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Bucknell football clinches spot in Patriot League championship game

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Bucknell football team clinched its spot in the Patriot League championship game with a 6-0 shutout of rival Lehigh on Saturday at Goodman Stadium.

The Bison (2-0, 2-0 PL South) only needed a pair of Ethan Torres field goals to down the Mountain Hawks (0-2, 0-1 PL South) and capture the Patriot League South Division title. Bucknell’s suffocating defense limited Lehigh to 190 yards of total offense, only 23 of which came on the ground, in head coach Dave Cecchini’s first game on the visiting sideline at his alma mater. It was the Bison’s first shutout since Nov. 11, 2017, a 12-0 Senior Day whitewashing of Georgetown.

Bucknell’s victory over Lehigh came on the heels of its 38-13 rout of Lafayette. By sweeping their Pennsylvania rivals for the first time since the 2014 campaign, the Bison completed South Division play with a perfect 2-0 record. They will now face the Patriot League North Division winner in the first-ever Patriot League Championship Game on Saturday, April 17 at 2 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

On the offensive side of the ball, Dominic Lyles had a banner day, matching classmate Brandon Sanders’s school record by catching 14 passes. He accounted for 103 of Bucknell’s 147 receiving yards; it was the junior wide receiver’s second career 100-yard receiving game.

During the fourth quarter, the Mountain Hawks had one drive stall in Bison territory. That drive, which reached the Bucknell 38, was halted by a Simeon Page sack that brought up 4th and 13 and forced a punt. Later, Lehigh got the ball back with 3:08 remaining in regulation; Gerrit Van Itallie sealed a Mountain Hawk three and out with a sack that pushed them all the way back to their own six-yard line.

Lehigh’s final offensive possession came with 1:22 left to play, following TyGee Leach stuffing a Bison rush short of a first down on 4th and inches. The Mountain Hawks were immediately sent back five yards due to a penalty; back-to-back Bison sacks by Clay Myers and Mike Bright Jr. pushed them all the way back to their own 20-yard line, facing 3rd and 23. Though Cross Wilkinson regrouped to complete two passes, they combined for 22 yards, a single yard short of what they needed to try for a Hail Mary pass.

Defensively, Bucknell was led by Van Itallie, who made a team-best seven tackles along with his critical sack. Conner Romango (6) and Rick Mottram (5) completed the Bison’s top three in tackles. Bright Jr. continued the strong start to his collegiate career, leading all players with two sacks. In total, Bucknell posted five sacks for a loss of 23 yards.

Tarrin Earle and Logan Bitikofer split time at quarterback, with Earle throwing for 64 yards and running for 33 yards and Bitikofer completing 13 of 18 passes for 83 yards. Sanders made three catches for 24 yards.

During the scoreless first quarter, the teams combined for just six first downs and 117 yards of total offense. Lehigh had the frame’s best scoring opportunity, covering 67 yards to Bucknell’s 10-yard line on its first possession. With the Mountain Hawks facing 3rd and 4, Roger Mellado batted down a pass to force them to attempt a field goal. That 27-yard bid ultimately sailed wide right, keeping the score at 0-0.

With 4:50 remaining in the second quarter, the Bison broke the scoreless deadlock. Torres’s 26-yard field goal capped a 16-play, 68-yard drive orchestrated by Earle. During that drive, Earle rushed for 20 yards and passed for 22 yards; most notably, he kept the drive alive with a three-yard quarterback keeper on a 4th and 2 at Lehigh’s 11-yard line.

Following Torres’s field goal, the Mountain Hawks used three-straight catches to advance to the Bucknell 33, highlighted by Alex Snyder’s 23-yard reception. Bucknell’s defense held fast, bringing up a Lehigh 4th and 2 at the Bison 25. Blake Leake, who returned his first career interception 41 yards for a touchdown against Lafayette, stepped in front of Snyder and knocked away a pass to help preserve his team’s lead going into halftime.

The Bison converted on their first drive of the second half, taking advantage of a Mountain Hawk personal foul during a punt that gave them the ball back at the Lehigh 44. Following that penalty, Earle and Bitikofer combined to lead Bucknell to the Mountain Hawks’ seven-yard line. Most notably, Bitikofer scrambled down the sideline for a 13-yard gain to advance to the Lehigh 10. The Bison ultimately had to settle for a 24-yard field goal, Torres’s second of the game.

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