Two years after finishing 0-11, the Hoyas found themselves facing Lehigh with the Patriot League title and a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision tournament on the line. Given that it had been 62 years since Georgetown played a postseason football game and where it had been during that winless season, just being at Goodman Stadium with so much at stake was as big an accomplishment as the Hoyas’ 34-12 loss was a disappointment.
For most of the first half, Georgetown looked overmatched. But the defense forced two turnovers and stiffened with the Mountain Hawks in the shadow of the goal line on a couple of other occasions. As a result, the Hoyas managed to make it to intermission only down 20-6.
Undaunted by having been outgained 354-87 during the first 30 minutes, Georgetown took the second-half kickoff and marched the length of the field to cut the margin to 20-12. The fact that the touchdown came on a deflection — an Isaiah Kempf pass to tight end Tucker Stafford was knocked away by Lehigh’s Jon Littlejohn directly into the arms of Max Waizenegger — actually seemed to give the Hoyas an extra chunk of momentum in spite of the missed extra point.
The defense forced a three-and-out. Suddenly, the Lehigh crowd was so quiet that you could hear the chants of the Georgetown fans on the far side of the field. Kempf and the offense took over on their own 22, seemingly bursting with confidence.
“You could feel it on the sideline,” Hoyas Coach Kevin Kelly said. “We could hear our fans behind us. The momentum was definitely on our side at that moment. We felt like we were right where we wanted to be.”
That feeling lasted three plays. Facing third and 14, Kempf tried to find wide receiver Patrick Ryan near the first-down marker. The throw was a little high. As Ryan went up to try to make the catch he was hammered from behind by safety Bill O’Brien. The ball went off his hands and right into the waiting arms of cornerback Bryan Andrews, who could have done the polka down the sideline as he ran 26 yards untouched for a score.
“It was a basic slant rout,” said Ryan, who didn’t realize that O’Brien was closing on him as he left his feet. “The guy just jarred it loose and unfortunately [Andrews] was right there and we had nobody close to him.”
He smiled wanly. “We scored on a deflection right before that,” Ryan said. “Then they got a deflection for a score. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
If the sixth-ranked Mountain Hawks (9-1, 4-0) were feeling any jitters because they had failed to put Georgetown away early, they disappeared after that play. The Hoyas’ offense stalled again and Lehigh quickly went 68 yards to make it 34-12, quarterback Chris Lum putting the game pretty much out of reach on a five-yard quarterback draw play.
“The pick-six was certainly the turning point,” Kelly said. “But let’s give them credit. They just made more plays than we did today. They were the better team.”
Lehigh has now won 10 Patriot League titles in 19 years. It has been the league’s signature football program almost since the day the conference was formed, getting as far as the semifinals of what was then the Division I-AA tournament in 1999.
That was the last year Georgetown had a winning record and two years before they began Patriot League play. To say that it has been a struggle for the Hoyas since then is an understatement. To say that what this team accomplished — finishing 8-3 overall — is remarkable, is also an understatement.
“This team will be remembered at Georgetown for a long time to come,” Kelly said. “People are going to look back on this senior group and say they were the ones that got us turned around in the right direction. Today was a disappointment but these guys deserve to celebrate this season. We don’t feel that right now but down the road we will.”
On Thursday, there was a pep rally on the Georgetown campus — and it wasn’t for basketball, even though the basketball Hoyas opened their season this afternoon against Savannah State. When Kelly and his players were asked if it felt good to have some attention focused on them in November rather than John Thompson III’s team, they all broke into grins and nodded their heads.
“Oh yeah,” Kelly said. “Oh yeah.”
A few minutes earlier, after the postgame handshakes had concluded, while the Lehigh players formed a circle on the field to accept their Patriot League trophy, Kelly noticed his players walking slowly in the direction of their locker room.
“Hey guys, heads up,” he said. “Keep your heads up. No reason not to keep your heads up.”
With the sun starting to set over South Mountain, which sits almost directly behind the locker rooms here, Kelly’s players knew he was right.
Saturday was a day to feel the pain of a disappointing loss. But the just-ended season was one to celebrate.
For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.