BETHLEHEM, Pa. – No. 5/8 Lehigh raced out to a ten point halftime advantage, but Colgate rallied to outscore the Mountain Hawks 21-0 in the second half as the Raiders captured the Patriot League championship and automatic berth into the FCS playoffs with a 35-24 win Saturday at Goodman Stadium. Raider quarterback Gavin McCarney rushed for three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 9:14 to play as Colgate handed Lehigh its first loss of the season.
The Mountain Hawks (9-1, 3-1 Patriot League) took a 24-14 halftime lead behind two short rushing touchdowns by Zach Barket and Keith Sherman and a four yard pass from senior Mike Colvin to sophomore tight end Tyler Coyle. Colgate’s defense tightened in the second half, limiting Lehigh to just 80 yards of offense in the second half while the Mountain Hawks held the ball for just under eight of the 30 minutes played in the second half. Colgate improves to 7-3 overall and 5-0 in the Patriot League while dealing Lehigh its first regular season loss since September 10 of last year and its first Patriot League loss since November 2009.
Colgate held a 401-332 edge in total yardage for the game, but held a commanding 43:51-16:09 edge in time of possession, and ran 82 offensive plays compared to 49 for the Mountain Hawks.
“It was a hard-fought game,” explained Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “They obviously dominated the line of scrimmage and wore us down at the end, largely due because the second half was where things went bad. I was really pleased with the first half of football. Overall I thought our defense played awesome. Our kids hung in there and did exactly what they needed to do on the defense side of the ball to give us an opportunity to win a championship.”
Colvin finished 15-of-29 for 242 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Senior Ryan Spadola was his top target with 86 yards on seven grabs, while junior Lee Kurfis caught four passes for 93 yards on the day. Lehigh managed just 90 rushing yards on the day with Barket leading the way with 54 on ten carries.
The Lehigh defense started the game strong, holding Colgate scoreless through the first 15 minutes after two punts and a turnover when Billy Boyko forced a Ryne Morrison fumble that was recovered by Tyler Ward in Lehigh territory.
After forcing a three-and-out on Colgate’s opening drive, the Mountain Hawks fired back with a two-play 54 yard drive, capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by Barket to take a 7-0 lead. The big play of that scoring drive was a 52-yard pitch-and-catch from Colvin to Zach Hayden to set up a first and goal from the Raiders’ two yard line.
After the turnover, Lehigh put together a seven-play, 53-yard drive that lasted 2:01 and ended with a one-yard rushing touchdown by Keith Sherman for a 14-0 lead with 13:46 left in the second quarter. A 21-yard strike from Colvin to Spadola down to the Colgate one yard line was the key play on the drive.
After forcing another Colgate punt with 9:40 in the second quarter, a roughing the kicker penalty set-up a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown on fourth and goal by McCord to cut Lehigh’s lead in half at 14-7 with 5:53 to play before halftime.
On Lehigh’s next play after Colgate’s kickoff, Colvin hit a wide open Kurfis on the far sideline for a 65-yard gain down to the Raider 10 yard line. On third and goal, Colvin’s pass was tipped just outside the end zone but Coyle was able to come up with the leaping reception to extend the Mountain Hawk lead to 21-7 after the extra point. On the ensuing kickoff, Lehigh attempted a surprise onside kick, but the Raiders were able to knock the ball out of bounds to take over at their own 47.
McCarney proceeded to hit Jordan McCord for a 23 yard gain that put Colgate into the red zone. The Raiders finished the drive when McCarney rushed in from 10 yards out to pull the Raiders within seven at 21-14 with 1:07 to play in the first half.
The Mountain Hawks executed a perfect hurry-up offense, using the sidelines and timeouts efficiently as they drove 47 yards in 1:01 to grab a 10-point lead at the half when Peery connected on a career-long 43-yard field goal at the gun.
Both defenses came out of the locker room strong in the third quarter. Lehigh committed its first turnover of the day when Colvin was picked off by Mike Yeager, who returned the ball to the Mountain Hawks’ 24. The Lehigh defense stiffened from there, however, as the Raiders turned the ball over on downs after four plays.
Colgate crept within a field goal late in the third quarter as McCarney capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a nine yard run for his second touchdown of the day.
The Mountain Hawks followed with a three-and-out but junior punter Tim Divers pinned the Raiders at their own six yard line with a career-long 72 yard punt. Still, Colgate was able to methodically move the ball down the field, aided by a 57 yard pass from McCarney to Morrison. On the 11th play of the drive, McCarney ran the ball in from two yards out and the extra point gave Colgate its first lead at 28-24.
Lehigh’s next drive again resulted in a three-and-out and Colgate was able to put the game away with a methodical 10-play, 62-yard drive capped by an eight yard run by McCord.
McCarney finished 13-of-21 passing for 180 yards while rushing for 121 yards on 24 carries. McCord added 118 yards on the ground on 35 rushes.
Seniors Sam Loughery and Billy Boyko led Lehigh’s defensive effort with 14 and 12 tackles respectively. Boyko also forced a fumble. Senior Sajjad Chagani registered Lehigh’s only sack to go along with four tackles.
“If you would have told me before the game that we were going to hold them to 400 yards on offense I would have told to give me the trophy,” Coen said. “I’ve been saying all along that it’s a team game —offense, defense, kicking game. The offense made some plays early, but we didn’t move the ball in the second half. We had 24 plays at half, but they were a very effective 24 plays. The second half we had like 80 yards of offense and 25 plays. You don’t deserve to win a championship with that.
“I feel bad for my seniors, especially,” Coen continued. “They’ve been tremendous leaders, and they still are. This season’s not over yet. I plan on playing a lot more football. It’s never a lack of effort. Sometimes the execution doesn’t fall the way you’d like it to.”
The Mountain Hawks will wrap-up the regular season next Saturday when they travel to Lafayette for the 148th meeting of College Football’s Most-Played Rivalry. Lehigh will be looking for a third straight ten win season, and a fifth straight win over the Leopards, while also looking to strengthen its chances for an at-large playoff berth. Game time is set for 1 p.m. from Fisher Stadium in Easton, Pa. The game will be televised on WFMZ-TV and FCS Atlantic as well as online at Lehighsports.com.
EXTRA POINTS… Saturday was military appreciation day at Goodman Stadium… members of the Lehigh Valley Steel Battalion ROTC participated in the pregame coin toss ceremonies… Lehigh lost in the week prior to its rivalry game against Lafayette for the first time in 14 years… The Mountain Hawks’ loss ends the nation’s longest regular season winning streak… Colgate won its seventh league title, putting the Raiders second behind Lehigh (ten) in Patriot League football championships won… Saturday’s attendance was 8,036.