Permit me to go on a little bit before my press roundup.
I'm a Lehigh guy, and I want to see Delaware beaten like nobody's business. I sense a lot of bravado on Lehigh's side, and there is an eerie quiet on the Blue Hen side. But make no bones about it - this is going to be a dogfight. Delaware will have more talent on the field than Lehigh. It will take a perfect team effort to win, even a flawed Delaware team, in the Tub.
It's going to be a sellout crowd down there, and it will absolutely be electric. There will be a lot of TVs tuned to Channel 69 and CN8 as well on Saturday night. It will be an opportunity for Lehigh to show, on a national stage, how good Lehigh (and the Patriot League) is. Yeah, you heard right. It may be televised only on CN8 and Channel 69, but believe me when I say that this game has the attention of all of I-AA nation.
But it will not be easy. Lehigh cannot afford to make mistakes. Fumbles, interceptions and penaties could be killers. Only by playing a mistake-free game will Lehigh have a chance - a chance - to win. Anyone who thinks that Lehigh will show up and win becuse it's Delaware's first game of the year is fooling themselves. Don't lose because you thought you would show up and win.
Don't be fooled by Keeler. Don't be fooled by the papers. Inexperience? Rebuiding? Ha. The Hens are talented, deep, and they will be ready for Lehigh. Don't expect anything less tham 60 minutes of tough football.
7PM tomorrow. Be there however you can.
Allentown Morning Call:
Increasingly Rare Lehigh-Delaware Match Is One to Savor
Keeler Carries On Tradition
Graziani Set For Electric Matchup
Blue Hens Hoping To Grow Up Fast
Lehigh Already Has A Game Under Its Belt
Brown Recovers In Time for Hens Opener
It's a lot to break down, but I'l try now.
Lehigh-Delaware. Still has a nice ring to it.
Even though it hasn't happened since 2000 and has happened just six times since the Blue Hens visited Bethlehem in 1987, the final year of Taylor Stadium, it remains one of I-AA football's most special rivalries.
So it wasn't a surprise that Saturday's series renewal at elaware
Stadium sold out faster than any game in Blue Hens history.
It's not only a matchup between the nation's 10th ranked team
(Delaware) and No. 14 (Lehigh) and a game that could have NCAA playoff implications, it's also a revival of a series that evokes memories of great players, teams and coaches.
It's a game that, in the eyes of many on both sides, should be on the schedule every year.
"I was excited about this game from the minute that [athletic director] Joe Sterrett and I were able to get it on the schedule three or four years ago," Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere down there. My memories of our games in 1999 and 2000 are quite vivid... But this is the reason why we're in this profession. This is the reason why our players dedicate so much time and energy. They have a great opportunity, a great challenge."
"When you talk to our alumni, next to the rivalry with Lafayette
[college football's most-played series], the games they refer to the most are the games against Delaware," Lembo said. "The classic matchups between [former coaches] Tubby Raymond and John Whitehead ... it doesn't take long to understand
and appreciate that.
This will be K.C. Keeler's first taste of the rivalry as a head
coach... He recalls a special atmosphere on Lehigh-Delaware game days as a player, although Keeler was 1-2 vs. LU.
"This shouldn't be a once-in-a-blue-moon game," Keeler said. "We should be playing each other more often. It's a game that's good for both programs. We're both top-15 teams on a regular basis and it should be an outstanding atmosphere. It's what college football is all about."
Lembo said that if the opportunity presents itself again, Delaware will be put on the schedule, preferably, at home. After this year, Villanova is on Lehigh's schedule for five years, which limits options.
So, everybody involved had better savor Saturday.
"The experience for these kids of playing in front of 22,000 people is something that they're going to remember for a long time," Lembo said. "Remember, Delaware is the state's team. It's like a I-A atmosphere."
Blue Hen football has NFL-level status, not only in Newark, but
throughout Delaware. On Interstate 95, near the stadium in which the Wilmington Blue Rocks play baseball, one will see a large billboard featuring Delaware quarterback Sonny Riccio. Last year, Keeler was on that billboard, hoisting the national championship trophy.
"I'd match our tradition against any school in the country. People are tailgating four hours before the game. There's been a book written about this program, and I'll have a radio show tonight in a place that is getting to be too small to accommodate all the fans who want to be there. When you're a Blue Hen,
you're a Blue Hen for life."
"It's going to be great," [LB Anthony] Graziani said. "I've been
looking forward to this the past couple of years when I saw it on the schedule. I went down to Delaware back in high school, when we played them in the playoffs. There will be 22,000 people there. Everybody's going to be fired up.
"If we could go down there and pull this out, everybody will have a little more pep in their step."
"Every year, they're one of the best programs in I-AA, ranked pretty high," Graziani said. "We want to be put up there. They're ranked higher than us every year. This is an opportunity. We can surprise some people."
"You just see it in their eyes, it's the competitor in all of us,"
Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said. "This is the reason our players work so hard -- for these kinds of opportunities."
Saturday is Delaware's opener... Does that give the Mountain Hawks the edge?
"Every team in the country makes some mistakes and has some questions to be answered in the first game with new players in the lineup," Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said Tuesday. "I think we were able to define a little bit of who we are and what our strengths and weaknesses may be. I'm sure Delaware will be
going through a little bit of that Saturday night.
"The flip side of that is, the game was televised, and certainly the Delaware folks get a snapshot of what we're all about and have a little less of a fear of the unknown in terms of who we are, what we do well and what we don't do so well. We have a lot of unknowns in terms of our preparation for Delaware, having just seen them on film from a year ago."
Both [Assistant Coaches Justin Bateman and Tony Trisciani] are familiar with Delaware. And both say their units better be a little smoother this weekend.
"I'm not happy with how we tackled last week," Trisciani said. "We've got to play physical, play downhill. We've got to be very good."
"We've got to stop the run," Bateman said. "If you don't stop
something, they're not like a lot of teams where they'll give you a chance to recover. Delaware will just keep running it."
With Keeler in charge, the Delaware offense is much more like
Lehigh's. "It's very similar, right down to the terminology," Lembo said. "When Tubby was there, they were famous for the Wing-T and so many college and high school teams modeled themselves after the Delaware Wing-T. But that has changed."
Delaware's no-huddle spread offense is the offspring of a scheme born in the late 1980s at Lehigh, which is ironic considering Lehigh often operated the Delaware Wing-T offense before that.
"We're playing a very good Lehigh team that has the benefit of having an opener under their belt," Keeler said. "They're very talented in their skill positions offensively. They know what their strengths are. They play well to their strengths."
What about Delaware?
"It's a good group, a talented group," Keeler said. "The thing that makes you nervous is Saturdays and how they're going to react."
Junior Kyle Campbell, a third-year starter at safety, said he likes what he sees.
"They're definitely showing they're athletic enough to play," he said of the youthful players around him on defense. "It's about experience now. When a guy can think and everything around him slows down, you know he's picking it up."
"I told our players and coaches, there's no excuse for youth," Keeler said. "We have to find a way. How good are we? Can we find a way to get these guys to the highest level they can be? It's just the nature of who we are and what we do that we're not going to hide behind that youth.
"What happens Saturday night is anyone's guess.. We prepared hard and I think we've gotten some great work done. But with all those new kids out here, it's going to be interesting."
"I like [the challenge of stopping Lehigh]," said [DB Roger] Brown, who also has been a standout sprinter on UD track teams. "I feel as though we have enough talent and our coaches will put us in the right positions to make the plays. We feel as if we can match up with anybody.
"They try to set you up, pick you apart and hit the big play.
Basically, you have to be extremely disciplined in what you do and not get away from that, because that's how they'd beat us, with big plays."
OK, now are you excited? And I don't find myself agreeing with Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler much, but I do agree with him on one thing: Lehigh/Delaware should happen more often. It is good for both programs, and it is what college football is all about.
7PM. CN8, Channel 69, or Newark. Be there.