Win Streaks At Risk in Football Clash
“The loss hasn’t been mentioned that much, but it is in the minds of those players that played in that game,” senior running back Nick Palazzo said.
Even Lehigh coach Pete Lembo recognized the motivation that Harvard might draw from the past blowout. “Our win against them in 2000 serves as further motivation [for the Crimson],” Lembo said.
Two years later, No. 24 Harvard (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) wants to see how it stacks up with the nation’s elite I-AA programs when it faces No. 12 Lehigh (3-1, 1-0 Patriot) in Bethlehem, Pa., tomorrow.
“This game will be used as a measuring stick,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said.
The big question for Harvard this week is which quarterback will start. Early in the week, sophomore Ryan Fitzpatrick was the probable starter, as senior Neil Rose’s back injury indicated that he would be unable to play tomorrow. However, as the contest approaches, a game-time decision on the quarterback situation seems to be inevitable.
The other big story surrounding the game is the Mountain Hawks’ 26-game home win streak. Lehigh has not suffered a defeat in Goodman Stadium since 1997, when the Mountain Hawks fell to a gritty Harvard team, 35-30.
After having its 26-game regular season winning streak snapped last week at Penn, Lehigh’s character will be tested this week, as it seeks to regain its shaken confidence.
If the Mountain Hawks need an ego boost before stepping onto the field, they need look no further than the aforementioned thumping it gave the Crimson in 2000.
The major difference between the 2000 and 2002 Harvard teams is turnovers. In the 2000 meeting with Lehigh, Harvard had the edge in total yards and first downs, but its five turnovers proved costly.
During its 11-game winning streak, the Crimson has turned the ball over only nine times, a streak which Harvard must continue if it wishes to be successful in Bethlehem tomorrow.
“There is no question that the major reason behind our 11 straight victories is that we haven’t beaten ourselves,” Murphy said.
On the other hand, the Mountain Hawks’ young season has been plagued with turnovers. Hosting Princeton, Lehigh coughed the ball up twice and spotted the Tigers a 24-7 lead before finally prevailing 31-24. Against Penn, the Mountain Hawks turned the ball over five times and again trailed 24-7. However, Lehigh could not muster the late-game comeback it mounted against Princeton and lost 24-21 on a missed field goal.
“We are still looking for consistency from our offensive unit,” Lembo said.
The Lehigh offense has both a very potent running game led by Jermaine Pugh, who ran for 118 yards last week against Penn, and a strong passing game led by the quarterbacking duo of juniors Chad Schwenk and Matt Shiels.
“They have a lot of speed on offense, especially at the running back position so we need to do a good job controlling the running game,” senior linebacker John Perry added.
Lehigh’s quarterback situation is hard to figure out, as both Shiels and Schwenk have put up similar statistics. Shiels and Schwenk have comparable completion rates—56 and 58 percent, respectively—and both average around eight yards per attempt. Lembo has named Schwenk the starter, but that distinction does not reveal the amount of playing time each player will receive.
“We have to prepare for both quarterbacks, because they haven’t been shy about playing both,” Murphy said.
The 48 points allowed over the past two games does not exemplify the prowess of Lehigh’s physical and aggressive defense.
“The defense has played extremely well—it’s the offensive turnovers that have killed them,” Murphy said.
For the Crimson, continuing the status quo on offense will be important. Harvard has scored at least four touchdowns in each game of its winning streak and has averaged 231.5 rushing yards per game this season.
“As an offense we have to focus on execution and fundamentals as we have in the past,” Palazzo said.
The indecision at the quarterback position should not hurt the offense’s production as Fitzpatrick has had well-documented success when presented with unexpected situations.
Both sides expect a battle, one that will most likely be close in the fourth quarter, similar to the last time Harvard visited Bethlehem in 1997.
“They appear to be as good as advertised,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “Harvard will have to play well on Saturday to win but are capable of doing it.”
The only certainty about this matchup is that both Lehigh and Harvard will have to bring their highest level of play to be competitive. If the Mountain Hawks turn the ball over like they did against Penn and Princeton, Harvard could very easily walk out of Bethlehem with its win streak extended to 12.