Five games. Five losses. All out the window.
Week after week, the Lehigh football team found itself reevaluating what went wrong and how it could correct its errors to pull out its first victory.
With Patriot League play beginning Saturday against rival Colgate University, there is a sense of desperation in the Mountain Hawks’ locker room.
“We have to have the mindset that every single game now is a championship game,” senior defensive lineman Tyler Cavenas said. “We have to win or we are not guaranteed anything.”
Cavenas said the start of conference games will begin Lehigh’s “new” season. Every Patriot League game matters toward an FCS Playoffs berth and most importantly, a Patriot League title. The five non-conference losses have no effect on Lehigh’s future this season.
Offensive coordinator Scott Brisson said the team needs to focus on this week’s practice before it can start looking ahead on its schedule.
“Looking ahead creates inconsistency and that is something we need to focus on, we need to take it day-to-day,” Brisson said. “We can absolutely win the league — we just need a fresh start. Starting 5-0 in non-conference play wouldn’t help our ability to win the league either.”
Fifth-year offensive lineman and captain Zach Duffy said the team does not prepare any differently for a rival game.
“We have to go into the game level-headed,” Duffy said. “If we put more effort into one game just because it is a rivalry game, bad things start to happen.”
Some of these “bad things” are reflected in the Mountain Hawks’ statistics ranked on the national scale.
After week five, the Lehigh defense ranks dead last at No. 123 in the country in least yards per games allowed with 533. The Mountain Hawks are also tied for last in most touchdowns allowed with the 33 they’ve surrendered so far.
Last week against Wagner College, the offense turned the ball over five times in a 37-20 loss, all coming on five interceptions by the Wagner defense.
“When players do things outside their job, that’s when you bring some of the unnecessary variables we have been having these last two weeks,” Brisson said. “We need to eliminate turnovers because this creates as many problems for our defense as it does for our offense.”
Duffy doesn’t believe that every team has overpowered the Mountain Hawks in their losses and it’s not a case of Lehigh being an inferior team. He believes the main problem has been unforced errors.
“Our biggest thing is that we don’t compliment each other well,” Duffy said. “Nothing is consistent enough and that is why we struggle so much. It isn’t about who did what wrong, it is about us. We shoot ourselves in the foot all the time. We need to eliminate our mistakes and execute in order to put together a clean game, which we haven’t been able to do yet.”
Even though Lehigh’s defense has struggled these past five games, the young players, including freshman wide receiver Jorge Portorreal and sophomore linebacker Jon Seighman, have stepped up to the challenge.
“A lot of the young guys are playing for the first time and they had to learn to mature fast,” Cavenas said. “They have understood that it isn’t easy winning games, but they are hungry, and it is great to see the young guys give it their all.”
Duffy was a captain on Lehigh’s team last year when the Mountain Hawks reeled off nine-straight wins en route to a Patriot League Championship.
However, this isn’t unfamiliar territory for him — Lehigh started 0-5 in 2014. The Mountain Hawks finished 3-8 that season.
“While this season hasn’t been the most successful, it has been one of the more humbling ones and a true test of the team’s character,” Duffy said. “When things go so bad when you’re on top, it is a true test of our team’s true character — you are never as good as you think you are.”