Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Profile: Lehigh Mountain Hawks



Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Profile

Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Patriot League seasons: 1986-present
Overall Record in Patriot League Era (1986-2010): 177-106-2
Patriot League Record (1986-2010): 97-42-1
Patriot League Record in 1980s (1986-89): 8-9-1
Patriot League Record in 1990s (1990-99): 36-17
Patriot League Record since 2000 (2000-10): 52-16
All-time coaches and records (overall and Patriot League)
Hank Small (1986-93): 47-40-1 overall, 20-17-1 Patriot League
Kevin Higgins (1994-00): 55-24-1 overall, 30-9 Patriot League
Pete Lembo (2001-05): 44-14 overall, 26-7 Patriot League
Andy Coen (2006-present): 30-27 overall, 21-9 Patriot League (entering 2011 season)
Postseason History: 4-6
1998: First Round (Richmond, W, 24-23); Quarterfinals (Massachusetts, L, 27-21)
1999: First Round (Hofstra, L, 27-15)
2000: First Round (Western Illinois, W, 37-7); Quarterfinals (Delaware, L, 47-22)
2001: First Round (Hofstra, W, 27-24); Quarterfinals (Furman, L, 34-17)
2004: First Round (James Madison, L, 14-13)
2010: First Round (Northern Iowa, W, 14-7); Second Round (Delaware, L, 42-20)
Patriot League Player of the Year (1986-00)
1992: Tom Kirchoff, QB
1993: Scott Semptimphelter, QB
1995: Bob Aylsworth, QB
1998: Phil Stambaugh, QB
Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year
1991: Horace Hamm, WR
1995: Brian Klingerman, WR
1999: Ronald Jean, RB
2001: Josh Snyder, WR
Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year
1998: Nick Martucci, DL
1999: Ian Eason, LB
2001: Abdul Byron, DB
2009: Matt Cohen, LB
Patriot League Rookie of the Year
1986: Mark McGowan, QB
Patriot League Coach of the Year
1993: Hank Small
1995: Kevin Higgins
1998: Kevin Higgins
2000: Kevin Higgins
2001: Pete Lembo (Co-Coach of the Year)
2010: Andy Coen
Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year
1989: Rob Varano, WR
1990: Shon Harker, DB
1998: Nick Martucci, DL
2002: Matt Salvaterra, DB
All-time All-Patriot League selections: 234 (139 first / 95 second)
All-time All-American selections (AFCA, Walter Camp, Sports Network and AP): 60

With nine titles in the past 18 seasons, no Patriot League program has enjoyed more success than Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks won titles in 1993 and 1995, then consecutively for four straight seasons from 1998-01. Lehigh added Patriot League championships in 2004, 2006 and last season in 2010, and stands as the winningest program in the first 25 years of Patriot League football.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Hank Small, Lehigh entered the Patriot League in 1986 and immediately emerged as one of the top contenders. Unfortunately for the Mountain Hawks, a dominant Holy Cross team ruled the Patriot League in the early years and rival Lafayette also broke through for titles in both 1988 and 1992. Lehigh finished at least in a tie for second in four of the first seven Patriot League seasons, but it was until 1993 when the Mountain Hawks finally broke through for the title. Lehigh came into the season finale against rival Lafayette with the crown on the line, and left no doubt of its position with a 39-14 win over the Leopards to claim its first Patriot League championship.

Kevin Higgins took over as Lehigh's head coach in 1994, but could not make it two titles in a row as the Mountain Hawks lost at Lafayette on the final day of the regular season with a share of the League crown on the line. That 54-20 defeat served as motivation for success in 2005, when the Mountain Hawks completed a perfect Patriot League season that included a 37-30 double overtime win over Lafayette on the final Saturday to earn their second title in three years.

"Our guys worked extremely hard that summer to change attitudes and give the vision for winning a championship," Higgins said. "The special moment was the Lafayette game and when I think about that game I still get goosebumps because of all that took place. I can even remember us having to make the critical decision to punt the football with less than four minutes to go and if they drove it and got a couple of first downs they would have won. We forced a fumble on the punt to get the ball back, which enabled us to drive and score and get the game to overtime."

Lehigh fell shy of the Patriot League title by one game in 1996, and struggled to a 4-7 overall mark and 2-4 Patriot League record in 1997. However, the program took off from there as Lehigh won the Patriot League title in Higgins' final three seasons. The Mountain Hawks finished a perfect regular season, both overall and in the Patriot League, in both 1998 and 2000 while splitting the title with Colgate in 1999.

During that dominant stretch, the Mountain Hawks proved that their success was not limited to the Patriot League. Lehigh won a 24-23 nailbiter at Richmond for the Patriot League's first postseason victory in 1998, and dominated Western Illinois in a 37-7 first-round triumph in 2000.

"Against Richmond, we were going against one of the top teams in the country," Higgins said. "I just remember the resiliency of those guys and the confidence that they had going into that game. I had a great feeling because of the character of the guys that we had."

"We weren't as good in 2000 on paper, but because of the success in 1998 and 1999 those guys thought that they were a lot better than they were," Higgins said. "In the pre-game warm-up all of the Western Illinois players had stood on the 50-yard line and were taunting our players, and I remember saying to myself that is probably not very smart by those guys. They were a team that had several guys go on and play in the NFL, and we physically dominated them which was an incredible thing to do."

The success built under Higgins continued with Pete Lembo, who led Lehigh to its fourth consecutive Patriot League title and yet another undefeated campaign in his first season in 2001. Lembo also took the Mountain Hawks to a third playoff win in four years, leading Lehigh to a 27-24 overtime victory against Hofstra in the first round. For his success, Lembo became the third Patriot League coach to earn the Eddie Robinson Award as the top coach in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Lehigh finished fourth in 2002 and second in 2003 before sharing the title in 2004 with Lafayette. Despite a loss to the Leopards on the final day of the regular season, the Mountain Hawks still received an at-large berth to the postseason and pushed eventual national champion James Madison to the limit in a 14-13 defeat at home.

Andy Coen took over the Lehigh program following Lembo's departure after the 2005 season, and immediately led the Mountain Hawks to a share of the Patriot League title in his first season in 2006. However, a loss to Lafayette on the final day of the regular season kept Lehigh from sole possession of the crown and the League's automatic playoff berth, and the Mountain Hawks would not return to the top spot until 2010. Lehigh re-captured its glory in impressive fashion last season, rolling through the Patriot League schedule before winning at Northern Iowa, 14-7, in the first round of the FCS playoffs for the Patriot League's first postseason win since 2003.

Patriot League Dominance
Whether it's titles or Patriot League awards, no other program can touch Lehigh's success in the past 25 years. The Mountain Hawks have won nine Patriot League titles, three more than any other squad. They have accounted for five of the eight perfect Patriot League seasons since 1995. Lehigh leads in All-Patriot League selections (234), as well as both first-team (139) and second-team (95) picks. Lehigh's 60 all-time All-America selections are more than any other team in the Patriot League era.

The dominance has extended to every single series against Patriot League opponents. Lehigh has the advantage in all-time Patriot League matchups against every opponent with significant margins against Fordham (19-2), Georgetown (10-0) and Bucknell (18-6-1), with a 13-game active winning streak over the Bison that is the longest in Patriot League history. The Mountain Hawks have a 15-10 advantage over long-time rival Lafayette in Patriot League action.

Individual Stars
The success through the years has featured a number of star players on both sides of the ball. Lehigh placed six players on the Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Team, including linebacker Ian Eason (1996-99), defensive end Nick Martucci (1995-98) and defensive back Abdul Byron (1998-01) from the team's most dominant era in the Patriot League. Tight end Adam Bergen (2001-04), linebacker Matt Cohen (2006-09) and offensive lineman Will Rackley (2007-10) each made the list from more recent seasons.

The Mountain Hawks have also featured a long line of outstanding quarterback play. Bob Aylsworth, Phil Stambaugh and Brant Hall led the squad to great heights in the late 90s and early 00s, and Chris Lum emerged as a potential next great player at the position with a breakout season in 2010.