BETHLEHEM, PA – The last time Lehigh took a trip up to Hamilton, New York, it was the defense that sealed the deal.
Up 21-14 on the last play of the game, dropping back to pass, Colgate 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.
“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.”
The win in 2019 was the type of slugfest Lehigh and Colgate fans have grown accustomed to.
Colgate (0-3) and Lehigh (0-3) are winless, but both teams have played brutal schedules. The teams are a combined 0-4 against the CAA teams they’ve faced. Colgate faced one of the few undefeated teams in the ACC in Boston College, while Lehigh was shut out by a Princeton team that is favored to win the Ivy League.
Though Colgate has Cornell and Lehigh has Lafayette, the rivalry between the Raiders and Mountain Hawks always seems to bring out the fire in both teams, no matter what the won/loss record. That’s because the game throughout history has played a huge part in determining the Patriot League championship.
The series stands at 30-26-2 in favor of Colgate, but no team has won more than 3 straight against the other since the inception of the Patriot League.
Lehigh and Colgate first met back in 1922, in a world where Lehigh was searching for its identity as a college football program and Colgate had already begun to establish itself as a national championship-caliber program.
“Colgate overpowered the fighting Lehigh eleven Saturday in one of the hardest-fought games of the season by the score of 35 to 6,” The Brown and White said in their recap of that 1922 contest. “The game was played in the First Ward Stadium, Binghamton, New York before a crowd of about ten thousand. There were about three hundred Lehigh students there, a great many of whom ‘bummed’ their way to the stadium. It was an enthusiastic crowd, they cheered their loudest even when the team seemed hopelessly overwhelmed.”
The last tie came in 1980, a 17-17 tie at Taylor Stadium in which Lehigh’s John Whitehead and Colgate’s Fred Dunlap faced off as head coach. In a way, that hotly-contested tie sort-of epitomizes the competitiveness of this rivalry today, with defensive stops, a couple of late missed field goals, and a tough physical contest.
Later, playing as members of the Patriot League, they are a true match of equals, subject to the same rules of the league.
Most years the Raiders and Mountain Hawks have been evenly matched. Four of their last six meetings were determined by one score or less, and two of those games were the determining factor in who ultimately won the league and the FCS Playoffs.
Colgate’s dramatic goal-line stand in 2015 helped the Raiders win 49-42 and clinch their spot, while a last-second touchdown. Five yards separated Nick Shafnisky’s offense and Pat Afriyie’s defense. “It was a street fight down to the last minute,” I wrote. “To the last five yards. And Colgate won that street fight. Since they stopped the Mountain Hawks from getting those last five yards, they are now the champs.”
A late touchdown pass and a forced fumble on Colgate’s subsequent drive helped Lehigh beat Colgate 41-38 in 2017 – a game which ultimately was the tiebreaker that pushed 5-6 Lehigh to the postseason. Brad Mayes’ pass to Troy Pelletier – who came down with the ball and held it as he tumbled in the end zone – reversed an 0-5 start and basically turned the season around for Lehigh. “It’s a big boost for our confidence,” CB Quentin Jones said after the game. “But it’s just step one in our plan for the league.”
The greatest thing about this rivalry game every year is that the stakes are always higher, and in recent years the fact that it has been earlier in the schedule has meant that there is a critical nature of this game. The winner will have a chance to challenge for the Patriot League title. The loser will be seriously behind the eight ball. Accordingly, it doesn’t take much to get these athletes up for this game. And it will, as ever, will most likely be a thrilling game.
The game is taking place at Andy Kerr Stadium at Hamilton, New York, and kickoff is at 1:00 PM. If you can’t make it to the stadium, it will be available to stream on ESPN+ with Eric Malanoski and Jeff Bishop on the call. The radio call will be available on Fox Sports Radio 1230/1320 AM and 94.7 FM Allentown, with Matt Kerr, Matt Markus and Steve Lomangino on the call (and also available on LVFoxSports.com).
LFN’s Drink of the Week
I am not about to upset The College Football Gods over my preview. When a “Drink of the Week” delivers a win, we tend to go with it until it no longer works. This applies to this terrific grilled cocktail that the great Scott Hines (otherwise known as @actioncookbook) provided back in 2019. (If you tweet at Scott Hines, don’t expect an answer right away. His Cincinnati Bearcats are on the road to the College Football Playoff and he might be staring lovingly at his Bearcat spatula set again.)
In his original post, he detailed how he made grilled margaritas that involved setting something on fire. Instantly I knew I had to throw my plans for “Drink of the Week” back then in the trashcan and immediately read all about it. From his post:
Here’s what’s in it: (for two drinks)
* 4 ounces bourbon (the recipe calls for tequila, but I know better)
* 1-1/2 ounces of a syrup that’s two parts hot water, one part honey
* 2 large lemons (see below)
* Rosemary for garnish
* Salt for garnish
“Tastes like a bourbon warehouse fire” was his ultimate verdict – which is good enough for me. Again, read his whole journey on this, which involves fire.
As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don’t get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that. And leave plenty of time to sober up.
Last week, QB Cross Wilkinson left the Princeton game early in the second half with blurred vision. With QB Alec Beesmer leaving the program and Wilkinson’s status uncertain, QB Dante Perri and QB Nigel Summerville have been taking snaps at QB1 earlier this week. The status of who will be lining up under center on Saturday – Wilkinson, Perri or Summerville – seems to truly be a gametime decision.
There are other lingering injuries. LB Pete Haffner and DL Kevin Callahan are out for Colgate, while RB Gaige Garcia is questionable after a knock he got in the Princeton game. LS Dean Colton is also questionable as well.
But some exellent news is that C Justin Gurth finally returns under center for Lehigh.
“Having him on the field changes the whole complexion of our offensive line,” Gilmore said. “He’s a senior captain who has started nearly his whole career, but he has been out due to a leg issue he had back in the summer. Having him back is a huge shot in the arm.”
Colgate is similar to Lehigh in that they have faced a brutal early schedule to start 0-3. They are similar that they’ve struggled to put points on the board in those three losses. What might be missed in those three losses, though, is that “they did some really good things in all three phases,” Lehigh head coach Tom Gilmore said this week, and he’s right.
Ageless QB Grant Breneman is listed on top of Colgate’s depth chart this week, though he came out last week against William and Mary. Colgate’s only touchdown on the season came from his backup, QB Harry Kirk, who could be considered a clone of Breneman as a “prototypical Colgate QB”: executor of the read option, hard to take down, and able to kill the opposition with a well-timed play action pass against a defense that is lulled to sleep.
Like Lehigh, Colgate has struggled to put four quarters together, but first year head coach Stan Dakosty has been preaching consinstency.
Colgate is averaging 90 yards per game rushing and 140 yards per game passing, but that is not what Colgate likes to do. They like to play read-option, sometimes going RPO, and grind out games on the ground and quietly sucking out the will of opposing defenses as well. It’s been a winning model that has been a hallmark at Colgate from Dick Biddle to Dan Hunt to Dakosty (both of whom were Biddle assistants).
“We didn’t really play well on either side of the ball in the first half [against William and Mary],” he said. “We challenged our guys to fight in the second half and that’s what we did. We made a few adjustments, made less mistakes, and that showed some positives that we have to build off of. Sometimes it just takes a play to spark that. RB John Cox had a couple nice runs to get things moving and then Harry scored a few plays later. We get some positive momentum and then we start believing. That helps us moving forward.”
Breneman currently leads the Raiders in rushing yards, but Colgate hopes they have found a baller in Cox, who did some damage against William and Mary late. RB Max Hurleman (63 yards, 2.7 yards per carry) is listed above Cox in the depth chart, but expect to hear all three of those names on Saturday. All three are speedy.
Defensively, Colgate has done quite a good job stopping the run of their tough opponents, only allowing 120 rushing yards per game. Though technically a no-name defense, LB Milton Braasch II (25 tackles, 3 TFL) and LB Tyler Flick (21 tackles) have excelled in the middle for the Raiders. Where teams have been able to exploit them is through the air – they have yielded on average 204 passing yards and 4 TDs. mostly on big plays.
Keys for Lehigh
- Establish yourselves fast. Lehigh/Colgate games are all about tone, and Lehigh needs to set the tone early, preferably with a quick touchdown of any sort. Lehigh needs to go out an announce who they want to be the rest of the year, and that means playing physical and hopefully precise and disciplined.
- No-Doz. Colgate’s offense will not throw up many surprises as a whole in terms of scheme, but they do a great job disguising what they are going to do play by play. A smart, alert defense can pick up on this fast and neutralize it – but it requires constant focus. The key to this entire game by Lehigh may be how the defense plays within themselves, perhaps forcing some turnovers, and keeping down mistakes.
- Take What the Defense Gives You. Offense, defense, and special teams are going to have to build synergy through execution. On offense, that means moving the sticks and going for first downs instead of every down bombing home run balls. Short passing at the marker is going to be critical – if not for the score, but for the clock, to keep the defense and special teams fresh. Few Colgate games are won without excellence on all fronts.
This week, Lehigh sports featured QB Zaythan Hill, who had a breakout performance at Colgate back in 2019. He offered the following solution to Lehigh’s losing streak, which stretches to 2019:
“Attitude, effort, and execution are the keys,” Hill said. “As long we have those three things, there’s nothing we can’t do on the field. We haven’t executed as well as we can. There’s nothing wrong with us physically. We’re young and once we get everyone up to game speed, we’ll be rolling. We have hunger. We want to win, we want to succeed.”
“We’re starting to figure out how hard it is to win a college football game,” junior DB TyGee Leach added, another standout performer from that game in 2019. “We need to put in the work to accomplish that goal.”
The good news is that it should be more of an even matchup than their first three games against powerhouse competition. The bad news is that the stakes are extremely high for both teams, and for a team that has struggled to get going on offense, that could spell bad news.
I was tempted to not make a prediction in this game because it really doesn’t seem like we’ve seen either team anywhere close to their best. It will not be a 6-3 game. My fearless prediction is that the team that figures it out first, and executes it first, will hang on to win the game. If Lehigh comes out quick, puts the pressure on Colgate early, clamps down on defense, and wins the turnover battle, the script might reverse. Unfortunately with Breneman at quarterback, I think the team that figures things out first might be Colgate.
Colgate 27, Lehigh 20
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
Reach him at: this email or click below: