By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Bethlehem, PA (Sports Network) - For the use of instant replay to become a part of all Football Championship Subdivision games, it's going to take a whole lot of television film and even more patience among coaches nationwide.
Its possibility doesn't seem feasible - perhaps not until every game is televised - but instant replay would have served a purpose in 13th-ranked New Hampshire's 48-41 overtime victory over 14th-ranked Lehigh at Goodman Stadium on Saturday.
UNH's game-winning points were scored on Joey Orlando's third touchdown - a 25-yard pass from Kevin Decker on the first play of overtime. They came along the Lehigh sideline after Orlando's two feet went out of bounds, only for him to beat cornerback Bryan Andrews inside the pylon and catch the football. The officials immediately ruled Andrews had pushed Orlando out of bounds, thus keeping the 5-foot-11 redshirt junior alive in the play.
Lehigh's hometown TV coverage appeared to verify a correct call - unless you were listening to the Mountain Hawks broadcasters, of course. The ruling kept one of the great homecomings of the season intact..
That he played scholastically for a high school called Liberty made the homecoming on this 9-11 weekend even more memorable.
"I know we take great pride in tradition coming out of that high school," said Orlando, who joined UNH fans in the stands after the win.
"It was nice to play in front of my family and friends that I don't see a lot. It was a nice little homecoming."
After Orlando's touchdown on the opening possession of overtime, the UNH defense halted Lehigh's show-stopping quarterback Chris Lum. He threw for career highs with 36 completions, 401 yards and six touchdowns, but Kyle Flemings' interception on fourth down was Lum's third of the game and ended a dreadful final possession for the Mountain Hawks.
Both teams went to 1-1 after the OT score changed the lead for the seventh and final time.
Coaches often point to the improvement between their team's first and second games as the biggest of the season, but only UNH left itself enough margin. Lehigh was coming off an impressive win at Monmouth in which it scored the most points in a game (49) under head coach Andy Coen, while UNH was coming off a loss at Toledo in which it allowed the most points in a game (58) under Sean McDonnell.
Come OT, Orlando was simply focused on catching the go-ahead touchdown and said he was not aware of the rule which allowed him to come back into the play after being pushed out of bounds. He prompted McDonnell to joke afterward, "We're going to have to go over the rules a little bit better with our wide receivers."
McDonnell and Coen were involved in the FCS playoffs last season when video review was in use. It's available in MEAC-televised games this season, but is not even close to being in use nationwide.
Coen wasn't happy that his team lost the way it did, but admitted he had to be OK with the officials' judgment.
"I'm not wearing a striped shirt, so I gotta be," he said.
He added video review would serve the FCS well, but, "that question's beyond me. I guess in theory, yeah, everybody would want to have a game with instant replay. We play the same game that Penn State plays. I'm not making those decisions."
The ending on a humid afternoon, when tempers could have flared, didn't mar an excellent non-conference match-up, with the Wildcats from CAA Football pushing their series lead to 11-2 over the defending Patriot League champion.
Lehigh rallied from a 38-20 third-quarter deficit when Lum threw touchdowns on three straight possessions. The All-Patriot first-team signal-caller, who didn't play in last year's 31-10 UNH victory, added a two-conversion to Ryan Spadola to push the Mountain Hawks' lead to 41-38 with 4:35 left in the fourth quarter.
But Decker's 39-yard bomb to R.J. Harris on the first play of New Hampshire's ensuing series moved the Wildcats toward field-goal range, where Mike MacArthur banged home a 35-yarder to tie the game at 41 with 3:23 left.
In OT, Decker went right to his longtime teammate and former roommate Orlando on the first play for the go-ahead touchdown.
"I saw the ball in the air and I knew he just pushed me out of bounds, so I made one play and just dove for the ball," Orlando said.
Lum's screen pass to Zach Barket to open Lehigh's OT possession went for a 6- yard loss and put the Mountain Hawks in trouble from the start. UNH All- America linebacker Matt Evans corralled his 24th and final tackle on the drive.
"It's absolutely huge," Evans said of the win. "Coming off last week, we kind of treated it like a must-win. We're going into a bye week, so we're feeling better about ourselves. It was a huge game to win. It was a great game, hard- fought by both sides. Coming out on top feels a lot better than being on the other side."
"I bet you have to look into the annals pretty good since the last time New Hampshire gave up an 18-point lead and gotten taken into overtime," Coen said. "Nonetheless, we came to win the game. There's no moral victories here; I'm not playing that game. I thought we had a chance to win going in."
Decker, who completed 23-of-34 attempts for 330 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, and scored on a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs in the first half, put UNH ahead 21-20 on a 17-yard TD pass to Orlando with 7:16 left in the second quarter.
UNH clung to a 24-20 halftime lead early in the third quarter when it stuffed Lehigh on the opening possession. Orlando then fielded a Tim Divers punt at the Wildcats' 44-yard line, took off to his left, reversed direction and weaved across the middle of the field en route to his 56-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 31-20 Wildcats' lead.
Orlando later fumbled on a punt return with UNH ahead 38-20. It led to a quick Lum touchdown pass and made the returning hometown hero feel like he needed to make up for his turnover.
"Nobody felt worse than Joey and I didn't even have to say anything to him about what happened - I didn't even talk to him about the fumble," McDonnell said. "I knew that he would have an opportunity to make it back and he did."
Lehigh had a 12-minute, 58-second edge in time of possession as Lum dissected UNH's rebuilt secondary. Eleven passes went to wide receiver Jake Drwal and another 10 went to Barket, the physical running back. Both players caught two touchdowns.
But on an afternoon of 89 points and 953 yards of offense, Orlando said he had what mattered most.
"I don't really care about stats. All I care about it getting the 'W'," he said.
"We needed to get back on track after getting blown out by Toledo. We needed to do whatever we had to do to get that 'W'."