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Lehigh and Colgate appear to be the teams to beat in the Patriot League this season
Followers of Patriot League football should circle Saturday, Oct. 29 on their calendars.
On that afternoon, the championship is likely to be determined in Hamilton, N.Y.
Lehigh (101-45-1) and Colgate (90-51-1) are firmly positioned to improve on their standing as the all-time winningest football programs as the league embarks on its 25th anniversary season.
Lehigh’s 44-14 drubbing of the Raiders last October at Goodman Stadium was an anomaly – the most lopsided outcome since Colgate’s league championship/NCAA playoff team, featuring Ryan Vena, ripped the Mountain Hawks 61-28 in 1997.
Colgate’s star quarterback, Greg Sullivan, hands jammed into a hooded sweatshirt, watched from the sideline with an injured ankle last fall as the Mountain Hawks rode a wave of emotion to a 31-0 lead with two minutes left in the first half. Chris Lum passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns and wide receiver Ryan Spadola caught six balls for 96 yards.
Lehigh’s defense held Colgate’s Nate Eachus (1,871 yards, 170.1 avg), the national rushing champion, 40 yards below his season average and sacked Sullivan’s backup, Steve Rizzo, four times. Lum (2,881, 19 TD) finished as the league’s most productive passer while the graduated Sullivan was tops in pass efficiency.
“The Lehigh game was a disaster,” said Colgate linebacker Chris DiMassa, who earned defensive player of the week honors after eight tackles and two interceptions against Lafayette the following week. “It began as soon as we stepped off the bus. The whole day is a blur now. It was the weirdest game I’ve ever been a part of. The whole game had a weird feel to it.”
Eachus will run behind a veteran offensive line that features tackle Vittorio Ottanelli and guard James Germano.
The Raiders are looking at junior Josh Hasenberg and sophomore Gavin McCarney at quarterback.
“We want to take pressure off our quarterbacks and put them in comfortable situations,” Raiders coach Dick Biddle said. “That’s the way we’ve got to approach it. We’re gonna run the football. If we have to run Nate 100 times, we will.”
That extreme may not be necessary for quietly in the background Jordan McCord toils behind Eachus on the depth chart after sitting out 2010 for academics. Eachus was McCord’s backup in 2009 when the latter led the Raiders with 930 yards rushing.
Inside linebacker DiMassa was part of a defensive unit last year that held the Raiders’ last three opponents to an average of 11 points and produced five turnovers in wins over Lafayette, Bucknell and Fordham.
Local connection: Fr. DB Kris Kent (Nazareth), So. DL Shane Wilson (North Hunterdon).
The Crusaders followed their 2009 championship year by getting off to a 1-3 start last fall.
They recovered to finish 6-5 and six starters return on both sides of the ball this fall.
The offense begins with quarterback Ryan Taggart, left tackle Mike McCabe and Alex Schneider, the league’s most productive tight end with 30 receptions for 217 yards. McCabe and Schneider are first team all-league players.
Linebacker is a position of strength with Ricky Otis and C.J. Martin. Otis and cornerback Chandler Fenner are all-league second team performers.
Other players to watch include running backs Sam Auffant and Eddie Houghton, wide receiver Gerald Mistretta and defensive end Ryan McGinn.
Local connection: Fr. WR Tyler Artim (Whitehall), Jr. LB Eric Wachter (Hunterdon Central).
Coach Joe Susan’s makeover with the Bison heads into its second season behind young quarterback Brandon Wesley, the league’s 2010 rookie of the year.
Wesley took over the pro-style offense in Game 2. Two-thirds of the offense was produced by Wesley and the passing game.
Frank DeNick led with 38 receptions a year ago as 18 different receivers caught at least one pass. The offense will operate behind an all-senior line, including Freedom’s Anthony Carter.
Susan and defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin will switch from a traditional 4-3 to a 4-2-5 alignment that will have a nickel package on the field at all times. Anchors are all-league second team tackle Robert De La Rosa and Josh Eden, an all-league first team end in 2007 who spent the last two years on a Mormon mission.
The two have combined for 52½ tackles for losses in their careers with 21½ sacks.
Local connection: Sr. OL Anthony Carter (Freedom), Jr. WR John Gallagher (Blair Academy, Stewartsville), Fr. QB Chris Ibrahim (Hunterdon Central).
The Hoyas surprised some last September by starting 3-1.
Georgetown went 1-6 from there and has yet to produce a winning season since joining the league in 2001.
Coach Kevin Kelly anticipates a better finish with the return of 16 starters - nine on defense, including all-league end Andrew Schaetzke (league-high 15 tackles for loss) and corners Jayah Kaisamba (five INTs, 50 solo tackles) and Jeremy Moore.
Local connection: Sr. LB Nathan Zimmel (Parkland).
The Rams enter their second season of scholarships and with approval from the council of presidents will continue as an associate league member in football.
Fordham’s 11 returning starters include running back Darryl Whiting (771 yards) and nose guard Justin Yancey, who registered 10½ tackles for losses and three sacks last fall as a freshman.
At quarterback, Blake Wayne went 2-5 before leaving with an injury during a 7-6 loss to Yale in Game 7. Ryan Higgins went 3-1 the rest of the way.
By Ed Laubach, Express-Times