It’s the first taste of The Rivalry for Lafayette football coach John Garrett and freshman quarterback Sean O’Malley.
It’s also a chance for the Leopards to spoil the Lehigh Mountain Hawks’ playoff hopes.
While Lehigh defeated Colgate, the team’s co-leader in the Patriot League, the Mountain Hawks must still consider this game a must-win as Colgate is headed to face the winless Georgetown team.
The Lehigh offense against Lafayette defense will be a thrill to watch. The Mountain Hawks’ offense has looked powerful this season, but it has yet to face the prolific defense of the Leopards.
Lafayette senior defensive back Phil Parham has hauled in seven interceptions this season.
Lafayette senior linebacker Brandon Bryant was named to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List for national defensive player of the year after winning Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week three times in a row.
Parham and Bryant are two leaders in a defensive unit that has been a dominating force. Five Leopards have more than 50 tackles on the season. The team has picked off 15 passes and forced 10 fumbles, five of which it recovered. The defense has given up just 37 points total in five Patriot League match-ups.
In comparison, Lehigh’s defense has surrendered 160 points in the same five Patriot League matchups. Fordham could only muster 10 points against the Lafayette defense but torched Lehigh for 45. The Leopards shut out Georgetown, but Lehigh allowed the Hoyas to put 35 up on the scoreboard. The Mountain Hawks have failed to hold any of their opponents under 20 points, which should be a great benefit to the struggling Leopards’ offense.
While Lafayette has yet to break out on offense, Garrett said after the Leopard’s low-scoring victory against the Hoyas that the pieces of the offense are close to coming together. The Lehigh defense is exactly what the doctor ordered. The Leopards have shown glimmers of brilliance throughout the season, with O’Malley throwing 50+ yard touchdown passes to junior wide receiver Joey Chenoweth and senior wide receiver Rocco Palumbo.
O’Malley’s abilities have not gone unnoticed, as he won Patriot League Rookie of the Week twice.
Freshman running back Selwyn Simpson contributed to the recent development of the rushing game for Lafayette, as the team has worked toward a more multidimensional offense.
Garrett has a reserve of offensive weapons who are experienced in The Rivalry to use in the offense. Senior running back DeSean Brown has scored four touchdowns in the last two rivalry meetings. Junior running back CJ Amill also recorded a touchdown. Not to mention senior wide receiver Matt Mrazek, whose career-receiving yards places him in the top 10 in Lafayette record books.
When the offense does fail to score, it has been freshman punter Michael Turk to the rescue. Turk is averaging 43 yards per punt, including 18 punts within the opposing 20-yard line. Lehigh punters are averaging 38 yards per punt, allowing for opponents to start with better field positions. The Leopards can use this advantage to win the field position battle.
The game is not in the bag for either team, but Lafayette has the advantage of having nothing to lose in the standings. With their loss to Colgate, the Leopards cannot win the Patriot League. They can go out on the field knowing the game is nothing more than a chance to remove their greatest rival from the top spot. That, and everything listed above, is why Lafayette will win The Rivalry’s 153rd installment.
Prediction: Lafayette 28, Lehigh 23
AJ Traub, ’20, is the sports editor of The Lafayette.