Patriot League Football Preview: Lehigh Mountain Hawks Two-time defending champions picked to defend their crown again
Lehigh Head Coach Andy Coen
Aug. 24, 2012
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - The Patriot League will preview each football team heading into the 2012 season, with a synopsis on the team's offense, defense, special teams and schedule as well as video interviews from Patriot League Football Media Day.
2011 Record: 11-2/5-0 Patriot League Final National Ranking: No. 5/6 Patriot League Preseason Poll: 1st Preseason All-Patriot League: Zach Barket (Sr., RB); Ryan Spadola (Sr., WR); Jamel Haggins (Sr., TE); Mike Vuono (Sr., OL); Sajjad Chagani (Sr., DL); Billy O'Brien (Sr., DB); Bryand Andrews (Sr., DB) Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Ryan Spadola (Sr., WR) Preseason All-American: Ryan Spadola (Sr., WR) Head Coach: Andy Coen (7th Season @ Lehigh/Overall) (41-29/ 27-9 PL)
There have only been three teams to pull off the "3-peat" in Patriot League history, and just one of those (Holy Cross, 1989-91) did it by winning three consecutive outright titles. After posting two straight undefeated Patriot League campaigns, Lehigh has a chance to join that exclusive group with another title in 2012. The Mountain Hawks open the season at No. 11/16 in the nation, and hope to once again play a role in the national scene as well as the Patriot League title chase. But it won't be easy, with Chris Lum, Mike Groome and a host of others who played key roles in the last two titles having graduated from the university. Lehigh returns 11 starters and 34 letterwinners as it goes on the quest for a third straight Patriot League championship.
Offense (6 starters returning/5 lost)
Probably the biggest question in the Patriot League this year is how will Lehigh replace Chris Lum at quarterback. Lum finished second in the Walter Payton Award voting and claimed the ECAC Player of the Year award for a record-setting senior season where he threw for 4,378 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing 358-of-543 passes (65.9%) for the season. Senior Mike Colvin, who has run the wildcat offense in recent years, will have the opportunity as the full-time replacement for Lum. He has rushed for 549 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons, and completed 33 passes for 272 yards and three scores. If Colvin can provide strong numbers, the Lehigh offense has plenty of potential with four preseason All-Patriot League picks in the mix. Wide receiver Ryan Spadola (96 rec., 1614 yards, 11 TD) is the Patriot League Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, a preseason All-American and candidate for the Walter Payton Award as the Most Outstanding Player in the nation. While Lehigh's other 90-catch receiver, Jake Drwal, has graduated, the offense still features running back Zach Barket (706 yards, 4 TD/33 rec., 329 yards) and tight end Jamel Haggins (27 rec., 322 yards, 2 TD) as well as a host of complimentary players looking to increase their roles. Three All-Patriot League selections depart on the offensive line, while Troy McKenna and Jim Liebler also earned All-America honors last year. Mike Vuono, another All-Patriot League pick last year, will be counted on to lead the way in 2012 after earning preseason All-League distinction. Matt Lippincott also returns after making 12 starts last season.
Spadola spoke at Patriot League Football Media Day about the task of replacing Lum in the Lehigh offense.
Defense (5 starters returning/6 lost)
While the offense loses some key players, there will be even more replacements needed for the starting defense. Lehigh has to replace three starters on the defensive line, including All-Patriot League picks Ben Flizack and Andrew Knapp. Sajjad Chagani (30 TT, 4 TFL), a preseason All-Patriot League pick and team captain, will be counted on to provide stability to the unit. Tom Bianchi (23 TT, 3.5 sacks) also returns after making one of the most memorable plays of the 2011 season, a sack for the game-winning safety in the fourth quarter of the 40-38 win at Towson in the postseason. The linebacking corps takes an even greater hit, with leading tacklers Mike Groome and Colin Newton among the six players from the two deep that will not be back this season. Seniors Billy Boyko (44 TT, 2.5 sacks), Sam Loughery (39 TT, 3.5 TFL) and Jerard Gordon (30 TT, 3 TFL) have the most experience among the returning players. The secondary is the most accomplished unit on the defense, with preseason All-Patriot League picks Bryan Andrews (36 TT, 4 INT) and Billy O'Brien (54 TT, 3 TFL) leading the way along with Gabe Johnson (42 TT, 2 INT).
Specialists (1 returning/0 lost)
Tim Divers proved capable of handling the load as both punter and placekicker last season. He averaged 36.7 yards on 50 punts for the season while making 11-of-17 field goal attempts, including 11-of-15 from inside 40 yards.
Lehigh takes on an interesting mix in its first four weeks, starting out with two games against Northeast Conference opponents when it hosts Monmouth (9/1) and visits Central Connecticut State (9/8), then welcoming an Ivy League team in Princeton (9/15) before a trip to Liberty (9/22), who the Mountain Hawks edged 27-24 at home last season. A two-game homestand follows against Fordham (9/29) and Columbia (10/6), then it's Patriot League play the rest of the way. Lehigh visits Georgetown (10/13) and hosts Bucknell (10/20) going into a bye week, then plays at Holy Cross (11/3), home versus Colgate (11/10, CBS Sports Network) and at archrival Lafayette (11/17) to close out the season.
Watch the video below from Patriot League Football Media Day as Head Coach Andy Coen discusses the 2012 Mountain Hawks.