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October 27, 2016

(STATS) - Lehigh and Fordham are the last remaining unbeatens in Patriot League play, the league's only teams not below .500 overall and two of the nation's top 10 offenses.

So it goes without saying that the Mountain Hawks and Rams are the class of the league going into their Saturday afternoon showdown.

There's also no argument that Chase Edmonds is the Patriot's top offensive player. Lehigh knows all too well how good he is.

This Mountain Hawks team is much different than the ones he tormented the last two years, when Fordham was chasing the playoffs and Lehigh had little to play for.

This time, a playoff spot could be at stake even though we're still in October.

"We're gonna really have to grit up and make sure we play complementary football," said Edmonds, a top candidate for the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year. "We're playing a great Lehigh team, and that's gonna be fun."

Control of the Patriot race is up for grabs in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and it's anything but a certainty that the league will send more than one team to the playoffs. That's happened only twice in the past decade, and the selection committee surely won't forget giving an at-large berth to the Rams last year only to see them get pounded by Chattanooga in a game that was never competitive.

While the loser's playoff hopes will take a serious hit, the winner can make a case for joining the STATS FCS Top 25. Lehigh (6-2, 3-0) got the second-most votes of any team not to make this week's poll, and Fordham (5-2, 2-0) received the eighth-most.

The Rams rank fourth nationally in total offense with 508.1 yards per game while the Mountain Hawks stand sixth at 488.5. Those units, however, are very different.

The passing attack has keyed Lehigh's six-game winning streak, during which the team has averaged 46.7 points and 550.8 total yards. The Mountain Hawks have done it with a pair of talented quarterbacks, Nick Shafnisky and Brad Mayes, along with the FCS' top two receivers yardage-wise. Troy Pelletier is No. 1 with 908 yards, Gatlin Casey is No. 2 with 893 and the junior tandem has totaled 20 touchdowns.

"We call ourselves the air show," Pelletier said. "Obviously we're putting up some decent numbers."

So is Edmonds, to say the least.

The speedy junior already has 1,244 rushing yards - no other FCS player is within 200 of him - and he's churning out 7.8 per carry. He became the school's career rushing leader with 4,730 yards after gaining 179 in last week's win over Georgetown.

"Obviously, Chase is a talent. It doesn't take a football coach, a reporter - the common fan can see that," Fordham coach Andrew Breiner said. "What makes Chase really special is that he really understands the game at a very, very high level. The way that he uses that knowledge to set up defenses, it's special stuff."

Two of Edmonds' best games came against the Mountain Hawks. He ran for a career-best five touchdowns and 197 yards in a 48-27 win at Bethlehem in 2014. Last year, he rushed for 347 yards - a career high until he gained 359 earlier this month against Lafayette - and totaled four TDs in a 59-42 victory.

The Rams have won the last three meetings, all by at least 17 points.

"Been a long time since we've gotten a 'W' over Fordham," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. "Glad that we're gonna have them at home."

Last week, Edmonds was relied upon more than usual with a career-high 37 carries. That's because starting quarterback Kevin Anderson was suspended for a violation of team rules, then backup Luke Medlock left in the third quarter with an injury.

Anderson should be back this week. There certainly isn't any quarterback controversy considering he's thrown for 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions, but there could be one brewing for the Mountain Hawks.

Shafnisky tops the depth chart but has missed 2 1/2 of the past four games with an ankle injury. Mayes is his sophomore understudy and again looked terrific in Shafnisky's place last week, completing 20 of 30 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 46-14 win at Holy Cross. In his other start this year, at Yale on Oct. 1, Mayes set a school record with 524 yards passing and tied another with six TD passes.

Shafnisky has been no slouch, throwing for 15 TDs and rushing for five, and he provides more of a dual threat than Mayes. However, the ankle problem has plagued him for much of the season, and it's unclear if he will return Saturday.

That could give Mayes another shot at the Rams after they picked off three of his passes in last year's meeting after Shafnisky left to an injury. Mayes and the Mountain Hawks are better prepared this time and have plenty of momentum.

"We're expecting it to be a dog fight," Pelletier said. "Coming down to the last few minutes of the game."

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