Standing Pat: Simonds Huge in Comeback Win

The plot for Colgate football has become almost as formulaic as a Bond movie. The Raiders find themselves down in the second half, but the defense comes up big to the get the offense the ball back and the offense is able to execute some clutch plays to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Saturday’s game against Lehigh was no exception to this rule, as Colgate came back from 12 down in the third quarter to beat the Mountain Hawks, 34-33.

Colgate was in good shape early as Lehigh quarterback J.B. Clark fumbled the ball on the third play from scrimmage of the game. The ball was recovered by Colgate’s junior linebacker Greg Hadley at the Lehigh 19. It took only four plays for Colgate to punch it in on a two -yard run by sophomore quarterback Greg Sullivan. The extra point gave Colgate a 7-0 advantage. Lehigh though got a touchdown of their own on their next possession when Clark hit Troy Healion for a six yard touchdown strike. Lehigh’s Jason Leo had a costly miss on the PAT, so the Raiders still had a 7-6 advantage. On the next drive Colgate drove down to the Lehigh 20, but senior Jacob Stein missed a 37-yard field goal to the right. Lehigh though, failed to take the lead on its next possession and were forced to punt. Colgate took over on its own 21 and it took just one play for the Raiders to find the end zone, as Sullivan connected to junior wide receiver Pat Simonds for a 79-yard touchdown.

Stein nailed the extra point to stake the Raiders to a 14-6 lead. Later on, in the second quarter, Lehigh was looking at a fourth and five from the Colgate 21. They decided to go for it, but they took a costly false start penalty that made it a fourth and ten from the Raider 26. Still wanting to pick up the first down, the Mountain Hawks went for it, but Clark was sacked by Zach Smith back at the Colgate 35. Colgate took the ball and drove all the way down to the end zone to take a 21-6 lead on a five-yard run by first-year running back Nate Eachus.

Lehigh got two big scores before the half expired to get right back in the game. The Mountain Hawks cut the lead to 21-13 on a huge 27-yard pass from Clark to Sekou Yansane. Then they cut the lead to 21-20 on their next possession thanks to six-yard run by Adam Watson. Colgate had a chance to expand the lead to four just before halftime, but Stein missed a 32-yard field goal, which came up short after Lehigh’s B.J. Benning got a piece of the kick.

The momentum continued to role Lehigh’s way as the second half got underway. After Colgate was forced to punt on the first possession of the half, Lehigh drove down and grabbed its first lead of the game when Clark hit wide out Mike Fitzgerald for a 23-yard touchdown and a 27-21 advantage. Sullivan threw a costly pick on Colgate’s next possession, which was returned 15 yards by John Kennedy to the Lehigh 45. Lehigh took advantage of the huge turnover and upped its lead to 33-21 on Clark’s fourth touchdown pass of the day, and his second to Fitzgerald. However, Lehigh accrued its second missed PAT of the afternoon, this time by Tom Randazza, and the lead stayed at 12. Randazza had been perfect on extra points since replacing Leo after his costly miss on Lehigh’s first touchdown.

The touchdown marked the 27th straight point by the Mountain Hawks, but the Raiders got back on track on the next drive. Colgate drove 73 yards on just seven plays to cut the lead to 33-28 on a 19-yard rainbow pass from Sullivan to Simonds. Now it was up to the defense, which had come up with clutch stops late in games all year. This time was no different. Lehigh drove down to the Colgate 26, but after a one-yard rush and two incomplete passes, they were forced to kick a long 43-yard field goal which Leo missed wide left. However, Colgate’s offense was unable to retake the lead, and was instead forced to punt from the Lehigh 47. However the D came up huge again. Watson had a four-yard rush on first down, but Colgate forced two straight incompletions, leading to a three-and-out. Colgate ended up right back at the Lehigh 47 after Simonds fair caught the ensuing punt. On first down Sullivan ran for three yards, and then picked up the first on a 10-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Doug Rosnick on second down. Then, after three straight Eachus rushes, the Raiders picked up their second first down of the drive. Eachus lost a yard on the next play, but then Sullivan hit Simonds for a 13-yard gain that brought the ball up to the Lehigh 12. On the ensuing first down, Colgate picked up four on a rush by Sullivan, and then on second they gained a yard more on a rush by Eachus. Then facing a crucial third-and-five from the Lehigh 7, Sullivan dropped back to pass and found Pat Simonds in the end zone on a slant route to put Colgate up 34-33.

“Lehigh had about 10 people ready for the run, with people blitzing from all over, and Sullivan read their defense correctly, checked to a slant and put the ball right into my chest,” Simonds said regarding his game winning catch.

The Raiders missed the two-poin try, and Lehigh needed just a field goal to win the game. Colgate once again turned to its defense to come up huge. Lehigh started the drive from their own 25 with 2:22 left on the clock, and quickly picked up a first down and 12 yards on a pass from Clark to Fitzgerald. Clark carried the ball himself on the next play to pick up eight yards and bring the ball to the Lehigh 45. The Mountain Hawks were facing an advantageous second-and-two. Then Lehigh made some questionable play calling, and passed the ball three straight downs. All three were incomplete and Colgate took over on downs. Colgate kneeled three times to run out the clock and they were able to escape Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with a 34-33 victory.

There were several huge offensive performances that were key to the victory. First and foremost was Simonds’ performance. He pulled down seven catches for 148 yards and three scores, including the game winner. According to Simonds the reason for the team’s success through the air was related to Lehigh’s fears about containing the running game.

“The key really was all about our running game,” Simonds said. “If we didn’t have such a successful running attack that worried other teams to where they had to put eight guys in the box every play, the receivers would not have had the one-on-one matchups in the secondary.”

Colgate’s running game wasn’t as flashy as it sometimes is, but they stayed committed to it and amassed an impressive 175 yards. Eachus led the way on the ground, compiling 103 yards and a score to earn his fourth straight Patriot League Rookie of the Week award. Despite two picks Sullivan also had a solid outing compiling 218 yards and three touchdowns through the air while adding 81 yards and a score on the ground. On defense Greg Hadley led the way with 11 tackles, a fumble recovered and a fumble forced. For his efforts he was named Patriot League Defensive Player for the second straight week. Head Coach Dick Biddle has been impressed by Hadley’s performance recently.

“I think the last two weeks he’s filled a leadership role,” Coach Biddle said. “He’s been playing hard and making the big plays that we’ve needed to make.”

Despite Hadley’s success, the defense struggled defending the pass, allowing 338 yards through the air. However, the defense played very well in the fourth quarter and they played well against the run the entire game. Lehigh had just 60 yards rushing and 2.4 yards per carry. The D also forced four fumbles and recovered three. Coach Biddle felt his team’s run defense was the key to the victory.

“If you can’t run the ball, you can’t win, and they [Lehigh] were unable to run the ball consistently,” Coach Biddle said. “Had they been able to run the ball they probably could have run the clock out [when Lehigh was up in the fourth quarter], but instead we were able to get the ball back.”

The win was Colgate’s seventh straight and moved its record to 8-2 overall and 4-0 in the Patriot League. The victory also moved the Raiders to #23 in the latest Division 1-FCS pol1. Last week they were ranked for the first time this season, at #24.

The Raiders play host to Holy Cross on Saturday, November 22 at 1 p.m. at Andy Kerr Stadium. Luckily for Colgate, senior running back Jordan Scott will likely be at 100 percent for the game. The Raiders will need him, as Holy Cross is currently the only other team undefeated in the Patriot League. If Colgate wants to win the League title ouright, it will need a win over the Crusaders. A win over Holy Cross will mean an automatic berth in the NCAA Playoffs for the Raiders and a loss means that they will almost certainly be staying home. The game will pit the Patriot League’s best running team against the League’s best passing team. It will be an epic contest you will not want to miss.