In the FCS Huddle: Mountain Hawks rise to close challenges

11:41 AM, Sep 22, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - Sportswriters often find themselves explaining away the close losses of a team - how so-and-so could be on the verge of turning a corner after enduring the various tough defeats.

Holy Cross, for one, lost six times by seven points or less a year ago, so it was easy a month ago to say that a lot could be different for the Crusaders this season.

But there's a big difference between having that proverbial corner in sight and actually turning it. Holy Cross has come out this season with two more games decided by a touchdown or less. Both are losses.

Another Patriot League team, Lehigh, owns the blueprint for how to win tight games. In eighth-year coach Andy Coen's first four seasons, the Mountain Hawks were a combined 4-14 in games decided by seven points or less. Since the start of the 2010 season, they have gone 15-1, including Saturday night's 29-28 rally past Princeton.

There surely wasn't any sense of panic in the Lehigh locker room at halftime even though the 22nd-ranked Mountain Hawks (3-0) trailed by 19 points. Confidence will flow through a successful team, and the ability to execute when the game is on the line becomes second nature.

"Because we're a tough team and we're very tight together. The players don't give up on each other. That's the sign of a good football team," Coen said after his team posted its third come-from-behind win this season - all by a combined 11 points.

Lehigh has reloaded after returning only eight starters from last year's 10-1 squad, which still doesn't believe it was left out of the FCS playoffs. Senior quarterback Brandon Bialkowski, a lefty, has completed over 67 percent of his passes for 390.3 yards per game and nine touchdowns, while go-to receiver Lee Kurfis has 30 receptions for 585 yards through the three games,

Reminded of his gaudy statistics after the win over Princeton, Bialkowski said, "Three wins is all that matters."

During their big run, the Mountain Hawks have won 10 straight games of seven or less points since a 48-41 overtime loss to New Hampshire early in the 2011 season. That same UNH program visits Goodman Stadium again next Saturday.

TOP 25 SCOREBOARD

A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/m47mlue.

FCS-FBS SCOREBOARD

Georgia State has made it too easy for FCS teams to set a single-season record with 14 wins over FBS opponents. Jacksonville State's 32-26 overtime triumph was the third time Georgia State has fallen to an FCS opponent this season (Samford and Chattanooga were the other times).

FCS teams have a 14-80 record against the FBS.

STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING

Rising: Teams that don't score a touchdown aren't supposed to beat nationally ranked opponents in two straight weeks. But Gardner-Webb, under first-year coach Carroll McCray, has done that with just five field goals while stopping Richmond and Wofford. Amazing.

Falling: The best thing going for Colgate is that 21st-ranked Fordham is not eligible for the Patriot League title. The Raiders, the defending league champions, dropped to 0-4 for the first time in 17 years, suffering a 39-22 beating to a Yale squad playing its first game of the season. Yale, which finished last in the Ivy League a year ago, racked up 327 rushing yards and 537 total yards on Colgate.

AROUND THE NATION

Big Sky: Portland State (3-1) has piled up at least 30 points in six straight games dating to last season. In the Vikings' latest win - 41-10 at UC Davis - D.J. Adams had runs of 85 and 50 yards and finished with 208 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries.

Big South: Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina, both 4-0, got the ball rolling last season. CSU ended the season with wins in four of its final six games, while Coastal captured its final five regular-season games, then earned it first playoff win before bowing out to Old Dominion.

CAA Football: Richmond coach Danny Rocco earned a win over his former team, Liberty, 30-21 ... Stony Brook will be hard-pressed to be a CAA contender after the season-ending abdominal injury to senior running back Marcus Coker.

Ivy: As all eight Ivy League teams opened their season Saturday, some looked to be in midseason form, and the only losses were to Top 25 opponents - Princeton to Lehigh and Columbia to Fordham. Among the highlights of the 6-2 day: Tyler Varga rushing for 236 yards and a touchdown in Yale's 39-22 win at Colgate; Conner Hempel throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns as Harvard reloaded at quarterback with a 42-20 victory at San Diego; quarterback Dalyn Williams throwing for 228 yards and running for another 119 in Dartmouth's 30-23 win at Butler; and John Spooney scoring three touchdowns in Brown's 45-7 rout of Georgetown.

Independents: After a brutal three-game opening stretch, Monmouth went on the road to secure its first win, 21-14, over Holy Cross. Julian Hayes (130) and Kwabena Asante (118) both went over 100 rushing yards with one touchdown. The remaining schedule drops to six former Northeast Conference rivals and two Ivy opponents ... In a game that featured 117 points and 1,108 offensive yards, Old Dominion's 59-58 win over The Citadel came down to the Monarchs (2-2) stopping an attempt of a two-point conversion with 1:39 remaining.

MEAC: The most brutal weekend schedule of the season caught up to the MEAC, whose schools were outscored 350-128 in losing seven of eight games. The only winner was South Carolina, 58-6 over Division II Benedict. The Bulldogs' defense outscored Benedict with Shaquan Brock bringing back a 55-yard interception return and linebacker Justin Hughes posting a safety.

Missouri Valley: After the ESPN "College GameDay" crew rolled into Fargo, two- time defending FCS champion North Dakota State (3-0) rolled over Delaware State, 51-0, to give Craig Bohl his school-record 92nd career win. All-America cornerback Marcus Williams scored on his sixth career interception return to tie the FCS record first set by Murray State's William Hampton (1993-96) ... A crowd of 14,618 watched Southern Illinois pull away from Southeast Missouri State with the final 17 points of a 36-19 win in the first football game at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Northeast: Is Saint Francis (Pa.) fifth-year senior running back Kyle Harbridge ready to claim a comeback player of the year award? Coming off last year's ACL tear, he has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the first three games. Including a 230-yard demolition of Lincoln (Pa.), he has rushed for 467 yards (seven yards per carry) and five touchdowns through three games ... Sacred Heart scored three touchdowns on defense and another off a blocked punt in pounding Chowan, 78-35 - a school record for points in a game.

Ohio Valley: Quarterback Michael German is back directing Tennessee State, which beat Tennessee Tech, 41-21, in the first OVC game of the season. German only completed eight passes, but they went for 204 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers have forced 12 turnovers through four games ... Having thrown 20 touchdowns in four games, Eastern Illinois senior Jimmy Garoppolo has tied the OVC career passing TD record of 85, first set by former Panthers QB Tony Romo.

Patriot: Not to be lost in Fordham's surprising 4-0 start is the Rams have effectively replaced Patrick Murray, the nation's best kicker-punter last season. Junior Michael Marando is 7-of-8 on field goal attempts and 19-of-19 on extra points, while freshman Joseph Pavlik has kicked nine of his 15 punts inside an opponent's 20-yard line.

Pioneer: In Davidson's 35-22 loss to Johnson C. Smith, senior quarterback Jonathan Carkhuff threw for a school-record 464 yards and became the school's career passing leader with 9,531 yards ... Drake's Ben Tesson kicked an FCS season-high 52-yard field goal in a 31-14 win over Indianapolis.

Southern: There was little reason for Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield to choose between quarterbacks Kameron Bryant and Jamal Londry-Jackson when he could use both against Elon. The duo combined to complete 25-of-33 pass attempt for 404 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-21 win at Elon. But freshman running back Marcus Cox was the most dangerous Mountaineer, rushing for 159 yards and one touchdown and catching five passes for 149 yards and two scores.

Southland: Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts said starting quarterback Bryan Bennett could have returned after he left with a leg injury early in the game, but junior quarterback Jordan Barnett proved to be more than a capable replacement in an impressive 34-31 win at Samford. Barnett completed 10-of-17 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 58 yards on 15 carries. The Lions converted 13 third downs.

SWAC: Alcorn State (3-1, 2-0), under second-year coach Jay Hopson, staked itself as an East Division contender by going to Arkansas-Pine Bluff for a 21-16 win. Having beaten Mississippi Valley State a week ago, the Braves have turned back two SWAC opponents who throttled them a year ago. They still face tough conference games on the road at Alabama State, Southern and Jackson State.

Extra Point: If you had any of Charleston Southern, Fordham, Jacksonville State, McNeese State and Sacred Heart being 4-0 at this point in the season - let alone all of them - consider yourself next in line for a Lottery ticket.

A LOOK AHEAD

Two Week 5 games stand out next Saturday, No. 2 Eastern Washington at No. 5 Sam Houston State, which is a rematch of last season's national semifinal won by Sam Houston, 45-42, and No. 1 North Dakota State at No. 6 South Dakota State - the top-ranked Bison's toughest road test of the Missouri Valley Conference season.

Conference play will start to heat up nationally, including Thursday night matchups of Howard-North Carolina A&T in the MEAC and Cal Poly-Portland State in the Big Sky.

On Saturday, there's: Big Sky, Montana-Northern Arizona and Montana State- North Dakota; CAA Football, Maine-Richmond, James Madison-Delaware and Towson-Stony Brook; Ivy League, Brown-Harvard; Pioneer League, Butler-Jacksonville; Northeast Conference, Bryant-Wagner; Ohio Valley, Eastern Kentucky-Eastern Illinois and Murray State-Jacksonville State; Southern, Chattanooga-Georgia Southern; and SWAC, Alcorn State-Alabama State and Jackson State-Southern.

The other non-conference highlights includes two more Top 25 matchups: New Hampshire-Lehigh and McNeese State-Northern Iowa.

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