By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today columnist
College Sporting News
Unfortunately for the home team, as was the case for much of the afternoon, Lafayette didn’t allow the moment to last, striking back on the very next play. Taking a pass in the left flat on the first play from scrimmage, Leopards receiver Demetrius Dixon caught a quick pass and dodged five or six Lehigh defenders and broke free for a 68 yard touchdown that took the wind out of the home crowd. Any lingering hopes of a comeback were soon dashed completely as freshman quarterback was stripped of the ball soon after and Lafayette linebacker James Coscia returned the fumble 40 yards for the clinching score. The 50-28 margin would prove to be the final tally and sends the Leopards to the playoffs with the unlikeliest of Patriot League titles despite a final record of 5-6 .
Truth be told, Lafayette took control on the opening kickoff, with Ross Scheuerman returning it to the Lehigh 32 and then picking up his own fumble and scoring several plays later for a quick 7-0 lead. Due to long lines at Goodman’s only entrance, much of the crowd hadn’t even reached their seats when Lafayette assumed a 14-0 lead not long after on a crazy sequence of plays. Facing 3rd and 8 inside the Lehigh 13 a bad snap led to a big loss on a sack back at the 31. Too close for a punt but out of range for a field goal attempt into a brisk wind, the Leopards went for it on 4th and 26 and Drew Reed lofted the ball into the end zone where Mark Ross outmuscled single coverage for the catch and the touchdown. The Leopards caught Lehigh off guard early and often with consistent success in the play-action passing game under the direction of Reed who is going to give Patriot League foes a lot of trouble in the three years he still has left in Easton, PA.
The 14-0 deficit was certainly manageable for a Mountain Hawk team that had only scored first in two games, but from that point on, Lehigh was like Sisyphus, spending all it's time rolling a rock up a hill but never getting to the top. It was entertaining to watch, though, starting with a blocked punt that put Lehigh deep in Lafayette territory and after having a score negated by a holding call, freshman quarterback Matt McHale hit Tyler Cole on a third down strike to cut the lead in half at 14-7. Momentum was immediately halted, however, with a kickoff out of bounds and Lafayette quickly answered, with the drive highlighted by a flea-flicker on 3rd and 2 from the Lehigh 43 that was good for 35 yards. On 3rd and goal, an ill-timed corner blitz left Justin Adams wide open for a 4 yard pass from Reed and a 21-7 score with 12:22 left in the 2nd.
After holding Lehigh, Lafayette looked to extend the lead behind another couple of big play-action gains, but an intentional grounding call short-circuited the drive. After trading punts, Lehigh started near midfield and running back Keith Sherman busted loose up the middle all the way down to the Leopards 9. Two plays later, a well designed pass from McHale to Lee Kurfis cut the lead back to 7 at 21-14 with 1:11 left. Once again, Lafayette refused to knuckle under and drove back into field goal range, but the Lehigh special teams came up with another play, blocking the field goal and heading to halftime within a touchdown and getting the ball to start the second half. Heading to the locker room, coach Andy Coen summed up the thoughts of the home crowd saying, "We've got them right where we want them."
Unfortunately for Lehigh, the early-season comebacks were led by senior Brandon Bialkowski and while he watched from the sidelines, the freshman McHale was unable to conjure the same magic. Failing to take advantage of the 2nd half kickoff, Lafayette quickly pushed the lead back to two scores as Demetrius Dixon made an acrobatic sideline catch at the Lehigh 12 and shortly after, Marcellus Irving punched it in from 7 yards out and a 28-14 lead. The Leopards forced a fumble on the next series and took over at the Mountain Hawk 40. An offensive holding call seemed to stall the drive, but back to back 11 yard gains quickly pushed Lafayette into scoring range and after being stuffed on 3rd and goal from the 1, the Leopards rolled the dice, went for it and Ross Scheuerman took a toss around right end for his second touchdown of the game. When the PAT snap was fumbled, but recovered and run in by Blake Searfoss for 2 points, it seemed clear that it would be Lafayette's day.
Things looked bleak at Goodman Stadium, and not just because the concession stands were out of power and, as a result, hot chocolate. But, Lehigh had one more run in them. Coen went to Nick Shafnisky at quarterback and, after watching Sherman break a couple of big gains into the red zone, he hit Tyler Coyle for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 36-21. A couple of possessions later, the Mountain Hawks faced 4th and 2 from the Lafayette 13, but Sherman came through again, rumbling for not only a first down but another trip to paydirt. It was 36-28 and the joint, in every way, was jumping. Just not for long.
While it was not a down to the wire affair, this should be remembered as one of the more entertaining games in recent years. It had a little bit of everything including a blocked punt, blocked field goal, flea flicker, modified Hail Mary, a double reverse with a pass back to the quarterback, a fumble returned for a touchdown as well as other long plays in both the passing and running games. Although Lafayette finished at 5-6 and will be the first sub-.500 playoff team in FCS history. this has been a different squad since Reed took over at quarterback and dominated previously undefeated Fordham and 8-2 Lehigh to close out the season. While they might not last long in the postseason, this will certainly be a memorable season for this group of Leopards. Their opponent in the first round of the playoffs should not be fooled by the record and needs to be ready for a balanced offense and opportunistic defense. In the end, the 149th installation of the rivalry wrapped up a strange Patriot League season that saw a dominant, 11-1 Fordham team not eligible for the title ultimately losing even the unofficial crown to a team that ended up under .500.
Perhaps it was fitting that the Lehigh band opened halftime with a song by a group called .fun titled "Some Nights". Surveying the joyous Lafayette rooting section and the culmination of another entertaining but unusual Patriot League season, one lyric seemed fitting: "Some nights, I don’t know…anymore."
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