By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For now, Dan Lenihan's weight lifting belt will have to suffice for Georgetown football.
It's not too bad of a prize considering what it means to Hoyas players on a daily basis.
But when Lehigh head coach Andy Coen and some of his players hoisted the Patriot League trophy late Saturday afternoon after a 34-12 dispatching of the Hoyas' championship dream, at least the visitors at Goodman Stadium had a picture of what hardware sits out there for their developing program.
Few, if any, expected Georgetown to be playing for the title come the second Saturday in November, when in most years the focus on campus has long since turned to basketball.
Oh, yes, the hoops team kicked off its season with a victory over Savannah State on Saturday, but it paled in significance to the football team completing its first winning season since 1999.
"What I told the kids is we're all disappointed we didn't win the game," Georgetown football coach Kevin Kelly said, "but I want you to celebrate the season because we did have a heck of a year. A lot of people are turning heads now and Georgetown football is doing good things now."
Lehigh remains the biggest hurdle for Georgetown (8-3, 3-2), which has never beaten the sixth-ranked Mountain Hawks (9-1, 4-0) since joining the Patriot League 11 seasons ago. Of course, history often is on the Mountain Hawks' side. They hey have won a league-best 10th Patriot championships, including the first back-to-back titles since their 2004-06 squads won three in a row
The Mountain Hawks are hoping a win over rival Lafayette in their 147th all-time meeting next Saturday will be enough to earn one of the five seeds in the 20-team FCS playoffs, or, at the least, a home game in the second round.
Georgetown, meanwhile, will spend the offseason with optimism. The Hoyas' season-ending loss was their first since the middle game of a five-game road swing Oct. 1 at Bucknell.
A day after, Lenihan, a senior defensive lineman, gave an impassioned speech during a team weight-lifting session. He then started awarding an old weight- lifting belt at every practice to whom he considered to be the hardest working player.
Lenihan's season was ended by a knee injury against Colgate, but he kept awarding the belt in a continued sign of team leadership.
"You have a plan and you gotta keep working the plan," Kelly said. "The thing we've done is we've recruited better players. Six years ago, when I started, to what it is right now, it's a whole different type of football team that we have now as far as talent is concerned."
The Hoyas still don't have a quarterback like Lehigh senior Chris Lum. He was his usual dominant self, completing 32 of 48 passes for 393 yards, while he picked holes in Georgetown's zone defense. He didn't increase his season total of 30 touchdown passes, but scored on a 5-yard run and let the Hoyas make mistakes.
Perhaps the biggest physical mistake occurred early in the third quarter when quarterback Isaiah Kempf threw behind a receiver on a slant. The ball was tipped to Lehigh cornerback Bryan Andrews, who reeled it in and returned it for both a 26-yard touchdown and control of the game at 27-12 with 11:20 left.
"They knew what coverage we were in and they were able to capitalize in the open spots in the zone," said Georgetown standout defensive end Andrew Schaetzke. "Chris Lum is a great quarterback. He's able to sling it, he's very accurate. When our guys were making breaks on the ball, they were able to still catch the ball and get the gains they needed to when they needed to."
Georgetown's second of three interceptions - and Andrews' second of the game - wiped out the momentum that the Hoyas had just gained when slot receiver Max Waizenegger scored on another tipped Kempf pass, a 6-yard catch to pull the Hoyas within 20-12 with 12:55 left.
It didn't help that Brett Weiss missed the ensuing extra-point attempt, which left Georgetown more than seven points behind.
The Hoyas' biggest mental mistake of the game occurred on the final play of the first quarter. Actually, it was what didn't occur on the play.
With the Hoyas facing fourth down at their 24, their coaching staff decided not to call a timeout and have the chance to punt into the wind, which was 25 mph at game time.
Instead, the first quarter ended and, sure enough, on the first play of the second quarter, Matt Maczura shanked his punt for seven miserable yards into the wind. When a Georgetown penalty was tacked on, the Mountain Hawks took possession of the ball at the Hoyas' 23, and they turned the opportunity into a Tim Divers 23-yard field goal and their first double-digit lead, 10-0.
From that point, Georgetown cut its deficit into single digits two more times, but for only 3 minutes, 42 seconds. Lehigh, playing like it had been there before - which it had - clearly had the league championship in its site.
All-America receiver Ryan Spadola became Lehigh's single-season record-holder for receiving yards (1,346) and the Mountain Hawks controlled the clock for more than 38 minutes with an 517-199 advantage in total offense. But it lost leading rusher Zach Barket in the fourth quarter to what looked like a serious ankle injury.
"I'm very, very proud of these guys," Coen said. "Obviously for how the season has gone, there was a mindset with this team really that developed when we walked off the field at Delaware last year (in a second-round loss in the playoffs). Particularly Chris and some of the other seniors, just great leadership. I just can't say enough about how these guys approach the game and how important it is to them."
"Last year felt great," Lum said, "getting over the hump and having a good year last year. But this one feels even better.
"We knew we wanted to build off what we did last year and we knew we had to work even harder because people had a bull's-eye on us."
Some of that attention will shift to Georgetown by next season. Kelly, a former Navy assistant whose ship was probably going to sail in Washington if he hadn't turned around the Hoyas, believes his team will overcome the loss of a 21-member senior class and develop into a consistent program.
His squad 0-11 just two year ago, Kelly called the chance to play for the league title a "dream come true." Now with the return of league-leading tackler Robert McCabe, an inside linebacker, and a determined team, the Hoyas hope to live out the next step of a dream season.
"We obviously wanted to win the Patriot League, it's what we worked for the entire year and the years before this," Schaetzke said. "We didn't obviously win, but we had a really good season. We turned it around from two years ago. We played with no regrets. We have to look back, we had a good season. Hopefully, it was a foundation and building blocks for the guys next year and the years to come."