Skip to main content

146th Wrapup, And Postseason Awards Galore

(Photo Credit: Luke Sahagian/The Brown & White)

It's been a weekend to remember for Lehigh football.

First, "The Rivalry" win over our Leopard-print neighbors, 20-13, and the energy and excitement that the game always engenders.

Then, the realization that Lehigh will be travelling to one of the storied programs of FCS in Northern Iowa to compete in the UNI-Dome in the first round of the FCS playoffs this weekend.

To top it all off, Lehigh, head coach Andy Coen and a host of individual Mountain Hawks got recognized with post-season awards, prestigious award nominations, and a return to the FCS Top 20 for the first time since 2005.

A whole lot of happy news and information follows below the flip. (more)

Let's start with the rankings. Lehigh reached No. 19 in the Sports Network poll, No. 18 in the FCS Coaches' Poll, and No. 17 in the Any Given Saturday Fan Poll. In the Eastern-based ECAC Lambert Poll, Lehigh sits at No. 6, a notch below Penn (No. 3), Villanova (No. 4) and New Hampshire (No. 5).

Next, the prestigious Eddie Robinson award announced their finalists, of which Lehigh head coach Andy Coen was one of them. "A panel of approximately 175 sports information directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will select the Robinson Award winner," Lehighsports.com's release says. "Coen is the first Lehigh coach to be named a finalist for the award since Pete Lembo won it in 2001."

And yesterday, the Patriot League announced their final Patriot League weekly honors - of which Lehigh/Lafayette MVP senior LB Al Pierce was a winner - and the all-Patriot League teams for 2010 were also announced today.  Seventeen Mountain Hawks made the list - and a whole lot of underclassmen, too.

First Team
Offense
Junior QB Chris Lum
Senior RB Jay Campbell
Sophomore WR Ryan Spadola
Senior OL Ricky Clerge
Senoir OL Will "Got Your Back" Rackley
Senior RS John "Prez" Kennedy

Defense
Junior LB Mike Groome
Senior LB Al Pierce
Senior CB Jarard "Main Man" Cribbs

Second Team
Offense
Junior WR Jake Drwal
Junior OL Jim Liebler

Defense
Senior DT Ben Flizack
Junior DE Andrew Knapp
Junior LB Tanner Rivas
Senior SS Casey Eldemire
Senior FS John Venerio
Senior CB John "Prez" Kennedy (appears at two positions)
Junior P Alex Smith

Congratulations to the winners!  And - lest I forget - head coach Andy Coen was Coach of the year as well!

Also released today was the inaugural Academic All-Patriot League team, which featured junior LB Tanner Rivas and senior PK Tom "Razza-Dazza" Randazza on the list.  Congratulations!

And there's a whole lot of "Rivalry" press to recap, too.

Official Release: Lehigh thwarts off late charge for third straight win over Lafayette, 20-13

“I’m elated that we found a way to win this game,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “That’s what we did. It wasn’t pretty at all except for one drive on offense, but we found a way. The defense did a great job. They were on the field a bunch. We knew Lafayette had an explosive offense. We bent but didn’t break. At the end we found a way to come up with the stops we needed to get the win.

Coen continued, “You’ve got to be out of your mind to think this game would be any different. You knew it was going to be a competitive game. We were in the same situation last year and played our best game of the year so we expected Lafayette’s best. Defensively they (Lafayette) did a great job and on offense they did some nice things but we came up with the stops when we needed to.”

“Over the last couple weeks we’ve had some good stops on defense,” said senior LB Al Pierce who became just the fourth defensive player to win game MVP honors. “We’ve been playing really physical so that’s something we pride ourselves on defensively.”

“We knew they’ve had some issues in their punting, especially with the snaps,” Coen said. “We put in some block and return schemes each week. We had them pinned down and went for the block. R.J. Ryan does a great job with our special teams and I think he was more fired up than anybody when that happened. Senior LB Shane Ryan came through clean and made a great block and it bounced right into Jon’s hands. It was a big play coming out at the start of the second half."

Allentown Morning Call: Leopards get a lashing
Easton Express Times: Lehigh University football team beats Lafayette College 20-13
Brown & White: Patriot League perfection reigns

PK Davis Rodriguez, a senior who was replaced on a pair of PATs last week because of some shaky performance, drilled the ball through the uprights as the half ended, giving Lafayette a 10-7 lead over heavily favored Lehigh and, maybe more importantly, a rare bit of positive momentum in a season filled with frustration.

The Leopards could not find the gas pedal after the intermission, however, and Lehigh needed just 12 minutes, 11 seconds of the third quarter to turn things around and then gave the defense the job of protecting the lead as it scuffled its way to a 20-13 victory that put an exclamation point on a perfect Patriot League season.

Even winning coach Andy Coen, who has now won three straight games over the arch-rival Leopards in college football's most-played rivalry – Saturday was No. 146 – admitted that "it wasn't pretty at all on offense today, except that 98-yard drive that gave us the lead … and at end we just found a way to get the stops we needed to get the win."

"We came out fired up and ready to play, which lead to that punt block," senior LB Shane Ryan said.

"Our special teams were big for us [Saturday]. The blocked punt [returned] for a touchdown was the play of the game," Coen said.

"Our defense played very well and came up with the huge goal line stand," Coen said. "The offense, while inconsistent, did make some big plays and had two long scoring drives. [What] was bad was [that] our penalties cost us dearly, including taking a touchdown off the board."

Allentown Morning Call: Lehigh football has come full circle in four years
Allentown Morning Call: Pierce took the fifth for a finish like this one
Easton Express-Times: John Kennedy gets a taste of wide receiver

"These kids have gone through so much," Coen said. "But I am now a big believer and totally convinced that it took these last couple of years of struggle, and learning from it and hanging together, to experience a season like this."

Coen remembered leaving College Hill in 2006 in a bad mood.

"I wasn't down, just angry, because I hadn't been around here for awhile and it bothered me to see how much better Lafayette was than us, and they were," Coen said. "So, it was going to take recruiting and coaching and doing things the right way with the right kids to make things better.

"We didn't have great years the last three years, but we kept working and now it's clicking this year. I give this senior class so much credit because these are the kids that we recruited after that 2006 season. Now, they're all seniors. And now we've beaten Lafayette three years in a row after losing four in a row."

"Whenever the offense is struggling, it seems like the defense steps up," junior QB Chris Lum said. "We have a lot of faith in our defense, but it was time to get the offense going."

*****

Lehigh-Lafayette football games don't always end with Lehigh students storming the field and creating a wild scene of celebration.

Al Pierce knows that all too well and that's why he savored the scene late Saturday at Fisher Stadium.

"I can't describe what it felt like to be out there," Pierce said.

Tough and together … that seems to be the motto.

"We just play well together," Pierce said. "We understand each other's roles and that's what makes it work. Coach [Dave] Kotulski has a great system."

But it takes tough, gritty, relentless guys like Pierce to make that system work.

The competitor in Pierce left no doubt that when he was eligible for a fifth season he would take it.

He missed his freshman year, suffering a broken hand that required surgery before the season even began.

"I love playing football at Lehigh and I wanted to get that year back immediately," he said. "This senior class has always been a tight group, and there was never a question in my mind that I wanted to be here. There are 23 seniors and it's all about our commitment and our will."

*****

It was interesting to see senior cornerback and kickoff specialist John Kennedy line up as a wide receiver for Lehigh University in the Mountain Hawks' 20-13 win over rival Lafayette College on Saturday at Fisher Stadium.

"It was a scheme-type of play," fifth-year Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. "We were looking for someone to be real explosive and we put him in a kick-type situation out in space."

"Those are my first two collegiate catches and hopefully not my last," Kennedy said.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Al Pierce, Saturday's MVP with 15 tackles and one sack, played running back in 2008. Pierce, then a junior, had 24 yards on five rush attempts that fall and hauled in two passes for 40 yards.

"I'm a little jealous, actually," Pierce said of Kennedy's role on Saturday. "Just kidding. It's good to see some guys on defense getting the ball as a change of pace.

"I know he was excited all week."

Allentown Morning Call: Simmons, Leopards looking forward to next year
Easton Express-Times: Despite Struggles, Lafayette players savor their time as Leopards
SportsTalk: Lafayette-Lehigh: A call for civility
The Lafayette: Leopards Lose a Heartbreaker to Lehigh

Lehigh has now won three straight in the series. That means that players who will be seniors next year, including Simmons, are in danger of taking an 0-fer against the Brown and White.

"I am very proud of this group of young men," Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said. "They faced adversity all year and they kept battling."

But what the 2-9 Leopards could not do was consistently turn the effort into results.

"A couple of times we had (Lehigh) stopped; we had the right defense and the right read and we didn't make the plays," said junior FS Kyle Simmons, who had seven tackles and a pass breakup on the afternoon. "We could have made some plays."

"I felt a couple times we had them stopped with the right defense called and coverage but we didn't make the play and gave them a couple first downs," Simmons said. "To be honest, I didn't realize they had two 90-yard drives."

Simmons said, however, that Lehigh is not the first thing he will be thinking about every day between now and next Nov. 19. When the football players get back with strength and conditioning coach Brad Potts to begin their offseason training regimen, the first objective will be North Dakota State, the Sept. 3 opponent.

"We had a very emotional meeting (Friday) night," senior WR Mark Layton said. "I realized (Saturday) would be my last time with these guys, we've gotten so close to each other, we're like brothers, and now the season was coming to end the next day."

Layton leaves College Hill with fine career numbers -- 146 catches, 1,780 yards and 17 TDs. But he, and his classmates, leave without a Patriot League championship -- though Layton would do it all again.

"I'm glad I came to Lafayette," Layton said. "I've had a fun experience, especially playing in these Lafayette-Lehigh games. And I got to meet Coach 'T'," said Layton with a broad smile.

Tavani chuckled, pointed to his sideburns, and said, "See these gray hairs? That's from Mark. But he's worth every one of them."

****

When the game ended -- again, just like on some of those TV games -- Lehigh fans came rushing onto the field, and it was probably good the players were wearing pads because it could have been a bit rough. It was a long time before order was restored and the Lafayette tradition of players sticking around for the alma mater could be carried out. As I made my way to the interview room in the Kirby Sports Center, I was walking against the Lehigh crowd on its way to the exit, but I never felt threatened. Some were undoubtedly too inebriated to care, others were just having a good time.

Frank Tavani had his own take on what he thinks should happen. Here's how he said it during the postgame press conference.

"Both teams, it’s such an emotional thing. And one thing is upsetting and I hope we can do something about it. For years now, the two teams have not been able to shake hands after the game because the fans are running on the field. And then it gets ugly down there. You know, these are two outstanding schools and programs, and you’d like to be able to walk across the shake hands regardless. I’ve been involved in this rivalry 24 games and I’ve been on both sides of it. And I understand it all. I remember the days when the running of the goal posts, but the two teams were still able to shake hands. Now all of a sudden it just hasn’t happened. It happens both ways. When we’ve won our kids have rushed the field. It’s just like the teams should be able to handle it the right way."

Did he see Lehigh head coach Andy Coen before the game? "I certainly did," Tavani said. "And I made sure this week that he had a city policeman with him and I had one, because the last time here, it got ugly and I was attacked by their fans and it wasn’t good. I said this year we can’t allow that to happen to him or me in the middle of this field. Today, we had trouble just getting our guys out of there and it gets all testy and stuff. There’s no place for that. In the Patriot League we should be demonstrating ... and it’s both; it isn’t one way or the other. We all need to demonstrate some sportsmanship. That kind of gets lost. It’s a rivalry. It’s nasty and it’s ugly, but when the game’s over, we both need to do something about that. And (the problems) are not any more theirs than ours, so don’t quote me wrong on that one. The fans are ruining it for the players. These kids on both teams have worked extremely hard. They are the league champion, and well they should be the way they played this year. We’ve been on that side, and even when it was the other way, I just always feel bad because there’s been some ugly stuff that happens after the game.

Comments

Anonymous said…
What a PL haul on the awards. Holy cow. Great kudos to all the winners. And hey, I really like Jay Campbell as a nice solid all-around back, but wonder what Dick and the boys from 'Gate think of that one? Wow.
Anonymous said…
OK, scratch the last comment..oops. Nick Eachus won Offensive Player of the Year, and shared the RB slots with Jay.
ngineer said…
I agree wholeheartedly with Tavani's observations on the post game melees. What is really gauling is that 95% of those rushing the field hadn't attended a game all year in support of the team. The players deserve better. As a former player, shaking hands with your opponent after an emotional game is part of the whole experience and neither team is able to enjoy that. Too many 'wannabees' in this world.
Anonymous said…
ngineer, I totally sympathize. Idiot lemmings that have yet to row into adulthood. Unfortunately, we've seen the fun side, but all too often, the really bad side of an alcohol fueled rivalry week.

Not that it makes anyone feel better, but at least the players aren't at risk of being impaled from the jagged goalposts that used to be a part of fratnity brawls back in the day. Man, as a very young LU fan, those were some memorable games, and bad, bad postgame scenes in the
70s.
Anonymous said…
Ask any player no one from Lafayette cared about shaking hands they only wanted to protect their "L" in the center of the field. The players all stood atop of the "L" not even trying to shake a hand. Tavani's is a sore loser for the 3rd straight year. GO HAWKS!!!
Anonymous said…
Have to agree Tavani is an idiot loser. I was there. Each and every year that they lose they stalk the midfield and push punch and jaw at students without helmets or pads. They are a direct product of their coach. Sore losing, unathletic Division II players
Anonymous said…
Watchin the footage on youtube of "fans stormin the field after the game"... all I could hear on the tape from a Lafayette players "protecting their L" was "GET THE F... OUTA HERE" over and over!

Popular posts from this blog

Nick Shafnisky Is Pushing Hard to Get To Play at the Next Level in Football

"Don't take anything for granted, just keep pushing."
Those are the words of QB Nick Shafnisky, told to The Whitehall-Coplay Press all the way back in 2013, about his preparation as a high school athlete.
And they seem to summarize the Whitehall, PA native perfectly, then as now.
Dubbed the "Male Athlete of the Year" by that publication, the article goes on about Shaf's many exploits at Whitehall high school - leading the Zephyr football team to a co-Lehigh Valley Conference title, becoming the first player ever in that conference to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards, and earning the league's co-MVP award as well.
He also was a member of the Zephyrs playoff basketball team, and for good measure also helped set a record for the 4x100 relay team as well.
At Whitehall, and at Lehigh, coaches pushed him, but it was his own hard work that helped make him the best athlete he could be.
This weekend, Shaf, like every eligible college football player, will be …

#TheRivalry Flashback: November 21st, 1987: Lehigh 17, Lafayette 10

Since becoming an undergrad at Lehigh back in the late 1980s, I first heard about the historic nature of the football team and "The Rivalry" through the stories that fellow students would share.

I did not attend the final meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette at Taylor Stadium, which was the final time a football game would be played there.

Those that did attend said that was that it was cold.

"I remember it being one of the coldest games ever," Mark Redmann recollected, "with strong Northwesterly winds and the temperature hovering around 20.  By the end of the game, the stands were half empty because most of the fans just couldn't take the cold.

"Fortunately, several of my fraternity brothers snuck in flasks to help fend off the chill."

Dominick Bragalone Goes Into Monster Mode As Lehigh Is One Win Away From Title

It has been a most unusual season for Lehigh.

Starting the year off at 0-5 and getting swept in their out-of-conference schedule, the Mountain Hawks were in danger of having their season go off the rails.

But two things have come together over the last five football games that have put Lehigh on the brink of back-to-back championships.

The first is the late blooming of the Lehigh defense, which kept battling every week since the low point of the September 30th loss to Wagner to do the job in four of their five Patriot League conference games. 

The second is the development of junior RB Dominick Bragalone into a bellcow running back, a back who has to be in the conversation for Patriot League offensive player of the year.

In five Patriot League games, Bragalone has run for 863 yards in 5 games, rushing for 11 touchdowns and adding two more receiving touchdowns as well. 

The South Williamsport, PA native certainly wasn't unknown before this week - after all, as a freshman and a sop…