Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney scores one of his three touchdowns while leading the Raiders to a 35-24 win over Lehigh for the Patriot League title. (Photo by Bob Cornell)
(Bethlehem, Pa. – Nov. 10, 2012) Dick Biddle calls it his best championship ever.
Actually, Biddle included the word “probably” in his postgame assessment of Saturday’s 35-24 Colgate win over Lehigh here Saturday – just in case one of his six other Patriot League titles was just as sweet.
But Biddle and the large Raiders contingent that swarmed the Goodman Stadium field at game’s end seemed to be in seventh heaven as the conference championship trophy was passed among players, coaches and fans.
“It was a great win for Colgate and for our assistant coaches, but I’m really happy for the players,” Biddle said. “This senior group hadn’t won a championship and would have been my first one not to get a ring while they were at Colgate. Now they will cherish it for the rest of their lives.”
The win, Colgate’s sixth in a row, qualifies the Raiders (7-3, 5-0 Patriot) for the NCAA playoffs that begin Nov. 24.
All on the Line
Saturday’s combination of a terrific road atmosphere, national television audience, undefeated opponent and league title in the balance – not to mention one heck of a second-half comeback – will be talked about long and loud in Raiders lore for many years to come.
“Our kids battled back and played great football in the second half,” Biddle said. “They never got down and that’s a tribute to them. I’m so proud of the players.
“This is probably the best (championship) I’ve had in my career under the circumstances. To do it on somebody else’s field in front of a big crowd – it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Colgate won its seventh Patriot League football championship Saturday by rallying from a 10-point halftime deficit and shutting out the Mountain Hawks in the second half. Not only did Lehigh not score again after taking a 24-14 lead to end the first half, but Colgate held its hosts to just 80 yards of total offense the last 30 minutes.
“There weren’t really a lot of adjustments at halftime,” senior defensive tackle Chris Horner said. “It was just players not doing their jobs. The coaches told us to just do our jobs and we could start containing them. That’s exactly what happened.”
A closer look at the numbers shows an even more dominant performance for the Raiders defense. Lehigh gained exactly 33 yards of offense in the second half until a garbage-time drive netted another 47 – after Colgate had taken its 11-point lead with just over a minute remaining.
“I just feel redeemed,” Horner added. “The way our offense has been playing the last month, we haven’t really been needed. But this was our day to impact the game and it sure felt good to make a difference out there.”
Lengthy Scoring Drives
Colgate’s offense, meanwhile, strung together consecutive second-half scoring drives of 80, 94 and a clinching 62 yards to completely turn the tables on previously undefeated Lehigh (9-1, 3-1 Patriot).
“It was a tough, physical game today and we kind of wore them down by the fourth quarter,” said Biddle, whose team held nearly a 44-16 edge in time of possession. “We didn’t panic on offense and the defense really stepped up.
“The key for us was to not go away from what we do. Maybe our offense struggled a little in the first half, but our kids believe in the system and we just kept running and throwing it. That kept them off balance.”
Colgate’s Mac-n-Mac attack of Gavin McCarney and Jordan McCord scored all five touchdowns and both went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the fifth game in a row and sixth time this season. McCarney rushed for 121 yards on a season-high 24 attempts, while McCord added 118 yards on 35 tries.
McCord gained 60 of his yards in the fourth quarter as the senior topped 100 yards rushing for the 10th time in 10 games this year. He also provided the clinching score with a final bulldozing run of 8 yards.
“We told the offensive line all game that this was going to be a grind, and they kept pushing,” said McCord, who now has 1,486 yards rushing this year. “We kept grinding away and we were able to pick up those tough yards. And our quarterback is the toughest player I’ve ever played with.”
McCarney scored three times to increase his NCAA-leading scoring average to 13.1. The junior signal-caller has scored 21 touchdowns, and his 2-yard run with 9:14 to play handed Colgate its first lead of the game at 28-24.
“Lehigh definitely got the better of us in the first half,” McCarney said. “But we settled down and started moving the chains, and our defense was unbelievable in the second half.”
Colgate finished the game 11-of-19 on third-down conversions and 3-of-4 on fourth down. Most of those successes were at the hands of either McCarney or McCord.
“You’re not going to hold Jordan to less than three yards on any rushing play, especially with our offensive line pushing like it was,” McCarney said of his backfield mate. “We like our chances when we get it to third-and-short or fourth-and-short.”