In this Nov. 19, 2016, file photo, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks line up against the Lafayette Leopards at Fisher Stadium. Lehigh and Lafayette will play for the 153rd time Saturday at Goodman Stadium. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Patriot League title on the line in 153rd Le-Laf game

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Game info: The Lehigh football team (4-6, 4-1 Patriot) returns to Goodman Stadium to host Lafayette College (3-7, 3-2 Patriot) in the 153rd meeting between the longtime Patriot League foes. The game is set to kick off at 12:30 p.m.

Lehigh’s previous game: The Mountain Hawks cruised to a 34-21 victory over Holy Cross last weekend. Junior running back Dominick Bragalone rushed for 201 yards to complement his career-high four touchdowns. One of his four scores was a 45-yard touchdown run, in which he sliced through the middle of the defensive line, bounced to the sideline and scampered to the end zone untouched. Bragalone also had a 33-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Senior wide receiver Troy Pelletier caught 11 passes for 100 yards in the win. The Lehigh defense tallied three sacks and forced three fumbles while recovering two.

Last Lehigh vs. Lafayette matchup: Last fall, the Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 31-7 lead before halftime as Lehigh rolled over the Leopards en route to a 45-21 win. Then, senior quarterback Nick Shafnisky threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns while adding a four-yard touchdown run, garnering MVP honors for a second straight year. Bragalone chipped in 110 yards on the ground with a touchdown while Pelletier hauled two touchdown receptions. The Lehigh defense combined for three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

Inside the numbers: The Mountain Hawk offense leads the Patriot League in nearly every statistical category. Lehigh enters the game as the top Patriot League scoring team, averaging 36.3 points per game. Bragalone anchors Lehigh’s offense with his league-high 133.3 rushing yards per game while his 19 total touchdowns lead the entire FCS. Pelletier leads all Patriot League receivers with 1,091 yards while fellow senior Gatlin Casey ranks first in touchdown receptions with 10. Junior quarterback Brad Mayes leads the league in passing touchdowns (25), yards (3156) and completion percentage (62.6).

Keys to the game:

  1. Can the Lehigh defense continue its momentum from its past two games?

In the past two games, the Lehigh defense has only allowed 21 points per game, an improvement from allowing at least 35 points in each of its first six games. During that recent time span, the team has contained the passing game as the opposition only averages 187.5 yards through the air. Although the defense ranks in the bottom of most categories in the entire country because of its poor start to the year, Lafayette’s offense ranks at the bottom of the Patriot League for points and total yards.

“I think we’re just playing as a complete unit on the defense right now,” senior defensive lineman Tyler Cavenas said. “Everyone is gelling together, and we’re just having fun.”

“Over the last three to four weeks, I think our defense is as strong as anyone in the Patriot League,” coach Andy Coen said.

  1. Can Lafayette stop Dom Bragalone and Troy Pelletier?

Bragalone and Pelletier are two candidates for the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year award. While the defense has had its struggles all year, Bragalone and Pelletier have been consistent throughout Patriot League play. The two have combined for 26 of Lehigh’s 51 touchdowns this season. After starting the year as a pass-heavy team, the Mountain Hawks now use their run game to open up more passing opportunities. Lafayette has been solid defensively in conference play, but the Mountain Hawks have scored at least 34 points in seven of their 10 games this season.

Implications of the game: With a win on Saturday, the Mountain Hawks will be crowned Patriot League champions for the second straight year. The win will also increase Lehigh’s win streak to three over Lafayette and send the Mountain Hawks to the FCS Playoffs. If Lafayette wins, the Leopards can clinch a share of the Patriot League title with Lehigh and Colgate University if Colgate loses to Georgetown University. However, the Raiders will own the tiebreaker to claim the FCS Playoffs berth.  

“I kinda put it in the hands of the seniors and let them tell the team what this game is all about,” Coen said. “I let them know that in this game anything can happen. We can’t take anything for granted. The upperclassmen know that when the ball is kicked off, this is different.”

“If you treat (this game) like something new, then people’s heads will be out of it, and we won’t focus on what we have to do in practice,” Cavenas said. “We also have to tune out what’s happening on campus to get ready for this game.”

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