After a disappointing 0-3 start, the Colgate football team has exponentially surmounted the team’s expectations. In just his second year as head coach, Dan Hunt has led the Raiders to their first FCS quarterfinal appearance since they made it to the FCS championship game in 2003. By completing an undefeated regular season in Patriot League play, the Raiders claimed their first league title since 2012 and Hunt claimed Patriot League Coach of the Year for the first time in his young career.
The Raiders have won nine of their last ten games, with their last loss coming on October 10th to the Princeton Tigers. During this tremendous stretch, the Raiders have defeated two ranked opponents, the most recent being a 44-38 victory over the No. 5 ranked James Madison Dukes in Harrisonburg, Va. – a game where ESPN’s FPI (Football Power Index) gave them just a 7 percent chance to win. They also defeated the University of New Hampshire to avenge an early season home loss to the once No. 12 ranked Wildcats.
While the country may see this recent Raiders run as a surprise, those around the program knew this team was destined for great things. Even after the slow start, there were tremendous signs this team could do something special. Now the Raiders will look to take down their third ranked opponent of the season when they travel to Texas to battle the No. 10 team in the nation.
At the helm of the team’s success is junior quarterback Jake Melville. The Sparta, N.J. product has been a dual threat option all season. He has not only been a game manager, throwing only two interceptions the entire season, but has also been a weapon for a Colgate offense that is firing on all cylinders. Playing with a chip on his shoulder after being snubbed from Patriot League First-Team honors, Melville has shown in the playoffs why he is as dynamic of a player as they come. Offensively, the Raiders have also gotten tremendous contributions from the backfield duo of sophomore James Holland and senior Demetrius Russell, who combined with Melville to rush for over 300 yards on the Dukes’ defense last week.
Defensively, the Raiders have been able to take away the strengths of the opposing team. Seemingly everywhere at once, junior linebacker Kyle Diener has been the tackle leader in nearly every game down the stretch while continuing to remain the heart and soul of the Colgate defense that faced adversity early this season when it lost both senior cornerback Adam Bridgeforth and senior defensive lineman Victor Steffen to torn ACL’s. Player after player has stepped up game after game to make big plays. The latest came from senior cornerback Josh Ford, who stepped in for the injured first-year cornerback Tyler Castillo to deflect James Madison’s final pass play in the end zone to secure a Colgate victory.
No matter how the Raiders end the season, calling this tremendous run a ‘cinderella story’ would be doing this team a disservice. The Colgate Raiders have put in the effort and truly earned the position that they sit in right now. Hopefully it culminates in their first Division 1-AA FCS Championship in program history.