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.
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Know Your 2017 Opponents: Yale

The 2016 Yale Bulldogs might have experienced the biggest swings of any other school in college football.

They experienced the low of getting destroyed at home against Lehigh, giving up an amazing 63 points to the Mountain Hawks led that day by QB Brad Mayes in a 28 point defeat.

And they were dominated by some of their bigger rivals in Ivy League play, losing 42-7 to Penn and 31-3 to Princeton.

Yet of their three wins, they pulled off two enormous upsets - beating Ivy League title contender Dartmouth at home, 21-13, and finally breaking Harvard's nine year hex against them in "The Game", scoring a touchdown with 4 minutes left to secure a tremendous 21-14 win over their bitter Crimson Rivals.

The Ivy League starts play on September 16th, where Lehigh will find Yale travelling to Murray Goodman Stadium in the Bulldogs first game of the year.

The Mountain Hawks will be playing their third game of the season, and Mayes will be going against the team which he had a record-breaking performance.

The Eli will have had all offseason to bask in the glow of breaking the nine-game winning streak of Harvard against them - and once the enormity of their win over Harvard fades into the distance a little, to focus on avenging last season's 63 points that Lehigh put on them last year.
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Know Your 2017 Opponents: Monmouth

Monmouth and Lehigh have a lot more in common than meets the eye.

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.

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.)

But in football the last few years, Lehigh's games against Monmouth have proven a liability to their national stature.  That's because they've lost their last two games against the Jersey Hawks, and while 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).
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Know Your 2017 Opponents: Villanova

(Photo Credit: Akira Suwa/Philly.com)

Writing a season preview about Villanova used to be the easiest job in the world.

Just grab your boilerplate biographical information about future hall-of-fame head coach Andy Talley, do a little Googling of the Wildcat's next up-and-coming NFL prospects, come up with a dozen synonyms for the words "tough" and "challenge", and the preview basically writes itself.

But this season's task of facing Villanova is simply different than all of those other years.  Talley, the only coach Villanova has ever known since restarting their football program in 1985 after a failed attempt to pull the plug on it in 1981 in the middle of spring practice, has finally retired from the head coaching ranks.  While the same familiar trappings of high preseason rankings and potential NFL prospects remain, their new head coach, longtime Talley assistant Mark Ferrante, is now running the Wildcats and will be seeking his first win as a collegiate head football coach.

The three things that are certain is that the Wildcats are ranked No. 10 in the STATS FCS Top 25 Poll to start the year, that they're ranked No. 9 in the FCS Coaches' Poll, and that when they come and visit Murray Goodman Stadium on September 2nd at 12:30 PM, they'll be playing Lehigh in a battle between Top 25 teams.
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Five Burning Questions For Lehigh Heading Into Preseason Camp

There's a pretty good chance that senior WR Troy Pelletier, who made the Patriot League's preseason all-Conference team and is on the Walter Payton Award watch list to start the year, will be the starter in the season opener vs. Villanova.

It's also not a headline that junior RB Dominick Bragalone, also on the Patriot League's preseason all-Conference team, is likely to -shocker! - be a starter on September 2nd.

But that doesn't mean that there still aren't plenty of questions as the Mountain Hawks enter into their fall training camp for fans to think about.
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Preseason Camp Starts Next Week, But Lehigh Student-Athletes Have Been Preparing All Summer

(Photo Credit: New Hampshire Union-Leader)

It's easy to tune in to college football coverage at the beginning of fall practices, to see the accolades like preseason all-America teams and preseason all-Conference teams and not think about all the hard work that has been put in to prepare for the upcoming season.

Try telling that to the family of senior WR Troy Pelletier, though.

"My family is in New Hampshire and my parents are able to make almost every game," he told me my email.  "[But] with my summer job and my commitment to the offseason workout program, I have only been able to spend four days at home since the past Christmas break."

Football players "appreciate the recognition" of preseason awards and nominations, senior OL Zach Duffy told me last week, but they also understand that most fans also don't see or appreciate the amount of work it takes to become the best football players they can be when there's no crowds, no reporters, and no crazy fans around.


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The 2017 Patsy Ratings: No. 1, Holy Cross

The pie-eating contests were what I loved the best about the Worcester Patsy Parties.

Maybe it was the Purple People Eater moniker, the fact that they coincided with a particularly busy party weekend, it wasn't abundantly clear, but they always made for a great shindig.

I remembered the undergrads, lined up, eating the blueberry pies one after another.  It never ended well, but for some reason all the unsuspecting young people, waiting for the starting gun to go off, made me smile, as if they didn't know what they were really getting into.

It wasn't just about the pies: there was all sorts of great food and drink there: the blueberry crush cocktails, of which I had too many on multiple occasions, stood out.

Today, however, the only crush experienced in the offices were the ones of Holy Cross' Patsy Rating spreadsheets hitting me in the head.

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Patriot League Media Day: Duffy: "No Congratulations Are Needed"

(Photo Credit: Brown and White)

With this year's Patriot League Media Day being a Patriot League Media Conference call instead, the opportunity is there for media folks to tweet out things like preseason all-Conference lists and the preseason polls.

When the league posted their preseason all-Patriot League team, unsurprisingly there were seven Lehigh football players on it, one of whom was senior OL Zach Duffy.

I sent out a tweet congratulating the seven - Duffy, junior RB Dom Bragalone, junior P/K Ed Mish, senior OL Tim O'Hara, senior WR Gatlin Casey, senior WR Troy Pelletier, and senior DE Tyler Cavenas - and almost immediately Zach responded.
In the span of a tweet, Zach established immediately that re-reading one's press clippings from the 2016 season is not something this 2017 edition of the Lehigh football team will be doing.  They'll be judged on accomplishments, not preseason all-Conference teams.
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The 2017 Patsy Ratings: No. 2, Lafayette

Frank Tavani always made sure the Patsies were celebrated in downtown Easton.

Perhaps it was the Bourger Field House needing an event to host in February when the men's wrestling team was out of town, or that field hockey practice was finishing up - the shindigs that Bourger fielded back in those days were great.

All that steak, not overcooked, was barbecued outside, filling the Eastonian air with charred meats usually only present during Lafayette/Lehigh week.  Many students would come up - giving up their vegan diets, maybe just this one time - to eat beautiful steak sandwiches, and to sip delicious Coke under huge cardboard cutouts of their beloved head coach.

Today, Lafayette has a new head football coach, and so far there's no Coke billboards with head coach John Garrett on them.  And there was no smell of steak as the Committee got the folder filled with the printouts of Lafayette's Patsy Ratings class.

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The 2017 Patsy Ratings: No. 3, Lehigh

Where were you during the last Patsy Party at Lehigh?

It coincided with morning cocktails, I think - the actual memory is hazy, a gauzy film hanging over the proceedings like Vaseline over the eyelids.

It involved neon - a very large amount of neon, as Lehigh's incoming class was announced in the morning, lights on Murray Goodman's video scoreboard.  (The neon light, I think, came from the generator trucked into the stadium to fuel the temporary lights and scoreboard, of course.)

The actual party I was actually able to recreate through my Flickr feed on my phone.  Somewhere, there was a printout of several "LFN Drinks of the week" and a 1962 Freshman Dink dyed neon purple, probably because the undergrads at the time didn't think Brown and White was an appropriate color for the party.  And there was the blue curacao, of course, which made one of the concoctions that I don't exactly remember.

Today, there is no blue curacao as the thin, typewritten letter with the "Lehigh" letterhead came to the Committee's door.  Somewhere, a microwave rang out as the steel-cut oatmeal reheated from yesterday was complete.

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The Bonds That Tie The Lehigh Family Are Strong, May They Never Be Broken