Sunday, November 17, 2013
Lehigh Avenges Last Year's Loss to Colgate in Spectacular Fashion, 31-14
They remembered the chaos on the field last year at Murray Goodman Stadium, when Colgate beat Lehigh and celebrated on their field, Lehigh's field, after their championship win.
They remembered the team photos. The hats. The championship trophy. The championship picture. In their house.
And they remembered that they didn't want to see that again this season.
For the second straight week, senior RB Keith Sherman ran over a Patriot League opponent. For the second time in two must-win games, Lehigh won a game they had to have to keep their Patriot League title and playoff hopes alive.
But up in Hamilton, it wasn't a time of whooping and hollering after the game.
It was a line and a postgame handshake - in other words, business. And Lehigh, in their most complete defensive performance of the season, got their business done in very impressive fashion.
"This team needed very little motivation from the coaches," Andy Coen said after the victory. "They deserved to win, but nobody was going to hand it to them. They've been through a lot this year and they've handled things very well on and off the field. Now we're playing at a level that's been consistent over the last couple of games."
At the opening of the game, it looked like this was going to be a typical Lehigh/Colgate war, with freshman QB Nick "Shaf" Shafnisky thrown into the line of fire in his first collegiate start.
After the Raiders stopped Shaf and the offense at midfield on Lehigh's first drive, Colgate QB Gavin McCarney picked apart and marched the Raider offense down the field with a series of surgical strikes, handing it off to RB Demetrius Russell to cap off a Colgate-esque 13-play, 82 yard drive with a 2 yard touchdown run.
Then the Lehigh defense did something they hadn't done all season.
After a fantastic punt by senior P Tim Divers went out of bounds at the Colgate 2 yard line, Lehigh's defense came at McCarney, with sophomore LB Noah Robb blitzing fast from the inside and stripping the ball.
It popped right into the hands of junior DE Tim Newton, who brought it into the end zone and scored, giving Lehigh their first defensive touchdown on the season.
"I was upset at first because I thought I missed a sack," Newton said. "I got up and the next thing you know, the ball is flying into my hands. I just caught it and instinctively fell into the end zone. I think that's the first touchdown I've scored in about eight or nine years. I don't know if I even scored a touchdown in high school."
Then the afternoon started getting better and better for the Mountain Hawks.
After McCarney was running for dear life from senior LB Nigel Muhammad on the ensuing drive, he had to throw the ball away deep on the sidelines, and the Raiders had to punt.
Shaf then handed the ball to senior RB Keith "Tank" Sherman, and he started to grind out yards in chunks, gaining about 20 yards on six carries, moving the sticks and getting tough yards.
And once Colgate's defense started to make a move to stop it, Lehigh made them pay twice, first on a deep pass from junior WR Josh Parris to senior WR Lee Kurfis to the 5 yard line, then a gorgeous touch pass from Shaf to a place where only Kurfis could catch it, on the right edge of the end zone, to give Lehigh a 14-7 lead.
“We knew every game we had to win and each game that goes by, the stakes get higher and higher,” Kurfis said afterwards. “It’s the momentum I like seeing build up and build up and we’re going to kind of unleash that against Lafayette because it means a lot and it’s for the title. We’re going to be fired up.”
The defense wold force two more big turnovers in the half to keep Colgate scoreless, first with an interception in the end zone by junior CB Damien Brown and another to close the half by senior SS Rickie Hill. Lehigh would also tack on a 36 yard field goal by freshman PK Ryan Pandy to head into the locker room up 17-7.
Coming out of the locker room, too, it continued to get better.
After senior FS Tyler Ward stopped Colgate RB Jimmy DeCicco well short of a first down, sophomore DB Olivier Rigaud partially blocked the Raider punt, allowing Sherman to undoubtedly lick his chops, starting their first offensive drive at the Colgate 49.
He'd bust through for a 23 yard gain, soon setting up Kurfis' second touchdown grab of the afternoon. Kurfis would have his first 100 yard receiving day since the Columbia game.
Desperately needing to make something happen, Colgate embarked on a 17 play, 72 yard drive, converting a a big 4th down conversion to TE Kevin O'Connell to set up a 23 yard touchdown run by DeCicco, a burst through the line, to cut the deficit to 24-14.
But it was Colgate's next possession, where fierce Lehigh pressure forced a McCarney pass to float away from TE John Quazza in the end zone on 4th down, that the game finally turned completely in Lehigh's favor.
After getting the ball back on downs, "Tank" Sherman took the game by the throat, taking a beautiful toss after a brilliant fake deep by Shaf, motoring to the 2 yard line on the 23 yard screen pass.
One play and 2 inevitable yards later, Sherman would get his only touchdown on the day - but the most important, the one that would give Lehigh an insurmountable 31-14 lead, and the revenge they so desperately seeked.
“When a starting quarterback (senior QB Brandon Bialkowski) goes down, the whole offense changes,” Sherman said. “When one guy goes down another guy has to step up. I like to say we’re a family and once a big brother goes down, a young brother has to take over the family. Senior leaders like Lee and I on offense stepped up and we’re right where we want to be.”
“We had a few losses this season that we really didn’t like, obviously, but right now we’re right where we want to be: playing for the title against our big rival. I don’t think we could be in a better place.”