The 156th rivalry meeting between Lafayette and Lehigh lived up to its billing as the Leopards beat Lehigh in thrilling fashion to close out their 2021 spring season. The Leopards won 20-13 and finish a shortened spring season with a 2-1 record.
The win marks the first time the Leopards have beaten Lehigh in Fisher Stadium since 2006, and the first time the team has won consecutive rivalry games since 2013-14.
The win was even more meaningful as the game was also Senior Day, with the team holding a pregame ceremony to honor the graduating class.
“To have an opportunity to come out and beat Lehigh is great and it is a memory that will last a lifetime,” said senior quarterback Cole Northrup.
Northrup led the Leopards to victory, bouncing back from a tough outing at Bucknell with 257 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-34 passing.
Lehigh came into the rivalry not scoring a single touchdown this season; the Mountain Hawks were beaten 24-3 by Holy Cross and 6-0 by Bucknell leading up to the big game.
From the first snap, it was evident that neither team had been playing or practicing consistently during this unusual spring season. Miscommunications, dropped passes and bad penalties were a theme throughout the contest. That being said, the Lafayette student section brought plenty of energy to the stadium in an effort to give the rivalry some sense of normalcy.
The Leopards got on the board first in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead and swing the momentum in their favor. Lafayette proceeded to hold the lead for the entirety of the contest although Lehigh remained within striking distance. The Leopards scored with 3:53 remaining in the first quarter on a 34-yard strike from Northrup to junior tight end Steven Stilianos. Northrup rolled right on the play and threw back to the left to hit a wide open Stilianos who ran it in for six.
On Lehigh’s ensuing drive the Mountain Hawks started to drive the ball down the field, but a massive sack by Lafayette’s sophomore defensive tackle Damon Washington halted the Mountain Hawks instantly. Washington was virtually unblocked on the play and was able to blindside Lehigh’s quarterback which led to the sack.
“It was a team win, but as a defense, we did well,” Washington said. “We all ran to the ball trying to make plays. The other defensive linemen were rushing well all game. As a defense, we all played our heart out, just tried to work hard, made sure to run to the ball each play.”
Washington certainly put himself on the map in the win with four sacks and eight total tackles in a breakout game for the sophomore.
“Every game we go into as a defensive line, our objective is to be dominant, because the game is won and lost on the line,” Washington added. “Looking at Lehigh, we knew their line was young and we wanted to take advantage of their inexperience.”
The Leopards were able to capitalize on the short field position with a 26-yard field goal by Jeffery Kordenbrock to put the Leopards up by 10. With the field goal, the Leopards appeared poised to run away with the game, but the Mountain Hawks were able to respond to keep the game close.
A key turning point of the game was a late hit call on Caleb Burr which occurred on Lehigh’s first drive of the second quarter. The Leopards forced Lehigh into a three and out deep in their own territory but the penalty gave Lehigh 15 yards and a first down. Lehigh was able to capitalize with a 49-yard rushing touchdown for Lehigh’s Rashawn Allen. The play was a simple run up the middle but Allen was able to run untouched into the end zone. Lehigh rushed consistently throughout the contest but with little success outside of their one score. The Mountain Hawks could not convert the extra point attempt, so the Leopards held a 10-6 lead.
Closing in on the half, the Leopards were able to convert on a 26-yard field goal try to make it a 13-6 game at the break.
The Mountain Hawks came out of the half with energy and were able to knot the game at 13 in the third quarter. Lehigh’s scoring drive was at 13 play, 87 yard drive which culminated in a touchdown pass to receiver Jorge Portorreal.
The Leopards responded quickly with a touchdown of their own two drives later on a trick play that resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass to Stilianos for his second touchdown reception of the game. The score put the Leopards up 20-13, a lead which they held for the remainder of the game.
“It was a bit of a trick play,” Stilianos said. “We lined up unbalanced and faked the screen and went deep. The safety covered it well but it was a one-on-one situation and I knew I had to make the play.”
Stilianos was named MVP for his efforts in the game and had a few key blocks to go along with 64 receiving yards and two touchdowns. On the play prior to his second score, Stilianos picked up a rushing linebacker who found a hole in the offensive line. The block allowed Northrup a few extra seconds to make a pass which set up the Leopard’s scoring play.
“I was a little surprised to win MVP, the two touchdowns helped,” Stilianos added. “It was a total team effort, everyone did their job and we came out on top as a result. it was a great feeling being able to celebrate on our own field with my brothers.”
On Lehigh’s ensuing drive, head coach Tom Gilmore made the questionable decision of punting the ball back to the Leopards with just under nine minutes remaining. Quinn Revere, who had a quiet game up until the fourth, made a massive juggling catch to extend the Leopards drive and allow Lafayette to eat up more of the clock.
“It was one we had to grind out,” said head coach John Garrett. “Our team showed a lot of mental toughness and grit and our guys really came through in some big time situations with big time performances. Our goal is hard to beat on offense and we accomplished that today. We had four penalties, they had 11. We also did not have any turnovers.”
With 2:23 left in the game, the Leopards punted the ball back to Lehigh who commenced their final drive from their own 18 yard line. The drive was about as exciting as they come with Lehigh looking down and out on a 4th and 30 but a hook and double lateral play gained Lehigh 33 yards and pushed them to their own 48 yard line with five seconds remaining. On the final play, Lehigh launched a Hail Mary to the end zone which was tipped prior to falling harmlessly to the turf.
“Our defense was fantastic,” Garrett added. “We had six sacks and a lot of those came in critical situations and forced them to fall behind the chains. We did not give up a sack. Those are big differences and I’m proud of our guys.”
Lafayette finishes the 2021 spring season at 2-1 in second place in the Patriot League South Division. The Leopards are scheduled to open the 2021 fall campaign at Air Force on Sept. 4.