Tough Lehigh Defense Gets Game-Winning Stop On Last Play Of Game, And Beats Colgate 21-14

Photo Credit: Justin Wolford/Colgate Athletics

Nobody at Andy Kerr Stadium was sitting down during the last play of the game.

Down 21-14, Colgate had driven to the Lehigh 8 yard line, driving nearly the length of the field in 29 seconds.  It seemed destined to end on a thrilling, last-second play, as many Lehigh/Colgate games over the years have come down to drives late in the game.

Two years ago at Andy Kerr Stadium, Colgate was driving for a game-winning score here, and a Lehigh forced fumble and recovery allowed Lehigh to break an 0-5 losing streak and settle in victory formation.  That 38-35 Lehigh win allowed the Mountain Hawks to get their first win, and ultimately ride the wind of that victory to a Patriot League championship and a trip to the FCS playoffs.

Four years ago here, it was the Raiders who had Lehigh 1st and goal at the 10 yard line, in a position to tie the game and stay alive for the Patriot League title.  And it was Colgate who stopped the Mountain Hawks on 4th down to close out a victory, and a Patriot League Championship.

Today, again, it came down to the very last play and one final, heart-stopping finale.

Dropping back to pass, QB Grant Breneman completed about a 5 yard pass to WR Garrett Oakey, about three yards short of the goal line.

Oakey turned, and reached for the end zone, where CB Divine Buckrham tackled him from behind down around the 1 yard line.

Oakey’s heroic effort to have the ball cross the plane of the goal line fell just short, the battle of wills of these evenly-matched teams separated by Buckrham’s strong tackle and Oakey’s outstretched arm.  Maybe a half a yard separated Colgate from the possible game-tying touchdown and Lehigh’s on-field celebration.

That play sums what this Lehigh/Colgate rivalry is, an intensely-fought 21-14 win by the Mountain Hawks over the Raiders in front of 3.838 fans at Andy Kerr Stadium.

Courtesy Rich Barnes

Dominant Defense

For the second straight week, the Lehigh defense was the red line that divided overtime and a Lehigh victory, and for the second straight week, Lehigh prevented the opposition from crossing it.

“We got it done,” a thrilled LB Keith Woetzel said afterwards.  “I’m happy even though we won by one yard or by thirty points, we got the ‘W’ today with the game on our shoulders.   It’s fun to have that last drive and experience that adrenaline , and nothing’s better.  That’s why you play football.  We’ll rise to the occasion every time.”

Over the course of the game, Woetzel and the Lehigh defense shut down Colgate’s running attack in stunning fashion.

The Mountain Hawks held the Raiders to only 9 yards rushing, forcing the Raiders to put their read-option offense into the closet.

The second half saw Colgate only get 96 yards overall, with QB Grant Breneman running for his life most of the second half.  Lehigh ended with seven sacks – five in the second half.  Woetzel led the way with two and a half sacks, once combining with DE Davis Maxie on 4th down to stop a Colgate drive.

It’s a stunning turnaround on defense from a team that just last year gave up 33 rushing touchdowns alone and yielded on average 446 yards a game.

It’s especially stunning since even though the Raiders were 0-5, they had played a brutal schedule and were picked by most this weekend to reassert themselves to run over the Mountain Hawks, like they did last year in a 48-6 win at Murray Goodman Stadium.

“Especially being on the defensive side of ball, it’s awesome that you know you can control the game from your side and from your play,” Woetzel added.  “In years past, things got away from us, but I’m really happy how we turned it around.  Now our defense is stacked up. I think we can beat anyone out there.”

“It came to the very last play, and it would have been a shame if we couldn’t have got it done, because I think our defense played a tremendous game,” an elated Tom Gilmore said afterwards.  “To hold them to just nine yards rushing really says a lot.”

Game-Winning Drives

Early o,n it was Colgate’s defense that put Lehigh in an early 7-0 hole.

LB Prince Ekwughalu pounced on the ball in the end zone after all-Patriot League DE Nick Wheeler stripped Lehigh QB Tyler Monaco on a sack, setting up the Raiders’ first score.

Still down 7-0, Monaco would lose his top two receivers on the depth chart, WR Jalen Burbage and WR Dev Bibbens, to two different injuries.

But Monaco showed a lot of grit to recover from that negative play and kickstart the Lehigh offense to tie the score.

On a 3rd and 18, Monaco stepped up and found WR Jorge Portorreal for a big 1st down, setting up three rushes by true freshman RB Nate Hope, who slid into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.

Colgate would bounce right back in the second quarter, with Breneman finding TE Nick Diaco for a big 45 yard strike setting up RB Malik Twyman‘s 3 yard touchdown push, making the score 14-7.

Then before the end of the half, Colgate would down a punt at the 1/2 yard line.

Monaco was unfazed.

“You can put us in whatever situation you want to put us in,” he said, “and we’re going to attack it the same way that we always do. So we were excited. You know we got pinned down there at the one, and we thought, you know? That’s going to make this drive that much better.”

Monaco led the Lehigh offense what could have been the drive of tho Mountain Hawks’ young season so far, guiding the team out of the shadow of the goalposts and setting up a huge 60 yard pass to RB Nate Hope in stride, getting a 60 yard gain.

Moving the ball further, he guided the offense to the 1 yard line with under a minute to play in the half.  After selling the fake perfectly to RB Rashawn Allen, he scored on a 1 yard TD run to tie the game at 14.

“I saw that space and I’m like my eyes just lit up,” he said.

Winning Score

The second half was a defensive battle, with the score deadlocked at 14 most of the way.

Stop after stop extended deep into the 4th quarter, when DT Bartek Rybka would pounce on a Breneman fumble and set Lehigh up with a golden opportunity to score late in the game.

Monaco would find WR Austin Dambach to get to the Colgate 20, then true freshman RB Zaythan Hill would have his number called, getting the game-winning score on a 9 yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left.

“We told them we would not be denied tonight,” Hill said afterwards. “Today we just did we had to do.”

Hill and Hope, both freshmen, played enormous roles in Lehigh’s win.

“It’s a baptism by fire,” Gilmore said.  “We’ve thrown them in there. The fortunate thing is, we’re midseason now and they have a lot of game experience. So they’re not playing like freshmen anymore. And that’s really good to see.  We expect big things of them in the second half of the season.”

The win puts Lehigh and 2-3, but critically, at 1-0 in the Patriot League with a win over last season’s Patriot League champions.  Colgate falls to 0-6 and 0-1.

 

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