Lehigh’s First Football Game Against FBS Team In Fifteen Years Gives Mountain Hawks Big-Time Atmosphere in 51-21 Defeat

The Lehigh football has been in some pretty big time FCS-level atmospheres before.

In the FCS playoffs, Lehigh has been to Delaware, Northern Iowa, Towson, and North Dakota State.  During the regular season, they’ve also played at Liberty, the Yale Bowl, and James Madison.

They also routinely play their big Rivals Lafayette to sellout crowds at both Bethlehem, PA and Easton, PA.  (A few years ago, they also played one of their Rivalry game at Yankee Stadium.)

But as great as those atmospheres were, few gameday experiences can rival being hosted by a team like Navy, with its traditions, its sea of white-clad Midshipmen, the playing of the alma maters after the game.

So though the final score was somewhat lopsided in a 51-21 defeat for the Mountain Hawks, there was plenty of good things to take away from Lehigh’s first game against an FBS school in fifteen years.

Start with the play of freshman RB Rashawn Allen, who, subbing for the injured Dominick Bragalone, had a breakout game against a team that knows a thing or two about rushing the football.  His 147 yards and 2 scores – one of 75 yards and the other of 26 yards – were beautiful pieces of running.

“I had been mentally preparing myself for the play because we knew it was going to be the first play that we we were going to run,” Allen said after the game.  “It was a team effort on that play.  [The second TD] was a hard, tough run, breaking tackles and trying to get into that end zone.”

Courtesy Navy Athletics

Allen’s spectacular plays came in between some brutally effective speed-option running by Navy.  QB Malcolm Perry ran 19 times for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns, while WR Zach Abey, RB Myles Fells and QB Garret Lewis all added touchdown runs of 1, 52, and 4 yards respectively.

“The defense did a really good job,” head coach Andy Coen said. “It’s so hard to contain that option and they hit us for some big plays. The second half we started to do better throwing the football and that opened up some windows for us.”

A recipe for an FBS upset involves winning the turnover battle, and Lehigh’s offense gave up the ball in a multitude of ways.  Three interceptions, many of them on tipped balls, and some untimely fumbles were a killer to any chances of an Appalachian State moment in Annapolis.

“Turnovers killed us,” Coen continued.  “If we didn’t have all the turnovers, this game could have been a little closer. We got the one turnover late that led to the last score, so there was a lot of positive things.”

“I think the overall assessment was they executed better than us,” senior S Riley O’Neil said frankly afterwards.  “I don’t think they necessarily out-physicalled us, which was a point of emphasis on our game coming in.  Playing Navy, you have to be consistent on every single play.  You know what you’re going to get and how you’re going to stop it, but if you aren’t consistent; if one guy messes up, you see those long runs or those long pass plays.  I don’t think the consistency was there.”

It was in that spirit that the Mountain Hawks seemed to take this game – a guidebook for where they want to go this season and beyond.  On defense, it showed the level of consistency they need to bring to their Ivy League and Patriot League games to have a successful season.  On offense, it showed what was working, and what still needs work.

Courtesy Lehigh Athletics

“At a certain point it was obvious we were not going to win the game but we pride ourselves on what we do in the fourth quarter,” Coen said. “Our guys did a great job. They kept competing and stayed together as a team. I saw those things even through a tough day and I was really pleased to see that.”

But it also was the experience of a lifetime for the Lehigh football players as well.

“It is definitely a memory we will have the rest of our lives,” O’Neil continued.  “I think playing at the Naval Academy is not something that every kid gets to do, let alone every college player.  You have to have the mentality to come into the game and play physical.”

“I was pumped,” Allen added.  “The crowd and the whole big stadium is what I have worked for.  When I was in the moment, I just tried to seize my opportunity.”

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