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Monday's Word: Thesaurus

It's two days later and the words are flowing easily. I don't need to check a "thesaurus", but I will anyway. It's blissful. Cheerful. Chipper. Delighted. Ecstatic. Gleeful. Joyous. Merry. Overjoyed.

And if I feel this way, imagine how ecstatic the players are. I think the face of senior WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald just says in all in this photo from Lehigh Athletics.

But what really struck me in the emotion around the Lehigh sideline and with the fans rushing the field was how important this game really felt to those fans.

I got razzed by a lot of Lafayette fans when I said to them that "The Rivalry" meant everything to them, and when Lehigh was beating Lehigh on a regular basis in the late '90s that the game largely seemed like an afterthought. But it was undeniably true. Lafayette was talking about demoting the team to D-III and had an aging stadium with wooden bleachers that dated from the Eisenhour administration. Lehigh was talking about making deep runs in the playoffs and finding a way to win games against James Madison and Furman.

When Lafayette won "The Rivalry" in 2002, they were starving for a win and it was extremely important to them to finally beat Lehigh. When they did, it was a win that helped propel them to their great success in 2004, 2005 and 2006 down the road. It was a win to prove that they belonged; that they weren't a D-III school. In a way, that 2002 victory helped propel the changes they've made to improve everything about their program: the state-of-the-art field house, the new scoreboard, the refurbishment of the seating.

This win for Lehigh this time was not like Lafayette's in 2002. For the troubles that the program has had, Lehigh did not sink to the depths that Lafayette did only in the sense that at no time did Lehigh think of dropping down to D-III.

But it felt no less important. Lehigh simply had to get the Easton monkey off their backs - that pressure that seemed to enclose this team like a vise not only this year but in previous years. Four games were lost in the last five minutes of the game this year, including two on the last play of the game. You wondered if this team would ever be able to win a close, pressure-filled game like "The Rivalry". You wondered if this team would be able to hold itself together, pick itself up, and be able to win a game like this.

I had my doubts, let me tell you. Not only from the four close losses this year, but those four straight losses in "The Rivalry", too. Years of replaying the Jonathan Hurt catch, the crushing two years ago, the last-minute drive from last year. How could one team overcome this, well, bad psyche going into the last game of the year?

But they did. They kept it together even when they fell out of contention for the Patriot League championship. And, as I've been saying all year, they finally "learned how to win" in the biggest game of the year.

And as a happy side result, it finally put a stop to the infighting among the Lehigh fans.

Now Lehigh fans are already buzzing about the potential for next year - how sophomore QB J.B. Clark will perform as a junior. How sophomore DB John "Fear Itself" Kennedy might be a guy to anchor our secondary now that two seniors graduate in the defensive backfield. Folks are already looking at the 2009 schedule. You almost wish that there was an eleven game spring season just so we can see this team suit it up again.

There's something called optimism in this fan base now - optimism that hasn't been there since coach Coen first came to Lehigh, or when QB Sedale Threatt helped to upset Villanova in 2006. Fans have been waiting for a win like this since 2006.

"I wish I was coming back for another year because now that I know we can play like this, we're a force to be reckoned with," senior DL Brian Jackson said in the post-game press conference, echoing what a lot of fans must feel, too. Lehigh will miss Jackson, senior LB Tim Diamond and a host of seniors - that, lest we forget, all made huge plays on Sautrday and now need to be replaced.

Yet with all the optimism, it's easy to get carried away.

When asking Clark about what he takes into the offseason, he told me that he considers next year to be "starting from scratch." And he's right; Clark's No. 1 and No. 2 targets will be graduating, as the No. 1 runningback and three starting "O" linemen. But he said it with a smile on his face as big as all of the outdoors, clutching the Lehigh/Lafayette MVP trophy as if I were going to try to wrestle it from him right there and now.

Talking to coach Coen after the press conference, he mentioned specifically that even though the win is great and that Lehigh had such success this Saturday, "we're still a 5-6 team." Lehigh still has a long - long! - way to go to be considered in the same breath as those great teams from 1979, 1986, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001 - and coach Coen, more than anybody, knows it.

Not to say coach Coen wasn't ecstatic about winning. He gave a grin to Keith Groller of the Morning Call and myself as big as I've ever seen. But he clearly doesn't see this win as the end of the work he has ahead.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Once again...nothing to complain about so there are no comments. Lehigh was awesome on Saturday!!!
Anonymous said…
Continue to enjoy the win... however, I do think that Coen was smart by reminding everyone that this was a losing football team.

This was not a dominant win by Lehigh, I sat on the edge between the Lehigh fans and Lafayette fans on Saturday and until about 4 mins left in the 4th, there were alot of nervous Lehigh fans.

Big plays were made by Lehigh but they let Lafayette hang around until it was almost too late.

Not going to say that Lehigh didn't deserve this win, that would be foolish, so enjoy the victory but this does not guarantee you anything next year. Now that returning Lafayette players have had their systems shocked, they will come back and redouble their efforts.

Winning doesn't seems so sweet unless you have tasted defeat... but you all know what that is about, don't you?
ngineer said…
There is good cause to be optimistic about next year. Yes, we lose some key seniors, but doesn't every program every year? There is a lot of talent waiting to shine. Spring ball should be very interesting with the competition at WR. Strong core will return on defense and the OL has four players with significant playing time coming back.
This was a nice win. While not a 'dominant' win, it was a win by better effort, better execution, and better physicality. The close wins among the top 4 in the PL shows just how competitive the League is and that the championship is within reach of the majority of the teams. Fordham, the preseason pick ends up 1-5. Bucknell is on the rise with alot returning. Should be a very exciting 2009--WITH SEVEN HOME GAMES!!!
Wake Up said…
Unless Coen, Sterrett and the rest get Administration support nad funds you are all dreaming. Look at LC and how they have improved. Yhe give scholarshios in minor sports and funds from school and alumnu to football.

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