Coaches search far and wide for recruits that will take their team to the next level. Yet, sometimes they find some of the best talent right in their own backyard.
This was exactly the case for No. 20 Colgate (4-2, 1-0 Patriot) head coach Dick Biddle who found senior wide receiver Luke Graham in Hamilton, N.Y. — right where the university is located.
Graham was an instrumental figure in the Raiders 10-6 win over Red (1-4, 1-1 Ivy), talling nine catches for 159 yards, including some acrobactic one-handed receptions.
‘I don”t think you”ll find any better catches than [Graham] makes on highlight reels than you would in the NFL or anywhere else,’ said Biddle. ‘I just think it”s phenomenal the catches he makes, and I think somebody should say that, and I”m going to say it.’
The defining moment for Graham, who moved into second place on Colgate”s all-time receptions list, didn”t come until the middle of the fourth quarter when he caught a 42-yard strike through double coverage to setup a three-yard touchdown plunge by senior running back Jamaal Branch.
‘[Graham] was just better than anyone we had,’ said head coach Jim Knowles “87. ‘The catch to setup the touchdown, we put two guys on him, we actually called the double coverage, and he went up and took it from both guys.’
Colgate”s senior quarterback Chris Brown, who was responsible for getting the ball into Graham”s hands, went 13-for-24 for 170 yards in the contest.
Yet, it was both squad”s defensive units that were showcased in the first half.
The Red moved the ball 45 yards on its first drive — down to the Colgate 36-yard line — when senior quarterback D.J. Busch”s pass was intercepted by Colgate strong safety Geoff Bean, who made two picks on the game. Busch finished the game 12-for-25 for 100 yards, including the two interceptions.
The Red”s defense struck back on the ensuing possession as junior free safety Kevin Rex came on a blitz and forced Brown to fumble. Senior Dan Collins scooped up the ball and returned it to the Red”s 42-yard line.
However, the Red couldn”t capitalize after driving 41 yard on 10 plays because senior Trevor MacMeekin banged his 25-yard field goal attempt off the right goal post.
After trading punts, the Red”s offense made another miscue and its defense bailed the team out once again. After holding Branch to nine yards in three plays, the Raiders were forced to punt. Unfortunately for the Red, junior Brian Romney muffed the punt and gave the ball right back. The Red defense stepped up to the challenge yet again though, as Brown fumbled for the second time and the ball was returned by junior Patrick Potts to the Colgate 25-yard line. This time, the Red cashed in.
On the second play of the Red”s drive, junior Andre Hardaway burst through the heart of the Raider defense en route to paydirt. The rush, which went for 20 yards — the ensuing extra-point attempt was blocked — made the score 6-0 with 6:09 left in the first half . Hardaway finished the contest with 84 yards rushing on 20 carries, while Branch ended with 95 yards on 27 carries.
Colgate had an opportunity to score in the first half, as Busch threw his second pick of the game, and Bean returned the ball down to the Red 37-yard line. Yet the Raiders passed up on an opportunity to attempt a 41-yard field goal looking at 4th-and-10, subsequently turning the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass. The attempt was Brown”s eighth attempt of the first half — he completed just three passes for 23 yards until the break.
The second half began much as the first ended. The Raiders used a long scramble by Brown and a pass interfernce call on senior cornerback Sean Nassoiy to set up a first down at the Red 22-yard line. Yet, Biddle again elected against a field goal attempt — a costly decision as senior Paul Pardi sacked Brown on fourth down. The drive, which lasted just under six and a half minutes, went for 55 yards on 12 plays, yet the Raiders still came away empty-handed, seemingly giving the Red some momentum.
Yet the Red offense again sputtered and the duo of Brown and Graham took over. Graham caught a nine-yard pass and then made a show-stopping, one-handed catch down the sideline — good for 29 yards — down to the Red 11. The play led to the first points of the game for the Raiders — a 25-yard field goal by senior Lane Schwarzberg.
After a long stalemate, Colgate was on the move again as Brown connected with Graham once more for 43 yards down to the Red 30. Yet, Graham finally showed his human side three plays later as Rex stripped the ball from his grip, and Pardi gobbled up the loose ball with 11:19 left to go in the game.
The Red”s ensuing possession was doomed from the beginning as Busch fumbled the snap on the first play which put the offense in a tough situation. After an incomplete pass and a sack of Busch, the Red was faced with a 4th-and-21 and had to punt from its own 15-yard line, setting up the Raiders with quality field position.
‘It”s a rivalry game and they really get pumped up to play us, but we find a way to win,’ Biddle said.
That”s exactly what his team proceeded to do.
After a run on first down, Graham made his big play down the middle of the field, giving Colgate the ball inside the Red five-yard line. Two plays later, Branch scored and Schwarzberg”s point after gave the Raiders their first lead of the game, at 10-6.
The Red”s last ditch effort to salvage victory started deep in its own territory. After Busch got sacked back to the two, he found Romney on the next play for 17 yards. Hardaway rushed for two first downs on the next two plays, but a 15-yard illegal block penalty put the Red in a hole it could not dig out of. The ensuing pass attempt failed, and the Red was handed its fourth loss in a row.
‘It”s really hard to swallow,’ Knowles said. ‘This was a team that was in the [Division] I-AA national championship last year. When you let a team that good hang around, they know how to win, they”re going to find a way.’
Archived article by Chris Mascaro
Sun Assistant Sports Editor