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Mountain Hawks Find Their Reagent, Combine Perfectly For Huge 45-31 Win Over Colgate

At times it felt like the playing field was just the personal playground of WR Gatlin Casey, especially when he broke free for a 93 yard kickoff return for a touchdown.  But it was more than that.

At other times, it felt like the defense, with freshman FS Riley O'Neil pouncing on a loose ball after a sophomore SS Sam McCloskey forced fumble. was the critical piece to keeping Colgate from winning this game.  But it was more than that.

And at other times, it felt like the offense, under the expert signalcalling of senior QB Nick Shafnisky, kept finding big plays, on many occasions to Casey, that kept the game out of reach for the Raiders.

In reality, it was all three phases of the game for Lehigh that finally formed the chemical reaction somewhere in the middle of the first half that erased a 17-7 deficit and transformed the different bits and pieces into an impressive 45-31 victory.

For in the first half, down 14-7, the game looked like it might just get away from the Mountain Hawks.

There were moments that it seemed like the winning chemical reaction wouldn't happen, like the time when the defense gave up a 75 yard touchdown to Colgate QB Jake Melville on the first offensive play of the game

There were drives in the first half when the Lehigh offense would stall, for example after the Mountain Hawks would getting the ball back on a Riley O'Neil interception, they'd turn the ball right back over, losing momentum.

There were other times when a kickoff return, fielded by Casey, seemed like they were a block away from being broken completely, but weren't.

On one return, a 40 yard return, Casey fell to the ground with some open green field in front of him, and he threw the the ball to the ground in an uncharacteristic show of frustration.

"They were giving us a lot of different looks, they were crossing it and mixing it around," Casey said afterwards.  "Our guys, they blocked it really well.  There was a huge hole, and someone just tripped me up, and I just said to myself, next time, I won't be tripped up."

It led to the moment when, in the second quarter, the Raiders looked like they were ready to perhaps make things very hard for the Mountain Hawks to get in the game.

The chemicals were there to create a win - but the reagent wasn't.

After a great punt return by DB Abu Dharamy to the Lehigh 41, Colgate had great field position, and a chance to go up by two touchdowns.

And even though the defense was playing spirited - they were playing an excellent game, - twice the Raiders would convert on fourth down, setting up a 1st and 10 at the Lehigh 11.

It was a 3rd and 1, and Melville handed it off to his running back, RB Keyon Washington, expecting to run off tackle and get the first down, or maybe score.

(Photo Credit: Doug Kilpatrick/Morning Call)
But freshman FS Riley O'Neil blitzed from left side of Colgate's line, untouched, and before Washington could even think about surging towards the end zone, O'Neil wrapped him up with both arms for a two yard loss, with senior LB Pierce Ripanti and senior LB Colton Caslow flying to the ballcarrier just a little bit behind him.

It was at that exact moment that it seemed like the reagent hit the solution, the moment when all the chemicals in the soup started to make a reaction that wouldn't be suppressed.

Stopping Washington short of a first down and forcing Colgate to settle for a PK Jonah Bowman field goal rather than try to go up by two touchdowns was the key to make the chemical reaction work.

"They've got to get in a rhythm," Service Electric commentator Mike Yadush would say about the Lehigh offense.  "Lehigh has a rhythm offense, and since that first drive, they've had no rhythm."

Lehigh's offense would take the field after that play, and Shafnisky would say things just clicked.

"Coach Folmar kept saying, we just needed to get that one first down," he said afterwards.  "and guys start feeling that momentum, and we pick up the tempo, and other teams have a lot of trouble when we go fast.  You really just can't call up a blitz when teams are going fast, because we have so many quick plays."

Shaf, clearly still not at 100% speed when it comes to running, converted two critical third downs with his feet.

The first was a two yard run where he slipped on the somewhat slippery turf right after the sticks.

The second was and a 3rd and 11 where he evaded the pass rush and saw the first down yardage open up in front of him, and he got thirteen yards to keep the drive alive,falling just before the defender could make contact.

Then, with the Colgate defenders a bit gassed, he'd find a wide-open Casey over the middle, which he would take in for a critical touchdown right before the half.

"They started putting two guys over junior WR Troy Pelletier, which is fine," Shafnisky said. "It moved guys out of the box, so it helped our run game. Let them play man with Gatlin one-on-one and we're going to exploit that."

Lehigh would ride the momentum of that touchdown right into the second half.

On the very first Colgate possession of the second half, McCloskey would come at Washington low with a big hit, and the ball squirted free, and O'Neil's arms reached for the ball and wrapped themselves around it.

Lehigh's first recovered fumble of the season couldn't have come at a more ideal time.

"It's a great opportunity to come out here and play football every day," O'Neil said, who has started in the secondary from the very first game this season as a true freshman.  "Getting turnovers, any time we can get the ball back for our offense, giving them to do a chance to do what they do, put points on the board, it's always a win."

On the very next series, Shaf would pass the ball to  Casey on the left side who would then would run down the left sideline, not to be caught by any Colgate defender for a 58 yard touchdown.

"He can run, man," Coen joked afterwards.  "We had a race earlier in the season and I just beat him by a couple. But apparently he got faster over the summer camp."

The next possession would see senior ROV Evan Harvey stop Washington again short of a first down, and on another ensuing drive, Shaf would throw a perfect ball to a diving Troy Pelletier in the end zone, a perfect 31 yard strike to go up 31-17.

"We've been improving," coach Andy Coen said of the defense. "It was either our second or third scrimmage during training camp, and [defensive coordinator] Joe Bottiglieri said to me that we're really becoming a good defense and if we keep working and doing it the way we're doing it, we're really going to end up having a really good defense. He was right today."

Even when Colgate would score, to make it a 31-24 game, the Gatlin Casey show would quickly take all of the wind out of the Raider sails with a 93 yard kickoff return that would put the Mountain Hawks back up by two touchdowns.

"I think it's the best day I've ever had," Casey said. "It's a good feeling. I gotta credit all the people that blocked for me on the kickoff return, I gotta credit Shaf, I gotta credit our offensive line, credit Troy because they were covering him. So I gotta credit a lot of people for this."

Overall, it may have seemed like it was Gatlin Casey's world on Saturday, in truth it was indeed, as Casey said, the result of credit to people doing their jobs across the board, playing hard until the right reagent was found to turn into the right chemical reaction for victory.

"What was really great to me was everybody got involved - offense, defense, special teams - and if we didn't have all of those, it would have been a different game," Coen said. "Last year, when we played this game, we had about five opportunities to get Colgate off the field and we weren't able to get them off at all. This year, it was a totally different story. Our defense hit them and we had them schemed very well."


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