Then-defensive coordinator Tom Gilmore said it stuck with him when Lehigh lost to Lafayette in the 138th Rivalry game in 2002.
Despite having a 3-1 record against Lafayette in his time as Lehigh’s defensive coordinator from 2000-2003, Gilmore remembers that loss. He recalled it without hesitation.
“I just remember how painful that one loss was,” Gilmore said. “You can look back and say, ‘Three-and-one isn’t bad,’ but unless it’s an undefeated record against your rival, it always feels bad.”
Flash forward 16 years, and Gilmore’s team is presented with an opportunity to embark on a new era against Lafayette. This time, it will be Gilmore running the show.
For Gilmore and his largely-new coaching staff, the goal of beating Lafayette obviously remains. Finishing with a win against Lafayette represents, at the very least, a positive start to the offseason, even in years when there aren’t championship implications. As the last game of the season, The Rivalry always feels a little more significant to both players and coaches.
Of Lehigh’s 11 coaches, eight are new to staff this year. Only offensive coordinator Scott Brisson has been with the team for more than two seasons. While the majority of the staff will experience their first go-around with the Le-Laf game, the coaches are aware of the significance it holds to Lehigh.
“It’s a great thing to be a part of,” defensive coordinator Mike Kashurba said. “You hear about it all the time being in the league and being around. You always kind of wonder if it’s that big of a deal or is it not, and then you get to live in it.”
Kashurba, who served as defensive coordinator at Holy Cross under Gilmore from 2014-2017, arrived at Lehigh last season as the linebackers coach. Kashurba had his first taste of The Rivalry a season ago.
While he said the coaching staff sticks to the usual game preparation routine, Kashurba acknowledged there can be a different energy for the game, both in the locker room and amongst the student population.
“I did think it was wild when we were getting on the bus going there that the whole campus was up, because not usually they’re awake on a Saturday morning at 8 a.m.,” Kashurba said. “It was alive, for sure.”
While Le-Laf doesn’t permeate the same way across the league as it does in Bethlehem and Easton, surrounding coaches still notice — and envy — the game.
Linebackers coach and run defense coordinator Charlie Noonan has not yet experienced Le-Laf, but said he is familiar with The Rivalry.
“I’ve always heard of it growing up right outside Philly,” Noonan said. “I’ve been around this area and heard how cool it was. Being in the league when I was at Holy Cross, you hear of it—I knew the 150th was at Yankee Stadium. It’s just got such a good tradition and reputation.”
Gilmore said not having a Rivalry game detracts from some of the end-of-season excitement for other teams, and he felt that absence during his coaching tenure at Holy Cross.
“There might be some teams in our league that have long traditions with each other, but there’s nothing that compares to Lehigh-Lafayette,” Gilmore said. “Nothing even close.”
Gilmore said the game has implications beyond the result on the field.
Gilmore said Le-Laf often comes up when Lehigh is recruiting. As he put it, The Rivalry is simply a part of Lehigh’s deep tradition.
Kashurba said nothing is quite like Le-Laf around the Patriot League—despite the best efforts of other programs.
“Bucknell feels a little left out—they don’t have that natural Rivalry game,” Kashurba said. “Holy Cross continually tries to invent one, whether that’s against Fordham or against Georgetown, but no other school has this.”
Despite the lack of Rivalry experience on the staff overall, everyone has one goal for this week: Beat Lafayette.