Junior linebacker Mike Barr "rings the bell" after Lafayette's football game against Bucknell on Oct. 1, 2022. (Courtesy of Charlie Berman)

Why Lafayette will win the 158th Rivalry game


Charlie Berman is the assistant sports editor of The Lafayette, Lafayette College’s student newspaper.

The Lafayette Leopards (3-7 overall, 2-3 Patriot League) will look to avenge last year’s loss against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (2-8 overall, 2-3 Patriot League) tomorrow as the teams meet for the 158th time in their storied rivalry. Both teams come in with identical records to last year, with Lafayette once again holding a one game advantage.

The Leopards have had the epitome of an up and down season this year. They shut out 17-point favorite Sacred Heart on a goal line stand, cruised to road victories against Colgate and Bucknell and were a play away from upsetting fourth ranked Holy Cross. On the flip side, they dropped games to Georgetown and Fordham by significant margins and have struggled for large portions of the season with an inconsistent offense.

Lehigh, on the other hand, has struggled all year. While keeping things close in almost all of its matchups, its defense has allowed less than 20 points only twice in the 10 games it has played so far.

While Lehigh lost to Bucknell, a team that the Leopards coasted to a victory against, Lehigh snatched a victory from Georgetown, a team that got its only win of the year from a double-digit victory over Lafayette.

Lafayette is led by its defense. Linebacker Marco Olivas and defensive lineman Malik Hamm, the two senior captains, have once again lit up the stats sheet, carrying the Leopards to one of the best scoring defenses in the conference.

Complementing them are senior defensive lineman Ian Grayson and senior linebacker Billy Shaeffer, both of whom have spent at least six weeks injured but have returned to their All-Patriot level of play in the latter half of this season.

Cornerbacks junior A.T. Ntantang and sophomore Gabe DuBois, paired with the safety duo of senior DaRon Gilbert and sophomore Saiku White, make passing on the Leopards difficult. On the ground things are no easier for the competition thanks to junior linebacker Preston Forney and senior defensive linemen Jyaire Stevens and Damon Washington; the latter of the two was the spring 2021 Rivalry game defensive MVP.

The Leopards’ strong defensive unit will be matching up against a Lehigh offense that has put up 25 points only twice in its season thus far.

The Leopards’ offense, however, has had struggles of its own. Because of a depleted, injured offensive line and a young roster of skill players, the Maroon and White have failed to move the ball with any consistency all season.

Sophomore quarterback Ah-Shaun Davis will be making his first ever start in a rivalry game tomorrow after being injured last year. He has struggled to find the confidence and poise he had last season as a freshman, in part due to his offensive line’s lack of experience.

On the ground, the Leopards boast a three-man backfield with senior Jaden Sutton and freshman Jamar Curtis leading the way. Sutton has notched 100-yard rushing efforts in two out of the last four games.

On the outside, Davis has plenty of weapons to choose from, it is just a matter of whether he has time to hit them. Senior receiver Julius Young leads a young group alongside sophomore Chris Carasia, senior Carl Smith and explosive new freshman Elijah Steward.

On paper, Lafayette has the offensive talent to succeed against Lehigh’s suspect defensive unit, it’s just a matter of whether they can execute.

The last three matchups in the Rivalry have come down to one score, so special teams could be the deciding factor tomorrow. The Leopards have struggled in this regard, making only two of their five field goal attempts this season. They have also had five punts blocked, three of which were in one game against Temple earlier this year.

Ultimately, this game will come down to offensive line play. Davis has showcased how he can perform when he has time to let the play develop. If the offensive line can stymie Lehigh’s front seven, they will have a decent chance. For its part, Lehigh’s offensive line will have a hard time stopping Lafayette’s defensive front, which consists of several members who have been named Patriot League first or second team in their careers.

Although we will see both teams struggling to move the ball, I think the Lafayette defensive line will have a field day in the Mountain Hawk back field, and the Leopards offense will put up just enough to take the victory in front of a capacity crowd at Fisher Stadium.

Prediction: Lafayette 24, Lehigh 13.

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