Lehigh-Lafayette: Mountain Hawks Clinch Playoff Birth
Lehigh scored the final 10 points to pull out a hard-fought 38-31 win.
Welcome to The Rivalry
It’s raining and cold. I have to park unusually far away. This despite my ‘premium’ Press access. This despite arriving earlier than usual.
I parked near a tailgate. All adults. With red Solo cups. With beer pong. In the cold and rain. Welcome to The Rivalry.
I approached a cigar-smoking tailgater. Because I enjoy a good cigar. Because maybe I would be offered an adult beverage. But mainly out of curiosity. He came from New York and graduated from Lafayette over a decade prior. He’s “partying like a frat boy” despite his respectable grown-up career. In the rain and cold. Because it’s The Rivalry.
The Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry: Edition 153
The Lehigh University Mountain Hawks (formerly The Engineers) and Lafayette Leopards have played each other more than any other 2 teams in American College football. These teams played before the football helmet was invented and the forward pass became part of the game. They played the 150th incarnation before a crowd of nearly 50,000 at Yankee Stadium.
Toss out records. Cast aside assumptions. The Rivalry is a season unto itself.
The challenge facing the Mountain Hawks is simple. Win and clinch a 2nd Patriot League title in a row. Win and qualify for the FCS Playoffs for the 2nd straight year. But for some Lehigh faithful the most important thing is to beat Lafayette.
This game would not play out so simply for the Mountain Hawks.
A Hard Fought Victory
The weather conditions weren’t ideal. Cold, rainy, and gloomy overall. Before a frenzied crowd of 15,270, the Lehigh Special Teams Unit struggled. With the Mountain Hawks up 14-7 early, Lehigh returner Quentin Jones had difficulty with the punt and turned the ball over. A quick two plays later the score was tied.
On the ensuing Lafayette kickoff the seemingly impossible happened. Return man Marc Raye-Redmond fumbled. Because of this untimely error, Lafayette had 1st and 10 from the 21. Lehigh’s defense hangs tough and yields a 33-yard field goal giving the Leopards a three point lead. The Mountain Hawks surrendered 10 straight points.
Lafayette went deep into their playbook all afternoon. The Leopards exploited the Lehigh defense with a variety of end-arounds, reverses, and bubble screens. The Lehigh defense was flat-footed early and the Mountain Hawks found themselves behind 24-14 midway through the 2nd Quarter.
In The Rivalry anything can happen. Lehigh was driving. They were seemingly clicking on offense. Troy Pelletier and Dominick Bragalone were gobbling up chunks of yardage. The Mountain Hawks were marching down the field. 24-21 going into halftime seems certain. Lehigh was in good shape. They’d receive the 2nd Half Kickoff. Then Dom Bragalone fumbled. Uncharacteristic on any other Saturday. During the Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry, anything can happen. The score was 24-14 at the half.
Lehigh received the opening kickoff and returned the ball to the 39 yard line. A beautiful play that would’ve given the Mountain Hawks a first and goal from the eight was negated by an unacceptable Personal Foul penalty on Tim O’Hara.
The score remained 24-14 until Brad Mayes found wide receiver Jorge Portorreal open for a 49 yard connection. The Mountain Hawks had 1st and goal from the five yard line. two running plays later and only three points separated these heated rivals. The Mountain Hawks had momentum. The home crowd was rowdy. Then it happened again.
The Lehigh Special Teams unit surrendered a 96 yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff. The score now, 31-21.
On this cold and rainy afternoon in Bethlehem, PA., Lehigh refused to lose. In spite of facing an uphill battle all day. In spite of multiple self-inflicted wounds. Lehigh would find a way to win. Because Lehigh’s defense stiffened. Because the special teams unit did no further damage. The offense held onto the ball. Lehigh scored the final 10 points to pull out a hard-fought 38-31 win.
What Lies Ahead
The Lehigh Mountain Hawks are in the FCS playoffs for the 2nd consecutive year. Despite their many documented struggles. Despite their 5-6 overall record. As they say, the post season is a new season. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
The Mountain Hawk offense is prolific. Because of weapons like QB Brad Mayes, RB Dom Bragalone, and WR’s Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey, Lehigh can score with anyone in the country. The issue is the Mountain Hawk defense. Lehigh could win a game in the playoffs if they manage to put together a complete game. Lehigh could catch lightning in a bottle.
Because a new season begins next weekend.
Stat Sheet Standouts
Lehigh Mountain Hawks
QB Brad Mayes: 26-35, 397 yards, no interceptions
RB Dominick Bragalone: 29 carries, 113 yards, 2 td
WR Gatlin Casey: 9 catches, 154 yards, 1 td
WR Troy Pelletier: 9 catches, 107 yards, 2 td
WR Nick Pearson: 6 carries, 95 yards, 1 td
KR C.J. Amill: 2 returns, 120 yards, 96 yard td return