Ahead of the 159th edition of The Rivalry, most of the Lehigh football team’s coaching staff is preparing for what will be their first rivalry game.
The odds are stacked against new head coach Kevin Cahill and his staff going into the matchup. Not only does Lafayette have a 4-1 Patriot League record, but Lehigh head coaches are 8-19 in their first meetings against Lafayette, with an average point differential of -12.56.
Cahill said the team needs to play their hardest and do what they know best and, hopefully, they will get positive results.
Before the season, the Lehigh football team replaced its entire coaching staff except for Mike Kashurba, special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach.
“A lot of the kids have been in this game and the coaches haven’t been in this game. Coach (Kashurba) has been, so luckily I can fall back on some of the other rivalries I have been a part of,” Cahill said.
In Cahill’s time at Yale, he was on the sideline for their matchups against Princeton and Harvard, the second and third most-played rivalries in college football history, with the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry being the first.
However, much of Cahill’s staff is yet to see a rivalry like Lehigh-Lafayette and Yale’s games against its Ivy League opponents.
“I’ve coached in games for the Patriot League Championship, I’ve coached in playoff games, I’ve coached in the (FCS) national championship game, but I’ve never had something like this,” said Dan Hunt, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Hunt was the head coach at Colgate from 1995-2021 and said he is excited to finally participate in The Rivalry, having watched it from the outside for over two decades.
“There’s no other game that has a week of events attached to it. There’s no other game that really the whole school gets involved with,” Hunt said. “I’ve been at places where it’s been well-known that we’re playing for a championship but there’s no signs on the houses with the bed sheets.”
Lehigh will host this year’s edition of The Rivalry, giving the Mountain Hawks an advantage over the historical odds, as first-year coaches are 4-6 in their first matchup versus Lafayette at home.
Despite the fervor of The Rivalry, Lafayette is the clear favorite heading into the game. Lafayette averages the second-most rushing yards per game in the Patriot League, with a record of 193.9.
Defensive coordinator Richard Nagy said the defensive game plan will consist of making sure defensive linemen fill the gaps on the line of scrimmage which Lafayette is notorious for creating long runs off of.
Lafayette will also be aiming to secure the Patriot League Championship with a win over Lehigh, their first championship win since 2013.
Hunt said Lehigh has the chance to play spoiler, believing that Lehigh can use the pressure Lafayette is feeling to close out the season with a championship against them.
Still, he acknowledged that both sides will be feeling the weight of the game.
Hunt said he would like to think The Rivalry game is “just another game,” as a coach, but the reality is this game means so much more to Lehigh and the community.
Nagy also noted the mental aspect and said the players have put the rest of the season behind them in preparation for The Rivalry.
He said he knows the team is excited for the game which is a positive because no matter what has happened so far in the season, none of it will impact their psyche. He said this is because this individual game means so much to the Lehigh community.
The coaching staff, despite being heavy underdogs, still exudes confidence before their toughest matchup of the year.
“That’s why you come here,” Cahill said. “You come to Lehigh for this opportunity to play in pretty much a Bowl game. You’re going to get to have your last game of the season mean something.”