For a team ranked 8th in the country, the Colgate Raiders (8-0, 5-0) don’t really have a face, a singular person on which they rely every single week to win football games.
What they do have is a defense that has smothered opposing offenses like a big red blanket all season.
Sure, Colgate has LB T.J. Holl, who leads the Raiders in tackles with 68. There’s also DE Nick Wheeler, who leads the raiders in both tackles for loss (13) and sacks (7). There’s also DB Tyler Castillo, who leads Colgate with 4 interceptions, and DB Alec Wisniewski, who doesn’t actually lead in any one single category statistically but does, well, everything pretty well.
But the numbers you hear the most out of Hamilton, New York these days are very small-sounding ones that involve the entire team.
Like “Eight”, the number of wins. “Zero”, the number of losses. “Five”, the number of shutouts pitched by the defense. “Two”, the total number of touchdowns conceded by this defense (both coming in the season opener). And “twenty-three”, the total number of points scored against Colgate all season.
Patriot League Rivals
The Lehigh Mountain Hawks (2-7, 1-3), fresh off of their best effort of the season last week against Bucknell, will have a very tough test as they host a team that already knows that they are going to be practicing over Thanksgiving preparing for an FCS Playoff game.
(The game will be televised on Service Electric 2 in the Lehigh Valley, with Steve Degler, Doug Heater and Kristi Fulkerson on the call. That Service Electric 2 broadcast is also streamed online for free via the Patriot League Network.)
All indications are that the Raiders are hardly taking this game against Lehigh lightly.
Head coach Dan Hunt calls his team “businesslike” in their preparation week to week, crediting the culture of this team for the success Colgate has had.
“In practice, they’re competitive, and they constantly want to get better,” Hunt said this week. “They’re never satisfied with what they did last week. If you could watch practice, it’s as competitive today as it would be in Week 1, and that’s a credit to our kids and the leadership of our seniors. These guys are just all business.”
Colgate also won’t be looking to coast into the FCS playoffs because of their rivalry with this Lehigh football team as well.
Though they played once in 1922, the Raiders and Engineers started a long-standing series in 1960, when both schools were independents, Fred Dunlap, a former Colgate player, took over as Lehigh’s head coach for years before getting re-signed by Colgate after he had successfully recruited a number of players away from his alma mater.
With a few gaps here and there, when the Patriot League was formed in football in 1986, Lehigh and Colgate we founders, further cementing the fact that their rivalry on the gridiron would continue as league games.
In a testimony to how competitive the two teams have been, Colgate holds a slender 29-24-2 edge in the series, with a great many of the matchups having Patriot League title considerations. In the last three years, Lehigh won the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs twice, and including this season, Colgate will have also won it twice.
But the genesis of Colgate’s great season this year might have been a stunning upset of the Raiders up in Hamilton last season.
The Seeds of Raider Success
Colgate’s last loss came on October 7th, 2017 to – guess who? – Lehigh.
The Mountain Hawks headed to Hamilton looking for their first win on the season last year as big underdogs as the possibility of a losing season loomed.
It was a game, as a Colgate fan might tell it, determined by some bad calls by the officials. Three different Colgate touchdowns were called back by penalties – one holding on a kickoff return, another on an ineligible man downfield penalty, and a third on a pass interference call.
Despite the nullified penalties it was a typical Colgate/Lehigh affair, back and forth with neither team with a clear advantage. Finally late in the game, QB Brad Mayes would put a pass in a place only where WR Troy Pelletier could catch it, and as Troy tumbled on the end zone turf, Lehigh took their first lead of the game.
Then Colgate would commit on their final drive of the game the only turnover of the contest – the costliest of fumbles that would all Lehigh their first win on the season, an improbable 41-38 victory.
From that moment on, Lehigh would stumble against Fordham, but still have enough to win the Patriot League title and autobid. Colgate then quietly started their win streak that continues to this day, hoping Lehigh would slip up again, but it never happened.
Since giving up 41 points to Lehigh that October afternoon, it seemed to light a fire under the Raiders defense in particular. They wouldn’t give up more than 12 points in a game the rest of the 2017 season, and that momentum carried over into 2018, where they even held CAA teams like New Hampshire and William and Mary to a grand total of three points combined.
Game after game, performance after performance, the Colgate defense has delivered chances to win, and in the meantime, the Colgate offense has fed off of that Big Red Blanket and started to put up huge numbers of their own.
🏈 Raise it high! 🏆 @ColgateFB is @PatriotLeague Champions with yet another shutout — third in a row and fifth in 2018 — and the Raiders earn the bid to the @NCAA_FCS playoffs. @WatchStadium pic.twitter.com/OYWYtTm1AK
— Patriot League Network | PatriotLeague.tv (@PatriotLeagueTV) November 3, 2018
Dan Hunt called their 41-0 game against Fordham, a game where the Raiders gained 562 yards of total offense, five touchdowns and two field goals, as “the most complete performance this season.” Of course, it helped that the Raider defense held the Rams to -50 rushing yards, 4 first downs and 28 total yards.
So this weekend in Bethlehem, it’s not just another league game for the Raiders. It’s going to be a chance for Colgate to bring their big red blanket to their Bethlehem rivals and show the Mountain Hawks exactly what their 41-38 win last season has done for their team.