Football routs Lehigh, clinches first Patriot League title since 2013

The football team celebrates its commanding victory over Lehigh. (Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)
The football team celebrates its commanding victory over Lehigh. (Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)

With its 49-21 domination of rival Lehigh University (2-9 overall, 1-5 Patriot League) on Saturday, the football team (9-2 overall, 5-1 Patriot League) nabbed the Patriot League title and earned an automatic bid into the Football Championship Series playoffs.

“It’s been an incredible day,” Athletic Director Sherryta Freeman said. “This team has worked so hard and the coaching staff has been phenomenal. I just feel like it’s a culmination of all the things that we know we put into this when we talk about building a championship culture and climb the hill.”

Senior linebacker Preston Forney agreed with Freeman.

“Winning a Patriot League [championship] is special for many reasons,” Forney said. “It’s something that hasn’t been done here in a while. We’ve been through a lot of adversity and to see our hard work finally pay off is super rewarding. We are all super pumped to bring this home for our team, alumni and Lafayette family.”

The Leopards started on fire with a 37-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Dean DeNobile to junior wide receiver Chris Carasia. They continued to battle down the field without impediment, capping off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Mason Gilbert.

However, Lehigh quickly responded with a touchdown of its own, converting on both a 4th down and a 3rd and 12 to tie the game up. The Mountain Hawks then forced a Lafayette punt and drove down the field again to take a 14-7 lead.

The Lehigh defense continued to lock down the Leopards in the second quarter until Lafayette broke through with a 1-yard touchdown run from DeNobile to tie up the game at 14.

Not to be deterred, the Mountain Hawks countered with a 13-play, 77-yard touchdown drive which put them up by seven and gave them the momentum going into halftime.

However, the trajectory of the game changed in the second half when junior safety Saiku White intercepted a pass that set up the Leopards on the Lehigh 43-yard line. The Maroon and White cashed in on the turnover, driving 46 yards in five plays, capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass from DeNobile to junior tight end Dallas Holmes.

“I talked to them about not panicking and about going back to fundamentals,” John Troxell, the head coach, said. “We got a couple of early turnovers [in the second half] which helped us in generating some emotion, and honestly, in a game like that, emotion and momentum is huge.”

After a quick three and out from the Mountain Hawks, the Leopards kept their foot on the gas as sophomore running back Jamar Curtis drove past the first level of Lehigh defenders for a 4-yard touchdown.

With all the momentum on the side of Lafayette, Lehigh punted on a second straight three and out, setting up the Leopards for the longest drive of the game. The Maroon and White drove 89 yards with DeNobile hitting Carasia for an 18-yard touchdown to put them up by two scores.

Lehigh then fumbled the ensuing kickoff recovered by senior Griffin Rooney, gifting the Leopards a short field and a chance to put the game out of reach. Just three plays later, Curtis put the game on ice with a 9-yard touchdown.

Curtis poured salt in the wound on the following possession by running 46 yards for his third and final touchdown of the game. The Leopards then stuffed the Mountain Hawks on their final possession and ran out the clock to officially lock down the team’s first Patriot League title in a decade.

“Beating Lehigh and nabbing our seven-hundredth win was just a highlight of my career and probably the best football experience I’ve ever had,” senior linebacker Marco Olivas said. “All of that hard work, everything we had done, we finally have tangible evidence of it meaning something. Really grateful for the experience, it was just awesome.”

Scores of Leopard faithful then rushed Lehigh’s field to celebrate a show of force that saw the Mountain Hawks defeated by their chief rival on their own turf.

“[This win] means everything,” college President Nicole Hurd said. “Today, we start this new chapter in regaining our [football] dynasty.”

Editor’s note 11/29/2023: This article has been updated with quotes from several football players.

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About the Contributors
Charlie Berman
Charlie Berman, Sports Editor
Madeline Marriott
Madeline Marriott, Editor-in-Chief
Maddie (she/her) is a senior English major with a Government & Law minor. As the Editor-in-Chief, a Mentor Writing Associate, a Senior Student Contributor for Lafayette Communications, a Communications Intern for the Office of Sustainability, co-founder and Vice President of English Club, and a Senior Interviewer for Lafayette Admissions, no writing happens on campus without her knowing about it. Her Google Calendar would make your head spin. She is a die-hard Swiftie and Phillies fan, a collector of tote bags, a builder of a Hay Day empire, and an avid Goodreads and Letterboxd user. She smokes cigars and uses an old-timey typewriter and notepad in the newsroom.

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    Alum ‘93Nov 22, 2023 at 7:43 am

    The captain of the defense’s post game speach was nothing short of monumental! I was so happy to be there.