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2012 Mountain Hawks of the Year

Out of 128 seasons of Lehigh football, only ten teams have enjoyed ten victories or more, and the 2012 chapter of Lehigh football was one of those ten rare teams.

Most of the ten victories did not come easy, which, combined with the perception of a weak schedule, had to be the reason why Lehigh was the first 10 Division I-win school since the expansion of the playoffs to 20 teams to be denied a playoff bid.

That shouldn't take away from the great accomplishment of this 2012 Mountain Hawk team, however.

There is plenty to celebrate from 2012, and plenty of good things to write about. 

The cardiac 28-26 victory at sold-out Liberty, in front of nearly 20,000 intense fans, before the Flames would end up being Big South co-champions. 

The heart-stopping wins against Fordham, Holy Cross and Georgetown, which all came down to the last play. 

And, of course, falling behind 21-10 early to Lafayette in the 148th version of "The Rivalry", before roaring to a 38-21 victory and shotting out the Leopards for three consecutive quarters.

For this last post of 2012, we celebrate the wins one more time, and unveil the Hawks of the 2012 season.

Special Teams Hawk of the Year: 
Senior PK Jake Peery
Archbishop Curley/Baltimore, MD

It's hard to remember a season where the kicking game was such a big part in Lehigh victories. 

When Peery lofted the game-winner against Fordham to give the Mountain Hawks a thrilling 38-35 victory, you had to go all the way back to 2001 to find the last time a Mountain Hawk kicker booted a walk-off score to win the game at Murray Goodman stadium.

"It was a great feeling," Peery said in the TV interview after his first game-winning field goal, any time, anywhere.  "I'm still really sort of speechless."

His kicks didn't just win that game, either.

The soft-spoken Baltimore native's treys were also the difference against Princeton (17-14), Georgetown (17-14), and Holy Cross (36-35), not to mention making all four extra points in Lehigh's 28-26 win at Liberty.

Making it especially sweet was the fact that Peery, during his Lehigh career, had struggled all throughout his Lehigh career, losing the starting kicking duties twice before finally winning the position in camp.

"My mind was completely blank, focused on the kick," Peery said of his game-winner, economizing his words.  "Kicking is like 90% mental.  Any struggles I've had are behind me.  I just move on and help the team out."

“I’m thrilled for this guy, who has done a great job for us all season,” head coach Andy Coen said after the game, in reference to Peery. “He’s been up and down in his kicking career, so this was a huge kick for Jake and I’m thrilled for him.”

He certainly did do a great job making clutch kicks all season - and that's why he's Special Teams Hawk of the Year.

Co-Defensive Hawks of the Year
Senior LB Billy Boyko
Northhampton HS/Northhampton, PA

Senior LB Sam Loughery
Pittsburgh Central Catholic/Glenshaw, PA

Junior LB Nigel Muhammad
St. Xavier Prep/Cincinnati, OH

Going into the season, the big question regarded the linebacking unit.  Sure, everyone knew that senior DT Sajjad Chagani was going to be the monster in the middle of the defense, senior DE Tom Bianchi would be a solid power-rusher on the outside, and senior CB Gabe Johnson, senior CB Bryan Andrews and senior FS Billy O'Brien were going to be tough in the secondary. 

But who was going to replace three all-league players, LB Mike Groome, LB Colin Newton, and LB Fred Mihal?  The answer would be LFN's tri-defensive players of the year.

It seems fitting that Lehigh has tri-players of the year on defense considering how it seemed like different players would stand up in different weeks to make plays.

No week epitomized the trio more than Lehigh's 17-14 win over Georgetown.

In that game, Muhammad would strip the ball in the first half, a critical turnover in a game where the Lehigh offense would turn over the ball seven times.  The turnover would be turned into one of two Mountain Hawk touchdowns on the afternoon, and critically keep Lehigh within seven points.

In the second half, a huge Muhammad sack turned away yet another short field to stop another Georgetown drive.

In fact, thanks to Loughery's batted-down passes and stop after stop by Boyko, Lehigh would shut out the Hoyas the entire second half - and for good measure, block the attempt at a game-tying field goal in the final minute of the game.

Fittingly, Loughery and Boyko would tie for the team lead in tackles that afternoon with 14.

Boyko (104 tackles), Loughery (83 tackles) and Muhammad (76 tackles) were the top tacklers on the team, but it was the other things that made them the tri-champions of the award this season, like Boyko's timely interception return for touchdown against Liberty, Loughery's blocked field goal against Lafayette, Muhammad's 10 1/2 tackles for loss - always at the right time.

Offensive Hawk of the Year
Senior WR Ryan Spadola
Freehold Township HS/Howell, NJ

The expectations couldn't have been greater on the Howell, New Jersey native.

1,614 yards receiving his junior year, good enough to beat the receiving record of his coach and mentor, WR Dave Cecchini.  11 TDs, despite the fact that he was double-teams and was priority one of opposing defensive coordinators all year.  Lehigh had an NFL-caliber receiver on their team, and once again, he'd be the focal point of opposing defenses.

Turns out, though, there was something else that was slowing him down that had nothing to do with opposing defenses.

Against Columbia, Ryan had only five catches for 36 yards and 1 TD - good numbers for many receivers, but tiny numbers for the guy who was supposed to carry the team on his back the entire year.

The following week, he was diagnosed with mono - knocking him out of two games.

It's unclear whether mono affected him prior to that game, but the illness meant that he would not replicate the massive success of the prior year.

But despite the fact he wasn't at 100%, he still had plenty.

He led the team in receiving yards with 851, including a spectacular game against Holy Cross, where his 8-catch, 202 yard performance after his illness would be the difference in the game, including two touchdowns.

"When facing 3rd-and-8 after receiving the second half kickoff, Colvin used his arm strength to throw the ball 60 yards downfield to a streaking Spadola," I wrote.  "With perfect placement into Spadola's sure hands, he accellerated past the Holy Cross defender and almost waltzed into the end zone, a 73 yard strike."

With games like that, Ryan will get his chance to make an NFL roster - and it's telling that he's still the offensive Hawk of the Year despite the fact he wasn't 100% all season.

Underclassman Hawk of the Year
Freshman LB Matt Laub
Parkland HS/Coplay, PA

When you get the call, you have to respond, and when the linebacking unit saw players go down due to injury, the local product from Parkland answered.

When junior LS Kyle Lechner went down with an injury in the middle of the season, Matt took over the position perfectly in the most hostile of environments - Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia.

"He came up aces in punts, kicks, everything," Coen told me after the game.  "In front of 17,000 people screaming at him, he did great.  Not a lot of kids can do that."

By the end of the season Laub was working himself into the rotation at linebacker, notching three tackles against Lafayette in the biggest game of the season.

“I was here all through the summer ever since I graduated, working out and working with the team,” Laub told the Express-Times during the season. “The guys working with me were Nigel Muhammad, senior LB Jerard Gordon and  Billy Boyko. They were all big helps to me. They’d take me out to the practice field and we’d do dropbacks and stuff like that.  Nigel actually was nice enough to give me an extra playbook so I could look through it and learn it on my own a bit."

His time in the summer paid off handsomely, as he's our Underclassman Hawk of the Year.

Mountain Hawk Player of the Year
Senior QB Michael Colvin
Morristown HS/Morristown, NJ

In every way this was Mike's team, and in every way the success of the 2012 team has to be laid had his feet.

Despite the fact that it seemed like once a game, he'd make mistakes.

Yet he wasn't afraid to make mistakes - and it was how he bounced back from each mistake that would define this 2012 season.

Never did a mistake kill his confidence - despite the fact that some felt like it would.

"I've been around a lot of good quarterbacks and I consider Mike to be one of them," coach Andy Coen told the Morning Call. "You can't kill a quarterback every time they make a mistake because you want them to be aggressive and make the throws they need to make.

"But it's a fine line. He'd be the first one to tell you he has made too many mistakes. But we're fortunate that he doesn't dwell on them."

Befitting the senior, the biggest game of the season, the 148th where he faced off against Lehigh's ancient rival, Lafayette, epitomized both the agony and the ecstasy of his senior season.

He'd dig a hole against the Leopards, throwing two interceptions - including one that set up Lafayette's first score, and allow Lafayette to surge to a 21-10 lead.

But he wouldn't let that keep him down.  Not exactly.

Seven offensive drives and 28 points later - with Colvin passing for three of the touchdowns, and running for another - Lehigh made a nail-biter into a laugher as the Mountain Hawks would end up coasting to a 38-21 win.

Even his final touchdown as a college football player seemed to epitomize the razor's edge he seemed to dance upon - a rifle of a pass, which sophomore TE Tyler Coyle reached up and grabbed out of the air, both feet landing squarely in bounds.

It was a MVP-worthy performance in the 148th, carving his name on The Rivalry forever - and, as well, as LFN's Player of the Year.

"I wish [the mistakes] didn't have to happen as often it has for me to have to bounce back" Colvin said. "But it's kind of the way my career has gone. I've been injured, I've been the backup. I know football's a long game and you can't hang on any missteps. I know I have a great team and coaches behind me. They make it a lot easier than it looks."

He ended his career in fantastic fashion - four straight over Lafayette, a ten-win season, and, now, the LFN Hawk of the Year.

Congratulations to everyone, and happy New Year!


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