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Game Preview: Lehigh at Colgate

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably figured out that the Yankees and Phillies will be facing off at Citizen Bank Park for a double dip this weekend (Series tied at 1), and the hated Giants come to the Linc to face the Eagles for first place in the NFC East.

While the composition of the Lehigh student population is most likely split down the middle when it comes to fan allegiences in these two series (I have an annoying number of fellow Lehigh alums that are also Yankee fans), there's another Pennsylvania/New York grudge match happening as well this weekend.

This one is happening in Hamilton, New York, as the Mountain Hawks and Raiders will face off for the 48th time in their history.

It may not involve the same level of hatred as the Giants and the Eagles, but it's damned close - and it feeds from that Pennsy/Noo Yawk thing, too. It wasn't coined "Hate the 'Gate" week by LB Matt Mohler a few years ago for nothing.

Lehigh and Colgate own or share fourteen Patriot League championships. They own six of the seven postseason wins in the FCS playoffs of the Patriot League. (Fordham has the other.) When it comes to academics, football and playoffs, Lehigh and Colgate are always in the conversation to prospective students, and they recruit many of the same players. For example, RB Matt McGowan out of Hazleton went to Lehigh, and the next big back to come out of there is now suiting up for the Raiders.

Lehigh leads the series against Colgate 7-6 since Dick Biddle became Colgate's head coach in 1996. Andy Coen is 2-2 against the Raiders. There have been blowouts and some high-scoring affairs, but most have been close. And many times, Patriot League title hopes have been on the line, which has made for intense football games. These Halloween games have been treats to watch.

Last year, a heartwrenching 34-33 by Lehigh was simply par for the course this series. Some missed extra points - a Raider drive in the final two minutes - and testy words after the game between coach Coen and coach Biddle defined this loss as Lehigh's losing season was clinched and Colgate's drive to yet another Patriot League championship remained intact.

This year, though, against all odds 2-5 Lehigh's in the thick of this title race with an expected 2-0 sweep of Georgetown and Bucknell. And No. 25th-ranked Colgate - who was undefeated before falling to 7-1 last weekend - is a 1-1 in the Patriot League, and desperately need a win to either get another Patriot League title or qualify as an at-large team in the playoffs.

While the past has seen two teams on the path to titles and playoffs, this year the game has the feel of two teams desperate for a huge momentum boost. A win here for Colgate gives them a boost to surge to a title, and a win for Lehigh turns around a season that seemed to be nearly off the rails. That makes for a compelling matchup - and it's also got that Pennsy/Noo Yawk thing, too.

For both teams, it's go time in Hamilton.

Game Notes
The game notes show one big change for Lehigh: another freshman being asked to start. Freshman K Jake Peery jumps ahead of junior K Tom Randazza on the depth chart after Peery replaced Randazza after a missed extra point and a blocked extra point last weekend. In addition, freshman TE Jamel Haggins, who picked up that blocked kick for a two-point conversion, was elevated to second TE as well. I'd still imagine we'll see junior TE Alex Wojdowski and sophomore TE Mark Wickware play in any case.

On defense, sophomore LB Colin "The Final Piece of the Puzzle" Newton returns after getting injured early against Bucknell, while sophomore LB Tanner Rivas backs him up instead of the injured junior LB Ben Flizack.

Colgate's game notes can be found here.

Weather Report
It shouldn't be a snowy day in upstate New York - but it won't be pretty, either. The current weather report is calling for a 50% chance of showers and a high of 59 - with possible 20 to 30 mph winds. For the third straight week, weather could be a factor in a Lehigh game.

A Word on Colgate
The rivalry between Lehigh and Colgate has come a long way from the first game in 1922, which was played in Johnson City near Binghamton, NY. It was set up by William Fisher, the athletics director of the Endicott-Johnson corporation, and Lehigh's athletics director at the time, H.R. Reiter. The New York Times reported that the game "will be of great interest to all Central New York and Pennsylvania, and will probably result in an annual contest in Johnson City."

Although the yearly meeting in Johnson City wasn't meant to be, both national powers at that time battled fiercely, by account of the New York Times. Lehigh center "Wild Bill" Springsteen recovered a fumble for a touchdown to go up 6-0, but the Maroons (as they were then called) piled up 35 unanswered points to win that inaugural game 35-6.

In the modern era, former Lehigh head football coach Fred Dunlap, who was a star football player at Colgate, helped get the Raiders and Mountain Hawks together in the Patriot League. He saw how similar Colgate and Lehigh were in terms of academics and athletics. And when the Patriot League formed in 1987, it was natural that Lehigh's northern rival be included along with Holy Cross, Lafayette, Bucknell, Lehigh and Davidson.

More recently, this game has generally featured prominently in the battle for the Patriot League title, which has brought this historic rivalry into sharper focus. Since 1997, Lehigh or Colgate have been either outright or co-champions in every Patriot League title. One of those games featured another sophomore quarterback: QB Sedale Threatt, in his second start in relief of injured starter Mark Borda, who helped drop 50 on the Raiders in a wild 50-34 victory in 2005.

LFN's Drink of the Week
It's not for the faint of heart, but in a day where we need the (formerly known as Red) Raiders' title hopes to "die", we need some Red Death to help them on their way. Vodka, Southern Comfort, Amaretto, Sloe Gin, Triple Sec - and oh, yeah, some Orange Juice and Lime Juice - one of these, and you'll be plenty ready to take on wind and rain.

As always, drinks of the week have a place in responsible tailgates: that means being over 21 and drinking responsibly. Don't make me hunt you down and show you the other meaning of Red... well, beatdown.

Breaking Down Colgate
Offense
Subtlety is not head coach Dick Biddle's calling card on offense. Biddle, now in his 14th year at Colgate, likes to line up a huge offensive line and pound you until you can't get up again, lulling the pass defense to sleep and then striking right at it for huge gains. He doesn't have RB Jordan Scott around anymore to be the main rock-carrier, but he still has plenty of weapons.

Start with junior QB Greg Sullivan, who has been a devastating rushing quarterback all year. His ability to lead, make good decisions and improvise - and run with the ball (603 yards rushing and 6 rushing TDs, to lead the nation in rushing yards for a QB)- makes him difficult for defenses to deal with. Whether on designed runs, broken plays or quick passes (96 for 168, 10 TDs, only 3 INTs), Sullivan is a top-flight QB that doesn't make a lot of mistakes.

Two stud running backs join him in the backfield to run the football - Hazelton sophomore RB Nate Eachus (600 yards, 10 TDs) and sophomore RB Jordan McCord (704 yards, 5 TDs). Eachus is more of a power runner - low to the ground, hard to bring down, and doesn't shy from contact, where McCord has more pure speed around the corner. They don't really do a lot of screens or passing to these guys - they, along with Sullivan, mix up all their running styles during offensive drives. It's allowed Colgate to have the No. 2 rushing offense in the nation.

When defenses put eight in the box, Biddle then turns to the pass - and he has an NFL-caliber receiver to turn to. 6'6 senior WR Pat Simonds (671 yards passing, 8 TDs) killed Lehigh last year with 3 TDs, and unsurprisingly he's had a great season so far this year, too as a possession receiver. Junior WR Doug Rosnick (258 yards) is also a possession guy who's a good blocker downfield. Freshman WR John Schandeman is the only real "speed guy" on the Raiders, but he hasn't broken out yet this year. Other receiving threats involve blocking junior FB Gigi Cadet and junior TE Nick Cvetic.

The Colgate "O" line is smaller than in years past, but it doesn't make them any less talented. 280 lb senior OL Zach Posey, 276 lb senior OL Ryan Gross and 272 lb senior OL Rob Budny demonstrate the level of senior leadership on this line that generally has won the battle of the trenches this year. Don't be fooled by the weight numbers in the program: these big boys can play. They've only allowed 8 sacks all year, too.

Defense
Colgate plays a multiple 4-3 defense that loves to blitz early and often. It's a unit that still misses CB Wayne Moten (who left prior to this season) but still boasts six seniors. They're a defense that is ranked 27th in all of FCS in terms of total yards per game (296).

The "D" boasts 25 sacks on the year, many coming from junior DE Lamont Sonds (2 1/2). Senior NT Paul Mancuso (24 tackles, 1 sack) is a great run-stopper as well. Mancuso, senior DE Austin Douglas and senior DT Carlton Walker form a big "D" line in general, averaging more than 260 lbs across. It's not easy to run against these guys.

Senior LB Greg Hadley (45 tackles) is the team captain, but it's senior LB Garrington Spence that has been a one-man wrecking crew this year with 42 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 1/2 sacks. He's everywhere on the field, and he makes this front seven tough to deal with as well. Depth, however, may be a concern: McCord, the running back very much in the rotation on offense, is listed on the two deep at linebacker.

Junior CB Corree Moses (2 INTs) and senior FS Uzi Idah (41 tackles) form a solid Raider secondary. Sophomore SS Vinnie Nicosia (1 INT) and freshman CB Demetri Diamond (1 INT) complete the unit that's only allowing 190 passing yards per game.

Special Teams
If there's one area where Lehigh has a definite edge this week, it's special teams. The Raiders' return units are not only last in the Patriot League, they're near the bottom of FCS in terms of yardage. Freshman WR John Schandeman only averages 4 yards per punt return and 18 yards per kickoff return, and freshman DB Jamar Brown is only a little bit better on the other side.

Freshman P Trevor Lawler has taken over the punting duties since freshman P Evan Goldszak went down with an injury. Last week against Holy Cross, he only averaged 31 yards per punt. Freshman K Evan Colborne has done a great job on kickoffs but has only been 3-for-5 on FGs - the longest being 30 yards.

Keys to the Game
1. Let's Get Physical. The trenches of Colgate are daunting, but Lehigh's "O" and "D" lines can and should be able to win these battles this weekend. If senior FB Anthony Fossati is picking up the blitz and having fun doling out some punishment to Colgate's "D", it means we're having a good day and will have a chance to win.
2. Take Care of the Ball. Sullivan won't give you many chances, so it is crucial that Lehigh doesn't donate free points this week to the Raiders. Two hands on the ball; not forcing the ball into triple coverage; and making good decisions will be impertiave to a Lehigh win.
3. Big Plays on Special Teams. On paper, Lehigh can use this advantage to be a great equalizer. A big return by junior CB Jarard "Fearless" Cribbs or junior CB John "Prez" Kennedy could be the difference in the game.
4. Third and long. Stuffing the run, with Sullivan, McCord and Eachus running the ball, is a given. Taking away Simonds as the primary passing option is another given. But forcing the Colgate offense to enter obvious passing situations would give Lehigh a real chance to force stops and turnovers. The more third and long situations the Mountain Hawks force, the better Lehigh's chances of winning.

Fearless Prediction
Saturday, we will learn what this Lehigh team is made of. There's no two ways about it.

It's the biggest game of the year; it's the "other" Patriot League rival; and the games get no easier after this weekend. It's been a disappointing season so far, but Lehigh is still 2-0 on the Patriot League and still have their fans hoping - if not entirely believing - that they can win the Patriot League championship.

Last week provides hope that the offense has worked out their kinks and have the capability of putting up four scores on Colgate's defense. Lehigh's defense, tops in the Patriot League, have the capability of disrupting the Raider offense. And on special teams, it's hard to escape the conclusion "advantage: Lehigh".

If Lehigh cleans up the errors - cleans up the penalties, takes care of the ball - they have a chance to tell the world that they will be heard from this year, and that they still can, against all odds, make a run at this thing.

Maybe I have to believe this - maybe it's a pick from my heart, not my brain - but I think Lehigh's going to shock a lot of people this Saturday.

Lehigh 22, Colgate 13

Comments

ngineer said…
I know what you mean. On paper and history, Colgate should win by two scores. But something tells me we get a few breaks, like special teams and turnovers, while holding down ours. Last week was a boost of confidence and the Brown defense will maintain their stable play. A rainy day, as well, will finally provide something positive for Lehigh. I take a drag of the same 'stuff' and say Lehigh, 24-20.

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