Category Archives: Postgame Commentary

Lehigh 58 Fordham 37 Postgame Commentary: Coming Out Next Week "On Fire"

(Photo Credit: Keith Groller/The Morning Call)

Lehigh football post-game press conferences don't get much more relaxed than the one that happened last weekend.

You can hardly blame head coach Andy Coen, senior QB Nick Shafnisky, junior DE Tyler Cavenas and sophomore RB Dominick Bragalone for feeling that way, after jumping to a 13-0 lead right out of the gates and piling up an incredible 57-9 lead against their opponents last weekend before calling off the dogs.

It led to a familiar feeling in the post-game: talk of how the offense is clicking so well, how the defense keeps coming up big.  There were plenty of accolades to go around.

But when one media member tried to lightly broach the subject to Lafayette, the always-loquacious Shafnisky quickly steered the conversation back to next week's game.

That's because Shafnisky, perhaps more than anybody, feels the importance of next week's game vs. Bucknell.

"For us to be in this position, it's all a credit to us and our coaches. We put ourselves in this position, we earned it. But we didn't earn anything yet. Next week, when you ask that question again, hopefully I'll be the happiest man."

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Lehigh 46, Holy Cross 14 Postgame Commentary: Does This Team Have Shades Of 2011?

I've been doing this long enough to know that every Lehigh football team is different.  The dynamics running through every team is different; what motivates one team has no impact on the team of the following year.

But every big win this 2016 team gets, many of the fans who have been here a while keep whispering:

2011.

Like an Adele Spotify channel, you can't help but be reminded of 2011 when you go to Murray Goodman Stadium or Fitton Field or wherever they're playing.  The popular online game between fans on the Lehigh football message board is: Who was better, 2011, or 2016?

The answer is still, beyond a shadow of a doubt, 2011 - for now - but the only reason for that is that 2016 is still in the midst of writing their story.  Yet it can hardly be helped that fans look at the potential of this 2016 team and think, with apologies to Adele, that they are rolling in the same sort of wins that they were in 2011.
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Lehigh 46, Holy Cross 14 Postgame Commentary: Does This Team Have Shades Of 2011?

I've been doing this long enough to know that every Lehigh football team is different.  The dynamics running through every team is different; what motivates one team has no impact on the team of the following year.

But every big win this 2016 team gets, many of the fans who have been here a while keep whispering:

2011.

Like an Adele Spotify channel, you can't help but be reminded of 2011 when you go to Murray Goodman Stadium or Fitton Field or wherever they're playing.  The popular online game between fans on the Lehigh football message board is: Who was better, 2011, or 2016?

The answer is still, beyond a shadow of a doubt, 2011 - for now - but the only reason for that is that 2016 is still in the midst of writing their story.  Yet it can hardly be helped that fans look at the potential of this 2016 team and think, with apologies to Adele, that they are rolling in the same sort of wins that they were in 2011.
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Lehigh 35, Georgetown 3 Postgame Thoughts: The Long Road Back To National Recognition

(Photo Credit: Chris Barry/The Brown and White File Photo)

In terms of national recognition, life in the Patriot League isn't always easy.

Certainly Patriot League players and fans read the preseason magazines about FCS.  And last I checked, the youth of America still watch ESPN, and they see some FCS darlings in the FCS Kickoff Classic, like North Dakota State.

They tune into the college football landscape, and they see Eastern Washington upsetting Washington State, Bo Pelini coaching Youngstown State, Albany upsetting Buffalo.

Yes, the national FCS scene has their darlings, and frequently it feels like the Patriot League and their opponents are mere afterthoughts in the world where Big Sky teams are putting up big scores, Sam Houston State is beating all comers, The Citadel is dominating in the South, and the Missouri Valley Football Conference sees almost half its members in the Top 25.

And despite having junior WR Troy Pelletier and junior WR Gatlin Casey sitting at No. 1 and No. 2 in the FCS in receiving,respectively, despite a five game winning streak, and despite their emergence as a top contender for the Patriot League title past the halfway point of the season, Lehigh sits just outside the national Top 25 polls.

Respect in the Patriot League is easy to lose, and hard to earn back - and this Lehigh team seems to know how fragile that is.
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Lehigh 45, Colgate 31 Postgame Thoughts: Nearly 10,000 At Lehigh Win Evokes Memories Of 2004

It honestly felt like a day from another era out there on Saturday - in a good way.

In a world of bitter political debates, supposedly declining college football attendance, alleged tensions between the generations and the ongoing charges increasing collegian apathy, there it was: the official attendance total of the Colgate/Lehigh game of 9,255.

There were a multitude of reasons why people wanted to go see the game.  Perhaps it was something good to do with the family on Family Weekend.  Maybe it was a concerted effort to get students into the games, and keep them there, with new policies and new promotions.  Maybe it was a thumb-your-nose effort at the fans who come for cocktails but don't go enjoy the game.  Maybe it was individuals, all as a unit, wanting to come out and see if this high-flying, record-setting Lehigh football team is for real.

Or maybe it was all of them; I have no idea, but I know it required a whole lot of planning and a huge amount of effort from a whole lot of people, and I'm glad they did.

Because it felt like something special was brewing in Bethlehem - and not just from the team making everyone pay attention to them on Saturday.  It was the whole thing - the team, the fans, and the atmosphere.  On Saturday, for the first time in a long time, it felt like "it" was back.
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Lehigh 63, Yale 35 Postgame Thoughts: The World May Have Changed, But College Football Fans Haven’t

The timing between college football games I attended at the Yale Bowl was a shade under thirty-nine years.

How were both games similar?

Well, in both games Yale lost.  Also, both games were played at the Yale Bowl.  In addition, there were fans at both games wanting to have a great college football experience.

That's where the similarities end.

Many thoughts went through my head during the game this weekend, an incredibly encouraging one for Lehigh as they are surging, on a three game winning streak going into league play after scoring a grand total of 154 points in the last three games, or, if you're scoring at home, an average of over 51 points per game.

But not all the thoughts were ones about Lehigh, or Yale, or the game at hand.  Many of the thoughts I had, after staring out at the 2,196 souls that came out on an overcast, but perfectly adequate weather day to watch an extremely entertaining game, involved the fans that did not show up at one of the iconic, most storied venues in college sports.

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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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Lehigh 49, Penn 28 Postgame Thoughts: Both Sides Of Anthem Protests Need To Abandon Empty Gestures And Do Something Real

(Photo Credit: Thomas Munson/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

The firestorm made its way to Franklin Field.

Few football fans may noticed it as the game was about to start, including myself.  I wasn't focused on the cheerleading team during the national anthem, nor was anyone else that I confer with - I was a bit more preoccupied whether Lehigh was going to open the season 0-3.

But sometime on Monday, The Daily Pennsylvanian published a short piece detailing the planned protest event, done by Alexus Bazen and Deena Char.

It is the same act that 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick and many, many other NFL players have performed during the national anthem during the preseason and first weeks of the season - kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem, and raising a fist.  It's an act meant to inflame and to get them noticed, and it did.

Why, though?

The "why" can and should be asked on both sides of the protest, those that find solidarity with it and those that are angered by it.

Let's talk about it.
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Villanova 26, Lehigh 21 Postgame Thoughts: It’s Not How You Start, But How You Finish

I like winning.

Who doesn't?

Admittedly, it is a bit of a selfish impulse on my part.  It is always easier to recap a heroic made-for-TVesque Lehigh win than a loss.  Narratives and nicknames flow like water when games have outcomes like that.

Not so today, after Lehigh's 0-2 start.  It's harder to pull together the game recaps when the outcomes of the games instead show a team that is on the brink of learning how to win, but hasn't been able to figure out how to turn that corner.

Two games into the season, I don't see a Lehigh team that is necessarily bad, or pointed in the wrong direction.

Instead, I see a team that is trying to figure out how to put away a tough opponent and win football games.

And frankly, there's nothing wrong with that yet.

*****

Trying to hit the right tone after a loss like Saturday's poses a special challenge.

I've seen all sorts of Lehigh wins and losses.  I've seen all the highs and the lows of the Andy Coen era.

Makes Me Smile, Always
I've seen the most thrilling FCS playoff win I've ever seen in person at Towson, and I was at Yankee Stadium in November of 2014, the worst of all the Rivalry defeats by a team sporting Brown and White.

But by far the hardest games to get right are these "moral victories," where Lehigh plays a truly strong game across the board against a team that is expected to be a playoff team, but falls just short.

By any measure, Villanova is a strong team at this point of the year.  Their defense held Pitt to only 28 points, a squad that turned around and hung 42 on Penn State.  If you're grading on a curve, Lehigh's offense scoring 21 points on this daunting unit - not bad.

Sitting at No. 19 in the FCS Coaches' poll, the Wildcats were a playoff team last year, and were picked to finish 4th in the CAA, behind the No. 2 team in the nation that eviscerated Virginia in Week 1 (Richmond), and two current Top 25 teams that were also FCS playoff teams last season, William & Mary and James Madison.

Given a recent history like that, many rightfully expected that Lehigh might struggle against the Wildcats, as is befitting their ranking.

They Are Pretty Good
But that's not what happened.

On the road, the Mountain Hawks came in and came back from a 6-0 deficit to go up 14-6 at half, stuffing the Villanova run game on 4th-and-1 and orchestrating two excellent scoring drives.  At times during that half, Coen said in the post-game presser said that the Mountain Hawks "dominated the line-of-scrimmage at times."  Against such a quality team like Villanova, that's very positive.

We all know the rest of the story: in a game of inches, Lehigh came up just short on 4th and 10 to turn over the ball on downs.

Yet that escapes a key point: against the No. 19 team in the country, the Mountain Hawks were in a position to win.

Which is, of course, the conundrum of the coverage of the game.  They were right there!  They had a chance to win what could have been a season-defining game that pushes them through a daunting out-of-conference schedule that features three awfully tough Ivy League opponents in defending Ivy League co-champions Penn, always-tough Princeton, and Yale at the Yale Bowl, a place where Lehigh hasn't won in over a decade.

But it didn't happen that way.  Instead, Lehigh starts out 0-2.

The end result is a mix of happiness that the Mountain Hawks were in it, and yet undeniably frustrating that Lehigh, on the brink of achieving a season-defining upset, came one or two yards short of the goal.

I think the most important thing to remember is how this loss, in the end, will not define Lehigh's season.

My mind keeps drifting back to Colgate, and the Raiders' 2015 season in particular.

If you were "Colgate Football Nation" at this stage of the 2015 season, two games in, the Raiders started the season 0-2.

They got trounced by Navy, 48-10, and then got pulverized by New Hampshire the following week, 26-8.

Would Colgate Football Nation have rushed to the exits, saying that things needed "fixing" and saying the season was on the brink of disaster?

Sure, there was a higher level of concern among the fans when Yale pulled off a miracle comeback to beat the Raiders the following week, 29-28, to give Colgate an 0-3 start.

Not a Panic Moment for Colgate Fans
But, crucially, the wheels didn't come off most of that fanbase.  Frankly, they're used to an early-season schedule of incredibly daunting opponents, a trend that continued last weekend when their ancient Rival Syracuse pounded them 33-7 in the first game of the Dino Babers era.

After Colgate's 0-3 start, in what was unquestionably the most crucial game of the season, an away game at Holy Cross, it was the Raiders successfully pulling away late in the second half for a 31-14 victory.

It set the tone for the rest of the season, and you know the rest of that story.  It ended with a Patriot League championship, wins over Fordham and Lehigh, a rematch win over New Hampshire, and a shock victory over James Madison.

Looking back now, it's easy to see that Colgate team as one that took some time to find itself.  But they did, and it happened in spite of the two hugely lopsided losses in the first two weeks.

Colgate fans that stayed the course after their 0-2 start were rewarded.

What about other fanbases after this past football weekend?

Is Fordham Football Nation ready to put their team in the FCS national championship game after eviscerating an 0-2 Division II team 83-21, a game that was 31-0 at one point and ended up as a glorified practice in the second half?

Is Georgetown Football Nation starting to panic after only beating Marist 20-17, relying on a 4th down touchdown pass to preserve victory?  Are they asking to revoke the need-based aid of their starting quarterback?

Probably not panic button time for Bison
Is Bucknell Football Nation in the dumps after giving up 30 points to last year's NEC champions and FCS playoff participants Duquensne?  Are they calling for the offensive coordinator's head and asking for a switch to the Wing-T?

What about the two other Patriot League teams that lost last weekend, Holy Cross and Lafayette?  Are their fanbases crying that the season is over after losing to New Hampshire and Delaware last weekend?

If they are, they are missing the point of this part of the preseason.

The nature of the first two games of the season is that they're an "incomplete".  Would season-defining wins been welcome?  Definitely.  But they're no reason to panic.

For my part, after sleeping on it and getting over how Lehigh was this close to beating the No. 19 team in the nation, I see a lot to be hopeful about for the rest of the season.  There was a lot of improvement from the first weekend, and there's no reason to believe that the improvement won't continue going into next weekend's visit to Franklin Field.

I don't know what the future has in store for Lehigh in the next three out-of-conference games, before a no-doubt-about-it important game vs. Colgate in October.  But what I do think is that this team deserves everyone's patience over the next three weeks.  Based on a very good performance on Saturday - one that came up a yard short - that's the least we can do for them.

Monmouth 23, Lehigh 21 Postgame Commentary: The Importance of Burst Bubbles

The decision was made.  We were going up to my parent's house over Labor Day weekend.

I knew it was the right decision, the correct decision.  My dad, who had suffered a back injury, was rehabbing, requiring for the first time in his incredibly active life to require the use of a walker to get around. 

He and my mother wouldn't be driving down to Lehigh for any football games in the next couple of months, which effectively meant if I was going to spend any significant time with them, it was going to be this weekend - opening weekend.  The weekend that I wait for with fevered anticipation for more than nine months.

But sometimes bubbles need to be burst.  

For the last nine months, I've lived in bubbles: a bubble of Lehigh football, FCS expertise, and a focus on the football season.  I had lived in a bubble where I thought my father was still invincible, even in retirement unable to stay in one place, always able to come down with mom to visit once a season and take in a game or two - in between musical engagements, my mother's teaching commitments, and countless other trips and activities.

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