Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Profile: Lafayette Leopards

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Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Profile

Lafayette Leopards

Patriot League seasons: 1986-present
Overall Record in Patriot League Era (1986-2010): 132-140-4
Patriot League Record (1986-2010): 76-62-1
Patriot League Record in 1980s (1986-89): 11-7
Patriot League Record in 1990 (1990-99): 29-22-1
Patriot League Record since 2000 (2000-10): 36-33
All-time coaches and records (overall and Patriot League)
Bill Russo (1986-1999): 70-78-4 overall, 40-29-1 Patriot League
Frank Tavani (2000-present): 62-62 overall, 36-33 Patriot League (entering 2011 season)
Postseason History: 0-3
2004: First Round (Delaware, L, 28-14)
2005: First Round (Appalachian State, L, 34-23)
2006: First Round (Massachusetts, L, 35-14)
Patriot League Player of the Year (1986-2000)
1988: Frank Baur, QB
1994: Erik Marsh, RB (Co-Player of the Year)
Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year
1988: Frank Baur, QB
1989: Tom Costello, RB
1992: Erik Marsh, RB
1993: Erik Marsh, RB
2000: Phil Yarberough, WR
2006: Jonathan Hurt, RB
Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year
1996: B.J. Gallis, SS
1997: Dan Bengele, LB
2007: Andy Romans, LB
2008: Andy Romans, LB
Patriot League Rookie of the Year
1988: Tom Costello, RB
1990: Art Dennis, RB
1991: Erik Marsh, RB
1994: Shawn McHale, QB (Co-Rookie of the Year)
1995: Leonard Moore, RB
1998: Kenya Allen, DB
2000: Marko Glavic, QB
2001: Joe McCourt, RB
Patriot League Coach of the Year
1988: Bill Russo
1992: Bill Russo
1994: Bill Russo
2004: Frank Tavani
Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year
1995: Jeff Denning, OL
2001: Stewart Kupfer, TE
2004: Stephen Bono, OL
2005: Maurice Bennett, LB
2006: Brad Maurer, QB
All-time All-Patriot League selections: 182 (95 first / 87 second)
All-time All-America selections (AFCA, Walter Camp, Sports Network and AP): 20

Lafayette has played in the Patriot League since the origination in 1986, and has experienced success in two streches over that time. The Leopards won three League titles from 1988-94, and won three consecutive crowns from 2004-06.

1980s
While the first four years of Patriot League football were largely known for the dominance of the Holy Cross program, Lafayette made news of its own as the only school that was able to break through and defeat the Crusaders.

After going just 4-5 over the first two years of Patriot League football, the Leopards hosted the Crusaders in the Patriot League opener on Sept. 17, 1988. On that day, Lafayette came through in a big way as Frank Baur kicked off his Patriot League Player of the Year season by leading the Leopards to a 28-20 victory. Lafayette would go on to a perfect 5-0 Patriot League record and 8-2-1 mark overall, finishing the undefeated season with a thrilling 52-45 win at home against rival Lehigh.

1990s
While the Leopards became the only team to beat Holy Cross from 1986-91, they also served as the team that ended the Crusaders' reign in 1992. Once again playing in Easton, the Leopards shut down the Crusaders in a 15-6 victory on Nov. 7 to take the lead in the Patriot League race. Lafayette finished with a perfect 5-0 mark in the Patriot League, and yet again closed it out by beating rival Lehigh in a thriller on the final day of the regular season when the Leopards held on for a 32-29 win in Easton.

After coming a tie short of splitting the crown with Lehigh in 1993, the Leopards came right back with another Patriot League title in 1994. Again Lafayette finished a perfect 5-0 in League action, and this time the Leopards lapped the field by two games. Lafayette again clinched the League crown with a win at home over rival Lehigh, but this time it wasn't close as the Leopards earned a 54-20 win over the Mountain Hawks to close the year.

A heartbreaking 37-30 loss in overtime at Lehigh kept the Leopards from sharing the crown with the Mountain Hawks in 1995, and the program struggled to compete within the League for the remainder of the decade. The 1999 season was the last for Head Coach Bill Russo, who took over the program in 1981.

2000s
Lafayette's second head coach in the Patriot League era started in 2000, and Frank Tavani heads into his 12th season as the man at the top of the program in 2011. Tavani took over a team that had fallen from the thick of the Patriot League race, and the first two seasons saw the Leopards bottom out with two wins overall and just one Patriot League victory. But indications of a turnaround came in 2002, when Tavani directed the Leopards to a 7-5 overall record and 5-2 Patriot League mark that included a 14-7 win in the season finale against Lehigh for the first victory over the Mountain Hawks since 1994.

Though the team finished 5-6 overall and 2-5 in the Patriot League in 2003, they continued to progress under Tavani and broke through with their first Patriot League title in a decade in 2004. The Leopards came into action trailing a top 10 Lehigh squad by one game in the standings, but showed they were no underdog by coming away with a 24-10 win at home to share the title with the Mountain Hawks and earn the Patriot League's automatic playoff bid. Lafayette showed well in the postseason, too, playing defending national champion Delaware tight throughout before falling, 28-14.

The 2005 season featured an even more dramatic conclusion against the Mountain Hawks. Lafayette, Colgate and Lehigh entered the final Saturday tied for the Patriot League lead, and this time the Leopards had to go on the road to Bethlehem to try to dethrone their rival. Lehigh held a nine-point lead in the second half, but Lafayette rallied and won 23-19 on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Pat Davis to Jonathan Hurt with 38 seconds remaining in the game. The Leopards shared the title with Colgate, and earned an at-large bid into the postseason where they were tied into the fourth quarter against eventual national champion Appalachian State until falling, 34-23.

Lafayette made it a three-peat the next year, again defeating Lehigh with the League title on the line on the final Saturday. The Leopards shared the crown with the Mountain Hawks as they broke out for a 49-27 win at home, and earned their third straight playoff berth as the Patriot League representative.

While the Leopards came up just short of the Patriot League title the next three seasons, the program remained strong and had multiple appearances in the top 25. Lafayette finished 7-4 overall in both 2007 and 2008, and went 8-3 in 2009 with an overtime loss at Lehigh costing them a share of the Patriot League title and a shot at an at-large berth to the postseason.

The Coaches
No Patriot League program can boast Lafayette's continuity at head coach, where just two men have overseen the football team over the past 30 years. Bill Russo took the program into the Patriot League, as the long-time head coach had nearly two decades at Lafayette from 1981-99. Russo won Patriot League Coach of the Year honors in 1988, 1992 and 1994, and earned the Eddie Robinson Award as the I-AA Coach of the Year when the Leopards won their first League crown in 1988. He led Lafayette to a 40-29-1 Patriot League record in the 80s and 90s.

Frank Tavani has been a part of the Patriot League for all but the inaugural League season in 1986. He became an assistant on Russo's staff in 1987, and stayed throughout until becoming the head coach in 2000. Despite a rough early patch, Tavani brought the Leopards back to contention in the Patriot League and entered the 2011 season with a 36-33 League record and three Patriot League titles and playoff appearances to his credit.

Individual Stars
Lafayette has enjoyed both passing and running success on offense throughout its time in the Patriot League, and the result has seen accomplished players throughout the lineup. Quarterbacks Frank Baur (1987-89) and Tom Kirchoff (1989-92) had success in the early years of the Patriot League, while Marko Glavic (2000-03) ranks third in League history with 9,819 passing yards. Brad Maurer (2003-06) and Rob Curley (2006-09) have taken the torch in recent years, and all five rank in the Patriot League career top 20 in passing yards and/or total offense.

At running back, no Lafayette player and few Patriot Leaguers have done as much as Erik Marsh (1991-94). The Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year in 1992 and 1993 and Co-Player of the Year in 1994, Marsh finished his career with 4,834 rushing yards which remains second in League annals. In 1992 and 1993, he ran for 251 and 249 yards in games against Lehigh.

The defense has had its fair share of standouts as well, including Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Team members Andy Romans (2005-08) and B.J. Gallis (1993-96). Romans won the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year award in both his junior and senior seasons and stands out among a long line of Lafayette linebackers that includes Dan Bengele (1994-97), Maurice Bennett (2002-05) and future NFL pro Blake Costanzo (2002-05). Gallis (1993-96) was named the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 1996, becoming one of only four defensive backs to win the award.