BETHLEHEM, PA – It took twenty-three years for Richmond to invite Lehigh back.
The Mountain Hawk football program will always cherish Richmond, as it was the scene of arguably Lehigh’s greatest I-AA playoff upsets.
In 1998, winners of nine games in a row, Richmond drew Lehigh in the I-AA playoffs, a Patriot League school from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that didn’t offer football scholarships. It cannot be emphasized enough how much that fact allowed so many I-AA fans across the country that day that the Mountain Hawks had no chance against one of the quad champions of the Atlantic 10 that year. (Atlantic 10 Football was later rebranded as the CAA in more recent years.)
Lehigh had won a I-AA playoff game long ago, as a I-AA Independent back in 1979, but those days were long ago, even in 1998. Since then, Lehigh had helped found the Patriot League and adopted a system where they would not officially allow scholarships in any sport. Richmond’s story – one of emerging from the doldrums, beating William and Mary for the first time in a decade – pointed to a deep run in the I-AA Playoffs, if not an outright title.
In fact Lehigh had not beaten an Atlantic 10/CAA Opponent since they helped found the Patriot League in 1986. This would be their first-ever meeting against Richmond.
On November 28th, 1998, Lehigh upended the expectations of an entire league when they engineered the upset of the Spiders – an upset that came about, in part, from a blocked extra point.
“The student body had off for its Thanksgiving break, but a cruise around the beautiful campus on Friday gave no indication that anyone there knew its football team was seeded No. 3 in the tournament and playing a home game in the Sweet 16 of the I-AA playoffs,” Morning Call reporter Paul Reinhard said at the time. “The Richmond Times-Dispatch did have a story on its lead sports page Saturday morning. But it was at the bottom of the page, next to an ice hockey photo, and the headline, ‘Secret to Lehigh’s success? Financing,’ tells you the story dealt more with how players get into the university than how well they play the game.”
It didn’t help that it took place at the exact same time as Virginia/Virginia Tech, which kept attendance down from the locals. However, a solid group of Lehigh fans made the trip to Virginia, as well as twenty-two members of the Marching 97, to spur the Mountain Hawks.
(I was with my family in the Northeast for Thanksgiving, so I forked over $10 to listen to Lehigh’s radio call over the internet, on Broadcast.com.)
Richmond jumped out to a 14-0 lead early, leading some, probably to think that this game was going to be a blowout. But QB Phil Stambaugh, RB Ron Jean, FB Brett Snyder and WR Rick Moore had other ideas.
After Snyder bowled his way into the end zone to cut the deficit in half, Stambaugh would connect on his only touchdown pass of the day – a 44 yard strike to Moore to tie the game at 14.
After that the game became a physical battle of attrition, with RB Ron Jean putting the Mountain Hawks up 21-14 in the second half. However a Richmond FG and a late, bruising drive would give the Spiders the lead with 1:22 to play. (That missed tackle – Jean was just too strong!)
Then DB Sam Brinley, one of Lehigh’s all-time greats, ended up giving Lehigh a chance to win by getting a hand on the extra point attempt. Richmond would only be up 2 points, and Lehigh would have a chance on offense to drive the length of the field to win the game. Converting at least one 4th down on the drive, the offense set up a 30 yard FG attempt as time expired.
“It was just like Columbia,” PK Jaron Taaffe said, referring to a game that season where the Mountain Hawks won on a late, long FG with under a minute to play. “I told myself if I make this kick, we will win the game, and there was no way I was going to make this the last game for the seniors on this team.”
The many Lehigh fans at the game went nuts, and head coach Kevin Higgins, after securing the win, got up on a table and did a double fist pump to the fans.
“They were so vocal, and it meant so much to the team that I wanted to let them know it,” Higgins said when asked what he was thinking as he went through his postgame gyrations. “They were really behind us.”
This Week’s Game
The game is taking place at Robins Stadium (which was not the site of Lehigh’s win over the Spiders in 1998 – it took place at Richmond Municipal Stadium, which is now the home of the Richmond Kickers’ soccer team). Kickoff is at 2 PM, and if you can’t make it there the video stream is available for $19.99 on FloSports.com at this link. The radio call will be available for free on Fox Sports Radio 1230/1320 AM and 94.7 FM Allentown, with Matt Kerr and Matt Markus on the call (and also available on LVFoxSports.com).
(One thing of note: The $19.99 fee is for a month of FloSports streaming, and it isn’t limited to one event. If you pay for the service, you get a month’s worth of broadcasts, so it’s not just limited to one game – and you can also watch the games on-demand, too. I realize “paying for” is not better than “free”, but there are some benefits that are worth exploring.)
LFN’s Drink of the Week
Getting older sucks, of course. One thing about getting older is that you have to sometimes dig back in the corner of your brain for younger details. Like – back in 1998, had I been going to Richmond to watch a football game, what would I have brought to drink?
Harkening back to the Lehigh/UMass game – the reward Lehigh had for beating Richmond that year in the playoffs – I am fairly sure me and my friends who went to Amherst, MA brought with us some beers from my apartment, though the make and model of those beers has long been burned from the synapses of my brain.
Since my brain can’t recall, I did what everyone else with a faulty memory does these days – I went to Google and got distracted, and thus found my Drink of the Week, the Bloody Spider. Basically – high-end Bloody Mary mix, shake with a good quality Vodka (Stoli is my personal favorite), and ice. Garnish with celery stalks.
One thing I do know is if this were twenty-something me going to Richmond today, Bloody Spiders would be a part of it. I don’t know if this company is still in business – believe me, I looked – but I love the idea of bringing high-end Bloody Marys to a 2PM kickoff in Richmond. Besides, I’m still getting ripe tomatoes and hot peppers from my garden.
Lehigh Injury Report
Lehigh had a rough time against Villanova at home last week, and this week on the road it doesn’t get much easier against another nationally-ranked CAA opponent.
Richmond cruised in their opener against Howard 38-14, with Spider 5th year QB Joe Mancuso accounting for 347 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns as the Spiders gained 530 yards of total offense. The Union County, HGA native was 25-of-34 passing for 293 yards and two TDs, spreading the ball around to ten different different receivers. He is also very much a threat to tuck the ball and run as well, as he had 54 yards rushing and a rushing TD as well.
Redshirt junior RB Aaron Dykes led the way scoring with two early 1 yard rushing TDs, but Richmond rotated a large number of backs, as six different Spiders had carries and no rusher had more than 50 yards. It’s clear that you can’t really focus on any one target in this offense.
Every single first-team player on Richmond’s offense is using some sort of redshirt year – in fact, looking at Richmond’s two-deep, there are only three players who haven’t used some sort of redshirt year. The Spiders boast four 300 lb linemen.
On defense LB Tyler Dressler stood out for Richmond with 9 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Overall in the spring, Richmond’s defense was a very solid group, helping pave the way to a 3-1 record and only allowing 23 points to a powerful JMU squad.
Keys for Lehigh
- Growin’ Up Too Fast. Villanova was only one game, and although it was a very bitter pill to swallow, the truth is this team now knows what the CAA, and top-level FCS football, is. One loss isn’t a deal-breaker for the season – if the team has learned from the experience and can apply some lessons in Richmond. Not knowing what the deal is isn’t an excuse anymore. Everyone knows now.
- Synchronicity. Lehigh’s offense desperately needs to get some sort of rhythm going to produce better results. The offense truly needs to “take what the defense gives them” in order to build up that momentum, and when that momentum builds and develops more consistently, good things will happen. This isn’t a time for home run balls. Lehigh needs singles and doubles to build synchronicity.
- Pyromania. I have to imagine that defensively this unit was really upset at themselves last Saturday. The first half they kept things close for a while, but by the end of the afternoon they had made some first-game mistakes that led to some really big plays. Some of that will be cleanup-type stuff, and others is just execution. I think, though, if the Mountain Hawks do clean those things up and fix those execution details, a better game is in store this weekend. If Lehigh brings a fire in their play to Richmond, it will be a good thing not just for this Saturday but for the season going forward.
“We definitely know what to expect,” DL Trevor Harris said this week. “We have definitely flipped the next page. Our loss to Villanova came down to mental breakdowns. We need to get 11 hats to the ball on defense. If we do that, we can get the offense the ball and we know they’re capable of good things.”
Once again, Lehigh has a huge challenge on their hands this Saturday, and a great opportunity to demonstrate to everyone that last week’s game won’t define this team going forward. Winning this game, while it would be an epic, defining win for this program, isn’t a requirement. But a strong, well-executed gameplan, is.
Twenty-three years ago, a lightly regarded Lehigh team came to Richmond and showed people nationally what they are about. The Mountain Hawks again have this opportunity tomorrow.
Right now I am looking to what this team is going to be this season. After last week’s game, I realized I still don’t know the answer to that. I’m eager to tune it to see.
Richmond 41, Lehigh 13
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
Reach him at: this email or click below: