Members of the Lehigh football team celebrate on the sideline during the 2021 Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry game. The team is playing in the 158th Rivalry game on Nov. 19. (Courtesy of Xin Chen/B&W Staff)

Why Lehigh will win the 158th Rivalry game


Lehigh (2-8) and Lafayette (3-7) are coming into the 158th Rivalry game with the same records they had going into the game last season.

Both teams are also entering the game with a 2-3 record in the Patriot League.

Lafayette may hold a one game lead over Lehigh in wins, but as shown in previous years, when it comes to the Rivalry game, records don’t matter.

Both teams have recorded wins against Colgate and lost to league-leaders Holy Cross, Princeton (5-1 in Ivy League play) and Fordham. Lehigh picked up a win over Georgetown, which Lafayette lost to 30-20, and Lafayette beat Bucknell, which was winless until it beat Lehigh 19-17.

In the last two seasons, the Mountain Hawks have seemed to find their stride late in the season. Last year, after starting 0-8, the team ended the season by winning its final three games, including a 17-10 win in Rivalry 157 at Goodman Stadium.

This year, the team got its first win of the season against Georgetown in week two, but went on to lose seven straight games. 

Sitting at a dismal 1-8, the Mountain Hawks picked up a huge win in their final home game against a Colgate team that was ranked third in the Patriot League. Their two wins of the season came down to the final minutes of the game, proving the Mountain Hawks have the composure and ability to make plays under pressure in close games.

Lehigh is now 15-5 in its last 20 games the week prior to playing Lafayette.

The Mountain Hawk offense ranks above the Leopards with 23 touchdowns, six field goals and 178 points, compared to Lafayette’s 17, two and 125, respectively.

Lehigh has primarily relied on the leadership of junior quarterback Dante Perri, who has thrown for 1,870 yards on the season, 11 touchdowns and has Rivalry game experience after starting in last year’s game.

Lafayette has filtered through three different quarterbacks this season, including sophomore Ah-Shaun Davis, junior Rent Montie and freshman Ryan Shuster, with Davis starting the team’s last four games. Davis is set to make his first start in a Rivalry game, which will be a big task, after being injured last season. 

In Lehigh’s recent win against Colgate, Perri and junior wide receiver Eric Johnson had career days. Perri had one of his best games in a brown and white jersey, with 424 passing yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first Mountain Hawk quarterback to throw for over 400 yards since 2017. Johnson had a career high 10 receptions for 194 yards. The offense also posted 480 yards — another season high.

Other receivers — including senior Jalen Burbage and freshman Geoffrey Jamiel — have also had strong seasons. As a freshman, Jamiel is leading the team with 46 receptions and 558 receiving yards. Burbage is not far behind with 39 receptions and four touchdowns on the season, including an 89 yard kickoff return touchdown against Fordham. 

The Mountain Hawks are now heading into the game with momentum and energy after a thrilling win, whereas the Leopards are coming into the final game of the season looking to redeem themselves after a 45-10 loss against Fordham. 

Lafayette will also need to keep an eye out for Lehigh’s running back trio of senior Zaythan Hill, junior Jack DiPietro and sophomore Gaige Garcia, who refer to themselves as “the stable.” The three have a combined 988 rushing yards on the season, with Garcia leading with 570 yards, including an 82 yard rush touchdown against Cornell on Oct. 15. DiPietro was named last year’s Rivalry game MVP after scoring a touchdown and blocking a punt which led to Lehigh’s victory.

Lehigh is averaging 103.3 rushing yards per game compared to only 85.5 for Lafayette. Yet, with Lafayette’s rush defense ranked first in the Patriot League, Lehigh’s offensive play calling and run game will be something to watch out for. 

On the defensive line, the Mountain Hawks have three players who stand to make significant differences in the game. 

Junior Mike DeNucci is one of the top defensive players in the Patriot League this season and was one of 21 players to be named to the watchlist for the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award, awarded to the national defensive player of the year in the Football Championship Subdivision. DeNucci is leading the team this season with 90 tackles and 8.5 sacks. 

Not far behind is sixth-year Nate Norris with 77 tackles. Norris was awarded Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week on Nov. 14 after securing the game-clinching interception in the team’s win against Colgate. Senior TyGee Leach also has 71 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. 

Lehigh is currently second in the Patriot League behind Fordham with 23 sacks on the season.

Even though the game is in Easton this year, expect Lehigh fans, current students and alumni alike, to show up to propel their team to a second straight Rivalry victory. The last time the game was played in Easton was on April 10, 2021, as the game was postponed due to COVID-19. Before that matchup, Lehigh had won five straight Rivalry games in Fisher Stadium. 

Although neither team has been fully consistent this season, Lehigh’s momentum and capability of making big plays, both on offense and defense in late-game situations, will lead them to a victory against Lafayette in the 158th Rivalry game. 

Prediction: Lehigh 24, Lafayette 21

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