The Raiders now face one more roadblock in their title defense. After traveling to Lafayette and picking up a big 28-24 win over the Leopards (3-6), the Raiders (4-6) return to face the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. With a win, the Raiders will successfully defend their Patriot League title from last season.
In the battle with the Leopards this past Saturday, the Raiders came out firing on all cylinders, knowing a victory would catapult them to the top of the Patriot League standings. Sophomore tailback Demetrius Russell picked up some big first downs on the first drive and eventually capped off the drive rushing in from one yard out to put the Raiders ahead early.
The Leopards grabbed the ball and reached just outside the red zone before the Raiders were able to stop the Leopard rushing attack. After a made field goal, the Raiders got the ball back with great field position thanks to a kick return from junior tailback Jimmy DeCicco. Starting on the Lafayette 16 yard line, senior quarterback Gavin McCarney quickly rushed for a first down before Russell ran in for his second touchdown of the game. The Raiders gained a quick 14-3 lead over the Leopards with 5:30 remaining in the quarter.
After failing to get the first down, the Leopards punted the ball to the Raiders who kicked their offense into overdrive rushing all over the Lafayette defense. After 14 plays, junior fullback Ed Pavalko found the end zone and scored the Raiders third touchdown in as many drives. With a 21-3 lead, the Raiders looked to be in sync on offense and on their way to a victory. The Leopards, however, responded with a quick score to put the score back at 21-10.
The Raiders offense got back on the field and continued their trend of beating the Raiders on the ground. This time the Raiders drive took 16 plays and after seven and a half minutes, Russell ran in for his third touchdown of the game.
The Raiders held a 28-10 lead as the Leopards attempted to notch a quick score with 1:42 remaining in the half. After the Leopards fumbled on the first play, however, the Raiders defense swarmed and held the Leopards from scoring. Leading 28-10, the Raiders held a strong outlook going into the second half.
The Leopards started with the ball in the second half and after a promising start with a 30 yard kickoff return, it only took them eight plays to get on the scoreboard. Scoring from 24 yards out through the air, the Leopards had cut the lead to 28-17 and had momentum to start the half.
The Raiders picked up even more momentum on the next possession as they drove down field, but just before they reached the end zone, the Leopards got the defensive play they desperately needed. Intercepting McCarney’s pass on second down, the Leopards got the ball back with a chance to pull even closer. Starting on their own three-yard line, the Leopards took their time and over 17 plays covered the 97 yards they needed.
After seven minutes on offense, the Leopards finally found the end zone and with the extra point cut the Raiders lead to four. On the ensuing drive, the Raiders made it to midfield before they were forced to give the ball back to the Leopards. Sophomore punter Nikko Armiento pinned the Leopards on their own three yard line with a beautiful punt.
The Leopards worked their way down the field completing passes through the air but their drive stalled as they reached Colgate territory. The Raiders defense came up with a big defensive stop as senior linebacker Austin Dier came up with a big stop on fourth down.
Attempting to kill the clock, the Raiders stuck with their ground game, but the Leopards forced a quick three and out and got the ball back quickly. Fortunately, the Raiders defense did the same as Dier sacked the Leopards on their first play and forced the Leopards to punt the ball back quickly.
‘Gate’s next drive was much more successful, as their defense forced the Leopards to burn two timeouts before giving the ball back to the Leopards. As the Leopards crossed midfield on their last attempt to take the lead, the Raiders secondary stepped up, forcing an incompletion on fourth down to give the Raiders the ball back with little time remaining.
After a kneel down, the Raiders celebrated their big victory but knew what lay ahead. With a win this weekend at home against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, the Raiders will successfully defend their Patriot League title. They beat the Mountain Hawks in Bethlehem last year for the title.
“It would mean a lot to me,” McCarney said. “Being able to share this with my team again would be something I would remember forever. Knowing how it felt winning it last year just makes me want that feeling even more this year. It’s not going to come easy but we are very excited with the opportunity we have given ourselves.”
Contact Spencer Serling at [email protected]