The calendar has turned to November which means some teams are playing for a championship, some are playing for their playoff lives while others are already looking towards next year. Each Patriot League game this weekend features teams that fall into one of those categories. The most interesting game on paper is Colgate’s visit to Fordham. Both teams can still capture a share of the league title if the chips fall in the right place. Fordham, more so than Colgate, also has an outside shot at an at large bid into the FCS playoffs with a strong finish to the year. The other game that will have title and possible playoff ramifications features red hot Lehigh hosting Bucknell. Lehigh can wrap up their first playoff appearance since 2011 and at worst a co-championship with a win. With a 2-1 league record, Bucknell would climb into the race with a win. The third game of the weekend, Holy Cross-Georgetown, is all about pride. There’s no league title, playoffs or even a winning season at stake when the two meet in Washington D.C.
Bucknell at #20 Lehigh – 5 Nov 12:30 P.M. Goodman Stadium Bethlehem, PA
(Patriot League Network)
Lehigh (7-2, 4-0) looks to nail down the Patriot League title and automatic bid into the FCS playoffs against Bucknell (3-5, 2-1) Saturday afternoon. The Mountain Hawks need to win just one of their final two games to secure the playoff bid. With rival Lafayette looming in two weeks, the last thing the Mountain Hawks want to do is leave something to chance. As a result, they should be focused and motivated to take care of business at home. They certainly were last weekend in their 58-37 win over previous league unbeaten Fordham.
Bucknell also enters the game with league title aspirations. The Bison’s road to the playoffs is far more muddled and unlikely due to tiebreakers but having it on the table has to be a great feeling given how the season has played out to this point. The Bison also have to feel good about the return of senior QB R.J. Nitti after missing five straight games with an injury. Nitti played pretty well (18-29 159 yards 1 TD) in his return against 10th ranked Charleston Southern last weekend.
The Orange and Blue will need Nitti to build off of that performance if they want to take down Lehigh. Getting top WR Will Carter back, who unexpectedly missed the CSU game, will give Nitti and the offense a tremendous boost. The Bison will also need Joey DeFloria to get back on track after being shut down (16 carries 48 yards) by the Buccaneer offense. The Lehigh defense continues to be a little suspect against the run (208 ypg allowed, 5th PL) so DeFloria, and backfield mate Chad Freshnock, should find space to operate.
Unlike Bucknell’s up and down “O”, Lehigh has shown the ability to score points in bunches during their 7 winning streak. As a result, Bucknell’s ultimate fate will likely come down to their defense (25 ppg allowed, tied 3rd in PL). They will be severely tested by a Lehigh offense that continues to roll along no matter whose under center. Senior QB Nick Shanfnisky put forth a 200 yard passing/100 yard rushing performance against Fordham after missing the previous game at Holy Cross with an ankle injury. He was aided by a career high 192 yards from sophomore RB Dominic Bragalone in the win over the Rams.
The Bison have to concerned about their rush defense after surrendering 292 yards to Charleston Southern last week. To make matters worse, DT Alex Jordan was injured in the loss and will not play against Lehigh. The Bison defense does have depth but how much will be test on Saturday.. Against a team like Lehigh who can run (167 ypg) and throw (336 ypg), the Bucknell “D” might be spread a little too thin to make the needed stops over 60 minutes to win.
In order to upset Lehigh, Bucknell needs to control the ball on offense and try to create turnovers on defense. The more possessions Lehigh has the more likely they’re going to put up a big number on the scoreboard. Bucknell simply does not have the firepower to win in a shootout against Lehigh. If Bucknell can hold the Mountain Hawks to under 30 points they might have a chance to pull the stunner and take one step closer to their first league title since 1996.
Of Note: After losing 15 straight games to Lehigh, Bucknell has won 2 out of 3 meetings. One of those Bucknell wins came in 2013 when Lehigh entered the game ranked. That was the last time the Bison defeated a Top 25 opponent. Lehigh owns a commanding 45-31-3 all-times series lead. The Mountain Hawks won last year’s game 21-10 in Lewisburg.
Colgate at Fordham – 5 Nov. 1:00 P.M. Jack Coffey Field Bronx, NY
(Patriot League Network)
Colgate (3-4, 2-1) takes the lengthy bus ride from sleepy Hamilton to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple to take on Fordham (5-3, 2-1) in a game that could still factor into the Patriot League title race as well as the FCS playoffs. Colgate is coming of a workman like 26-8 win over struggling Holy Cross last week. The Raiders defense put forth an excellent 60 minute performance but their offense struggled with turnovers and a so-so outing from QB Jake Melville. The Colgate “O” will need to clean things up if they want to keep pace with Fordham’s high flying attack (2nd in PL at 40 ppg). The Raiders beat then #15 Fordham 31-29 last year on their way to the Patriot League Title. Colgate limited Chase Edmonds to 51 yards on 18 carries in the win. Fordham was limited to 102 total rushing yards as a team. The Raiders rush defense remains extremely stout this season. The 78.1 ypg allowed is good enough to be ranked 1st in the PL and 4th in country.
That’s not good news for a Fordham team that is looking to bounce back from a thorough beating they took at Lehigh last week. The Rams trailed 51-9 at late in the 3rd quarter before tacking on a few late scores to close the final margin of defeat to 21 points. Edmonds amassed 182 yards but failed to reach the end zone in the loss. The sensational junior RB still leads FCS in rushing with 1,426 yards. Given Colgate’s impressive rush defense, the Rams will need QB Kevin Anderson (59% comp 244 ypg 19 TDs 3 INTs) will need to have a strong game. The former Marshall QB struggled at times last week despite an impressive final stat line due to 3 late scores. Anderson should have success against a Colgate air defense that is rather porous (310 ypg allowed, 7th PL).
Anderson will need help from a wide receiver group that lacks the star power of previous editions but is still comprised of more than capable players. Austin Longi and Robbie Cantelli have taken turns stepping throughout the year but have yet to put forth big numbers in the same game. TE Phazahn Odom continues to be underused (13 receptions 162 yards), at least relative to last year, despite his 6’8 frame.
While the offense has been inconsistent at times (at least compared to recent years) during the course of the year, the defense remains the biggest question mark for Fordham. Colgate’s QB Jake Melville has to be licking his chops after seeing what Lehigh did (349 yards) to the Rams on the ground last week. Melville (92 carries 494 yards 5 TDs) and his backfield running mate Kenyon Washington (110 carries 530 yards 4 TDs) should have no trouble gashing a depleted Fordham front 7 with the read-option. Colgate just has to hold onto the ball. The Raiders, especially Melville, have been plagued with turnover issues all season. It could have cost them against Holy Cross last week but the Crusaders seemed to always return the gift. If Colgate’s skill players can hold onto the ball there’s a good chance they can escape the Bronx with a win.
Both of these teams made the playoff last year but seem destined to be home for Thanksgiving in 2016. With only 3 losses Fordham is still in the FCS playoff picture. However, their schedule includes a FBS loss and Division II win which means they’ll need a lot of chaos to make the field of 24 for the 4th straight year. Colgate’s 10 game schedule will almost certainly haunt them if they win out. Given last year’s playoff run, their returning experience and preseason hype, the Raiders would have been far more attractive at 7-4.
Of Note: Despite both being from the state of New York and having roots in major college football, Colgate and Fordham never met prior to the Rams joining the Patriot League in 1989. Colgate won the first four meetings before Fordham finally got in the “W” with 17-13 win in 1993. That would be 1 of only 6 Fordham wins the series that Colgate comfortably leads 21-6. Fordham nearly had their 7th win over Colgate last year but their late rally ended up just short.
Holy Cross at Georgetown – 5 Nov. 1:00 P.M. Cooper Field Washington D.C.
(Patriot League Network)
Georgetown (3-5, 0-3) will try to end their 5 game losing streak on Saturday against a Holy Cross (3-5, 1-2) team that has seen their own share of struggles. Both teams have been plagued with subpar quarterback play since their original starters (HC – Peter Pujals, GT – Tim Barnes) got injured earlier in the year. As a result, points, and wins, have been hard to come by in recent weeks for the Crusaders and Hoyas. Whoever emerges victorious on Saturday will likely have done so because their quarterback had the better game.
Holy Cross has talented skill players in Brandon Flaherty and Jake Wieczorek but the inability to get the ball in their hands on a consistent basis has resulted in a lot of frustration. Georgetown’s issues run deeper on “O”. In addition to struggles at quarterback, the Hoyas have gotten very little production at RB (Valles 48 ypg). The end results has been one of the most anemic offenses in all of FCS.
Holy Cross got solid play from Geoff Wade (65% comp 569 yards 5 TDs 2 INTs) before he was injured against Harvard three weeks ago. Since then the Crusaders have used a combination of Blaise Bell and freshman Emmett Clifford. Bell has struggled mightily the last two weeks with turnovers (6) and erratic accuracy which is why Clifford has been pressed into action at times. Wade is “expected” to be back under center this weekend but no one really knows for sure until the Crusader’s offense takes the field. His return would certainly boost the Crusaders chances to leave the nation’s capital with a win. As would getting the rushing attack going again after tallying a meager 21 yards against Colgate last week.
The Hoyas enter Saturday’s game with similar questions at quarterback. Head coach Rob Sgarlata has not listed a definitive starter as of Friday morning. Brock Johnson and Clay Norris will likely both see time against Holy Cross. The two signal callers have combined for 1 TD and 8 INTs on the season. The lack of stability at QB has resulted in the least productive passing attack (150 ypg) in the Patriot League. The Hoyas have also lacked the ability to establish any sort of rushing game (37 ypg, 7th in PL) during Patriot League play. The perfect storm of ineptitude on offense has resulted in the worst scoring unit in the league (6.7 ppg in PL play).
Given the two offenses in this game, the scoreboard likely won’t get much of a workout. The Hoya’s possess the better defense statistically (22 ppg allowed vs 31 ppg allowed) but will that be enough to overcome one of the worst offenses of FCS? The Hoyas have shown the ability to create big plays on defense and special teams. They nearly upset Fordham with that recipe. Getting contributions from all three phases will be needed against Holy Cross if the Hoyas want end their 5 game losing streak.
Both teams desperately need a win in an attempt to end the year on a positive note. One could argue the Crusader’s, or at least head coach Tom Gilmore, need it more given how this season has unfolded.
Of Note: This will be the 21st straight season the Crusaders and Hoyas have met. Five of those meetings occurred while Georgetown was still in the MAAC. Holy Cross won every meeting from 2000 through 2009 but Georgetown has stemmed the tide by winning 4 out of the 6 this decade. Holy Cross owns a 17-11 all-time series lead. The Crusaders crushed Georgetown 45-7 in last season’s season finale.