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Lehigh At Colgate Game Preview: Will Ignition Happen In Hamilton?

Sometimes, the lawnmower engine you've pull-started five times finally gets up and running after the sixth time you've pulled the recoil starter handle - the gas igniting, the smoke billowing, the engine humming. 

And other times, after you pull the recoil starter handle, you hear the parts stirring, something in there wanting to fire, but it doesn't.  Something's amiss - some debris, something out of tune - but the upshot is, ignition doesn't happen.

This is the place where Lehigh football is right now.

The lawnmower that is Lehigh football has ignited - a little.  The engine has had power, and created a whole lot of smoke.  But in the end, each time the system has returned to rest, unable to use the power to get the job done and achieve a single victory.  Things are out of tune.

It's not ideal to have to be in a must-ignite moment against, historically, the second-biggest rival on the football schedule, the team against whom so many epic battles have occurred for the Mountain Hawks - many of them which helped determine the Patriot League Championship and FCS Playoff autobid. 

And yet, here we are, with the recoil starter handle in hand, hoping that this time, the sixth time, everything is tuned correctly and everything starts firing all at the right time.


If you're coming into the Colgate/Lehigh rivalry (with a little r) for the first time, here's a primer to get you up to speed as to what Colgate/Lehigh means for both programs.

Lehigh and Colgate first met back in 1922, in a world where Lehigh was searching for its identity as a college football program and Colgate had already begun to establish itself as a national championship-caliber program.

"Colgate overpowered the fighting Lehigh eleven Saturday in one of the hardest-fought games of the season by the score of 35 to 6," The Brown and White said in their recap of that 1922 contest.  "The game was played in the First Ward Stadium, Binghamton, New York before a crowd of about ten thousand.  There were about three hundred Lehigh students there, a great many of whom 'bummed' their way to the stadium.  It was an enthusiastic crowd, they cheered their loudest even when the team seemed hopelessly overwhelmed."

In 1960, Colgate and Lehigh started an arrangement where the somewhat nearby schools would play each other yearly in home-and-home series, a situation that continued all the way until 1975.

For Colgate, the series made a boatload of sense.  Not only were both Lehigh and Colgate like-minded institutions, it wasn't a difficult road trip to and from the Lehigh Valley to the Chenango Valley.

Along with "semi-rival Cornell" (the words of Colgate's 1960 head football coach, Alva Kelly), Lehigh provided critical home games every other year when Colgate had reputations as road warriors.  In the years Colgate played Lehigh at home, they would have three home games a year in their nine game schedule; in the games where Colgate played at Bethlehem, they'd only have two.

In that fifteen year stretch, there were some hard fought games between the two schools.  Legendary Lehigh head football coach Bill Leckonby coached two teams that beat Colgate.

Lehigh and Colgate head coach Fred Dunlap
By 1973 and 1974, after a long winning drought against Colgate, Lehigh started to win football games again against their Chenango Valley neighbors once again with another great Lehigh head football coach, Fred Dunlap.

Dunlap. whose athletic career started at Colgate as a letterwinner in both football and wrestling, built and recruiting much of the talent that would beat those Colgate teams and set the foundation for Lehigh's eventual 1977 Division II National Championship run.

Colgate thought so much of Dunlap that they hired him away from Lehigh at the conclusion of the 1974 season.

"One of the reasons I came to Colgate was that we lost so many recruits to Colgate," Dunlap remembered years later. "Back then, Colgate was Division I and Lehigh was Division II, but we were competitive in those days."

Lehigh and Colgate to this day are in constant battles for recruits, as ever looking for the high-academic, high-skilled football players that fit their system.  RB Nate Eachus (Colgate) and RB Zach Barket (Lehigh) are but two recent football players that saw both schools in serious competition for them as student-athletes.

After a brief lull, Lehigh and Colgate became regulars on each others' football schedules in 1978, and they've played every season since - even before the formation of the Patriot League, where an already-big rivalry (with a little r) blossomed into something bigger.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the Colgate/Lehigh series is that, since becoming members of the Patriot League in 1986, no team has won more than three games in a row.  Every four-year member of the Lehigh and Colgate football teams have enjoyed victory over the other since 1990.

There's also the critical element that in many years, the Colgate/Lehigh winner has gone on to win at least a share of the Patriot League title, and qualified for the FCS playoff autobid that the Patriot League provides.

The last two seasons, Colgate (2015) and Lehigh (2016) happened to be Patriot League Champions, with the 2015 game determining the title on the very last series of the game. 

The last time Lehigh went to Andy Kerr Stadium, they boarded the bus home wondering what coulda, woulda, shoulda been.

Five Lousy Yards
"With all the offense, with all the touchdowns, with all the passing yards by QB Nick Shafnisky," I wrote, "all the rushing yards from RB Dominick Bragalone, all the plays, all the yards of offense gained, and allowed, it came down to five yards.

"1st and goal at the five.  A minute to play.  Five yards from the end zone, five yards from the opportunity to come from behind and make the score 49-48, and then to have PK Ed Mish trot out and attempt the game-typing extra point, to tie the score for the seventh time on the afternoon, or possibly try a two-point conversion to get the win.  Five.  Yards.  It came down to four shots from five lousy yards."

It was a tough pill for Lehigh to swallow that year, after losing to Fordham in the Bronx and then finding themselves surprisingly in the driver's seat for the championship, a testament to the fact that the Patriot League, in many years, is hard to tame and that crazy things can happen.

Huge Defensive Stop
But Lehigh last year enacted some sweet revenge at Murray Goodman, behind a career day from senior WR Gatlin Casey.  Casey was responsible for 4 touchdowns, 3 touchdown catches and a kickoff returned for touchdown, behind 11 catches for 196 yards.

It was a game that didn't start out well, after QB Jake Melville on the very first play of the game scored a rushing touchdown, but unstoppable momentum seemed to build for the Mountain Hawks over time, getting the pistons firing after a goal-line stand, some quick-strike touchdowns on offense and special teams, and forcing turnovers.

Looking at the recap of that game last year, many of the same qualities of that 2016 Lehigh team are present in this 2017 version - Casey, junior RB Dominick Bragalone, senior WR Troy Pelletier.   On offense, defense, and special teams, the 2017 version of the Mountain Hawks have had flashes of showing the same sort of quality, but it hasn't been consistent enough to win a football game.

The difference between winning and losing that Colgate game last year was that even after a bad start, the engine seemed to finally start, a defensive stop becoming positive momentum on offense, eventually leading to a big special teams play.  The plays have been there at different times.  They simply haven't fired in unison.

Game Notes and Injuries

This week's game notes show, somewhat predictably, more changes on defense in an effort to get the best grouping on the field.

One change on defense is junior DE Julian Lynn jumping to the 1st string line ahead of junior DE Harrison Kauffman.  Though both will continue to see reps, that Lynn is likely to be in a bit more often was interesting to me.

Another is sophomore ROV Jon Seighman, who saw a lot of time last week, slotted in as the starter at Rover, a spot on the field that has seen a lot of churn this season as athletes are moved out of that area due to injury.  Seighman, who was in the linebacking rotation, might play a linebacker-type role this week, with freshman ROV Divine Buckrham also getting significant time backing him up.

On offense, Keith Groller of The Morning Call reported that senior C Brandon Short and junior OL Liborio Ricottilli are back in the starting lineup after being dinged last week, shoring up a center of the offensive line that featured a freshman and two sophomores.  Short's return is especially critical because of his comfort level with snapping the ball to junior QB Brad Mayes.

Finally, Groller also reported that junior P Ed Mish will be returning in a limited role as the Mountain Hawks' punter as he continues to recover from hip issues.  Sophomore PK Austin Henning will continue to kick off and kick extra points and field goals, according to Keith.

Weather Report

At time of writing, this is not in the forecast
The one certain thing about the weather report this weekend is that it won't be a typical Lehigh/Colgate game with frozen tundra.  In fact, it will be the polar opposite of frozen tundra, with a forecast of cloudy weather and 77 (!) degree temperatures.  Something to keep in mind is the possibility of some gusty winds, which might make a difference up at Andy Kerr Stadium, but tailgating and weather for the 1:00 PM kickoff should be tremendous.

Getting to Colgate

From the Lehigh Valley, the first two and a half hours of the drive to Hamilton, NY are fairly easy - just take Route 81 through Scranton into New York state all the way up to exit 26 N.  It's the last hour, through and around the new Michigan State forest, that is a long and windy path to get to Hamilton, that takes the most time.  Once you get to Hamilton, you can't miss the campus and the stadium - the University is basically the entire southern half of the town.

Parking lots open three hours prior to kickoff (so 10:00 AM for a 1:00 PM kickoff) and Gates 2 and 3 in the map above are the location of the lots, with Gate 2 obviously the one closer to the action.

LFN's Burger of the Week (#BOTW)

For this week's Burger of the Week, we find the No. 10 Tavern in Hamilton, which has a cheesy concoction called the Flat Liner that may accurately describe what might happen to my vital signs when I try to eat one.  But it looks so delicious, it might be worth it.

The Flat Liner consists of an 8 oz burger, macaroni and cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, crispy onions, and lettuce and tomato.  (If I were to eat one, I'd probably have to ask to replace the fries with some steel-cut oats and probably a helping of raw kale to balance out my vitals.)

LFN's Drink of the Week (#DOTW)

Anyone who knows me knows that my Drinks of the Week choices sometimes are steeped in superstition.  With an 0-5 start, I am absolutely going to not toy with the Supreme Being That Determines The Outcome Of Football Games, so in that vein I am going back to the #DOTW that was clearly the only reason that Lehigh won against Colgate last year - the simple drink I called the Hard Root Barrel.

What's a hard root barrel?  Start with some Jim Beam whiskey, one part, and add three parts olde tyme root beer.  You can use something typical, like A&W root beer or A-Treat, but we used some freshly-brewed sassafrass-based Pennsylvania Dutch root beer instead, which is a bit more sugary than a commercial root beer but really works well with the whisky.  Then just add ice, and you're good.

If you're stuck, there's also a lot of commerical hard root beer varieties, too.  But it doesn't compare, IMO, to ours.

People think that games are won and lost due to student-athletes blocking, tackling, kicking, passing, and running at a high level, along with taking care of the ball, doing your 1/11th and giving it 110%, but I know that doing all those things are just a compelling theory as to why Lehigh wins football games, whereas I can point to conclusive statistics that demonstrate that every time I have had the "Hard Root Barrel" as the #DOTW, it has resulted in a win against Colgate, so what are you going to believe?

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 leave plenty of time to sober up.

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