Lehigh At Colgate Game Preview And Fearless Prediction, 11/11/2023: Surging Raiders And Improving Mountain Hawks Meet In Hamilton To Measure Their Progress

BETHLEHEM, PA – When Lehigh (2-7, 1-3 Patriot League) faces off against Colgate (4-5, 2-2 Patriot League) this weekend at Andy Kerr Stadium, the Raiders will be playing a game with stakes in the Patriot League title race. Win, and get some help, and they will have a puncher’s chance at winning a co-championship and possibly, if everything falls right, the FCS Playoffs autobid.

The Mountain Hawks will be going in with an eye of being a spoiler to Colgate’s title and championship ambitions, which suit them just fine. To them, ruining the seasons of Colgate and Lafayette in consecutive weeks would constitute a successful season for a rebuilding Lehigh football team.

That’s the power of a rivalry, which is that Lehigh vs. Colgate is.

The Mountain Hawks and Raiders have always have had a little-r rivalry over the last fifty years. Even before they decided to shack up together in the Patriot League, both schools. high-academic schools who had a passion for football, played each other often.

A hall-of-fame college football coach, Fred Dunlap, coached at both schools to great success. (One of the reasons Colgate hired the former Colgate player away was that as Lehigh’s head football coach, he beat his alma mater. One of the reasons Lehigh hired him away from Colgate’s staff was that he was passed over for the head football job.)

But it was the 2000s, during the Patriot League era, when true ‘Hate the Gate’ sentiment started to form between the two schools.

The reason? The stakes got higher.

The tagline of many of those Lehigh/Colgate games was that the winner of that game very, very often went on to win the Patriot League and go to the FCS Playoffs. Usually one team or the other, and often both, were nationally ranked. And fans showed up for those games.

One of the first games I covered for the old College Sporting News was a Lehigh/Colgate game in 2004, a battle of nationally-ranked teams that lived up to the billing, a 21-14 win that came down to a late goal line stand. Almost 14,000 fans packed Murray Goodman stadium to watch No. 18 Colgate take on No. 12 Lehigh, and I called it a little-r “rivalry”. It wasn’t Lehigh/Lafayette, but it was damned close.

Just look at this snippet from The Morning Call quoting then-head coach Pete Lembo. Winston Churchill quotes? Exhilarating win? I was there, and can tell you for sure it wasn’t an exaggeration. Many of those Lehigh/Colgate games in the aughts had a genuine playoff, championship game feel to them, and they were big games that caught the attention of people nationally.

There was a lot to it, too, even beyond the national rankings and playoff stakes.

Both Lehigh and Colgate are similar in DNA, academically-oriented and Ivy-adjacent, the only real difference between them and the Ivy League being that they could compete for an FCS National Championship. The Ivies, for all their advantages and prestige, simply didn’t seem to want to make the effort, or break their own esoteric philosophies and rules, to give their kids a chance at a national championship.

Foootball-wise, too, Colgate, coached by the late Dick Biddle, recruited huge offensive linemen and had developed a run-heavy RPO game, emphasizing old-school football on the ground, while generations of Lehigh fans knew about “Air Lehigh” with a series of head coaches and assistants that focused on lighter, high-probability precision passing. It was always a contrast of styles, one that always made for an entertaining game, because they were high-executing teams. Even a Lehigh team hovering at .500 had some skills to make things scary for Colgate with a quick-strike offense. Even a Colgate team out of the running had the sort of ball-control offense that can ground a Lehigh offense.

My recollection is that the term ‘Hate the Gate’ spring up sometime in the late aughts, coming up in a pregame press conference in a year when Lehigh was struggling. My memory places it at 2007, in the midst of a tough 4-7 season where it seemed like head coach Andy Coen might get let go.

Even though it was a rebuilding year for Lehigh and they weren’t doing well, the sentiment burned within to knock Colgate out of the Patriot League title chase. That was a sign to me that this was a genuine rivalry and not just another game on the schedule. The cliche is true; when these two teams get together, anything can happen, and often does.

Last year’s edition of this rivalry game exemplifies this, a 36-33 win by Lehigh on senior day, one of only two Mountain Hawk wins on the season.

Courtest Hannahally Photography

The Mountain Hawks’ win last year saw Lehigh break out of a frustrating seven game losing streak, a streak that saw them find new and more excruciating ways, it seemed, to lose every week. It was Senior Day, one of the critical days of a college football player’s career where they absolutely, positively, want a victory.

And they did so in ways that defied their whole season. Though their team struggled to play from behind and struggled to score points, the Mountain Hawks did both that Saturday. WR Eric Johnson would end with 10 catches for 194 yards, but no catch was bigger than the dramatic touchdown to give Lehigh the lead with under a minute to play.

More than that, though, the game had a distinct feel to it that most of the other games simply didn’t have. At that time the speculation was strong that head coach Tom Gilmore wouldn’t return after the season, and the game didn’t have any stakes but bragging rights between the two struggling under .500 teams. But it had the magic, the back-and-forth and the extra intensity that rivalry games have.

And I have no doubt that the intensity will be there again this weekend in Hamilton, which as of right now is scheduled to be a balmy, sunny 37 degrees. It will be a throwback where both teams will be looking to show their progress – Lehigh for 2023, and Colgate for 2022. It will be much more of a war than people think. And it will be a fun one.

LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS (2-7. 1-3 Patriot) AT COLGATE RAIDERS (4-5, 2-2 Patriot)
Andy Kerr Stadium/Hamilton, NY, 1:00PM
STREAMING BROADCAST: ESPN+ (subscription needed)
PxP – Jeff Bishop, Analyst – Terry Dow
BROADCAST (Fox Sports Lehigh Valley 94.7 FM/1230 AM; LVFoxSports.com):
PxP – Matt Kerr; Analysts – Connor Mills, Matt Markus

LFN’s Drink of the Week

I have a long-standing policy that a “Drink of the Week” that works is good luck. This one worked last year in Lehigh’s come-from-behind 36-33 win and whose ginger and sweet flavor tasted delicious after the victory. You can find the recipe here.

Game Notes And Injury Report

Last week – in a bit of a surprise – WR Geoffrey Jamiel caught a pass on QB Brayten Silbor‘s first completion of the game. This begs the question – what involvement might we see him in this week? This week’s game notes still have WR Dylan McFadden in at his WR spot. It probably stands to reason that there will be some Jamiel sightings in cold Hamilton, NY, but it remains to be seen exactly how much.

Nine seniors dot the starting roster this week, including WR Connor Kennedy, RB Jack DiPietro (notably ahead of RB Luke Yoder), LB Mike DeNucci, and WR Eric Johnson. All of them played last year vs. Colgate and had key roles, including a DiPietro rushing TD and two Eric Johnson TDs. I think this is critical, too, going into the Lafayette game, where seniors play an outsized role and will need to be at their absolute peak. Getting ready with a small-r rivalry win with big performances from them would really help.

Scouting Colgate

The Raiders made their presence felt nationally last week in a pivotal 37-34 overtime win at Lafayette last week. Upending the Patriot League playoff race and knocking the Leopards out of some Top 25s, it kept Colgate’s dreams of a winning record, a possible co-championship, and even a slight chance at the autobid alive. It’s the type of game that a program turnaround is made of.

“This was a special win,” said head coach Stan Dakosty. “I’m just so happy for our guys. Last week we said let’s not let one half of football define our season. That was a lot to overcome but our guys are tough. The environment was great here today. So many Colgate people were here today and it was felt. The energy was felt. The pride in the program was felt today.

“We came out after halftime and there was no screaming or shouting, no panicking. The guys knew we had to inch our way back into the game. Our defense came out and played well in the second half, which was huge. We got our guys rolling. Once we got going our offense never let up. Confidence started growing and guys started making plays.”

The Raiders have started 3 different quarterbacks in 2023, includind senior QB Michael Brescia, whom Lehigh faced last year. But it was first year QB Jake Stearney who came in the second half to rally from a 17-0 deficit and shock FCS Nation.

QB at Colgate is a “type” – a running QB that can tuck and run as easily as pass it, and Stearney early in his career showed that he fit that perfectly with a 13-for-21, 147 yard, 3 TD performance and 24 rushing yards (second on the team). His TD passes went to 3 different Raiders, notably WR Treyvhon Saunders and WR Brady Hutchinson, who combined for 15 receptions from both QBs. Hutchinson’s is what gave Colgate the victory.

Critical to the win too was a big forced turnover by LB Christian Sweeney to get the Raiders back on the right foot at the beginning of the second half, and forcing several 3-and-outs which allowed for the upset to happen. LB Tyler Frick (12 tackles, 1 forced fumble) and LB Drew Finkel (11 tackles, including a key stop on 3rd and 2) all stood out on Colgate’s defense to secure the upset. As young as Colgate’s offense is, their defense has a surprising number of seniors and 5th years that really came together last week for the win.

LFN’s Keys to the Game

  1. Get Caught Up In It. It’s Lehigh/Colgate, and the last Lehigh/Colgate for some of the players. They should take this opportunity to fly around and enjoy this, especially on defense. Ruining Colgate’s aspirations has value for the Lehigh football program, and it’s worth getting caught up in that.
  2. Take what Colgate gives you. One thing I think this young Lehigh offense needs to learn is to take what the defense gives them. If they give up the deep ball, go deep, but if they give up the underneath, you have to take it. If the offense does that, I think we can have a really good game in store.
  3. More Aggressive Play. Head coach Kevin Cahill made some bold moves last week vs. Holy Cross, including an on onsides kick try and a fake punt, which was very successful. Some might question it, but I don’t – I honestly love the aggressiveness. It should be what Lehigh football is about going forward. More, please!

Fearless Prediction

On paper, and on momentum, most people would probably pick Colgate, but I know better than to pick a blowout. It’s a Rivalry game and it’s one of two final times for this Lehigh football team to show out and show what the Lehigh program will be. That will be underestimated, and that’s why Lehigh will win,

Lehigh 31, Colgate 28