The Mountain Hawks pose for pictures after winning the Patriot League on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Goodman Stadium. Lehigh has won the rivalry game against Lafayette for the past three years. (Sam Henry/B&W Staff)

Op-ed: Round of applause for Lehigh football

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Down 31-21 with six minutes left in the third quarter and Lafayette holding all the momentum, we were all thinking, “So this is how it’s going to end, huh?”

A nightmare 0-5 start to the Lehigh football team’s season would have ended with a nightmare loss to our inferior archrival who extinguished our hope of winning another Patriot League title. Brutal.

A Lafayette team that averaged 10 points per game during Patriot League play put up 31 points in three quarters. Lehigh did everything possible to lose the game from fumbles to unnecessary penalties.

But let’s give a round of applause to coach Andy Coen and the Lehigh football team.

It didn’t look pretty, but Lehigh crawled its way back into the game, picking up a 38-31 thrilling victory. At the end of the day, the Mountain Hawks reached their goal despite a few bumps in the road, including in their regular season finale.

In fact, the 153rd Rivalry game was essentially Lehigh’s season wrapped up into one game. A positive but not ideal start followed by a long stretch of mediocrity, all culminating with the Mountain Hawks pulling a rabbit out of the hat and ending on top.

Despite a 5-6 overall record, this year’s Mountain Hawk team didn’t underachieve. As the preseason Patriot League favorite, the Mountain Hawks did what were they were supposed to do. Nothing more, nothing less. Ultimately, non-conference losses are pointless when you win your league, so that horrendous 0-5 start goes out the window.

The Mountain Hawks returned most of their offensive stars from last year’s Patriot League title team, which went 9-2 on the season and undefeated in Patriot League play, so most fans expected Lehigh to remain around that same mark this year. It didn’t happen.

Loss after loss after loss led to people questioning if this team was even ready to compete in the Patriot League, and it was justified. The team had hit rock bottom after a 37-20 loss to a subpar Wagner team, which was picked to finish ninth in its 10-team conference.

Even after regrouping with two Patriot League wins to start the conference portion of the season, the Mountain Hawks then dropped a game 45-35 to Fordham University, who was playing without its best player Chase Edmonds. It was Lehigh’s first Patriot League loss since 2015.

One of the most porous defenses in the country had to show some type of improvement in the final three weeks if Lehigh wanted to hoist up that trophy once again. Lehigh had a mulligan for the Patriot League title but another loss would pretty much eliminate Lehigh out of the race for the league. 

It wasn’t a major improvement, but the Lehigh defense played well enough for Lehigh to win its final three games, including two blowouts where the Mountain Hawks only surrendered a season-best 21 points. Even in the final game of the season, Lafayette’s 31 points were not indicative of poor play by the defense as the Leopards only accumulated 230 yards of offense. Lafayette just capitalized on silly turnovers from Lehigh.

For the final three weeks of the season, Lehigh became a complete team.  It was an up-and-down season for the Mountain Hawks, but they still found a way to check everything off the to-do list.

A Patriot League title.

An FCS playoff berth.

A third straight win over Lafayette.

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