In this Nov. 19, 2016, file photo, senior running back Dom Bragalone powers through Lafayette defenders in Fisher Stadium. Bragalone had 110 rushing yards and a touchdown in the 152nd meeting of the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry game. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Why will Lafayette win the 154th Rivalry game?

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In the 154th matchup of The Rivalry, Lafayette will have home-field advantage as the Leopards try to finish with a .500 Patriot League record for the second year in a row. Lehigh will look to salvage a 2-4 Patriot League record, after winning the conference two years in a row going into this season.

When it comes to rivalry games like Laf-Lehigh, season records going into the matchup often don’t matter. What is telling, however, is the scoring differential over the season. While Lehigh has scored nine more points than Lafayette on the season, they have given up almost 100 more on the other side of the ball.

The 2017 Laf-Lehigh game was a matchup of Lehigh’s potent offense and subpar defense against Lafayette’s struggling offense and stellar defense. The biggest difference in 2018 is that two key playmakers from the Lehigh offense graduated.

Wide receivers Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey were a top-notch combo for quarterback Brad Mayes, who earned MVP honors in last year’s installment of The Rivalry. Casey is sixth all-time in receiving yards for Lehigh, and Pelletier is the all-time Patriot League leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Since the two wide receivers graduated, Mayes went from 31 touchdowns in 2017 to just 10 in 2018 with one game to go. He entered the season with the second-lowest interception percentage in Lehigh history, but so far this season, he has thrown more picks than touchdowns with 12 interceptions. 

On defense, the Leopards also graduated two Patriot League first-teamers: linebacker Brandon Bryant and defensive back Phillip Parham. It’s hard to replace the two, but freshman defensive lineman Malik Hamm has been a force, recording 7.5 sacks and 52 total tackles while earning consideration for the Jerry Rice Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

While the Lafayette defense isn’t the stalwart it was in 2017, the offense has stepped up a notch. Running backs CJ Amill, a senior, and Selwyn Simpson, a sophomore, are both averaging over four yards per carry. Head coach John Garrett has seen success rushing with wide receivers as well, with sophomore JJ Younger and junior Nick Pearson totaling 120 yards on 24 carries. 

While the passing game has been underwhelming for the Leopards, the ground game should be able to find success against the Lehigh defense. In their 10 games this season, the Mountain Hawks have conceded four touchdowns or more in six of them, including six-touchdown games against both Navy and Colgate. Four times, opponents have rushed for over 300 yards against Lehigh, and two were over 400.

The Leopards reached their highest point total of the season last year in The Rivalry, and this season should be no different. Garrett can mix rushes by Amill and Simpson with end-arounds to wide receivers to carve up the Mountain Hawk defense. Pearson rushed for 95 yards against Lehigh last year as he and the two running backs each scored a rushing touchdown. Amill added a second TD on a kickoff return and the Leopards eclipsed their season-high of 24 with a 31-point showing. This year, the Leopards have a season-high of 31 points going into The Rivalry and are poised to find the endzone more than last season.

Score prediction: Lafayette 35, Lehigh 27

AJ Traub, ’20, is the sports editor of The Lafayette.

Now read why Lehigh will win. 

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