Rivalry 153 Goes Down to the Wire
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Lehigh outscored Lafayette 10-0 in the fourth quarter to snatch a 38-31 win over Lafayette in the 153rd meeting of College Football's Most-Played Rivalry on Saturday at Goodman Stadium.
In the biggest game of the year, the Leopards found a way to run the ball, churning out a season-high 187 yards on the ground. Sophomore wide receiver Nick Pearson accounted for 95 of those yards and Selwyn Simpson 57, each scoring a rushing touchdown.
On the first drive of the game, Lafayette showed its ability to move on the ground. Lafayette used 10 plays to cover 73 yards. The drive ran 5:58 off the clock and was capped by Pearson's one-yard end-around. Lafayette quarterback Sean O'Malley (6-18-0 for 43 yards) picked up one first down with his feet and threw for two more before Pearson finished off the drive.
Lehigh responded with its own quick score, covering 72 yards on six plays over 2:27 of action. Dom Bragalone capped the scoring drive with a five-yard run.
After a Leopard punt, the Lafayette defense appeared to come up with a turnover, forcing a fumble at its own seven. A lengthy official review resulted in the turnover being overturned. After the official bailout, Lehigh finished off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brad Mayes to Troy Pelletier for the 14-7 lead with 1:41 left in the first.
The Leopards' offense opted for the fake punt just before the end of the first quarter and Michael Turk's first career passing attempt just missed Yasir Thomas and Lehigh took over on downs. The Leopard defense answered with Andy Labudev's eight-yard sack of Mayes on first down before stopping Lehigh on 4th-and-6 at the Lafayette 32.
The Maroon and White went three-and-out and then took advantage of Lehigh's Quentin Jones who muffed the punt and allowed the offense to stay on the field. Another Pearson run, this time with a lead block by Simpson put Lafayette at the Lehigh five-yard line. On the next play, Simpson took care of business, bowling through the line and knocking a defender into the end zone to knot the game at 14-14 with 12:06 left in the half.
Another Lehigh special teams miscue followed. Jack Lamb forced a fumble on the kick-off which Rob Hinchen recovered at the Lehigh 21-yard line. The Leopards' Jeffrey Kordenbrock booted through a 33-yard field goal for the Leopards to take a 17-14 lead.
The Leopard running game came through again on the offense's next drive when Pearson ripped off a 45-yard run, Lafayette's longest rush of the season, down to the Lehigh nine. Two rushing plays later C.J. Amill punched in his first rushing TD of the season to hand Lafayette a 24-14 advantage with 6:57 left in the half.
The Maroon and White's defense came up with another turnover on Lehigh's ensuing drive. Thomas stripped Bragalone and Eric Mitchell recovered near midfield. Lafayette benefited from an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to pick up its first down of the drive. Then, Pearson dialed up another, taking the hand-off from Amill who received the direct snap to the Lehigh 23. Simspon added a 14-yard run and Lafayette had the ball 1st-and-goal at the nine-yard line. Two runs and an incomplete pass forced the Leopards to set up for a 21-yard field goal, but the snap was high and no kick got off the ground. Lafayette went into halftime leading 24-14.
Lehigh scored first in the second half when Bragalone punched in a 1-yard run to cut Lafayette's lead to 24-21 five minutes after intermission.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Lafayette special teams unit responded. Will Eisler and Keith Earle set blocks that helped spring Amill for a 96-yard return, the fourth longest in Leopard history and the first runback since 2014. Lafayette led 31-21 at 6:57 in the third.
The back-and-forth game continued with Lehigh picking up 4th-and-4 at the Lafayette 34 before eventually scoring on a seven-yard pass from Mayes to Pelletier. That trimmed Lafayette's advantage to 31-28 that held through the end of the third quarter.
Lehigh's Ed Mish tied the game with a 32-yard field goal three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Mountain Hawks took the lead for the first time and for good with 7:49 left in the game. Mayes hit Gatlin Casey for a 41-yard touchdown pass. Lehigh led 38-31. Mayes was named the game MVP finished with 26-of-35 for 397 yards and three touchdowns, hitting Casey and Pelletier for 154 and 107 yards, respectively.
Lehigh had the ball for the final time beginning with 5:55 left in the game, and a healthy dose of Bragalone salted away the victory. Bragalone finished the day with 29 carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Brandon Bryant led the defense with nine tackles while Thomas chipped in with eight.
Lafayette finishes the season 3-8 overall and 3-3 in the Patriot League while Lehigh improves to 5-6, 5-1, having won its third straight matchup in the rivalry.
NOTES: O'Malley finished the season with 241-of-397. His 241 completions are a new school record, topping Rob Curley's 231 in 2009. His 397 attempts are second all-time to Marko Glavic who had 399 in 2002 and 390 in 2003.
Turk set a new single-season record for punting average (42.7), beating Charles Loiacano's 42.6 average in 1946.