Lehigh At Yale Narrative Street: The (In)Famous 2014 Game At Yale

Maybe it was the choice of senior OL Brandon Short as one of the student-athletes interviewed this Wednesday, or maybe it was the mention from junior DE Harrison Johnson that this game could be your last.

This Lehigh football team clearly remembers September 21st, 2014, the last time the Mountain Hawks went to the Yale Bowl.

It is true that it wasn't the last time the Mountain Hawks played Yale.  There's last year, too, that 27-12 dud that Lehigh put up against the Bulldogs, too.

But the loss last year to Yale at Murray Goodman isn't the reason why senior QB Nick Shafnisky is calling this another "motivational game".  It's more about the 2014 game, and the lost season for Brandon Short.

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Lehigh At Yale Game Preview: Going Back To Where It All Began For Me

For one reason or another, I hadn't been back.

Since my undergraduate years, I hadn't gone to see Lehigh play Yale at the Yale Bowl.  It was either too long a trip as an undergraduate to catch the Engineers, a trip to Disney with the family interfered, or maybe I was just saving up my energy for a big conference game the following week.

No matter what it really was, it really was a bucket of excuses, with the ultimate result being I hadn't gone back, even though Lehigh had played there so often.

It feels almost criminal, even though I have driven past the stadium many times.

This weekend, for the first time since a beautiful night for football in October of 1977, I will be heading back to the iconic Yale Bowl.

And in contemplating this trip, a flood of memories returned from my first trip there - my first-ever college football game, and thus the very first inspiration for what I would end up doing the rest of my life.
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My FCS Top 25, 9/27/2016

You didn't ask for them, but here's my pick for this week's FCS Top 25.

(Photo Credit: Elon Athletics)

Let's see, are there any other teams I can curse into losses this week?

Last time I was here, I was extolling the virtues of William and Mary and Stony Brook in this space.  This week?  Um, not so much.

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Lehigh 42, Princeton 28 Postgame Thoughts: The Defensive Secret To The Turnaround

(Photo Credit: Craig Shipley/The Morning Call)

What a difference two weeks makes.

At times it's hard to comprehend how desperate it felt for Lehigh fans after the Mountain Hawks' slender loss at Villanova to fall 26-21 to the nationally-ranked Wildcats.

At 0-2, after a pair of excruciating losses, a rematch with the defending Ivy League champions Penn awaited, a game that the Quakers had circled on their calendar since about December.  Following that tough test would be a Princeton team that laid 52 points on Lehigh last year and returned almost all of the skill players on the team that beat them then.

A losing record going into the Colgate seemed like a best-case scenario.

And yet, here we are after these two tough tests, and the Mountain Hawks are 2-2, with a boatload of momentum going into their game vs. 0-2 Yale next weekend.  Suddenly, 3-2 and a three-game winning streak going into an enormous game vs. Colgate seems like a real possibility.

The reason for this dramatic, and important turnaround?

The Lehigh defense, who shut out Penn in the second half and shut down Princeton in key areas of the second half as well to allow Lehigh to maintain a three-score, largely drama-free lead.
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In Offensive Showcase, Shaf Throws For 461 Yards As Lehigh Defeats Princeton, 42-28

(Photo Credit: Justin Lafleur/Lehigh Athletics)

Once upon a time, Lehigh's offense had the nickname "Air Lehigh", and players like QB Scott Semphiphelter, QB Phil Stambaugh and many other Mountain Hawk quarterbacks hucked the ball around Murray Goodman Stadium like kids in a sandlot, and posted some serious passing numbers that made the place a very fun spot to watch college football on Saturdays.

Today at Murray Goodman, senior QB Nick Shafnisky brought us back to those Air Lehigh days with a game with the same type of offensive firepower.

Pairing up with junior WR Troy Pelletier and junior WR Gatlin Casey for more than 100 yards receiving apiece, the Whitehall, PA native brought Lehigh fans back to the future with a 461 yard passing performance, coming oh-so-close to setting a Lehigh record in the process.

In the end, Lehigh fans left Murray Goodman stadium with a lot of pleasant memories about a beautiful, unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon and a resounding 42-28 win over a Princeton team that hung 50 points on them last season.  Not that winning football games at Murray Goodman stadium the past few seasons wasn't fun, mind you - but few wins evoked the sandlot quality that this game did.

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Princeton At Lehigh Game Breakdown And Fearless Prediction: Can Lehigh Stop the Tigers Running Game?

We break down the Princeton game - and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.

Something of note this week that I forgot to mention in my Narrative Street and my Game Preview is the fact that the two opponents that Lehigh lost to earlier in the year, Monmouth and Villanova, are doing extremely well.  Both teams' only losses have come to FBS programs, and both schools acquitted themselves very well in both circumstances.

2-1 Monmouth was never out of the game vs. Kent State, falling 27-7 to the Golden Flashes in a game after Kent State was stunned by fellow FCS member North Carolina A&T in four overtimes, 39-36.  The Hawks largely kept Kent State's offense in check and kept them in the game, and their star defensive player, DB Mike Basile, had an eye-popping 16 tackles and a blocked kick.

If Monmouth can upset heavily-favored and nationally-ranked Charleston Southern this weekend in their home opener, the Hawks would go to 3-1 and would most likely get strong consideration in many peoples' Top 25 votes.  It would also make Lehigh's loss to them to start the season sting a little less.

Nationally-ranked Villanova, also 2-1, lost their season opener to Pitt, most notably holding the Panthers to a lower point total on defense (28) than both Penn State (42) and Oklahoma State (38).  After their win over Lehigh, the Wildcats impressively dispatched Towson 40-21 at home to maintain their No. 19 ranking nationally.

Villanova will be facing off against Lafayette in Easton this weekend, their first trip there in more than 90 years, and seem like prohibitive favorites to win there Saturday night.  If they do, Lehigh's "schedule strength" won't be harmed very much by their presence on the schedule.

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Princeton At Lehigh Narrative Street: Remembering Last Year’s Disaster

I hinted at this #NarrativeStreet in yesterday's Game Preview, but the narrative that keeps jumping to the forefront in the run-up to the game this weekend is the "disaster" - head coach Andy Coen's words - of last year's game at Princeton.

There were other losses in the 2015 Lehigh football season.

There was James Madison, where the eventual playoff-bound Dukes impressively blew the Mountain Hawks out of the water, 55-17.  The 59-42 loss to Fordham where QB Nick Shafnisky was lost to injury right before halftime.  The Colgate game.  The Yale game.

But there was something about the loss at Princeton that really got under coach Coen's skin that was different than the other losses - an anger at the way it happened, the way that things seemed to come apart in the second half after matching the Tigers score-for-score in in the first half.

All the narratives seem to point to last year's "disaster", and hoping that the team has learned from it.
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Princeton At Lehigh Game Preview: Hoping "The Hangover 4" Doesn’t Hang Over Mountain Hawks

What a win it was.

The consensus from anyone on the Lehigh side was that the 0-2 Mountain Hawks needed a win.  Any win.  And it wasn't going to be easy, against last year's Ivy League champs, out for vengeance.

And then it happened - the sort of half of football that makes all the loss experiences worth it, the type of tale of redemption after the disappointment of being so close to tasting victory and possible national recognition, only to have it taken away by a few yards in a game of inches, or a drive where the defense couldn't get that one final stop.

Suddenly, all the narratives that defined the first two losses were overturned.  Times when the offense were stopped short became touchdowns.  The defense became a Steel Curtain.  The win was as definitive as it was season-affirming.  It was difficult to find much to criticize in Lehigh's 49-28 victory over Penn that had spent all offseason plotting their vengeance against the Mountain Hawks, yet Lehigh still did that to them.

And that's the big, looming danger of this week: that the Mountain Hawk hangover from the win, from the party, from the exhilaration of the flipping of narratives, is so great that Lehigh gets blown off the line of scrimmage early by a talented Princeton team that most certainly has that capability, and had it on display at home last week vs. Lafayette.
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