Game info: The Lehigh football team (6-2, 3-0 Patriot) returns to Goodman Stadium to host Fordham University (5-2, 2-0 Patriot) for a battle between the Patriot League’s top two teams. The game is set to kick off at 12:30 p.m.
Last Lehigh game: The Mountain Hawks cruised to a 46-14 victory over Holy Cross last weekend. Sophomore running back Dominick Bragalone rushed for a career-high 182 yards to go along with two touchdowns. One of his two scores was a 66-yard touchdown run, in which he sliced through the middle of the defense and scampered to the end zone untouched. Backup quarterback Brad Mayes got the start and threw for 287 yards to go along with three touchdowns despite playing in difficult weather conditions. The Hawks wreaked havoc defensively as the team forced five turnovers: four interceptions and one fumble.
Last Lehigh vs. Fordham matchup: Last fall, Fordham left a sour taste in the Mountain Hawks’ mouths as the Rams defeated Lehigh 59-42 behind the rushing attack of current junior Chase Edmonds. Edmonds ran all over the Lehigh defense, setting a then-Patriot League record in rushing yards with 347. In the second half alone, he ran for 242 yards with four touchdowns including a 75-yard touchdown to run to clinch the game in the fourth quarter.
“It is very hard to forget a day in which someone is written in the record books against you,” senior defensive back LaQuan Lambert said. “Especially when that game served as one that denied you a championship a year ago. As a team, we’ve used that as motivation the entire offseason and it taught us valuable lessons about this game. That day, we lacked focus and were exposed, and that’s why we lost.”
Inside the numbers: The Lehigh defense will have its hands full once again with Edmonds as he enters the game as the country’s leading rusher (including FBS and FCS) with 1,244 rushing yards. Both offenses rank in the top 10 in the FCS for total yards. The Fordham offense has accumulated an average of 508.1 yards per game while averaging 32.3 points per game. On the other side, Lehigh averages 488.5 yards per game while scoring a league-best 40.3 points per game. Junior wideouts Troy Pelletier (908) and Gatlin Casey (893) rank first and second in the FCS in receiving yards.
Keys to the game:
- Can the Lehigh defense continue its impressive play to slow down Edmonds?
In the past two games, the Lehigh defense has only allowed 8.5 points per game, an improvement from allowing at least 21 points in each of its first six games. During that recent span, the team has contained the passing game as the opposition only averages 137.5 yards through the air. After forcing five turnovers last game, Lehigh improves its turnover margin to plus-seven.
Lambert credits the turnaround to the team finding its “groove” and becoming loose which he said has resulted in making more plays and having fun. As for Edmonds, Lambert said he believes it will take a collective effort to stop the country’s leading rusher.
“(Edmonds) is a great football player, arguably one of the best running backs in the entire country,” Lambert said. “However, that’s what makes this game of football so special, a team’s complete effort will triumph over any single player’s abilities. As a defense, we are very confident in our abilities, and if all 11 guys on the field do their job, we will have a great day.”
- Can Mayes/Shafnisky and the rest of the Lehigh offense continue its dominance?
Whether it’s senior Nick Shafnisky or Mayes taking snaps, the Lehigh offense has dominated its opponents for the past six weeks. Fresh off of a balanced attack from the arm of Mayes and ground game composed of Bragalone and sophomore Micco Brisker, the Lehigh offense ranks first in the country in first downs (207), sixth in total yards (488.5), fifth in passing yards (343.4), and sixth in passing efficiency (173.59).
“It’s pretty comforting knowing that (Mayes) and (Shafnisky) can both be game changers every week,” Brisker said. “They do a great job making it easy for the running backs because when they hit all of their targets the defense drops more players, which allows the running backs to really get after it running the ball.”
Implications of the game: Fordham and Lehigh are the only two undefeated teams left in the conference. Whichever side wins this game will control its own destiny for the Patriot League title. If the winning team wins its last two games, it will be crowned Patriot League champions. The Mountain Hawks are searching for their first Patriot League title since 2011.
“Winning a championship would mean absolutely everything to this team and coaching staff,” Lambert said. “A great deal of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice have been shed amongst this team. We have seen very high and very low times as a team and found a way to continue to push forward.”