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It Still Hurts, But Let's Face Facts

"The loss" still hurts.

If you read the comments on the other Lehigh/Lafayette posts below, it's clear that the rest of Lehigh Nation feels the same way. Fans are mad, they're filled with regret, and frustration. But the loss still hurts, more than any other Lehigh football loss that I can remember.

It hurts, and I think I know why.

At the turn of the 19th century, Lafayette had some revolutionary football teams that changed the way the game was played. Lafayette's only year where they were recognized as national champions was in 1896 - a year where Lehigh refused to play Lafayette due to the fact that they felt that "Babe" Reinhardt was ineligible to play college ball.

Through the 20th century, most Lehigh/Lafayette games were about Lehigh Valley pride and bragging rights. Sure, sometimes Lafayette would have a great team, or Lehigh would be in the Division II playoffs, but never at the same time. Although a beloved tradition during NCAA's "Rivalry Week", just like Ole Miss/Mississippi St., most of the time there was nothing extra riding on the game - just the fact that one team would be able to say "we went out winners" for the rest of the year.

With the advent of the Patriot League, a new goal arose - a Patriot League championship, which racheted up the pressure another notch. When Lehigh won the Patriot League championship for the first time in 1993, it was a huge deal. The bar had been raised.

With the I-AA playoffs and the Patriot League's success in them, however, all that has changed. It's no longer just bragging rights or Patriot League titles (though that's still a big part of it). It's competing for I-AA championships. Colgate just two short years ago were playing in Chattanooga. Just last year Lafayette and Lehigh were taking the best teams the Atlantic 10 had to offer and playing them down to the wire.

Last year, Lehigh and Lafayette earned a co-Patriot League championship, and Lehigh slunk off the field feeling as if they had lost everything. To that team, a co-championship didn't mean much without a I-AA playoff invite. Any look at the Lehigh and Lafayette players after that game makes that abundantly clear. That game felt like a playoff game, but ended up being a game where there was no loser - both teams got to play after Thanksgiving.

This year, once again, a I-AA playoff berth was on the line - but it was undeclared. For the first time ever, Lehigh/Lafayette really was a playoff game for both teams. As much as Lehigh/Lafayette means normally, this time the emotion was also wrapped up in the I-AA playoffs, and all the glory, prestige, and respect that it commands around the nation. Lehigh/Lafayette was not just a Lehigh Valley phenomenon. Folks around the country were watching this game. Closely.

No Lehigh/Lafayette game ever had more riding on it.

This year's team seemed built for I-AA playoff success. A speedy and deep WR corps. Athleticism and talent up and down the roster. Mark Borda. Eric Rath. At times, on paper it looked like we would just overwhelm most of our opponents just by showing up. It seemed sometimes like the games - yes, even Lehigh/Lafayette - were just a formality to our real season, the playoffs. For a very good stretch, that's how it was for Lehigh. Just beat Colgate, and you're home free.

But something else happened, too. The rest of the Patriot League improved immensely, and no team improved more than Lafayette. Lehigh is still good enough to contend for Patriot League titles every year, but the road has never been so difficult with Lafayette and Colgate appearing to have staying power year in and year out. We can't just show up and win anymore - even with great talent.

Where do we go from here? I think we have to focus on the Patriot League championship first. Next year, we need an outright invitation to the I-AA playoffs that allows for no error. I think that is how Lafayette has beaten us the last two years. They have put value in that trophy Lehigh players and fans have nearly ignored - the Patriot League Championship trophy - and that's why they're playing this weekend. The Leopards thought of the Championship Trophy as their goal, and they got it. We thought of the I-AA playoffs as our goal, and we didn't.

For now, I'm still hurting for Lehigh's season. I will try to pull together a little Playoff Preview for Colgate and Lafayette on the blog this week, probably late tomorrow. But here's as much press as I could round up concerning "The Loss". Included is my I-AA.org diary entry that has an abrupt end, which pretty much symbolizes Lehigh's season this year. (There's also a lot of great pictures of the tailgates, and game.)

I-AA.Org:
I-AA Diary: Lehigh Hosts Lafayette

Morning Call:
Lafayette's Hurt Breaks Lehigh's Heart
Bitter Taste Is All That's Left For Lehigh
Down To The Wire Again - Lafayette Makes Playoffs

I bring up the last article for one reason. When Stephen Miller says, "Even after Lafayette's win Saturday, several national I-AA football writers projected the Leopards would miss the postseason.", he's including me. I gave the Leopards no shot at the playoffs, and like many around I-AA Nation, I had penciled in Youngstown St. in my bracket.

Late tomorrow, you can read my mini-preview of the Colgate/New Hampshire and Lafayette/App St. I-AA playoff games. And hopefully more of the hurt will go away.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Bravo:
That was extremely well written commentary. You took that loss with the grace that, I'm sure, very few Lehigh fans took it.
From the other side, I can tell you that I would be mad as hell if my team lost like that and appeared to have lost some of the dominance over the league in the last few years.

Not to rub any salt in the wound, but looking back on the game, I think it was won and lost for Lehigh in the first 10 mins. I felt that if Lafayette could withstand the first 10 mins and be down by only one score or tied that we would have a shot.
With the first quarter being played entirely on Lafayette's side of the field and Lehigh not taking a 21-0 lead, it created a huge momentum shift for the players on both sides. Confidence was gained and confidence was lost in that first 10 mins. I think it most affected the Lehigh QB. He had some men open but could not find them because Lafayette brought pressure early. After that he was too quick to get rid of the ball and was missing recievers.

Overall, I'm sorry that anyone had to lose that game because both teams fought hard and it was one of the best, if not the best, Lafayette/Lehigh games ever.
It would have been great if both teams could have made it into the playoffs, but there is no way they take three from the Patriot.
Anonymous said…
"But something else happened, too. The rest of the Patriot League improved immensely, and no team improved more than Lafayette."
I concede that LC has improved from where they were 5 years ago. However, how has the rest of the league improved immensely? It would be interesting to see any facts to support this comment. Towson departured for more challenging pastures. Fordham's program is much weaker, GU's still floundering, and Bucknell is now officially a basketball school. HC was decent this year but will need to rebuild.

To me, the league's out of conference performance in the recent past clearly indicates that the league has regressed. Out of conference losses to the league's playoff representatives include CCSU, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton. Point to any other year where the league's representative would have such questionable losses. LU and CU went years without losing to Ivy League teams. From '98-'01, LU beat Delaware and Woffords twice, and went undefeated against some good Ivies.

I think LU his fallen back, CU has been consistent, and LC has become much better. In regards to the rest of the league, weak.
Anonymous said…
Lehigh has not fallen back. All 3 losse this season were of a "bizarre" nature. Why, I don't know, but I sincerely believe that bad fate was involved. I cannot explain it - this Lehigh team could have won the nationall championship -that's why not getting into the playoffs is so hard to take. But if you look at the losses, they really don't make much sense. Next year Lehigh will be good- how good we will have to see. But if you really know anything about football, this year should have been something special. It's over - why I will never know!! I think the playoffs will show that Lafayette and Colgate were not destined to succeed in the playoffs. They were lucky to get in the playoffs.
Anonymous said…
Lehigh has not fallen back one iota. This year's team should have gone deep into the playooffs. Why fate was so cruel to them I'll never understand - if you can't see the talent on this team, you're blind - that's why not going to the playoffs hurts so much. Lehigh could have won the whole thing. Colgate and Lafayette will prove to be unworthy this weekend.
Anonymous said…
I can see just fine. Maybe you ought to read what is written. I never said the talent has fallen off. I said Lehigh has fallen back. The entire package is not as good because of coaching. The staff that once consisted of Higgins, Cecchini, and Gilmore now consist of Lembo, Rourke, and Wilcher. If the former staff had this talent, we'd all be discussing league titles and playoffs.

I find it ridiculous that there is this "The Gods were against us this year" belief. Fate, luck, destiny? This team did not lose three games because of three lucky plays. They blew 14 point, 10 point, and 9 point 4th quarter leads. It takes alot more than 3 lucky plays for this to occur.

They lost at Delaware because their defense could not stop Delaware the entire 4th quarter. Even if they made the PAT in OT, there was no guarantee that they would have won.

They lost the HC game because Musiek missed a field goal and more importantly because Threatt fumbled (1 of 11) when LU had a chance to put the game away early in the 2nd half. Rath also fumbled when they were driving for the winning TD at the end.

They lost to LC because they could not score during the 1st quarter despite spending most of it inside the LC 40. They also gave up 13 4th quarter points to a team that has a very average offense.

I have an idea since so many think the key to a championship is karma. Maybe Pete should make a list and spend the off season doing good deeds for those that he has wronged in the past. There could be a film crew follow Pete around. Maybe they can call this documentary something like "My Name is Pete".
Anonymous said…
Yea i agree with you guys when saying Lehigh was 3 plays away from a GREAT season. I also agree they threw these games away at the start of the 4th quarter. I think over the past two years we have learned two keys on how to beat Lehigh. 1) Blitz Blitz and Blitz Lehigh, they can't pick it up. 2) As long as you are within two scores at the beginning of the 4th, you have a great shot. Is is conservative play, lack of depth, or lack of stanmia? 2 out of 3 of those we can blame on the head coach cant we?
LBPop said…
Just a quick observation or two from an outsider's point of view. Lehigh had a wonderful season despite losing the league's best player at the most important position on the field. That's impressive all by itself. I understand your frustration at being so close to the big prize, but I saw your team and facilities this year and when the frustration subsides, I hope the pride returns. You have much to be proud of.

One other point. Yes Georgetown is still "floundering" as one comment said, but, Georgetown is still starting to have an impact on the league. They are picking off a few more recruits each year that in past years probably would have headed elsewhere in the PL. The frustration in DC is largely due to the fact that we see the talent level improving, yet the performances seem to stay the same.

Regardless, as someone who would be thrilled to see his team have a year like Lehigh did, I say congratulations on a fine season.

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