As former New York Jets coach Herman Edwards said in a press conference, “You play to win the game.”

Lafayette was winless in its Patriot League game against Holy Cross last Saturday.

But with the losses, the Leopards’ 24-21 loss to the No. 6/9 ranked Crusaders might have caused consternation in the FCS football landscape.

Lafayette led for more than nine minutes of the fourth quarter before a botched punt led to a 31-yard touchdown that allowed the Crusaders to escape Easton with a 24-21 victory.

The Leopards outgained Holy Cross 329-181, made 17 first downs to the Crusaders’ seven and ran 76 plays to the visitors’ 55.

Lafayette’s defense was particularly stellar on third down and fourth down, allowing just three successful attempts out of 19. The Leopards had better numbers everywhere but the scoreboard.

“We’re building a good program here that’s on the rise,” Leopards first-year coach John Troxel said. “The best football for this program is ahead. You look at the young kids playing for us, and they’re going up against teams with a lot of fourth- and fifth-graders. I think the kids know we’re close, and I just want them to get into the fourth quarter of games with a chance to win, and then we’ve got to get them over the hump.”

Lafayette is 2-5 overall, 1-1 in league play with four games remaining. The four-game winning streak would give the program its first winning season since going 8-3 in 2009.

If the Leopards can make it to the Final Four, a winning season will add to the euphoria of defeating rival Lehigh on Nov. 19 in the 158th edition of college football’s most storied rivalry.

But Lafayette doesn’t dwell on the special teams mistakes that cost it against Holy Cross, and it doesn’t expect Lehigh or anyone other than Georgetown to be its opponent Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Fisher Stadium.

“The only thing we can do is take it one game at a time,” said sophomore quarterback Ah-Sean Davis, who scored three touchdowns against Holy Cross in his first start of the season. “You can’t win four games in one week. We have to focus on the week ahead, focus on the opponent and continue to work hard. We just have to come out as a team and play together.”

Davis is one of three sophomores expected to start against Georgetown on offense, along with four freshmen and three juniors. The lone senior starter is wide receiver Julius Young.

The damaged offensive line consists of two freshmen starting at right tackle and a sophomore at left tackle.

Add that youth and inexperience to a schedule that has seen Lafayette lose to four FCS teams by a combined 24-2, and one can understand Troxell’s pride in a team that has weathered a difficult first two months of the season.

“We didn’t back down from anybody,” Troxel said. “The toughest part of the schedule is behind us, but we still have to play a very good Fordham team and the other three teams we play [Georgetown, Colgate, and Lehigh] it’s no slouch either and hardly an easy game. So we just have to keep working on it. I look at all of our guys as freshmen because they had to learn a new offense and a new defense. We’re starting to fix some of the mistakes we made earlier in the season and they’re getting older and more balanced. They work very hard, listen and care. You can’t give up on these guys.”

Troxell was pleased with Davis, who started eight games in 2021 and became the team’s third starting QB this year against Holy Cross.

“We were excited to have him back,” Troxel said. “He had a bad shoulder and for a while he couldn’t raise his arm above his shoulder. He’s just a player that guys respond to when he steps on the field. They look to him as a leader. He did some good things a year ago and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next. It will be a lot of fun.”

Davis, a product of Willingboro, N.J., said it didn’t take long to feel comfortable after the injury.

“It’s really just the first shot,” Davis said. “After that I realized I was back and you know, it was fun. Anytime you go out there against a good team, you hold your own and try not to make any mistakes.”

Davis said he is a better-rounded quarterback than the one who threw for 1,414 yards last season but only four TDs compared to five interceptions.

“I’ve learned to take what the defense gives me and not force anything,” he said. “Sometimes when reading an RPO you can get a great read. You can throw it, you can run it, and sometimes it’s better to pass the ball, especially with the great defense we have on our side.”

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When/where: 12:30pm Saturday at Fisher Stadium, Easton

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Storylines: Lafayette nearly pulled off what would have been a major upset of Holy Cross. A win over Georgetown would keep the Leopards in the league title race and give them a shot at their first winning season since 2009. The Hoyas have lost five straight since beating Marist 43-12 in their opener.

Players to watch: Georgetown is averaging more than 350 yards per game on offense thanks to senior quarterback Pierce Holly, who has thrown for 11 touchdowns and 1,885 yards in seven games. Graduate Joshua Thomas has 60 catches for 716 yards and five TDs. Lafayette has its best rushing effort of the season with 133 yards on 19 carries from Jayden Sutton. Marco Olivas has a team-high 68 tackles, including a sack and four stops for a loss. Malik Hamm has six sacks this season and a school-record 29½ for his career.

What to expect: It looks like we’re in for a defensive-oriented game, with Lafayette averaging 10.5 ppg to the Hoyas’ 23.4. Neither side rushes for more than 84 yards per game. Lafayette beat Georgetown 24-23 last year, and this one could be another close one, especially if the Leopards don’t fix their special teams issues.

Keith Growler’s prediction: Lafayette 27-17

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