He could have talked about building the program up from a 4-7 team into a Patriot League champion, crushing the sweet dreams of Lafayette last year in Easton in the 152nd version of The Rivalry, 45-21,
or perhaps he could have waxed philosophic about the last time Lehigh squared off against Lafayette at Murray Goodman Stadium, the time when QB Nick Shafnisky threw aside a Lafayette defender and the Mountain Hawks blew the doors out with a 49-35 win.
But that's not what he talked about at all.
He went right at the "agony of defeat" moments instead, talking about the loss to Lafayette in 2013, the infamous "it's supposed to suck, and it's supposed to hurt" game where an 8-2 Lehigh team faced off against a 4-6 Lafayette squad that ended up going to the FCS Playoffs with a 5-6 record.
"We had come into that game 8-2 with some momentum," Zach wrote. "We knew Lafayette was a tough team, but we didn’t respect them because we thought they couldn’t be tougher than us.
"[And after the loss,] I had no option but to stagger through the families consoling our seniors because they would never play football again. I watched grown men cry because they’d never again make a game-changing play, score a touchdown or deliver those big hits we love on defense. We saw their faces, and we felt their pain. Not only were their careers over, but we also lost the Patriot League Championship to our archrivals. Now, four years later, we’re in a similar position."
Lehigh has played three Rivalry games since that 2013 meeting, but none of them technically had the Patriot League Championship - and an FCS Playoff berth - on the line, because Lehigh had wrapped up the autobid and no worse than a co-championship going in. In 2013, the Mountain Hawks had everything to play for, and lost, and this season, in 2017, Lehigh is in the exact same position.
And that's both exciting - and terrifying.
|(Lehigh Valley Live photo)|
For the first time since the early 2000s, Lafayette will not have former head coach Frank Tavani there, a guy who, love him or hate him, always had his team ready to play in this 15,000+ fan, bowl-game atmosphere.
The Leopards, who were picked to finish in dead last in the Patriot League preseason poll - tied with Georgetown - actually showed a lot of steps that they were headed in the right direction, with conference wins versus Holy Cross, Fordham, and the aforementioned Hoyas.
If the Leopards win this weekend and get to 4-6, they will have an slim opportunity to possibly tie for the Patriot League Championship if Georgetown upsets Colgate at the same time.
That would be an amazing feat in Garrett's first season in Easton.
Taking to Paul Reinhard of The Morning Call, Garrett said he “told the guys to make sure when you go out there, pregame, during the national anthem, take it all in, appreciate this. It’ll be a great memory regardless of the result. What you remember is how you play.
“Emotion can only take you so far. You have to execute, do your job. It’s gonna be really fun to be extra hyped up because of all the implications of a big game, the opponent, the league, getting another win as an exclamation point that we’re on our way in the right direction.”
No matter what happens this weekend, it's clear that Garrett does have things pointed in the right direction, with a tremendous defense that has kept them in games.
He also knows a thing or two about The Rivalry, too.
"Well, I’ve heard about Lafayette-Lehigh all my life because it was my dad’s first coaching job," he told Reinhard this week. "In 1958 he was a member of the Lehigh staff, so he’s often said that’s the best rivalry he’s ever been around, and he’s been around football a long time. So, I’m really excited about this week. It’s a huge game not only for the Lafayette community, for our team, but also for the league as well because obviously a win by us can knock Lehigh out of it. So, the stakes are high, and it’ll be a great week of preparation and a great atmosphere. Really looking forward to it."
(That would have put him on Bill Leckonby's 1958 team, a squad that went 3-3-3 and actually tied Lafayette 14-14 that season. After falling behind 14-0, the Engineers rallied to tie the game in the second half - and both teams failed to kick a single extra point in the game, both teams scoring two touchdowns and one 2-point conversion apiece.)
|DL Beau Bosch (Lehigh Valley Live)|
That doesn't make this weekend's game any less exciting or terrifying, however, as the experience of 2013 showed.
“That’s the thing that hasn’t hit me yet," senior DL Beau Bosch said this week. "A chapter in my life is coming to an end, and I want to give all I got and go out with no regrets.”
That's certainly going to be the attitude of these Lafayette players and coaches - go out there one last time, and play without regrets. Without worrying about saving plays for next week.
Without worrying about whether their 2017 season will be judged a success - because based on preseason expectations, it already has.
|OL Zach Duffy (Brown and White)|
Indeed, Zach - and Beau - and everyone else suiting up this weekend in Lehigh or Lafayette jerseys - is doing the same thing. In a crazy, packed, bowl-like atmosphere, both teams might be playing in their final college football game. It should make for a hell of a contest - and for those like me, who live and breathe this stuff, both excited and terrified.
"It's really what college football is all about," head coach Andy Coen said. "Everything can go crazy in the Lehigh/Lafayette game, you never know. "
Game Notes And Injury Report
Even during Rivalry weekend, Lehigh still can't seem to escape the injury bug. Freshman DL Jack Kircher, who limped off the field last weekend vs. Holy Cross, is out this week with a lower leg injury, which has meant junior DL Julian Lynn took over at starter at DE and junior DL Harrison Kauffman went from DE to DT. Will the depth on the DL hold up?
On a happier note is the return of junior OL Liborio Ricottilli to the offensive line on the depth chart. He came in last week vs. Holy Cross and was a key part of Lehigh's run attack, and senior WR Gatlin Casey also seems like he'll be ready to go as well.
The Brown and White posted an article talking about the tailgate information for this weekend's game.
"The crowd at Saturday’s tailgates and game will consist of students and alumni from both Lehigh and Lafayette, though they will be divided inside and outside of Goodman Stadium," it reads. "[LUPD chief] Edward Shupp said one of the reasons why tailgates are separated is to make sure no altercations occur between students or alumni on opposite sides of The Rivalry.
"[Athletic director] Joe Sterett said tailgate separation is part of the tradition and allows students and alumni to surround themselves with their friends rather than rivals.
“It’s less about concerns with safety than it is, frankly, Lehigh people generally want to gather with Lehigh people,” Sterrett said. “This is a game where a lot of alumni come back to see their friends and arrange to get together one time a year. And the same can be said for Lafayette.”
The game is not officially sold out yet - according to Steve Lomangino, some standing-room only seats are going to be made available, and Lafayette Athletics may have some more still for sale - but it seems safe to predict that more than 15,000 fans will be there this weekend to take in college football's best Rivalry. Depending on the weather, the grassy hill area may be opened, but as of today's forecast, it looks like it will remain closed, Lomangino said.
Earlier in the week, it was an open question as to whether the 153rd meeting of The Rivalry would be played in a driving rainstorm, and certainly this weekend is not forecast to be a sunny day with a high of 70. Though the slight risk of passing showers remains, the beginning of your Rivalry tailgate will likely be a cold, upper 30s sort of morning under cloudy skies, then going up to the lower 40s with a very slight chance of passing rain showers in the afternoon. It won't be a soupy mess, and it shouldn't snow - but you may need to pack something to keep the raindrops off, especially at the tailgate.
I have to admit I've had a lot of fun picking the Burgers of the Week all season. It's a real challenge to come up with new and different burgers every week, but I've managed to do so pretty well (and with any sort of luck, there will be at least one more to pick next week.)
And - YES! - there is such a thing in the world as a Leopard Burger.
Before anyone gets bent out of shape, this burger is actually a menu item at the Top Rock Drive In in Alpena, Arkansas, and it's not made of Leopard - it's named after the Alpena high school mascot.
"Its single griddle-smashed hand-patted patty was charred all over its edge, and every crack was filled with American cheese, melted directly onto the patty," a review said. "It perched on top of thick slices of tomato, a green leaf of lettuce, hamburger dills and fresh chopped onion."
The trick apparently is to fry the Leopard, er, the bun in butter on a hot griddle before putting the smashed patties and the lettuce, tomato and onion on it.
|Dead Leopard Punch|
Here at LFN, we have a tradition: if a Drink of the Week delivers a victory, it deserves a chance to deliver another. The last two years, I repurposed a blood orange mixed drink and called it Dead Leopard Punch. It worked.
Not too hipster, not too gruesome, it still seems to hit the perfect note for a Lehigh victory over Lafayette. Even though the name of this is technically Blood Orange Punch - c'mon. It's not. It's Dead Leopard Punch. Everyone knows that.
2 bottle blood orange juice
3 cans seltzer (or natural orange soda)
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
8 oz. light rum
5 dash bitters
1 blood orange or orange
Fill ice cube trays with 1 1/2 cups orange juice, and freeze. To make punch, stir remaining orange juice, soda, lime juice, rum, and bitters into a 16-cup punch bowl. Before serving, add frozen orange slices. Add ice cubes as needed to keep chilled.
As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that.