Before the season even started, Colgate senior RB Nate Eachus had to have looked at this home game at Andy Kerr stadium and thought it would be his best opportunity to put on a show.
The preseason Patriot League favorite for the Payton award didn't say anything about - he's too humble for that - but you have to believe he knew that the national TV coverage on CBS Sports Network, and Colgate's traditional place in the Patriot League hunt, gave him a chance to show off his skills on a national level.
He did have a pretty good day in his final game against Lehigh, with a gutty performance befitting the Hazelton, PA native.
But it ended up paling in comparison to the guy doing the same job on the other sideline.
In my "Keys to the Game" this week, I said how important it would be for Lehigh to get out to a fast start and not give Colgate any sort of lead to sit on.
It didn't exactly start out that way.
After freshman RB Jason Suggs set Lehigh up in good field position after a good opening return, and junior RB Zach Barket busted through the Colgate defense for a fourteen yard rumble on the second play from scrimmage, Lehigh stalled at the 38 and ended up punting.
Colgate then got the ball back, and embarked on a quintessential Colgate drive: 14 plays, 67 yards, with Eachus making timely runs and sophomore QB Gavin McCarney making key passes and converting a key 4th down.
After junior LB Billy Boyko stopped junior WR Jonathan Mputu short of the sticks, though, the Raiders hat to settle for a 30 yard field goal by freshman PK Joe Uglietto.
But Barket wasn't going to just sit back and let Eachus and McCarney steal the show.
On the very next drive, he escaped for an eleven yard gain, and then a fourteen yard one to get into Colgate territory.
And with three straight runs of more than ten yards, Colgate's pass defense came up to keep an eye on Zach - which allowed junior TE Jamel Haggins to get wide open in the middle of the field for a 33 yard touchdown grab.
After a huge three and out on the Raiders' next drive, with senior LB Mike Groome standing up Eachus a yard short of the sticks, Barket would feature again on the next drive, with a 12 yard run, and then a 39 yard counter trey which he'd explode around the block around right tackle and accellerate into the end zone to give Lehigh a 14-3 lead.
In his first five touches of the football, he had five runs over ten yards, and over 90 yards of rushing overall.
It was just the beginning of his breakout, 188 yard rushing, 4 touchdown day, where he would end up easily outgaining Eachus by the end of the first half.
"You had to be impressed by the running game." head coach Andy Coen said afterwards, "All the guys did a great job running the football, senior WR/RB Matt Fitz, senior QB Chris Lum did a nice job, with his leadership, getting us in the right place. I'm really happy with the offense."
After Colgate bounced back, with a leaping grab by junior WR Chris Looney and a 42 yard field goal by Uglietto to cut the deficit to two, the Lehigh offense would again need to respond to keep ahead of the Raiders and - who else? - Barket would hear his number called once again.
In a run that pretty much summed up the day for the Schuykill Haven, PA native, Lum would fake out the entire Colgate defense, fading right before lofting the ball to the left side, into the sure hands of Barket for a screen pass. After kicking into gear, Barket would swim through several tacklers - carrying a few of them - into the end zone, where the ball would cross the plane for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
"I think we went punch-for-punch with them, which was really important," Barket said after the game. "This game was a dogfight, and we hadn't been in one of those in a while.
In the second half, Lum would get some critical third and fourth down conversions to keep long drives alive, including a sneak on 4th and 1 and a perfectly designed pass to senior TE Mark Wickware to set up Barket's third touchdown of the afternoon, a 6 yard run off tackle.
"Any time you can win a game up here it’s impressive," Coen said. "Our kids played well. Colgate played well on offense. They did a nice job keeping our guys off balance, but we made stops when we had to. Offensively we were pretty seamless in the second half. On our first four drives we scored three touchdowns and a field goal. Chris (Lum) did not have crazy numbers throwing the ball but we were very efficient throwing the ball. Today was another day with close to 500 yards of total offense, points so I’m very pleased with that."
Yet Colgate, and Eachus, would not go away quietly into the night.
Matching the Mountain Hawks score for score, McCarney and Eachus did their level best to keep the Raiders in the game, with an impressive 8 yard pass to Nate for one score - where, he, too, showed some good hands - and a power run down the right side for the other.
"We knew he was a good back," Boyko said, "He posed a lot of challenges, but we stepped up when we had to.
Sandwiched around a 34 yard field goal attempt by sophomore P/K Tim Divers, all of a sudden it was a one score game again, 31-25, with 13:35 left in the fourth quarter.
Coen and offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini responded with something Lehigh hasn't needed to do much of this year: grind out the ball.
Using a variety of rushes, with Barket, Fitz, and Wildcat junior QB Michael Colvin, the Mountain Hawks would grind out a drive with eight rushes and 42 yards.
Lehigh's "O" line would allow all Mountain Hawk rushers to average more than 5 yards a carry, including a 4th and 2 conversion where Colvin would keep on an option run. On another big play, the center would push Colgate's defensive line forward to give Colvin another five yard gain.
Having established the run, it would be Lum, again, taking a screen toss and busting through the line to get his 4th touchdown on the afternoon.
“Zach was playing well and had that injury against Princeton,” Coen said. “We limited his play a bit in the last four games, but today was really the first time where we really said he’s the guy until he gets tired. He did a great job.”
"Playing with one arm isn't the easiest thing to do," Barket said to Michael LoRe of the Express-Times after the game, admitting for the first time that his dislocated shoulder hampered him greatly during the month of October. "The more it heals, the better I'm becoming."
When asked by Keith Groller whether the cold weather suited him, he agreed. "This is typical Coal region weather, just like Friday night" Barket said, of the brisk, 41 degree cold. "I tend to get stronger as the game goes on, and it's kind of my environment today.
After Lehigh's defense eventually stopped McCarney in Lehigh territorry - even though two defensive penalties would keep Colgate's hopes alive - it would be Fitz, breaking through for a 44 yard run, and a 9 yard touchdown toss to senior WR Jake Drwal, that would put Colgate's upset bid to bed.
"This was our opportunity, on national TV, to rise up and show the world what we're all about," Boyko said. "We've got to keep the streak going."
"This will make us stronger going forward," Barket added. "We're going to have another point where we're going to be in a dogfight in the fourth quarter, and we're going to need our energy to close things out."
"We have a lot of kids that come out and work hard," Coen said, "really, selfless-type kids, that come out and knows what it means to be on a team. They seem to be stepping up at the right time.
"We'll really be tested here, this next month, but I'm obviously very pleased about where we're at right now."