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Coach Coen Knows Hawks Must Beat Lafayette
No title, no playoff berth, not even a winning season will be on the line for Lehigh when it heads to College Hill on Saturday for its date with Lafayette in the 144th edition of college football’s most-played rivalry.
Yet, it’s one of the most significant games the Mountain Hawks have played in awhile, maybe their most pivotal since the 2005 first-round NCAA playoff loss to James Madison.
Well, at 4-6, Lehigh is staring at potentially its worst record since 4-7 in 1997.
The Mountain Hawks have lost four straight to Lafayette and haven’t beaten the Leopards in Easton since 2000.
Even though this team has lost four games by three points or less and another to Holy Cross in which the game was tied in the fourth quarter, there’s the perception and some tangible evidence that the program has slipped and is no where near being a league championship and playoff contender as it was as recently as 2006.
And while Lafayette isn’t going to win a title or go to the playoffs either, the Leopards are still 7-3, have spectacular facilities and have surpassed Lehigh – at least in the minds of most – as the Valley’s premier FCS program.
Some Lehigh fans and alumni, spoiled by the 45-5 stretch from 1998 to 2001, are disgruntled. Home attendance is down and, while only athletic director Joe Sterrett and the administration know if head coach Andy Coen’s job is in any jeopardy, we do know this – he needs this one and so does the entire program.
A fifth straight loss to Lafayette, especially another lopsided defeat like the 49-27 rout on College Hill two years ago, would make it another very long offseason on South Mountain.
But a win, well, a win would do wonders.
Give this Lehigh team, especially the seniors, credit for continuing to rally around one another and for coming back from each heartbreaking defeat.
It would have been easy for the season to disintegrate, but this team never lost its confidence or faith in one another. It seems to be a very unified, very in-step bunch.
But that togetherness has yet to manifest itself with a marquee win.
Lehigh has yet to beat a team with a winning record, although Drake and Fordham are both 5-5.
The 45-24 win over the defending league champion Rams on Oct. 11 seemed impressive at the time, but Fordham is only 1-4 in the league.
Coen is not delusional about where his team stands. He knows it hasn’t been consistent enough or mature enough to finish games.
He, perhaps more than anyone else, has been waiting for that one week when everything comes together.
‘’Even in the Fordham game, I don’t think we’ve put everything together in one game – offense, defense and kicking game,'’ Coen said. ‘’I can’t predict it will happen, but I would certainly like to happen against Lafayette.'’
The biggest source of optimism is sophomore quarterback J.B. Clark, who has shown improvement throughout the course of the season. His 338 yards and four touchdowns against Colgate were a sign that the explosive, stretch-the-field attack of an earlier era may be returning.
Clark threw for 200 yards less against Bucknell, but that had more to do with the weather conditions than anything else.
How Clark fares in front of more than 15,000 fans at Fisher Stadium in a frenzied environment and against one of the best defenses in the country will be one of Saturday’s intriguing subplots.
Coen knows what’s at stake.
‘’If we can find a way to win this one, it would allow these seniors to end with two wins and feeling great,'’ he said. ‘’And it’s a good springboard into the offseason for the younger kids who are coming back.'’
But he also knows the other side of it all too well.
‘’Last year was a sickening feeling, losing the game late like we did,'’ he said. ‘’It hurt even more knowing that those seniors left here without beating them.
‘’We’re going to do everything within our power to not let that happen again. But obviously, it’s a big, big challenge. Lafayette’s a very good team, but I think we are, too. We just need to play the way we’re capable of playing.'’
Coen knows Hawks must beat Lafayette
By, Keith Groller, The Allentown Morning Call
Photo Credit: Denise Sanchez/The Allentown Morning Call