I believe the question should be more along the lines of “How much will Lehigh win by?”
No disrespect to the Lafayette football team, but Lehigh is ranked as a top 20 FCS team in the country for a reason, as the Mountain Hawks haven’t lost since the second week of their season. And if you aren’t aware yet, they are already the 2016 Patriot League champions. Of course, with this historic rivalry, records are usually nullified and have no meaning toward the end result of the game, but this year may be an outlier, as the disparity in talent and production is impossible to ignore.
Offensive production has anchored Lehigh through the majority of its eight-game winning streak. The Mountain Hawks rank top 10 in the country in total yards per game (489.7), first downs (256), team passing efficiency (169.69) and passing yards per game (329.4). Individually, the team is loaded with talent at every skill position.
How often can a team say that it has two quarterbacks that can explode for big numbers any given week? Senior Nick Shafnisky and sophomore Brad Mayes are without a doubt two of the elite quarterbacks in the Patriot League. Shafnisky has been exceptional all year, garnering Patriot League Player of the Week honors twice while Mayes became the school record-holder for most passing yards in a game after a week 6 win over Yale University.
Junior receivers Gatlin Casey and Troy Pelletier have played a vital role in the quarterbacks’ success as both rank in the top 10 in the country for receiving yards. Both have accumulated more than 1,000 yards receiving. On the ground, sophomore running back Dom Bragalone needs just four yards on Saturday to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. It’s safe to say he’ll achieve that mark for the second straight year.
But enough about the Lehigh offense. The scary part for the Leopards is that of late, the Mountain Hawk defense has been carrying the load. The defense has surrendered fewer than 14 points in three of its last four games. The Mountain Hawks tallied four sacks and two interceptions against Bucknell. The defense had five sacks and four interceptions in a 46-14 win over Holy Cross two weeks prior to playing the Bison. It’s hard to gameplan against a team that can beat you in so many different ways.
Lehigh has not lost to Lafayette at Fisher Field since 2006. To put it in perspective, each freshman class was grinding through the struggles of fourth grade at that time. This will be the first rivalry game in Easton for everyone except the fifth-year seniors, as the last game scheduled for Easton was played in Yankee Stadium in 2014. The senior class is also 1-2 against the Leopards, so there is some more motivation to win, not that the seniors will need any.
On the other side, Lafayette has only two wins this season and one in conference play, which is actually an improvement from last year’s team that went 0-6 in conference play and 1-10 overall. Lehigh comfortably won 49-35 victory last year in the 151st Rivalry Game at Goodman Stadium. The Mountain Hawks saw themselves up 42-14 early in the third quarter and put it into cruise control after that. Since the game is at Fisher Field this time around, you could say the Leopards will have a better shot at home at least to make it a tight game.
I don’t think they will.
Score prediction: Lehigh 49, Lafayette 21
For why Lafayette will win, click here.