Not long after Derek Jeter waves his final goodbye to Yankee Stadium, the Lehigh football team will say “hello” and face its longtime rival, the Lafayette College Leopards, for the 150th edition of “The Rivalry” in the Bronx on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
With nearly 4,000 Lehigh students planning to attend, as well as a plethora of alumni, the stadium will be surely exhibit an incredible amount of Mountain Hawk spirit. As for the seniors, to finish out their collegiate careers with a victory over their greatest foes, in front of the biggest crowd in Lehigh-Lafayette history, would be a moment of true triumph.
“I don’t know if you could put it into words,” senior captain and defensive lineman Tim Newton said. “It would be one of the happiest moments of my life.”
Given that the annual tradition is older than the players’ great-great-grandparents, the legacy of the rivalry has started to weigh on the Mountain Hawks as the game approaches. The players have come to realize that the game is bigger than themselves.
“There are people who are 80, 90, 100 years old who have been to 70 of these games,” sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky said. “I met a guy the other day who hasn’t missed a game in 73 years. You start thinking, I’ve only been here for a year. I’m not even a Mountain Hawk yet. These guys bleed brown. It’s way bigger than us. It’s way bigger than winning it for ourselves. The whole legacy of Lehigh tradition. It’s pretty neat.”
After dominating Lafayette from 2008 to 2012, Lehigh fell to its rival last year 50-28 in a game that decided the Patriot League championship. This year, the Mountain Hawks are back and hungry for some revenge.
“I think it is sweet justice that we can get back at them at Yankee Stadium in front of everyone to see, so that everyone will know who is a better program,” senior running back Rich Sodeke said.
With all of the emotion surrounding the game, both the players and coaches must remain focused during the upcoming week of preparation in order to get the results they are anticipating.
“The focus that we need to have this week really needs to be, without a doubt, the best we’ve had, both in our preparation and then when we are playing in the game,” head coach Andy Coen said. “That’s a challenge, to keep focus because the game is just so emotional, particularly early on in the first six or seven minutes, you kind of got to survive the emotion of that.”
As the team prepares this week, Coen will emphasize three keys to victory.
“The key for us is to finally play a complete football game,” said Coen. “What I think is important for us, is that we need to be able to get after the quarterback. The games that we have been able to pressure quarterbacks, we’ve been pretty successful…Offensively, we have to do what we’ve been able to the last couple of weeks, be able to throw the ball with purpose and establish the run game.”
As the Mountain Hawks enter the historic Yankee Stadium on Saturday, they will join the greats who have played there in years past. With so many successful coaches that have coached for the Yankees, Coen described which Yankees’ coach he embodies.
“I’d probably be more to the Joe Torre style,” Coen said. “I have a few Billy Martin moments. To compare myself to any of those guys is putting it over the top. If I could have the fire of Billy Martin and the poise of Joe Torre, that would be my best mix.”
Players also weighed in on Coen’s assessment of himself. They all agreed that Coen remains poised under pressure.
Newton added that sometimes Coen can demonstrate a little bit of a Billy Martin coaching style.
“He can get fiery, especially at half time when we’re down,” Newton said.