Archive For The “Gatlin Casey” Category
(Photo Credit: The Morning Call)
Going to practice this Wednesday, I wondered how things were going with the Mountain Hawks this spring.
You never really know what to expect until you go, and on a surprisingly chilly evening, I arrived up at Lehigh’s practice fields.
A lot of times at practice you hear jeremiads from the coaching staff on “spirited competition” and competing for positions. But you don’t always see it on the practice field.
On Wednesday, though, it was there. I saw it.
Maybe it’s a product of a lot of players knowing where they fit on the team, and that’s certainly what is my impression in regards to the Lehigh offense.
When you have returning all-Patriot League players at running back, wide receiver, and the offensive line, that’s one level of comfort. When you have a returning quarterback that started three games, including an FCS playoff game, and led an 63-35 win over Yale with 524 yards passing, that’s yet another level of comfort.
Perhaps that’s why it was an entertaining scene of players jawing at one another and competing against each other.
Kids come to play football at Lehigh because they want their games to matter.
The parties raged on in the parking garage next to Fisher Field, which were packed with Lafayette fans eager to enjoy a party with plenty of great food and copious drinks.
The tiny businesses below Fisher Field, the small bits of capitalism next to the concrete husks of factory jobs that have left ages ago, had plenty of visiting Lehigh fans, enjoying the tailgates and ready to invade the stadium that they hadn’t seen in four years.
In the line coming into the stadium, a silent protest of hundreds of Lafayette students clad in black, handing out a political statement on a piece of paper and showing some signs that were up seemingly to simply show that these people exist, and are not happy.
Somewhere in this mix of people escaping, people expressing and people denying, a football game was played, one that matched an 8-2 team that was headed to the national stage and the FCS playoffs, the other a 2-8 squad that had their fans questioning the tenure of their head coach.
It was one of the strangest disconnect of emotions that I’ve ever seen in a Rivalry game, one where the outcome, a 45-21 victory by the Brown and White, was almost expected by everyone going through the crowded gates at Fisher Field.
There was plenty to celebrate – for one side, anyway.
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In the most-played college football Rivalry, there was a mild concern of complacency on the Lehigh side.
Would they be able to manage the emotions of the Rivalry after a bye week? Would they come out flat, and let 2-8 Lafayette take away their chance at an outright Patriot League championship, an undefeated Patriot League record, and a 9-2 regular season mark?
The Mountain Hawks proved resoundingly that fans needn’t have worried.
Lehigh rolled to a 17-0 lead before Lafayette connected on a big pass play, then kept the foot on the gas to get to a 45-7 lead before starting to put in the second stringers.
It was pretty telling that the biggest outpouring of emotion during the game happened when Lehigh’s marching band, the Marching 97, marched off Lafayette’s pep band after they went over on their time to play. It was that sort of day for a joyous Lehigh victory.
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When Lehigh players, coaches and fans went to bed on Friday night, they probably had visions of the Mountain Hawks’ powerful offense attacking, and overwhelming, Bucknell to coast to a share of a Patriot League Championship and the conference’s FCS Playoff bid.
About ten minutes into the game, the 7,049 fans in attendance had probably figured out that if Lehigh was going to win a championship, it wasn’t going to be won like that.
It was going to have to be earned. It was going to have to be grabbed from Bucknell, smashing them in the mouth the same way they were smashing us.
It cannot be emphasized enough how Lehigh had to earn every single inch of this Patriot League victory, how not easy this win really was.
How the Mountain Hawks fell behind, clawed and scratched back to get the lead. How they had to stop the Bison stampede at key spots, get crucial turnovers, and fire up critical, difficult field goals by sophomore PK Ed Mish. Even extra points, normally considered automatic, took on new dramatic tension.
The offense got punished on every single play up until the final couple of victory formations. But in the end, it was not only a victory, but a victory of the most beautiful, rare sort – the type of win that officially buries the past.
“Sometimes the hardest ones are the ones you enjoy the most,” Coen said. “When you’re winning a championship, it should be hard. Bucknell made it hard on us today, but we’re the ones with the trophy and I can’t be more proud of a group of guys than I am of these guys.”
(Photo Credit: Chris Barry/The Brown and White File Photo)
In terms of national recognition, life in the Patriot League isn’t always easy.
Certainly Patriot League players and fans read the preseason magazines about FCS. And last I checked, the youth of America still watch ESPN, and they see some FCS darlings in the FCS Kickoff Classic, like North Dakota State.
They tune into the college football landscape, and they see Eastern Washington upsetting Washington State, Bo Pelini coaching Youngstown State, Albany upsetting Buffalo.
Yes, the national FCS scene has their darlings, and frequently it feels like the Patriot League and their opponents are mere afterthoughts in the world where Big Sky teams are putting up big scores, Sam Houston State is beating all comers, The Citadel is dominating in the South, and the Missouri Valley Football Conference sees almost half its members in the Top 25.
And despite having junior WR Troy Pelletier and junior WR Gatlin Casey sitting at No. 1 and No. 2 in the FCS in receiving,respectively, despite a five game winning streak, and despite their emergence as a top contender for the Patriot League title past the halfway point of the season, Lehigh sits just outside the national Top 25 polls.
Respect in the Patriot League is easy to lose, and hard to earn back – and this Lehigh team seems to know how fragile that is.
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(Photo Credit: Keith Groller/Morning Call)
It felt a lot closer than 14 to 3 at halftime.
Sure, Lehigh had outgained Georgetown 220-64 on offense up until that point. Definitely, the Lehigh defense, which has been playing with a chip on its shoulder for most of the entire season, was playing, as they say, lights-out, and they had just come up with a big defensive stop in the red zone to keep Georgetown from cutting it from 14-7 rather than 14-3.
But a batted ball at the line of scrimmage, alertly grabbed by DE Hoya DE Hunter Kiselick, made it feel like the Mountain Hawks might rue the opportunities they had in the first hald to put away Georgetown.
After coming in for injured senior QB Nick Shafnisky, sophomore QB Brad Mayes jumped right into the fray and finished the scoring drive with a perfect pass over the middle to junior WR Troy Pelletier to make the score 14-3 Lehigh.
But after a drive that went backwards and that interception, it was Georgetown that had momentum going into halftime, and they were getting the ball back as well.
That’s when the Mountain Hawks, who have defined this season so far as being a second half team, put the game away resoundingly.
“I’m pleased with how the kids responded at halftime,” head coach Andy Coen said after the game. “It wasn’t very pretty on the offensive side on the offensive side of the ball in the first half. The staff did a great job, got the kids rallied around, made a couple different turns of the wheel, so to speak, and really got the thing running again.
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At Cooper field in Georgetown, Lehigh jumped to a 14-0 lead and coasted to a 35-3 victory.
After senior QB Nick Shafnisky appeared to go over on his ankle funny, sophomore QB Brad Mayes came in, and shortly after running 12 yards for a first down, found junior WR Gatlin Casey for Lehigh’s second touchdown on the afternoon.
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It honestly felt like a day from another era out there on Saturday – in a good way.
In a world of bitter political debates, supposedly declining college football attendance, alleged tensions between the generations and the ongoing charges increasing collegian apathy, there it was: the official attendance total of the Colgate/Lehigh game of 9,255.
There were a multitude of reasons why people wanted to go see the game. Perhaps it was something good to do with the family on Family Weekend. Maybe it was a concerted effort to get students into the games, and keep them there, with new policies and new promotions. Maybe it was a thumb-your-nose effort at the fans who come for cocktails but don’t go enjoy the game. Maybe it was individuals, all as a unit, wanting to come out and see if this high-flying, record-setting Lehigh football team is for real.
Or maybe it was all of them; I have no idea, but I know it required a whole lot of planning and a huge amount of effort from a whole lot of people, and I’m glad they did.
Because it felt like something special was brewing in Bethlehem – and not just from the team making everyone pay attention to them on Saturday. It was the whole thing – the team, the fans, and the atmosphere. On Saturday, for the first time in a long time, it felt like “it” was back.
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At times it felt like the playing field was just the personal playground of WR Gatlin Casey, especially when he broke free for a 93 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. But it was more than that.
At other times, it felt like the defense, with freshman FS Riley O’Neil pouncing on a loose ball after a sophomore SS Sam McCloskey forced fumble. was the critical piece to keeping Colgate from winning this game. But it was more than that.
And at other times, it felt like the offense, under the expert signalcalling of senior QB Nick Shafnisky, kept finding big plays, on many occasions to Casey, that kept the game out of reach for the Raiders.
In reality, it was all three phases of the game for Lehigh that finally formed the chemical reaction somewhere in the middle of the first half that erased a 17-7 deficit and transformed the different bits and pieces into an impressive 45-31 victory.
For in the first half, down 14-7, the game looked like it might just get away from the Mountain Hawks.
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