Category Archives: The Rivalry

#Rivalry153 Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction: Leopards’ Veteran D Will Be Tough To Crack

We break down #Rivalry153 - and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.

I have always felt like these Rivalry games are first and foremost about the seniors. 

It seems like for the most part, it's the seniors who really answer the call and compete to their fullest potential in this bowl game at the end of the regular season.  Guys like Lehigh QB Nick Shafnisky last year, who won the MVP award, or Lafayette RB Ross Scheuerman, who dominated a certain game in the Bronx that shall not be named.

When you take away The Rivalry, when you take away the emotions, when you take away the craziness, the energy - what do we have?  When you look at the Xs and Os, what do you have?

Certainly, this game, like every Rivalry game, will be dictated and informed by emotion.  You can count on the fact, as a Lehigh fan, that Lafayette will play out of their minds. 

That shouldn't stop us, though, from looking over the Leopards and seeing what they're all about.  They will put together a gameplan to come away with victory, and though Lafayette head coach John Garrett could very well take their entire playbook up until this point and throw it in the trash, and it's up to the Mountain Hawks to figure out a way to stop them.

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#Rivalry153 Game Preview: The Great – Yet Terrifying – Bowl Game To End the 2017 Regular Season

Senior OL Zach Duffy could have chosen to talk about any number of career highs when he reflected this week in The Brown and White about his time as a football player at Lehigh.

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.

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#TheRivalry Through The Decades: From 1887 To 2017

I thought a fun way this season to show off the historic nature of Lehigh and Lafayette's football Rivalry might be to do a jump through the decades.

(If you want to learn more about the Lehigh and Lafayette Rivalry, read my book: The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series, available in both paperback in Kindle versions.)

Lehigh and Lafayette's Rivalry in football started in 1884, when Lafayette student manager (and founder of the football team) Theodore Welles approached the founder and student manager of Lehigh football, J.S. Robeson, and challenged them to a game of "foot-ball", a ground-based game that resembled more of a cross between rugby and soccer than the modern game of today.

Let's turn back the clock 130 years, and proceed decade by decade, and you'll see how many times Lehigh and Lafayette have played over the years, and hopefully get an appreciation on how the game changed and evolved over time.
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#TheRivalry Through The Decades: From 1887 To 2017

I thought a fun way this season to show off the historic nature of Lehigh and Lafayette's football Rivalry might be to do a jump through the decades.

(If you want to learn more about the Lehigh and Lafayette Rivalry, read my book: The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series, available in both paperback in Kindle versions.)

Lehigh and Lafayette's Rivalry in football started in 1884, when Lafayette student manager (and founder of the football team) Theodore Welles approached the founder and student manager of Lehigh football, J.S. Robeson, and challenged them to a game of "foot-ball", a ground-based game that resembled more of a cross between rugby and soccer than the modern game of today.

Let's turn back the clock 130 years, and proceed decade by decade, and you'll see how many times Lehigh and Lafayette have played over the years, and hopefully get an appreciation on how the game changed and evolved over time.
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The Rivalry: Enjoy The Best Part Of Going to Lehigh Or Lafayette

It's something you ought to see once in your life, if you can, because it's unique, it exudes its own special energy, and it has an emotion and spectacle that many bowl games would dream to have.

The short version of the tale of the football Rivalry between Lehigh and Lafyette is simple: It's the most-played college football Rivalry in the world.

It's been waged every year, with only one interruption since 1884.

And the two schools, in competition in pretty much everything since the founding of Lafayette (1826) and Lehigh (1865), eventually coalesced around football as the main driver of The Rivalry between them.

I've spent a good portion of my adult life being around The Rivalry.  I've studied it, blogged about it, and even written a book about it

The world has changed, and football has changed, a lot since 1884.  What hasn't changed, I think, is the weird and particular chemistry that seems to happen when these two teams get together for a football game.  To call it a big tailgate party doesn't really describe it.  To call it schoolyard intensity doesn't do it justice.  To call it a "bowl game" doesn't really capture it either.  It's just The Rivalry.  It's all of those things, and more.

And even if you're not a hardcore fan of Lehigh or Lafayette, it's worth coming to experience the craziness if you can. 

There are other intense Rivalries.  There are other big regular-season games that have lots at stake.  But The Rivalry, the most-played Rivalry in college football, has all the energy yet also has a level in intimacy that is unmatched by any other game.

You can go to the Iron Bowl and watch a game between Alabama and Auburn in the nosebleeds.  You can go into the cavernous Yale Bowl and watch Harvard play Yale.  You can experience the craziness when Michigan plays Ohio State.  But a game versus Lehigh and Lafayette packs the fans into an intimate setting that has all the energy and intensity yet is much more accessible and, at times, feels much more organic than those other Rivalries.
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Lehigh At Bucknell Game Preview: Injuries Force Youth Movement During Possible Championship Run

When the 2017 Lehigh Mountain Hawks released their very first positional two deep back in September, it had five freshmen and nine sophomores listed. 

That's a fairly normal type of depth chart for a largely veteran team that was ranked in the FCS Top 25.

Only two freshmen,  OG Jackson Evans and LS Jack Dean, were expected to contribute right away, while sophomore FS Riley O'Neil had already started nearly every single game he'd played since his freshman season - already a veteran.

Entering the ninth game of the season, the depth chart that head coach Andy Coen will present to the officials on Saturday will look very different.

The two defensive captains on opening day, senior DT Jim Mitchell and junior SS Sam McCloskey, won't be anywhere to be found - both injured, out for the year.  Junior CB Donavon Harris - still out with a head injury.  Junior LB Mark Walker - out.  Junior ROV Nick Thevaganayam - out.  Senior TE Drew Paulsen - out.  Senior WR Gatlin Casey - most likely out.

In fact, Lehigh's depth chart will have on it eight freshmen, including four (WR Jorge Portorreal, OL Jackson Evans, C Chris Fournier, and ROV Divine Buckrham) who are starting.  Additionally, five sophomores will be starting, including one, sophomore CB Marquis Wilson, who has only started one other football game.

The 2017 season will be remembered not-so-fondly for the number of terrible, season-ending injuries that have freakishly occurred.  And to close out the regular season, it is the next men up, a huge number of them underclassmen, that will determine the ultimate fate of this football team.
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The Need For A Lafayette Football Nation Has Never Been Greater

(Photo Credit: Harvard Magazine)

Last weekend, Lafayette traveled up to Harvard to play the Crimson up in Cambridge.  It was the 19th meeting between the Leopards and the Crimson, a series that started in 1966 and has been a frequent event since the early 1990s.

It was a pretty historic game, too: the 700th football game contested at Harvard Stadium.

In years past, you might have found members of the local Lehigh Valley media making a trip up to Boston to cover the game from an independent Lafayette perspective, and you would have seen a recap online and some postgame quotes from the postgame press conference in there as well, as well as seeing an article or two about the game in the Sunday paper.

This weekend, though, there was nothing.

The recap in The Morning Call was not the great work of Paul Reinhard, who freelances for the paper - they didn't pay him to go up to Cambridge to take in the game and ask John Garrett about the progress of the team.  Instead, someone added a topper sentence to the AP recap of the game - and that was it.  Four paragraphs for the online crowd and the Sunday readership.

And on Lehigh Valley Live online, the old Easton Express-Times - nothing.  This week, quietly, they dropped their college sports coverage, citing the fact that there wasn't enough traffic to justify their continued coverage of Lehigh, Lafayette, or Patriot League football.

For Lehigh fans, who still get significant coverage of Mountain Hawks football from Keith Groller of The Morning Call, and yours truly, there's still a fair amount of online and print content covering Lehigh football. 

But looking over at Lafayette, the need for a Lafayette Football Nation has never seemed so acute.  And in the general scheme of things - the loss of Lafayette football coverage is actually a much more historic event than it seems.
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Frank Tavani Retires After Thirty Years Of Rivalries And Thirty Years At Lafayette

The first time I asked a question of Lafayette head football coach Frank Tavani was in 2004.

It was at Fisher Field, and I had just spent my first game ever in the press box.

I had gone into that press box hoping to cover an expected Lehigh victory over Lafayette, the final crowning glory to yet another Lehigh football season.

I barely knew what I was doing, how I should act, or how to set up a computer in the press box.  But there I was, taking notes for a "game diary" for a national website called I-AA.org.

I had proven my bona fides for writing by penning a very long, very detailed summary of the Lehigh/Colgate game a few weeks prior.  That game, a Lehigh victory that went down to the wire, was sort-of a precursor to the type of coverage I do now during Lehigh games in terms of tweeting, except rather than tweet it out instantly to followers, I would write all the observations down, shuffle them up, edit them, and put them in a thousand-word article.  (Trust me when I say it made sense at the time.)

But Lehigh did not beat Lafayette in 2004.

Instead, fourth year head coach Frank Tavani's team would dominate the Mountain Hawks on both lines of scrimmage to secure a well-deserved 24-10 victory, and in so doing punched their first-ever ticket to the I-AA Playoffs.

It was in this environment where I would first ask a question of Frank Tavani, that year a finalist for the Eddie Robinson award for the best head coach in I-AA football.
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#Rivalry152 Game Breakdown And Fearless Prediction: Don’t Sell Lafayette Short

We break down #Rivalry152 - and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.

When you take away The Rivalry, when you take away the emotions, when you take away the craziness, the energy - what do we have?  When you look at the Xs and Os, what do you have?

Certainly, this game, like every Rivalry game, will be dictated and informed by emotion.  You can count on the fact, as a Lehigh fan, that Lafayette will play out of their minds.  For their seniors, it is guaranteed to be their last game played together as a team.  For them, there is no practicing on Thanksgiving.

Countless football teams have taken this "300" mentality and turned it into wins.  Quarterbacks that used to struggle to not get intercepted suddenly become the second coming of QB Tom Brady.  Linebackers that didn't wrap up their tackles before suddenly become LB Mike Singletary.  It can happen to Lehigh.  Don't think that it can't.

That shouldn't stop us, though, from looking over the Leopards and seeing what they're all about.  They will put together a gameplan to come away with victory.  It's up to the Mountain Hawks to keep that from happening.

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#Rivalry152 Game Preview: Two Different Paths For Two Ancient Rivals

It is an easy narrative to point at the 150th meeting of The Rivalry as the turnaround for the Lehigh football program, where the Mountain Hawks got together after that bitter, bitter loss and decided that enough was enough, and that they were going to not allow their team to be a cellar-dweller.  

For Lafayette, though, you need to go back further, past some very enormous wins over Lehigh, and wonder. 

"I can't believe I typed it, but there it is," I wrote back in 2006 after a crushing 49-28 loss where Lehigh was dominated on both lines of scrimmage.   "We've lost three straight to Lafayette. and I've got some news: We're no longer the hunted. The sooner we realize that we now have to be the hunter, the better off we'll be."

The co-championship they shared with the Leopards that year had the feel of the worst consolation prize imaginable.  For the second straight year, Lafayette had stolen the FCS Playoff bid right from under the Mountain Hawks, and it was Lehigh left to sit at home to stew.  The post game press conference was as down and dark as could be, the double indignity of losing to Lafayette, and losing any chance at a postseason bid, at the same time.

It felt like Lafayette was on the brink of becoming permanent contenders for the Patriot League championship, meaning their torture of Appalachian State and UMass in the playoffs in consecutive years would be a regular happening over the next decade.  

But it never happened.

This year, Lehigh travels to Easton in their big Rivalry game, sitting at 8-2 and having already clinched a portion of the Patriot League championship, only seeking to remove the "co-" from the word "championship".  As emotions go, the Mountain Hawks couldn't be riding more of a high, winners of eight straight.

And Lafayette sits at the opposite extreme, sitting at 2-8 and wondering how they've gotten to this point, with only three wins over the last two years.
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