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Preview of the 144th: Lehigh at Lafayette, "The Rivalry"

(Photo Credit: Lafayette Athletics)

"The Rivalry" makes you do strange things.

Today, I was looking in my closet for what to wear. I found a very, very old Lehigh University sweatshirt in its blocky "LU" glory. I'm not sure I ever wore it before.

Normally I'd wear a thin long-sleeved Lehigh shirt I got for Christmas last year. But when you've lost four games to "that school in Easton" in a row, you need to bring out the big guns.

So today, on this twenty-first day on November 2008, I'm here at my day job wearing a bulky, blocky LU sweatshirt from (generously) the early 1990s. And the only reason is that I'm trying in a weird, delusional way to turn this Lehigh luck around.

Because Heaven Knows this Lehigh team needs a little luck this year.

Four games lost by a grand total of 8 points. Games lost on the last play of the game - twice. And any one of those going the other way would have been the difference between an under-.500 season and an over-.500 season.

Just before the stretch run of the schedule, we lose the big engine to our offense, senior RB Matt McGowan, to injury against Georgetown. (Georgetown!) In the biggest game of the year against Colgate, we fight but fall short. What if McGowan was healthy in that game?

Add to that: Four straight Lafayette games lost. Two lost late in the fourth quarter - one on a miracle heave.

This team doesn't need extra motivation. They've played hard, and there's no reason to believe that they won't this weekend. More than me, they want to end their careers with a win over Lafayette for the first time.

What they need, simply, is a little luck.

And if that means that wearing my old Lehigh sweatshirt provides that luck, well, I'm doing everything I can.

Game Notes
The interesting part of the game notes is the presence of the word "or". At tailback, the starter will be either senior RB Matt McGowan or senior FB/RB Adam Watson. If McGowan is unable to go, Watson will be the starting tailback it seems and junior FB Anthony Fossati will get the nod at fullback. (And don't be surprised to see sophomore RB Jay Campbell, who scored his first-ever touchdown as a Mountain Hawk, last weekend.)

Other than that, the game notes only have one other interesting item: the backup quarterback is listed as the much-touted freshman QB Chris Lum instead of sophomore QB Trace Cisneros. I don't anticipate this making much difference in this game - but it sure could stoke speculation of a QB controversy with sophomore QB J.B. Clark going into the offseason.

Weather Report
Bundle up. The weather report gives us a high - a high, temperature, now - of 34, and Heaven knows what the wind chills will be with high winds of 15 to 25 mph. While it is supposed to be clear, don't be surprised to see a flurry or two, either.

Rivalry Specials
I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight some of the great pieces released by Lehigh Sports (and also from that school in Easton) regarding memories of "The Rivalry" and some features that appeared about some of the current players.

The Greatest Game they Never Played - Lafayette's 1948 Team Fights To Play Sun Bowl with Black Athlete

The year was 1948. Gas cost 16 cents per gallon, "Hamlet" won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Lafayette was invited to play in the 14th annual Sun Bowl against Texas College of Mines in El Paso, Texas, on Jan. 1, 1949, after compiling a 7-2 record - the program's best record in eight years. It was the college's first bowl invite in 25 years.

Lafayette President Ralph Cooper Hutchinson contacted the president of TCM, informed him that one of Lafayette's players was black and asked if the Leopards could still play.

The reply was no.

Lafayette's athletic council, the faculty and the football team each had a decision to make. Lafayette would not play in the bowl unless all three entities agreed to go to Texas without Showell.

For the Love of the Game: Lehigh senior RB Matt McGowan

It was the toughest time of Matt McGowan’s football career. Sure, the 5-foot-11, 210-lbs. running back had been challenged before, using his bruising style up against linebackers that had serious height and weight advantages over him. That part of the game never bothered McGowan, but having to sit on the sideline with an injury for much of the 2007 season crushed him.

“It would feel fine one day, and then the next day I would wake up and be set back right to the point where it was at the beginning,” McGowan said. “It was extremely frustrating, and one of the harder things I’ve ever had to endure.”

Former Lehigh Players Remember the Rivalry

Kody Fedorcha ’00
Current occupation: As sales manager for Pacific Ozone, a manufacturer of water treatment equipment, Fedorcha is responsible for sales in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. The former wide receiver also remains active within Lehigh football by providing color commentary on the radio and over the web.

Fondest Lehigh-Lafayette memory: “My fondest memory is easily from the 1998 game in Easton. In the third quarter of our 31-0 win, I caught a 41-yard touchdown from Phil Stambaugh and it was really one of those plays where it was my job just to get out of the way. Once the coverage broke down, I found myself standing alone in the end zone. All I can say is that was the easiest and most difficult catch I ever had to make, mainly because it seemed like forever until the ball got to me. The silence throughout Fisher Field (after the catch) remains a memory I will always cherish.”

One Final Chance for senior WRs Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane and Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald

Ever since freshman year, Lehigh wide receivers Mike Fitzgerald and Sekou Yansane have been determined to show the Patriot League that it was their time to shine. Each season, they’ve battled for a top position as they fight through practices and injuries. This season, the pair of seniors has made their mark on the field even through some disappointing losses. They have kept their heads held high and look to close their Lehigh career with a victory against Lafayette this weekend in the 144th edition of college football’s most played rivalry.
Don't forget the quotes and video from this week's media luncheon, or broadcast information for this weekend either (including sattelite information).

Black-Out At Fisher
Lafayette is looking to have a black-out this weekend in "The Rivalry", extending the (in)famous black jerseys to a line of clothing for Lafayette fans to wear. For the uninitiated, that means if you're Lafayette, you're encouraged to wear black. (This confirms what I've suspected for a long time: Leopard fans are indeed part of the Dark Side of the Force.)

Another interesting tidbit comes from the official release this week from Lafayette:

THE MATCH-UP: Lafayette (7-3, 3-2) looks to be an ungracious host to Lehigh (4-6, 3-2) on Saturday in the 144th meeting of College Football's Most Played Rivalry. Lafayette has won four straight over the Mountain Hawks, and the 2008 Lafayette installment looks to be the first to make it five in a row since winning nine straight from 1943-49 (the teams played twice in 1943 and 1944). More recently, Lehigh won seven straight from 1995-2001, prompting some in the Brown and White to assert that teams such as Delaware and Colgate had surpassed Lafayette in terms of the biggest game of the year. No player on either team has suggested that recently.

I'll take credit for this one. It's nice, by the way, to finally have arrived.

LFN's Drink of the Week
As voted on by you, the fans, the Drink for today is a "Birkie Bloody". I have absolutely no idea what it is. (Does it have to do with Norway? Those folks are crazy.) I know that I'm going to be personally looking for the Rumplemintz and Hot Chocolate as I make my way towards the stadium.

Breaking Down Lafayette
Lafayette isn't fancy: they want to win the ball game with a big, physical presence, running the ball, and pinpoint passing to keep the defense off balance. They've been able to do so fairly effectively this year despite having something resembling a M*A*S*H unit in their backfield this year.

Start with a good old-fashioned QB controversy. Junior QB Rob Curley was knocked out of the Colgate game with a concussion, and sophomore QB Marc Quilling stepped into the breach -even last week when he was supposedly healthy enough to start. Quilling lost to Colgate and Holy Cross in consecutive weeks, and coach Tavani has been playing cat-and-mouse as to who will be starting this Saturday. Quilling is more of a drop-back passer, while Curley is mobile and (when healthy) is very hard to bring down.

Next up in the doctor's office is the Leopard backfield, who has seen no fewer than seven backs (and two quarterbacks) who have more than 10 rushes on the year. They really, really missed senior RB Maurice White, whose early-season injury has kept him out basically this entire year. The silver lining for the Leopards is that they have a stable of backs that are capable of getting yardage, like junior RB Tyrell Coon (96 rushes for 445 yards), junior RB DeAndre Morrow (43 rushes for 261 yards), and senior FB Joe Russo (40 rushes, 183 yards). Coon and Morrow are speedy backs, but don't be surprised to see a lot of Russo on Saturday in his final game as a Leopard. In short, they have a stable of backs with a bunch of different running styles.

When Curley or Quilling does pass, they have one of the best receivers in the Patriot League to toss the rock to: senior WR Shaun Adair (721 yards, 5 TDs). The speediest guy in this offense, you need to respect him always, even on reverses. Senior WR Tim Watson is the No. 2 receiver (249 yards, 1 TD) - and the tight end, senior TE Michael Conte, is also a serious receiving threat (221 yards, 3 TDs) - especially around the goal line.

The Leopards always seem to get some huge hogs on their line, which is the engine that makes this offense go (as well as the great blocking ability of Conte and Russo, too). 6'6 330 lb senior OL Leo Plenski is the huge right tackle where the running game will be headed quite often. That matchup could determine the game for Lehigh.

Like last year, this base 4-3 is one fearsome unit. Most of the year they had been listed in the Top 20 defenses in the country in terms of scoring. They are a team that mixes up their blitzes well and always brings the heat.

The front four are very tough, starting with senior DE Jason Mills (35 tackles, 11 tackles for loss including 5 sacks). Junior DT Andrew Paulson doesn't get the same gaudy stats, but he's also effective in the middle at stuffing interior runs. I don't know if Harvard's "D" line was the best we faced all year, but this "D" line could be better than that unit.

Senior LB Andy Romans (87 tackles) and junior LB Mark Leggerio (85 tackles, 12 tackles for loss) lead up a fearsome linebacking corps as well. This front seven anchors the best defense statistically in the Patriot League, and they're only allowing just over 100 yards a game rushing. They will be daunting to face.

The secondary doesn't get as much attention as the front, but their No. 1 rated pass defense in the Patriot League makes one stnd up and take notice. Senior DB Marvin Clecidor (36 tackles, 10 pass breakups, 11 passes defended) is a lockdown corner, and junior CB Carlos Lowe (2 interceptions) is no slouch either. Both over 6 feet, they could be the tallest secondary we've faced this year.

Special Teams
Senior WR Shaun Adair is the speediest guy on the team, yet hasn't returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown yet this year. You can bet he will be focused on that to change on Saturday; it will have to be priority No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 for the Lehigh special-teams units to face.

Sophomore PK Davis Rodriguez could be the best kicker in the Patriot League, going 11/13 on FGs and only missing one PAT all year (he's booted a 46 and 47 yarder already this year). Sophomore P Tom Kondash is about in the middle of the Patriot League pack in punting, with a 37.5 average. Junior K Chris Cosgrove is the kickoff specialist; he has 4 touchbacks on the year.

Keys to the Game
1. Spy Adair All the Time. Whether on offense or on special teams, Lehigh needs to make sure that the speedy receiver from Ohio doesn't beat them. If the special teams units can keep him under wraps for the entire game, and our defensive backs can lock him down, we have an excellent chance of winning.
2. Outside running and passing. With an aggressive front seven, the key to winning might lie in screen passes and off-tackle runs that stretch the field. Test the middle occasionally (preferably with McGowan), but the outside will be the key to victory.
3. The Physical Battle. Both the "O" and "D" lines need more than ever to win the physical battle in the trenches this weekend. There's no tomorrow; if they can win - or even tie - the bruising physical battle underneath on both lines, Lehigh will have a chance to win.

Fearless Prediction
I can't remember a "Rivalry" so affected on both sides by injuries. Could this come down to the health of McGowan, senior OL Chris Tiefenthal, and others? Will Curley come out and start the game - or come in after the first snap? Is DeAndre Morrow 100%? There's so many questions.

Lehigh can win this game. They have the talent. They now have the team that can withstand the physical pounding - they didn't have that in 2006. Lafayette's injuries on offense might give Lehigh an opening to break the streak - but don't discount the old cat Tavani, who seems to have been born for the purpose of getting Lafayette to play big against Lehigh. Lafayette will be ready. Bank on it.

It's largely due to Tavani's ability to motivate that I'm taking Lafayette to win his fifth straight over Lehigh. If Lehigh battles and discovers how to win the big football games in their careers, it could be a watershed moment and would be a huge boost for everyone surronding the program. An optimism not felt in five years could finally be here. It's a game as important as everyone says it is.

But I've watched this team all year. I'll beleive this team knows how to win when I see it for myself.

Lafayette 31, Lehigh 14


Anonymous said…
The scary part is that Lafayette is so senior laden and so full of depth, even with the injuries. We all remember 2006 and its a terrifying memory. Romans and Adair scare the hell out of me.
On the other hand, that is a squad that hasn't really put a pounding on anyone except Fordham (and we all know about Fordham 2008). Our D is going to have to play the game of their lives. I hope JD has had a good week practicing for the cold intimidating atmosphere.
ngineer said…
'Word' is that Curley is not physically ready. Expect Quilling. We should be bringing the kitchen sink after him.
We need a big day from Jason Leo to end his career with a 'career day' and help wash away some not so stellar moments this season. I sense a much closer game and the special teams could well be the difference.
Anonymous said…
funny now how this guy said lafayette was gonna win...way to be on our side. No one was pulling for us. But im letting the win marinate nonetheless

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