This is difficult. It’s difficult to make a case for a team that is 1-9 and averages just 11.5 points a game.
The Leopards have had a tough go at it in the 2015 season, often undermanned and overmatched. Injuries depleted an already young squad, and Lafayette couldn’t ever get steady offensive production. On paper, defense looks to be Lafayette’s weakness with a few extremely lopsided losses. But, in my mind, the defense has been the most consistent throughout the season.
Lafayette’s last two games, however, have given me hope. With a much healthier lineup than in the first eight games of the season, Coach Tavani’s team jumped ahead early in their games against Bucknell and Colgate with increased emphasis on the rushing game and a defense that did it’s job by getting off the field. The progress the team made in weeks nine and 10, plus bye week rest, will hopefully be enough carry them against Lehigh.
I’m not going to prattle on with unrealistic optimism that the stats are lying to us all and Lafayette is set up for victory in the 151st meeting of The Rivalry. I’m going to be realistic. The Leopards have to execute a nearly perfect game plan to have a shot at taking down that other team from the Lehigh Valley.
For Lafayette to be in a position to win, they will need to be effective with the rush on both sides of the ball. Disrupting Lehigh’s rush game is the greatest contribution the Lafayette defense can make to keep points off the board. When the differential between passing and rushing yards is more than 100, the Hawks are 0-4. And when Lafayette has the ball, a commitment to the run is key. The rush has been a problem for Lehigh’s defense this season, and the Leopards need to capitalize. In their five losses, Lehigh has given up an average of 297 rushing yards.
A 1-9 season is not much to stand on, but records fail to tell the full story of the team that will show up to play Saturday afternoon at Goodman Stadium.
This team is resilient. More injuries than seemingly possible in one season is not the only adversity the Leopards have faced this season. Since preseason, the team has battled with the loss of Brian Keller. A beloved teammate and extremely talented tight end, Keller was killed in a car crash over the summer. A dismal losing season was not how the team envisioned honoring Keller, and they will be more motivated than ever to bring home a win for “Captain America,” as his teammates often called him.
It has turned into a one-game season for the Leopards. They are playing for pride and they are playing for Brian. And if anything, it will be the strength they’ve found through their trials that will make them victorious in this meeting of The Rivalry.
Score prediction: Lafayette 24, Lehigh 17
Written by Rachel Robertson, ’18, sports editor for The Lafayette.