Before the highly anticipated game against Lafayette on Saturday, the 158th installment of The Rivalry, The Brown and White talked to three of the Lehigh football team’s top performers this season.
Dante Perri began his Lehigh football career as a walk-on back in 2020 and has since emerged as the team’s starting quarterback. Perri was named one of Lehigh’s team captains this season. He said he has embraced the new role and the challenges that come with it.
“The biggest thing I struggled with early on is learning that you can’t take too much on,” Perri said. “You just have to do your job and play football. We are all here because we are football players. We were good at it in high school, and then somebody gave us a chance to go do it in college, so just trust ourselves and go play.”
Perri had his best performance of the season in the team’s 36-33 home win against Colgate. Perri threw for 424 yards, had four total touchdowns and no turnovers. As the Mountain Hawks prepare for Lafayette on Nov. 19, Perri said he will look to continue the momentum with another strong showing.
Perri is no stranger to the Le-Laf rivalry and said he knows what it takes to win in a competitive atmosphere. Perri was Lehigh’s starting quarterback in last year’s contest between the two teams, a game in which the Mountain Hawks defeated the Leopards 17-10. In order to come out with the win in this year’s game, Perri said it will come down to Lehigh’s ability to play complimentary football throughout the course of the game.
Wide receiver, junior
Eric Johnson has made big plays for Lehigh throughout his career, but this season Johnson has performed particularly well. Heading into the final game of the season, Johnson leads the Mountain Hawks in receiving touchdowns (four) and is second on the team in catches (42) and yards (505). Johnson is coming off of a career game against Colgate, during which he caught 10 passes for 194 yards, and hauled in the go-ahead touchdown with 22 seconds remaining. Johnson attributed his success to his teammates and coaches, and credited the other receivers on the team for stepping up.
“Just trusting the calls,” Johnson said. “Everybody did their jobs, O-line holding up upfront, Dante (Perri) was throwing balls well where we could get them, and it just happened that I was the one with the most yards at the end of the day. But (Jalen) Burbage had a good day too, he had over a hundred (yards) and a touchdown, and then our freshman Geoffrey (Jamiel) almost had a hundred (yards), too, so it was just really everybody making plays and doing what we can do.”
Mike DeNucci has led the way for the Mountain Hawks on the defensive end, leading the team in solo tackles (60), total tackles (90) and sacks (8.5). Due to his play this season, DeNucci was one of only 21 FCS players to be added to the watchlist for the Buck Buchanan Award, becoming the first Lehigh player on the list since 2019. The award honors the best defensive player in the FCS.
DeNucci said a couple of different factors have allowed him to have a breakout season this year.
“I think being able to know the playbook fully this year — obviously due to (COVID-19) it was a weird offseason and weird camp (last year) — so getting the playbook down has allowed me to just play faster,” DeNucci said. “And also just having the D-Line. Those guys holding those gaps down and making the play but not getting the stats for them because they’re just taking up the double teams and taking on the blocks for me.”
As DeNucci gets set to take on Lafayette for the third time in his career, he said his experience has allowed him to recognize the significance that The Rivalry holds.
“They’re always talking about how we have rivalries with other schools, whether it’s Colgate or Holy Cross, but at the end of the day, the Rivalry is Lafayette and that’s the end game,” DeNucci said. “Going in there, no matter what the records are, that’s like our mini championship just between us and them, so there’s always added motivation.”