Following a thrilling comeback against Lafayette College in Rivalry 153 to clinch another league title, the Lehigh football team lost in the first round of the FCS playoffs for the second year in a row.
Looking forward, the team hopes to build on what was a positive end to the regular season.
After starting 0-5, the Mountain Hawks rallied through a deep hole they dug for themselves.
Junior quarterback Brad Mayes explained why he thought the team started off slow this season.
“When we came into the season, we knew that we were a great team,” Mayes said. “We had a good initial game against Villanova and then we just got a little ahead of ourselves. We knew that after starting 0-5, we needed to win out to make the playoffs.”
Lehigh regrouped from its slow start and looked like a different team in Patriot League play as it went 5-1 in Patriot League conference games on its way to its second straight Patriot League Championship.
A crucial point in the season came as the Mountain Hawks won on the road against Colgate University to start their mid-season run.
“I’d say the turning point in our season was when we beat Colgate away,” junior starting linebacker Mark Walker said. “We beat a really good team and it turned out to help us in the end with tiebreakers.”
Because of the victory over Colgate, the team went into the final game against Lafayette knowing all it had to do was win, securing the tiebreaker over the Raiders for an automatic bid to the playoffs.
Looking forward to next year, Mayes highlighted what the team needs to do to start the season the way it wants to.
The Mountain Hawks will begin their 2018 season against an FBS opponent in Navy and then follow with an elite FCS team in Villanova University, two teams that will challenge Lehigh.
“We are going to have to use this year as momentum for next year and just pick it up when it comes to the beginning of the season,” Mayes said. “We play great teams like Navy and Villanova, but if we stay within ourselves, we can definitely compete with them.”
The confidence that Mayes has going into this game comes from having faith in his coaches and what they provide to the team.
“When I say staying within ourselves, I mean confidence,” Mayes said. “We are confident in ourselves and in our coaches, who put us in the best possible position to win every time we step on the field.”
The team will have its fair share of challenges as the team is losing the historic duo of receivers in seniors Gatlin Casey and Troy Pelletier.
Coach Andy Coen has confidence in his team being able to succeed without the duo.
“It’s going to be an interesting transition now that he doesn’t have his two big-bodied receivers on the outside,” Coen said. “We are going to miss Troy and Gatlin, but we have a great group under them who will step up to the challenge.”
The team has star talent and leadership in other areas as Coen pointed out.
Junior running back Dom Bragalone will be back, and the team will heavily rely on him. Bragalone concluded the year leading the entire country in total touchdowns and was named the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year.
“I’m glad that some of our leaders are coming back. Mark Walker and Brad Mayes are two players who mean a lot to this team,” Coen said. “I’m glad that they are going to be leaders for the next generation of players that are coming, and they will definitely be key in our success.”