The Lafayette football team got the job done in their season opener this past Saturday with a resounding 24-10 victory over Colgate at Fisher Field.
The Leopards showed no signs of rust despite their 476-day break between contests and earned their first win over Colgate since 2014. Lafayette led for the entirety of the game following a first quarter score and received contributions from all over the roster.
“I’m really proud of how we played and how we’ve responded to these circumstances,” said head coach John Garrett. “We got a bunch of the right kind of guys that showed the mental toughness and the discipline daily to handle themselves and get ready.”
The Leopards pressured Colgate with a balanced attack, throwing for 169 yards and rushing for 171 more.
“Any and every football [team] wants to control the game and the way you do that is by running the ball,” Garrett said. “Running the ball allows a team to control the game and we are always striving for that.”
The Leopards outgained Colgate by 116 yards on the ground with a whopping 50 attempts. Sophomore running back Jaden Sutton led the charge for the Leopards, gaining 96 yards on 21 attempts to go with a touchdown.
The win may have been especially sweet for some of the team’s seniors and for Garrett himself. The team had not scored against Colgate since the 2016 season, a year before Garrett came to College Hill and the current players arrived.
“My mindset coming into the game was to win,” Sutton said. “It was the same as everyone else’s mindset. I knew that the seniors on the team haven’t scored a touchdown against Colgate since they have been here and I wanted that to be changed.”
The Leopards came out firing on all cylinders to start the game, scoring a touchdown in both the first and second quarters. Lafayette’s second drive began on the Lafayette 25-yard line and the Leopards marched the ball 75 yards down field for a touchdown. The eight-play drive was capped off by a five-yard run by Sutton for six.
“Over the off-season I watched a lot of the FBS teams play and it really drove me to workout and be better for not only myself but for my team as well,” Sutton said. “In many aspects I felt as though I had a mediocre season last year and the pandemic gave me a lot of time to fine-tune and critique myself.”
Coming out of the first quarter up by seven, Lafayette carried their momentum into the second frame and piled on seven more points on their opening drive. Once again the Leopards started deep in their own territory and pushed the ball 62 yards downfield on just six plays. The drive was capped off by a trick play that resulted in senior wide receiver Quinn Revere tossing a twenty-eight yard dime to junior tight end Steven Stilianos for a touchdown.
“Our word as a position group is aggressive and we want to take the fight to the defenders whether that is in the run game, pass game, or after the catch,” Stilianos said.
Stilianos certainly brought the fight to Colgate, racking up a career-highs in receiving yards (55), catches (3) and touchdowns (2). Stilianos caught just one touchdown during his first two years on the team.
The Leopards widened the lead to 14-0 late in the first half, but cooled off after the break and nearly let Colgate back into the game. The third quarter was quiet for both sides, with Colgate converting on a field goal to bring the game within 11.
In the fourth, however, the Raiders managed to string together a complete drive and put the ball in the end zone. Colgate’s opening drive in the fourth was a 12-play, 78-yard drive that began deep in their own territory and ended with a short touchdown, narrowing the deficit to 14-10.
But the Leopards quickly bounced back, scoring a touchdown on the ensuing drive and widening their lead to 21-10. Lafayette took the ball 75 yards on 10 plays, the last being a 12-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Cole Northrup to Stilianos for his second score of the game.
Stilianos hurdled a defender to reach the end zone, putting an exclamation point on the drive.
“We practiced it a little bit last year, I was a little bit heavier and not as athletic so I was getting tired of all the defensive backs ankle biting me and hitting me low,” Stilianos said. “I went high, hoping for the best recognizing that if he hit my legs I’d probably flip but still get in. But somehow I cleared him.”
The Leopards defense sealed the victory on the next drive with an interception on Colgate’s second play down the field. Sophomore defensive back DaRon Gilbert chose an opportune time for his first career interception and came up big in helping the Leopards secure the win.
Lafayette capitalized with a field goal to push the lead to 24-10 with four minutes left and clinch the win. Senior kicker Jeffrey Kordenbrock did the honors, hitting his first field goal since the game-winner at Lehigh in fall 2019.
The Leopard defense was equally as impressive as the offense, with the defense holding Colgate to their fewest points against Lafayette since 2006. The Raiders managed to enter the red zone four times in the game, but the Leopards held them to 10 points on a touchdown and a field goal. The Leopards also held the Raiders to 1-3 on field goal tries, including two missed field goals in the first half.
“Last year my role was to stay ready on the sideline in case someone went down, but now that I’m starting there is no next-man-up mentality, I am the man up,” said sophomore linebacker Jyaire Stephens, who played sparingly last season.
Stephens finished the game with five total tackles and two quarterback hits. Junior defensive back Jordan Anderson led the Leopards with eight total tackles while star defensive lineman Malik Hamm finished with seven tackles. Freshman defensive lineman Marcus Joseph recorded three tackles and one sack in his first game and was subsequently named the conference Rookie of the Week.
The Leopards were led on offense by Northrup under center who threw for 141 yards and a touchdown on 9-14 passing and received Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts. This was Northrup’s first start since starting against William & Mary last year prior to losing the starting job to Keegan Shoemaker, who later transferred.
“I was preparing for if Keegan were to go down and once Keegan transferred I was able to compete for the starting spot,” Northrup said.
One bonus for Leopards this past weekend was the fact that Fisher Stadium was opened at limited capacity, with over 400 fans in attendance. It certainly seems that the players took notice.
“Having fans was a big part of the game,” Sutton said. “When momentum was created, the fans really helped boost the spirit of the team and just get everyone in an overall better mood.”
“It was obviously great seeing my parents and familiar faces in the stands,” Stilianos added. “It was a blessing to have some of our family members and friends get out there and watch us.”
The Leopards will travel to Lewisburg, Pa., this weekend to take on Bucknell at 4 p.m. The Bison had their game postponed last weekend after COVID-19 concerns limited their ability to prepare for the season, leaving Lafayette with little relevant film to review.
“The fact that Bucknell did not have a game does not allow us to confirm they are doing the same things they did in 2019,” Garrett said. “Ultimately that is secondary because it is always about us and how we play. Our systems of football account for every defensive front and coverage so no matter what they present to us, our system has an answer for it.”