A bye week behind it, Bucknell has started gearing up for its 2019 stretch run on the gridiron, and it starts against a rival — Lehigh— that first-year Bucknell coach Dave Cecchini is very familiar with.
Cecchini played football for Lehigh and also served as the Mountain Hawks offensive coordinator, and fans who attend Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium might feel as though they’re looking into a mirror.
“Both teams are similar from a schematic standpoint,” Cecchini said. “We’ve got their playbook; they’ve got our playbook.”
Being on the opposite side of the rivalry, Cecchini has seen how both sides view the rivalry game.
“Lehigh is one of Bucknell’s biggest rivals,” Cecchini said. “It’s no secret Lehigh’s rivalry focus is Lafayette, so that adds some extra motivation on our side.”
Lehigh (4-4, 3-1) reeled off wins in its first three Patriot League contests before a 24-17 trip-up to Holy Cross. The Crusaders defeated the Bison, 21-14, earlier in the season after Bucknell held an early 14-0 lead. The Bison (1-7, 1-2) also led Lafayette by two possessions (17-7) before the Leopards rallied in the fourth quarter for a 21-17 triumph.
“We’ve grown over the season, and hopefully we take another step Saturday,” Cecchini said. “For all the growth and development, we certainly wanted to see more than a one in the win column to this point.”
With growth comes pains, something the Bison have known all too well of late. The Bison are 2-17 over their last 19 games and have two victories in their last 17 meetings against the Mountain Hawks, which came consecutively in 2013 and 2014.
The Bison are ready this time.
“We always come out of the locker room with a lot of energy,” said sophomore running back Jared Cooper. “Our coaches do a great job and we believe every game is winnable. Saturday’s game is very important. We just have to play to our level.”
Cooper enjoyed a breakout game two weeks ago against Lafayette, rushing for more than 100 yards. Cooper is one of two Bison running backs to surpass the 200-yard plateau for the season, joining senior Chad Freshnock. The Bison have used a rotation of running backs during the season, and have surpassed 100 yards rushing as a team in four of their last five games.
“(The scheme) has gotten a whole lot easier, but also harder, because now that we’ve had experience with it, the coaches know our abilities and what we can do, so there are wrinkles,” Cooper said. “The amazing thing is, we’re building momentum now and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us because a lot of our offensive linemen (paving the way) are sophomores, juniors and freshmen.”
Sophomore field general Logan Bitikofer missed last year’s Lehigh game, but has thrown seven touchdown passes against three interceptions entering Saturday’s game.
“He’s not turning the football over,” said Cecchini. “We need another repeat performance of that. This will be a close football game, and we’ll need to play all 60 minutes well.”