Junior wide receiver Gatlin Casey goes up to make a catch in a game against Fordham University on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, at Goodman Stadium. Lehigh defeated Fordham for the first time since 2013, winning 58-37 (Gracie Chavers/B&W Staff)

Career day for Dom Bragalone propels Lehigh football over Fordham


Entering Lehigh’s game against Fordham University, the storyline was clear.

It was a matchup of the Patriot League giants – the two teams were the last remaining undefeated teams in conference play.

The teams held the top two spots in the Patriot League in both total and scoring offense, and both were in the top 10 in the FCS in those categories as well. The stage was set for a shootout, and it seemed to be a matter of which offense could find its rhythm first that would determine the outcome.

Apparently, Fordham didn’t get the message.

Lehigh (7-2, 4-0 Patriot) cruised by Fordham on Saturday, winning the game 58-37 to remain the last undefeated team in the Patriot League and keep sole possession of first place in the conference.

“I’m really thrilled with the kids’ effort today,” coach Andy Coen said. “Every week we talk about certain things before we get into the game, and these guys every week are doing what we ask them to do. They’re a tremendous group of guys.”

Sophomore running back Dom Bragalone was the star of the game for Lehigh, rushing for a career high 192 yards on 15 carries while scoring three touchdowns.

It was the second week in a row Bragalone set a career high in rushing yards, and he likely would have been the first Lehigh player since 2003 to eclipse 200 yards in a game if the starters had not been taken out with seven minutes left in the game.

He was not the only one to have success, as senior quarterback Nick Shafnisky had three rushing touchdowns of his own to go along with 112 yards on the ground and 238 through the air.

“I think the momentum from last game really carried over to this game, and we just have to keep it rolling now,” Shafnisky said.

The offense, which didn’t punt for the first time since 1999, was in the spotlight as it’s been throughout the season, but this game was about the defense.

Coen put faith in the unit early, deferring after winning the coin toss and giving Fordham’s potent offense the ball to start the game. The defense did its job, forcing punts on Fordham’s first two drives while the Lehigh offense scored two touchdowns for an early 13-0 lead.

“The defense, which would’ve been the one thing where a lot of people would’ve been concerned about, has picked up right where they are every week,” Coen said. “They keep getting better and better.”

The teams each got a field goal and touchdown on their next two drives, bringing the score to 23-9.

Coen’s faith in the defense was further rewarded when senior Evan Harvey forced a fumble on the first play of Fordham’s next drive, which was recovered by sophomore Donavon Harris and set up the second of Bragalone’s three touchdowns.

“We come into each week with the mindset of ‘one play, one assignment’ – we have to do our one-eleventh on each play, and once that play is over, it’s on to the next play and forget about the play before,” junior defensive lineman Tyler Cavenas said. “And it kind of makes it easier for us, it takes a little pressure off us, when our offensive side of the ball is scoring pretty much on every drive when they go down the field.”

After Bragalone’s 70-yard touchdown run on the subsequent drive, Cavenas recorded the first of his three sacks to send Lehigh into halftime with a standing ovation from the Goodman Stadium crowd and a 37-9 lead.

The second half saw Fordham make its best attempt at a comeback, scoring 28 of the game’s final 35 points, but there simply wasn’t enough time for the Rams.

Lehigh has now won its past seven games with an average margin of victory of 23 points. This win also ended its three-game losing streak to Fordham that dated back to 2013, and the team is now 24-5 all-time in the series.

The Mountain Hawks, who were ranked 24th in the FCS Coaches Poll on Oct. 24, now own the tiebreaker over Fordham in the Patriot League standings. With a win over Bucknell University next week at Goodman Stadium, the Mountain Hawks would clinch the Patriot League title for the first time since 2011.

“I’ve had a lot of really good teams that I’ve coached and thought very highly about, but these guys are getting right up there,” Coen said. “All we need to do is get a little jewelry here.”

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