Of the 85 players on Lehigh’s football team, only two have ever stepped foot on Lafayette’s field for the most-played rivalry in college football.
Meet Derek Knott and LaQuan Lambert.
Knott, a wide receiver, and Lambert, a defensive back, are fifth-year seniors who took the season off during what would have been their sophomore and senior seasons, respectively, making them eligible for another year of play. Both played in Rivalry 148 in 2012, assisting the Mountain Hawks in a 38-21 win over Lafayette at Fisher Stadium.
Since then, the two teams have met twice at Goodman Stadium and once at Yankee Stadium when Lafayette gave up its home-field advantage for the 150th matchup. But not on the Leopards’ home turf.
“We haven’t played there since our freshman year, and back then I didn’t understand what the rivalry meant as much,” Knott said. “That was our first taste of it. Just seeing the atmosphere was a good little first experience, but I feel like it means a lot more now.”
He said the Lafayette game is just a different atmosphere. They’re competing for their coaches, their pride and the people who have been coming to the game for years.
Both athletes worked their way through nagging injuries to be able to fully contribute to the team.
“What’s really cool is (Lambert) is on defense and (Knott) is on offense,” coach Andy Coen said. “So it’s two different positions and two guys who just kept working hard and finally got their opportunity to be successful. They’ve done a great job and I’m proud of them.”
The Mountain Hawks are still haunted by what Lambert called the biggest loss in Lehigh history — when the team fell 27-7 to the Leopards at Yankee Stadium in front of 48,256 fans.
Despite a win in last year’s game, both players said Lehigh is still looking for redemption.
“They upset us pretty bad last time they were considered home, and they took it to us. It was embarrassing,” Lambert said. “Playing there and beating them on their own turf, it’s kind of a payback thing.”
Knott said the opportunity to beat the Leopards on their own field almost feels like a better note to end on.
After starting off their Rivalry experience at Fisher Stadium, a final rivalry game on the road brings both players full circle. During Knott’s first rivalry game, he didn’t get much playing time, but he’ll be much more active in this one.
“That first game we were really just looking into the field and mostly watching all the older guys playing,” he said. “This is our final stage in the regular season and all the freshmen are looking at us. Now we’re the ones looking out and we control the outcome of the game.”
After experiencing games at both stadiums, both players agreed that whether on their home field or 15 miles down the road in Easton, the prior preparation and ultimate goal have always remained the same.
“I don’t really think it matters where we play,” Knott said. “It’s Le-Laf and that’s always going to mean something. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing and play a good game.”
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