Football defeats Lehigh in close defensive match up, marks positive end to Troxell’s first year

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The Leopards celebrate their 2022 Rivalry Game win. (Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)

The football team concluded its season – the first with coach John Troxell at the helm – with a statement win against Lehigh on Nov. 19, defeating the Mountain Hawks 14-11 in a defensive battle. The game showcased what the Leopards have done so well all year: putting relentless pressure on the opposing QB to achieve low-scoring wins.

“I think anytime you can beat your rival it’s important,” Troxell said. “We recruit against them for talent. [The victory] is a great springboard for the offseason, for positivity and [for] guys being excited about coming back and working. So, [it’s] always good to end on a good note.”

The game started fast for the Leopards. After the defense came up with their first stop of the game, freshman running back Jamar Curtis capitalized on a draw play, taking the ball 71 yards to the end zone. That score was the longest of Curtis’ young career and the longest play from scrimmage that the Leopards ran all year.

While the defense let the Mountain Hawks move down the field during their next possession, senior linebacker Billy Schaefer damped any hopes of a Lehigh score by picking off a pass at midfield and bringing it all the way for a touchdown with a pick-six, putting the score at 14-0.

“You have the old adage saying ‘championships are won with defenses,'” Troxell said. “And honestly, those guys won us the Lehigh game.”

For his efforts, Schaefer was named MVP of the 158th matchup between Lafayette and Lehigh, a rivalry whose record is now firmly controlled by the Leopards 81-72-5.

Lehigh began to claw back in the second quarter, scoring a field goal towards the end of the half to put the score at 14-3.

Despite forcing a turnover after the half, the Leopards offense still could not muster any points. This put Lehigh in a great position to score. The Mountain Hawks did just that with 12:06 to go in the fourth quarter. The Brown and White looked to put the game within three points by trying to convert a two-point attempt, but Lafayette came up with a huge stop to keep the game at 14-9.

Ineffective drives on both sides kept the score steady for the remainder of the fourth quarter. However, with a little less than a minute remaining, and with the Leopards in the shadow of their own end zone, Troxell opted to take a safety on fourth down instead of risking a punt, making the score 14-11. After the Mountain Hawks got the ball on the subsequent free kick, they had only 18 seconds to go the length of the field and to try and tie up the game with a field goal.

Lehigh drove the ball to midfield. With a real chance to get it into field goal range, Lehigh’s quarterback dropped back, scanned the field but was dropped by senior captain and Lafayette all-time sacks leader defensive lineman Malik Hamm to end the game.

“Ending the last Laf-Lehigh game just helps me forget about some of the lows we’ve been through football wise, and doing it with a sack allows me to hold that moment [as] even more special in my head,” Hamm said.

Hamm was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts this season as he looks ahead for the opportunity to play professionally in the NFL.

“Even when our back was to the wall at the end, [the defense] came up with big stop after big stop to secure a win. We’re so proud of the way those guys play,” Troxell said. “They did an excellent job.”

Troxell and the rest of the team will now look ahead to the early signing day that is coming up in less than a month to lock in the next group of Leopard talent.