By Zion Olojede, ’18 | Deputy Sports Editor | The Brown and White
I believe the question should be more along the lines of “How much will Lehigh win by?” No disrespect to the Lafayette football team, but Lehigh is ranked as a top 20 FCS team in the country for a reason as the Mountain Hawks haven’t lost since week two of the season. Also if you aren’t aware yet, they are the 2016 Patriot League champions. Of course, with this historic rivalry records are usually nullified and have no meaning towards the end result of the game, but this year may be an outlier as the disparity in talent and production is impossible to ignore.
The offense has anchored Lehigh through the majority of its eight-game winning streak. The Mountain Hawks rank top ten in the country in total yards per game (489.7), first downs (256), team passing efficiency (169.69) and passing yards per game (329.4). Individually, Lehigh is loaded with talent at every skill position. How often can a team say that it has two quarterbacks that can explode for big numbers any given week? Senior Nick Shafnisky and sophomore Brad Mayes are, without a doubt, two of the elite quarterbacks in the Patriot League. Shafnisky has been exceptional all year, garnering the Patriot League Player of the Week award twice, while Mayes became the school record-holder for most passing yards in a game in week six in a win over Yale University. Junior receivers Gatlin Casey and Troy Pelletier have played a vital role in the quarterbacks’ success as both rank in the top ten in the country for receiving yards. Both have accumulated over a 1,000 yards receiving. Sophomore running back Dom Bragalone needs just four yards on Saturday to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. Safe to say, he’ll achieve that mark for the second straight year.
But enough about the Lehigh offense. The scary part for the Leopards is that of late, the Mountain Hawk defense has been carrying the load. The Lehigh defense has surrendered less than 14 points in three of its last four games. The Mountain Hawks are coming off a game where they tallied four sacks to go along with two interceptions against Bucknell. The defense had five sacks and four interceptions in a 46-14 win over Holy Cross two weeks prior to playing the Bison. It’s hard to gameplan against a team that can beat you in so many different ways.
Lehigh has not lost to Lafayette at Fisher Stadium since 2006. The freshman class for both teams were grinding through the struggles of fourth grade at that time. This will be the first rivalry game in Easton for everyone except the fifth-year seniors as the last game scheduled for Easton was played at Yankee Stadium in 2014. The senior class is also 1-2 against the Leopards so there is some more motivation to win, not that the seniors will need any.
On the other side, Lafayette has only two wins this season and one in conference play, which is actually an improvement from last year’s team that went 0-6 in conference play and 1-10 overall. Lehigh cruised to a 49-35 victory last year in the 151st Rivalry Game at Goodman Stadium. The Mountain Hawks saw themselves up 42-14 early in that third quarter and put it in cruise mode after that. Since it is at Fisher Stadium this time around, you could say the Leopards will have a better shot at home at least to make it a tight game.
I don’t think they will. Lehigh wins 49-21.