Down by Double Digits, Halftime Speech Sparks Lehigh’s #Rivalry153 Rally As Lehigh Wins 38-31

For the first time all season, it was a dark, wet day for a Lehigh football game.

It was not at all ideal for the more than 15,000 fans, and countless tailgaters that made it to the tailgates but not in the stadium, partying and tailgating outside the gates of Murray Goodman.

It was also not at all ideal for Lehigh's high-powered passing game, and during a disastrous second quarter with three turnovers, it felt like the wheels were coming off the Mountain Hawks' chances at successfully defending their Patriot League title.

It seemed like everything that could go wrong, was actually going wrong.  Three fumbles resulted in three Lafayette recoveries.  A third down conversion incompletion by Lafayette QB Sean O'Malley became an unexpected first down, thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that kept their drive alive.  A 14-7 first quarter lead became 17 unanswered points, leading to a 24-14 deficit against the best defensive team in the Patriot League.

In this most important of football games for many of the Lehigh faithful, it seemed like they were losing it by shooting themselves in the foot.

Then halftime happened, and everything changed.  More rain, and worse weather, did not deter Lehigh from their goal.   And a couple of Rivalry legends were made in the process.
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What To Look For On Sunday For the FCS Playoff Pairings

Lehigh are the Patriot League Football Champs, and will be playing in the 1st round of the FCS playoffs.

The FCS Playoff Bracket is going to be revealed on ESPNU at 11:00AM on Sunday on a selection show.  The team will be watching the selections live at the Goosey Gander to find out who they will play, and where.

The chance that Lehigh will host a home playoff game appears to be very slim.  Though record is technically not in consideration for whether a team will host a first-round game, other considerations (the lack of lights, no Noon playoff starts) make it difficult if not impossible to host a playoff game at Murray Goodman unless temporary lights are brought in.

Being that's the case, it seems very likely that Lehigh will be playing somewhere on the road in the 1st round.  Below the flip, I will give the bracket predictions of the experts and three things I think you should watch for during the selection show.
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QUICK RECAP: Lehigh Rallies from 24-14 Deficit, Ends Up Patriot League Co-Champs With Thrilling 38-31 Win over Rivals

As in most meetings of The Rivalry, there were a lot of ill Lehigh fans wandering around the stands at halftime.

Not all of that illness is football-related, but the folks who live and die by this team were as well.

Down 24-14, victims of three first half fumbles, two of which were converted into Lafayette touchdowns, it almost fell like the wheels were coming off the Lehigh bus.  The energy in the stands was lacking.

The narratives were writing themselves - a young Lehigh team that made too many mistakes to win a big football game.  A team that more often than not couldn't get out of their own way enough to win a big game.  Only the win against Colgate, with all of those overturned touchdowns for the Raiders, would Lehigh have come from behind to win.

But in the second half, something happened.

Despite a Lafayette kickoff return for touchdown, the Mountain Hawks exploded for 344 yards of offense  and scored 24 points on offense in a variety of ways, none more spectacular than junior QB Brad Mayes' 41 yard bomb to senior WR Gatlin Casey to give Lehigh the lead with 7:49 to play.

In addition, Lehigh's defense emerged to put the hammer down on the Lafayette offense as well, with sophomore FS Riley O'Neil leading the charge with some big hits and senior DE Tyler Cavenas forcing Lafayette's young signalcaller, QB Sean O'Malley, into some missed throws.  Lafayette's offensive output was only 24 yards the entire second half.

Slowly, the momentum that was all Lafayette's started to turn.  By the end, no Lehigh fan felt ill anymore.

On a cold, wet, rainy Rivalry Saturday, a slick football no impediment, Lehigh came together just in time to rally to take the lead on Lafayette and ultimately win, 38-31.  In a way it's the perfect microcosm of their season in one game: start sloppy, and it seemed like, maybe, this thing was going to go off the tracks.  

But just in time, everything came together, and as a result, Lehigh are Patriot League Champions and will be practicing on Thanksgiving.
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#Rivalry153 Lehigh Senior Spotlight

Like I did last year, I compiled a list of a "greatest hits" of some of the published articles on all of the Lehigh football seniors. 

They are below the flip.

All of the players below are listed as seniors or 5th year players on the current Lehigh roster.  Some may choose to return for 5th year medical redshirts.

The articles that are clipped are from a variety of sources: The Brown and White, The Morning Call, and LehighSports.com.

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#Rivalry153 Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction: Leopards’ Veteran D Will Be Tough To Crack

We break down #Rivalry153 - and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.

I have always felt like these Rivalry games are first and foremost about the seniors. 

It seems like for the most part, it's the seniors who really answer the call and compete to their fullest potential in this bowl game at the end of the regular season.  Guys like Lehigh QB Nick Shafnisky last year, who won the MVP award, or Lafayette RB Ross Scheuerman, who dominated a certain game in the Bronx that shall not be named.

When you take away The Rivalry, when you take away the emotions, when you take away the craziness, the energy - what do we have?  When you look at the Xs and Os, what do you have?

Certainly, this game, like every Rivalry game, will be dictated and informed by emotion.  You can count on the fact, as a Lehigh fan, that Lafayette will play out of their minds. 

That shouldn't stop us, though, from looking over the Leopards and seeing what they're all about.  They will put together a gameplan to come away with victory, and though Lafayette head coach John Garrett could very well take their entire playbook up until this point and throw it in the trash, and it's up to the Mountain Hawks to figure out a way to stop them.

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#Rivalry153 Game Preview: The Great – Yet Terrifying – Bowl Game To End the 2017 Regular Season

Senior OL Zach Duffy could have chosen to talk about any number of career highs when he reflected this week in The Brown and White about his time as a football player at Lehigh.

He could have talked about building the program up from a 4-7 team into a Patriot League champion, crushing the sweet dreams of Lafayette last year in Easton in the 152nd version of The Rivalry, 45-21,
or perhaps he could have waxed philosophic about the last time Lehigh squared off against Lafayette at Murray Goodman Stadium, the time when QB Nick Shafnisky threw aside a Lafayette defender and the Mountain Hawks blew the doors out with a 49-35 win.

But that's not what he talked about at all.

He went right at the "agony of defeat" moments instead, talking about the loss to Lafayette in 2013, the infamous "it's supposed to suck, and it's supposed to hurt" game where an 8-2 Lehigh team faced off against a 4-6 Lafayette squad that ended up going to the FCS Playoffs with a 5-6 record.

"We had come into that game 8-2 with some momentum," Zach wrote.  "We knew Lafayette was a tough team, but we didn’t respect them because we thought they couldn’t be tougher than us.

"[And after the loss,] I had no option but to stagger through the families consoling our seniors because they would never play football again. I watched grown men cry because they’d never again make a game-changing play, score a touchdown or deliver those big hits we love on defense. We saw their faces, and we felt their pain. Not only were their careers over, but we also lost the Patriot League Championship to our archrivals.  Now, four years later, we’re in a similar position."

Lehigh has played three Rivalry games since that 2013 meeting, but none of them technically had the Patriot League Championship - and an FCS Playoff berth - on the line, because Lehigh had wrapped up the autobid and no worse than a co-championship going in.  In 2013, the Mountain Hawks had everything to play for, and lost, and this season, in 2017, Lehigh is in the exact same position.

And that's both exciting - and terrifying.

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#TheRivalry Through The Decades: From 1887 To 2017

I thought a fun way this season to show off the historic nature of Lehigh and Lafayette's football Rivalry might be to do a jump through the decades.

(If you want to learn more about the Lehigh and Lafayette Rivalry, read my book: The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series, available in both paperback in Kindle versions.)

Lehigh and Lafayette's Rivalry in football started in 1884, when Lafayette student manager (and founder of the football team) Theodore Welles approached the founder and student manager of Lehigh football, J.S. Robeson, and challenged them to a game of "foot-ball", a ground-based game that resembled more of a cross between rugby and soccer than the modern game of today.

Let's turn back the clock 130 years, and proceed decade by decade, and you'll see how many times Lehigh and Lafayette have played over the years, and hopefully get an appreciation on how the game changed and evolved over time.
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#TheRivalry Through The Decades: From 1887 To 2017

I thought a fun way this season to show off the historic nature of Lehigh and Lafayette's football Rivalry might be to do a jump through the decades.

(If you want to learn more about the Lehigh and Lafayette Rivalry, read my book: The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series, available in both paperback in Kindle versions.)

Lehigh and Lafayette's Rivalry in football started in 1884, when Lafayette student manager (and founder of the football team) Theodore Welles approached the founder and student manager of Lehigh football, J.S. Robeson, and challenged them to a game of "foot-ball", a ground-based game that resembled more of a cross between rugby and soccer than the modern game of today.

Let's turn back the clock 130 years, and proceed decade by decade, and you'll see how many times Lehigh and Lafayette have played over the years, and hopefully get an appreciation on how the game changed and evolved over time.
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The Rivalry: Enjoy The Best Part Of Going to Lehigh Or Lafayette

It's something you ought to see once in your life, if you can, because it's unique, it exudes its own special energy, and it has an emotion and spectacle that many bowl games would dream to have.

The short version of the tale of the football Rivalry between Lehigh and Lafyette is simple: It's the most-played college football Rivalry in the world.

It's been waged every year, with only one interruption since 1884.

And the two schools, in competition in pretty much everything since the founding of Lafayette (1826) and Lehigh (1865), eventually coalesced around football as the main driver of The Rivalry between them.

I've spent a good portion of my adult life being around The Rivalry.  I've studied it, blogged about it, and even written a book about it

The world has changed, and football has changed, a lot since 1884.  What hasn't changed, I think, is the weird and particular chemistry that seems to happen when these two teams get together for a football game.  To call it a big tailgate party doesn't really describe it.  To call it schoolyard intensity doesn't do it justice.  To call it a "bowl game" doesn't really capture it either.  It's just The Rivalry.  It's all of those things, and more.

And even if you're not a hardcore fan of Lehigh or Lafayette, it's worth coming to experience the craziness if you can. 

There are other intense Rivalries.  There are other big regular-season games that have lots at stake.  But The Rivalry, the most-played Rivalry in college football, has all the energy yet also has a level in intimacy that is unmatched by any other game.

You can go to the Iron Bowl and watch a game between Alabama and Auburn in the nosebleeds.  You can go into the cavernous Yale Bowl and watch Harvard play Yale.  You can experience the craziness when Michigan plays Ohio State.  But a game versus Lehigh and Lafayette packs the fans into an intimate setting that has all the energy and intensity yet is much more accessible and, at times, feels much more organic than those other Rivalries.
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Dominick Bragalone Goes Into Monster Mode As Lehigh Is One Win Away From Title

It has been a most unusual season for Lehigh.

Starting the year off at 0-5 and getting swept in their out-of-conference schedule, the Mountain Hawks were in danger of having their season go off the rails.

But two things have come together over the last five football games that have put Lehigh on the brink of back-to-back championships.

The first is the late blooming of the Lehigh defense, which kept battling every week since the low point of the September 30th loss to Wagner to do the job in four of their five Patriot League conference games. 

The second is the development of junior RB Dominick Bragalone into a bellcow running back, a back who has to be in the conversation for Patriot League offensive player of the year.

In five Patriot League games, Bragalone has run for 863 yards in 5 games, rushing for 11 touchdowns and adding two more receiving touchdowns as well. 

The South Williamsport, PA native certainly wasn't unknown before this week - after all, as a freshman and a sophomore, he had already rushed for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.  But this year, where he's amassed 1,200 yard rushing and an FCS-leading 16 rushing touchdowns, he's gone into full Monster Mode, and Lehigh fans are loving every minute of it.
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The Bonds That Tie The Lehigh Family Are Strong, May They Never Be Broken