I've blogged on the last regular season game of the year after blowout losses, heartbreaking losses, losses that kept Lehigh from championships.
But never have I blogged about a win.
While the MVP of "The Rivalry" officially went to sophomore QB J.B. Clark - and he did have a great game (12/22 passing, 201 yards, 2 TDs) - to me there really wasn't any one MVP. This was a complete team effort, with a lot of those long-suffering seniors having one play here, one play there to bring victory to the Mountain Hawks.
- Senior P/K Jason Leo nailing a 40 yard FG in the 1st quarter to start the scoring. He'd be perfect on his kicks in this game, and also boot 7 punts for an average of 42.9 yards, including a 59 yarder. One would be downed at the 1 yard line.
- Junior LB Heath Brickner, who would stop Lafayette's opening drive by reaching up and grabbing an interception. Brickner would end the day with 3 tackles, a pass break-up, and that huge interception.
- Senior WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald catching a ball over the middle in the first quarter and doing what he's done all year: taking it in for a 29 yard TD. ("All he does is catch touchdowns!")
- Junior NT B.J. Benning sacking Lafayette QB Marc Quilling on 3rd-and-14 to force a first-half punt - one of his 8 tackles on the day.
- Senior LB Tim Diamond defending Shaun Adair on 3rd-and-9, forcing Lafayette to hold to a field goal to go up only 12-10 in the second quarter. It would be his only pass break-up, and his 11 tackles put him over 100 on the season, making him the first Mountain Hawk to do so in quite some time.
- Senior DB Brendan VanAckeren combining on a 2nd down play to tackle RB DeAndre Morrow one yard short of the sticks. The next play, a hurried Quilling threw the ball incomplete. VanAckeren would end the day with 9 tackles.
- An obviously not 100% senior RB Matt McGowan gutting out a first down after catching a short pass in the first half and rumbling 23 yards and getting pushed out of bounds. He wasn't all the way back, but he wouldn't miss this game for anything.
- Senior WR Nick Johnson nabbing his only reception - a 14 yard TD pass in the second quarter over his left shoulder to give Lehigh a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
- Senior DL Brian Jackson bursting through Lafayette's vaunted offensive line near the end of the first half - and sacking Quilling, giving the Leopards no momentum going into the locker room. Jackson would finish the game with 8 tackles - and a season-high 3 1/2 sacks in a single game.
- Junior LB Al Pierce, who sacked Quilling's replacement, Rob Curley, on 1st-and-goal after he would lead the Leopards on a long, time-consuming third quarter drive. Pierce would end with 9 tackles, and 2 tackles for loss.
- Junior LB Matt Cohen, who would team up at the 5 yard line to keep WR Mark Layton out of the end zone on the long 3rd-and-goal started by the Pierce sack. That tackle would hold the Leopards to a field goal. Cohen would end the day with 5 tackles and 1 tackle for loss.
- Senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane, whose acrobatic catch of a Clark pass on 3rd-and-7 may have changed the course of the game. His 36 yard grab set up shop for Lehigh on Lafayette's doorstep, and the catch made it on SportsCenter as the No. 7 play of the day.
- Senior RB/FB Adam Watson, who had only one carry, but squirted through a hole made by senior OL Chris Tiefenthal, senior OL Kevin Bayani, senior OL Alex Kuziel, sophomore C Keith Schauder, and sophomore OL William Rackley for the touchdown to make it a 9 point lead early in the fourth quarter. It was precisely the type of physical type of scoring that coach Coen was brought in here to be able to make happen - and this "O" line and this fullback made it happen.
- Sophomore DB John "Fear Itself" Kennedy. Watching Curley's eyes, and stepping in front of FB Joe Russo and making a spectacular grab. 94 yards of Leopard-free space in front of him. Touchdown. Game Over. Losing streak to Lafayette over. Sideline explodes with years of frustration, finally consummated with a win over the Leopards. (Watch it again in the official release about the game from Lehigh Athletics.)
Personally, I was struck by how well both lines played: the "O" and "D" lines. Two years ago in Easton, our lines were out-muscled and out-physicaled by Lafayette. Going into the game, I thought for the first time the matchup looked more even - but Lehigh won that battle this Saturday. Coach Coen's focus on more physical lines - finally- seems to have paid off.
And I couldn't be happier for the entire team today - of current players of course, but the army of former players that watched the game from the sidelines, too. While folks like Sedale Threatt told me that they'd "give anything to be back on that field right now", they were undoubtedly a part of this - part of the emotion that carried into the team and the crowd.
I asked the Lehigh players in the post-game press conference how they feed off the emotion of the crowd in a big game like this. "Lehigh/Lafayette has a great environment, the crowd on both sides are pumped up. It's a great feeling knowing that that many people are supporting you - luckily we were able to get that win for them," senior LB Tim Diamond said.
"I think it's kind of a rollercoaster," senior DL Brian Jackson said. "Every time you make a play, the crowd screams. When your fans are going to be screaming during every little movement, there are a lot of highs and lows; you kind of have to keep yourself in check, and wait for the next play."
In the emotionally-charged environment of "The Rivalry", Lehigh re-learned how to win today just in time to beat "that school from Easton".
Celebration time - and it's the tastiest Yuengling I've had in about, oh, five years.