Over the years, Lehigh/Colgate games have earned their reputation as being big games in the Patriot League race.
Start with the history of the Patriot League. Lehigh and Colgate own or share fourteen Patriot League championships in football. They own six of the seven postseason wins in the FCS playoffs of the Patriot League. (Fordham has the other.)
Many years, this game looms as important as to determining the champion of the Patriot League - and for precious bids to the FCS playoffs. And as a result, fans have flocked to this game in the past. In 2004, the Lehigh/Colgate clash was a battle of Top 20 teams, and was played in front of 13.929 fans.
But this "Hate the 'Gate" rivalry - as coined by one-time Lehigh LB Matt Mohler - hasn't been the same in the past three years. The Mountain Hawks haven't been nationally ranked now for quite some time, while Colgate has often been in the FCS Top 25. Furthermore, Lehigh has lost their last three games to the Raiders, meaning this year's seniors haven't enjoyed a victory yet over Colgate and a school that most likely recruited them as high school seniors as strongly as did Lehigh. (more)
While Lehigh still boasts more undergraduates than Colgate, both are elite private universities that are basically at the same level as the Ivies academically. Colgate has a bit more of a liberal arts bent, while Lehigh started out more as an engineering, technical school, but both are essentially elite liberal arts universities that are world-class.
When it comes to football and playoffs, Lehigh and Colgate are always in the conversation to prospective students, and they recruit many of the same players. The Patriot League's academic index ensures that prospective football players are academically qualified to handle Lehigh's and Colgate's challenging workload, and of all the players in our region that meet those standards, the recruiting battles are fierce. For example, former RB Matt McGowan out of Hazleton went to Lehigh, but the next big back to come out of there is now the star starting running back for the Raiders. It's not just highly coveted western Pennsylvania/Coal region recruits, either: such battles, more often, are happening across the country, and many of the players on both teams were recruited by the other.
In recent history, Colgate has dominated this rivalry in the win column the last three years, even if most years on the scoreboard this game is a dogfight until the very end.
But even though the games are almost always competitive, this year's game has a feel to it that has been absent the past three years. It's more than just being about "Hating the 'Gate" this time around.
This the earliest in the season head coach Andy Coen has had five victories in his head coaching career at Lehigh. It's also the first time since 2006 that Lehigh was ahead of Colgate in the Patriot League title race during Coen's tenure.
It's also the first time going into the Colgate game that coach Coen's team has had a three-game winning streak at home to protect. They've had two game winning streaks to protect before - notably in 2007 - but a humiliating 59-10 loss to Holy Cross not only killed their winning momentum at home, but also essentially eliminated Lehigh from title consideration that year.
Maybe that's why coach Coen told Keith Groller of the Morning Call that "this is an important game for me and this football team. If you want to win the championship, and we certainly do, you have to win this game. As big a lift as the win on the road at Harvard was, this one would be a much bigger lift."
In many ways, this Lehigh team has had a long, two-year process to psychologically dig out from under that historic Holy Cross defeat. A lot was lost that day. The mystique that Lehigh would always protect their home turf. The legend that Lehigh was a perennial force to be reckoned with, year in and year out. That the Mountain Hawks would just simply win because, "hey, we're Lehigh".
In 2008, too, another two-game home winning streak was shattered by none other than Dick Biddle's Colgate Raiders. Aided by some crucial missed extra points by Lehigh - and a huge TD reception in the closing minutes by WR Pat "The Mountain Hawk Killer" Simonds - Colgate hung on to a 34-33 victory en route to another Patriot League title and appearance in the FCS playoffs for Colgate. It was an opportunity for Lehigh to escape their purgatory of being a middle-of-the-pack team in the Patriot League, but ultimately they were unsuccessful.
It's 2010 now, and once again Lehigh has an opportunity to prove that they "Hate the 'Gate". They have an opportunity to do something they haven't been able to do in the last three years: beat Dick Biddle's Raiders, and beat the school that passed them over, the school that disrespected them.
But they also have an opportunity to bring back some other traditions to Lehigh football, too. Winning records. Making Murray Goodman stadium a place where opponents fear to visit. Competing for Patriot League championships. Competing for playoff spots.
That's why this is the biggest game to be played at Murray Goodman stadium for quite some time.
"Hate the 'Gate", indeed.
The game notes still show that senior OL Keith Schauder is still off the depth chart against Colgate, which means that senior OL R.J. McNamara will be starting at left guard with junior OL Stephen Ganoe backing him up. The "O" line hasn't missed a beat with Schauder out so far, though, as the Mountain Hawks racked up 181 yard rushing last weekend.
Freshman FB Sean Farrell starts again at fullback, while two key players return for Lehigh: senior CB/KR John "Prez" Kennedy and senior TE Alex Wojdowski. The effects of "Prez" and "Wojdo" coming back full strength are huge: a top kickoff returner in the Patriot League/tough cover corner and a big passing target for junior QB Chris Lum to complement sophomore WR Ryan Spadola. These guys will be huge this Saturday.
Senior PK Tom Randazza, too, will be the kicker this weekend after sophomore PK Jake Peery has slumped in recent weeks.
For the first time since I can remember, Lehigh will be closing out their home football schedule with yet another picture-perfect fall day. The early weather report calls for a partly cloudy day with a high of about 59 degrees - as with the rest of Lehigh's home schedule, a perfect time to enjoy the fall foliage at its peak and tailgating in somewhat brisk, but overall very warm, weather.
(Maybe global warming's not so bad after all. There, I said it.)
A Word on Colgate
This rivalry has come a long way from that 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 modern times, instrumental in setting up the annual rivalry between Colgate and Lehigh was former head football coach Fred Dunlap, who was a star football player at Colgate. 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.
During most of Colgate's time in the Patriot League, head coach Dick Biddle has been the Raiders' head coach for most of that time - he's in his 15th year of coaching the Raiders He's gained a reputation as not wanting to be seen - or heard - in media events. Straight-talking coach Biddle, looking about as comfortable as a zebra at a lion convention, frequently found himself off to the side during this year's Patriot League Media Day, away from the Colgate table, talking to reporters one-on-one in a more comfortable setting for him. Away from the lights, he told folks that he was liking his team this year - and, with characteristic understatement, talked about the potential of his squad, notably his offensive line.
With Colgate not hosting any media days - no word if it's at Biddle's request - the local papers don't offer a lot of local coverage of the Raiders. It stands in stark contrast to Lehigh, who has had two local papers covering the Mountain Hawks for ages, have regular press events and even have some crazy blogger documenting their team. It's just another difference between the two schools - and what makes this rivalry special.
LFN's Drink of the Week
The Hazelton connection with Lehigh and Colgate runs deep, so it's apropos that I pull from the restaurant "Top of the 80s", a top-end family restaurant in Wet Hazelton, to get an inspiration for the "Drink of the Week".
If you've got a high-end tailgate, perhaps you want to ask for something that will rally your tailgate over the top: some mushroom-encrusted NY Strip Steak, to honor the stripping that Lehigh will hopefully administer to the Raiders this Saturday. If you do, a nice Cabernet Sauvingon (my favorite comes from Beringer Vineyards) is the perfect complement to that dish. (Can the strip steak be served in a roll?)
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, Top of the 80's? Call me.)
Breaking down Colgate
The good news about Colgate is: you absolutely know what you're going to get. The bad news is, too: you absolutely know what you're going to get.
Subtlety is not head coach Dick Biddle's calling card on offense. Biddle 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 senior QB Greg Sullivan, the preseason Patriot League Offensive Player of the year and a prototypical hard-to-bring-down, scrappy competitor who will just as easily beat you with his legs as with his arms. Sullivan fits perfectly with the legacy of mobile Colgate QBs like QB Chris Brown, who double up as running backs with great improvisation ability.
At 6'1, 217, he's tough to bring down when he takes off either through designed runs or broken plays (467 yards, 6 TDs), but while it's easy to characterize Colgate as a run-first team, you ignore Sullivan's passing ability at your peril. His numbers (919 yards passing, 4 TDs) are misleading: he's got a 63% completion rate, and he has a stronger arm than most realize. The last two years, he connected with WR Pat "The Mountain Hawk Killer" Simonds for a whole lot of touchdowns, including the game-winner in 2008. That was the story of those games, not the rushing game.
Of course, Colgate boasts the No. 2-rated rushing attack in all of FCS, and reason for that is senior FB Gigi Cadet and junior RB Nate Eachus. Eachus - the Hazelton product that has to be the best 5'10, 216 lb power running back in all of Division I football - is the guy who gets the yardage, but it's Cadet whose role as an extra lineman is sometimes forgotten in all the accolades for Eachus, who is a finalist for the Sports Network's Walter Payton award. Eachus' 1,171 yards and 14 TDs in seven games speaks for itself, but he's also got a surprising second gear after he's powered through your defensive front seven. He's just a really tough player to bring down.
Cadet and Eachus also receive the ball out of the backfield as well, combining for 547 yards receiving. They mostly will be short stuff, counting on the fact that defensive backs won't be able to tackle either one one-on-one. Cadet, at 5'11, 225, is an even more bruising back to bring down off a screen than Eachus, incredibly.
Whether running or passing, the Raiders are quite happy to let their offensive line - led by two young 300 lb mammoths, sophomore OL Ryan Risch and sophomore OL Brian Crockett - smash you in the mouth and let Eachus run you over. When Eachus gets a little tired, Sullivan has a tendency to throw completions to the sticks. Then, it's rinse, lather, repeat - until you've lost. Lehigh's front seven will be facing their biggest physical matchup since the Villanova game with these two backs and Sullivan.
But once again, it's those passing downs that have killed Lehigh in the past, and Sullivan's primary target has been 6'2 senior WR Doug Rosnick (480 yards receiving, 4 TDs). With 6'3 sophomore WR Jonathan Mputu (11 catches, 67 yards) on the other side, Sullivan has some tall receivers to throw to when the time is right. While Eachus will probably get the stats, containing Rosnick to under 100 yards receiving and limiting him to 1 TD at best will probably be the key to the effectiveness of Lehigh's defense.
Colgate plays a multiple 4-3 defense that loves to blitz early and often. Another statistic that sometimes gets overlooked is that the Raiders have the No. 1-rated defense in terms of total yards allowed. In fact, they are the 15th-best defense in that category in all of FCS.
The Raiders boast a pair of fearsome defensive ends in senior DE Zach Smith and senior DE Lamont Sonds, who both have 9 tackles for loss apiece. The interior line of converted offensive lineman junior NT Greg Kalaf and sophomore DT Tyler Danielsen, however, might provide some opportunity for Lehigh to gain yards running between the tackles, even though at 277 and 283 lbs respectively they clog up the middle well.
Senior LB Chis DiMassa (66 tackles 2 1/2 sacks) is the tackle machine in the middle for Colgate, who seem to breed LBs better than Penn State these days. Sophomore LB Pat Friel (48 tackles) and junior LB Adam Lock (21 tackles, 1 forced fumble) round out a unit that is relatively young outside of the tackle machine DiMassa. Overall, teams have been able to run on the Raiders, however, so it's something to consider doing.
Colgate's secondary is a strong unit, despite the fact that they don't have many interceptions. Sophomore CB Demetri Diamond is a speedy DB that is a favorite to blitz at any moment, and senior FS Brad Keele (20 tackles) leads this unit in the secondary. Junior CB Kenny McKenzie, like Diamond, is also a favorite to blitz off the outside as well - potentially opening up holes in pass coverage in the right situations. Senior DB Coree Moses also stands out as a solid nickel back.
In last week's game against Holy Cross, special teams arguably lost the game for the Raiders, so you know they will have been dogged all week by the coaching staff. Having said that, special teams could be a huge plus in Lehigh's game as Colgate's return units have not been great so far this year. Junior RB Noah Jackson (574 yards in kickoff returns) and senior PR Gary Marshall (28 yards in punt returns) have been mild, so far, at best. They will be challenged, however, to up their game this week, so it will be critical for Lehigh to deliver on special teams and not allow them to break one.
Sophomore PK Evan Colborne has gone 5/6 on field goals, his longest being 34 yards, but has missed 3 PAT's so far this year. Sophomore P Evan Goldszak has been a very solid punter, averaging more than 40 yards per boot.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Get Up Early. With a lead, Colgate is awfully hard to beat, as they wear you down physically and limit the opportunities to catch them. Get up early on them - as Holy Cross did last week - Colgate has to play catch-up, something that their run-oriented offense is less well equipped to do. Coming out with guns blazing will be key to Lehigh's chances.
2. Don't be afraid to run. It's tempting to throw early and often, but if Lehigh's going to win this game they're going to need to run the ball effectively with senior RB Jay Campbell and sophomore RB Zach Barket to keep time of possession more on Lehigh's offense rather than the defense. Balance could be crucial.
3. The Brown Swarm. If Lehigh is to slow down Eachus - he'll most likely get his yardage - they'll need to swarm to the ball. Not only on rushing between the tackles, either - during sweeps, screen passes and everywhere. Lehigh will need a lot of assisted tackles, and maybe even team tackles, to win this game. This defense cannot rest on one player. It will take a team to contain this Colgate offense - passing as well as running.
4. The Other Stuff. Winning in the "other stuff" category of the stat sheet - return yardage, penalties, turnovers - will be huge, too. In a close game - and Lehigh/Colgate games generally are - the Mountain Hawks will need to win that part of the stat sheet to have a chance to win.
LFN's Fearless Prediction
It's not the end of the season, and it's not by any stretch the Patriot League Championship Game. But it is the last home game of the year - and, by extension, Senior Day - and has implications for the Patriot League championship. It's "the biggest non-Lafayette game in coach Coen's career", Keith Groller said in his pregame article this week, and he's right. It's a crossroads game. Win, and Lehigh's seniors are honored, home field advantage has returned to Goodman and Lehigh becomes the team with the target on their backs the rest of the way. Lose, and it's same old Lehigh, can't win the big game against Colgate, they lay out the welcome mat at Goodman for the best teams in the Patriot League.
Is this team ready to take that step? The step from rebuilding team to possible Patriot League champion?
Lehigh 23, Colgate 21