But Monmouth was getting points, settling for field goals after stops by the defense, hanging around and hoping that they would wear down Lehigh in the second half, just like they did last year at Murray Goodman Stadium.
"The physicality particularly on the defensive side, was very evident," coach Coen said. "We didn't get to the quarterback once."
Mayes would find junior WR Luke Christiano on the second play from scrimmage in the second half, a beautiful 54 yard strike that would temporarily give Lehigh an extra edge.
But then it all fell apart.
On 3rd and 11, Monmouth QB Kenji Bahar stepped forward in a collapsing pocket and found enough space to get free into the secondary - and ripped off a 56 yard gain. Two rushing plays later, RB Devell Jones would score the 2nd of his 3 touchdowns on the day to tie up the game.
Four times, the Lehigh offense would have an opportunity to score - and four times, they failed to do so, while the defense failed to stop Monmouth on three straight drives - all rushing touchdowns, no one touchdown more or less agonizing than any other.
Lehigh's face was getting punched in each phase of the game - and the Mountain Hawks couldn't recover.
"I just think it was a great team effort throughout the entire game," Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan said afterwards. "We talked with our guys all week about how this would be a four quarter game. Each of the last four years we've played Lehigh it was decided in the fourth quarter. I was happy about in the second half how we took the lead and turned that into a dominant fourth quarter. Our defense did an outstanding job in the second half of getting themselves off the field and giving the ball back to the offense."
Sometimes, a team just lines you up, beats you up, and takes your lunch money. That's what Monmouth did on Saturday.
"After the game, I told the team pretty much what I told them in the summer," said Coen. "It's going to be a long, hard road to win a Patriot League Championship again. We just made it a whole lot harder. We don't have any momentum. I think they have the team dynamics; they just need to figure it out. We just need to worry about winning the next game."