Hens to face old rival in playoffs
Delaware will host Lehigh Saturday at noon
Published: Monday, November 29, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 00:11
When Head Coach K.C. Keeler was a linebacker at Delaware in the late 1970s, he played in a total of 39 games as a three-year starter. The team only suffered seven losses in those three years.
Two of those defeats were to Lehigh.
"They were battles, absolute battles," Keeler said, reminiscing about those games at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon. "I grew up in the Lehigh Valley, so I understand the history of their program, the history of our program."
The Hens will get a chance to renew their rivalry with Lehigh Saturday at noon in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Lehigh qualified for the postseason by winning the Patriot League's automatic bid. The Mountain Hawks come into Newark with a 10-2 record and also hold the longest active winning streak in the FCS with eight consecutive wins.
"They're a much improved team from earlier in the season," Keeler said. "I don't think they're going to fear anybody."
On Saturday, the Mountain Hawks upset the No. 16 ranked team in the nation, Northern Iowa, to advance to the second round. They managed to escape from the intimidating UNI Dome with a 14-7 win over the champions of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Although the two teams have only met twice in the 21st century, Delaware and Lehigh have a storied past.
They have squared off 46 times since their initial meeting in 1912. The rivalry was at its peak through most of the 1960s and 1970s and the teams also played sporadically throughout the next two decades.
The last time they met was in the 2005 season opener at Delaware Stadium, a 34-33 overtime victory for the Hens. In 2000, they faced each other in the NCAA quarterfinals with the Hens defeating the Mountain Hawks 49-22. The matchup was the only time the two schools have met in the postseason.
Sixth-year linebacker Matt Marcorelle is the only member of either squad who has experienced a taste of this rivalry. He was a freshman back in 2005.
Defensive tackle Siddiq Haynes said the rivalry does not have much significance for most of the players.
"If you don't get excited about a playoff game itself, you're in this thing for the wrong reasons," Haynes said. "The excitement for us is being in the playoffs for one, and just being in a game of this magnitude."
Senior safety Anthony Bratton said while not a lot of players know much about the rivalry, he has been hearing more about it since Lehigh's victory on Saturday.
"That probably will motivate us to play harder," Bratton said. "Just to work that much better, get a little bit more involved emotionally."
Lehigh's senior running back Jay Campbell is a Delaware native. He graduated from the Charter School of Wilmington in 2007, and this year is the Mountain Hawks' leading rusher on the year with 629 yards and five touchdowns.
Head Coach Andy Coen said this week's game gives Campbell an opportunity he has never had before.
"We don't have a lot of kids from Delaware," Coen said. "I know he's excited to be going back to his home state and playing."
Coen said his players are also unfamiliar with the history behind the rivalry and hopes they will be able to grasp it, which would make for a thrilling game on Saturday.
"We'll certainly talk to them about it and what a great, competitive rivalry this can be," he said.