Trailing 21-10 after the first quarter, the No. 12/14 Lehigh football team charged back with a vengeance, downing Lafayette 38-21 Saturday at Fisher Stadium in the 148th meeting between the two schools. It marked the Mountain Hawks’ fifth straight win over the Leopards as they improve to 10-1, their third straight double-digit win season. Senior Mike Colvin was named the game’s MVP, finishing with five touchdowns (four through the air) while passing for a career high-tying 362 yards and rushing for 82 more.
Lehigh will now await its postseason fate as it hopes to receive an at-large berth into the upcoming FCS Playoffs. The selection show is set for Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
“I’m thrilled for our senior class,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “They’ve experienced a tremendous amount of success. Last week was a tough pill to swallow and our kids responded the right way. To become the tenth class to win all four against Lafayette is a great memory and I’m very happy for those guys.”
Junior Lee Kurfis had three catches for 137 yards and a touchdown while senior Ryan Spadola had eight receptions for 87 yards and a score. Colvin found nine different receivers on the afternoon. Colvin led the Mountain Hawks in rushing with his 82 yards on 11 carries while junior Keith Sherman had 16 carries for 69 yards.
Senior Sam Loughery led the defense with a field goal block and big interception along with a team-high 10 tackles. After giving up 185 yards (and 21 points) in the first quarter, the Mountain Hawks bore down to allow only 161 yards (and no points) the rest of the way.
“I’m thrilled with how our football team hung in there after a back-and-forth first half, particularly the first quarter,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “Our guys never flinched. They hung in there and believed in each other. In the second half we played a dominant half of football. The most complete half of football we’ve played all year and the type of game we’ve been looking for all season long.”
Colvin was picked off by Rick Lyster on the second play of the game, who returned it back to the Lehigh 15-yard line. After a pair of runs, Andrew Shoop found Mark Ross in the corner of the end zone. Ross made a tough catch over a pair of defenders to make it 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.
Lehigh answered immediately with a 13-play, 56-yard drive capped off by a 23-yard field goal from senior Jake Peery to cut the Leopards’ lead to 7-3 with 8:02 to go in the first quarter. Spadola had two big catches for 39 yards, including one to set up the Mountain Hawks at the one-yard line. Earlier in the drive, Colvin found senior Jamel Haggins on a fourth-and-six to keep the drive alive and set up the field goal.
Lafayette responded, going 75 yards on nine plays for its second touchdown in as many possessions. After Lehigh pushed the Leopards back to their own 23, they converted a third-and-12 to get to the 39. From there, Lafayette went the remaining 61 yards on nine plays, eventually punching it in via an 18-yard connection from Shoop to Jamel Smith, making it 14-3 with 4:01 left in the first.
Lehigh quickly answered in a big way. Colvin found Kurfis for 75 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive to pull Lehigh within 14-10 with 3:49 on the clock.
The Leopards continued the scoring trend with another 75-yard drive capped off by a 27-yard pass from new quarterback Zach Zweizig to Ross. Ross made another tough catch in the right corner of the end zone to make it 21-10 with 11 seconds left in the first.
The offenses continued to dominate the first half as Lehigh answered with a 68-yard drive in 3:30. Colvin found senior Zach Barket for a big 13-yard pitch-and-catch on a third-and-four. That kept the drive alive, and Lehigh made it count. Colvin eventually found Spadola on a quick out and the senior did the rest, slicing through the Lafayette defense and into the left corner of the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown reception. That made it 21-17 with 11:41 to go in the second quarter.
Lafayette got all the way to the 21-yard line on its next drive, but the Leopards went backwards from there. On third down, senior Sajjad Chagani sacked Shoop for a nine-yard loss back to the 31. That forced Lafayette to go for it on fourth-and-15 and its ensuing pass fell incomplete to give Lehigh the ball back with 6:42 on the clock.
After Lehigh went three-and-out, momentum appeared to be going back to the Leopards. Senior Tim Divers unleashed a 42-yard punt, but it was returned by Ross Scheuerman to the Mountain Hawks’ 31, putting Lafayette in prime scoring position. However, the defense stood tall forcing a 28-yard field goal attempt which was partially blocked by Loughery to keep Lehigh within four.
“There were a couple of big plays in the game,” Coen said. “We turned the ball over early and the Lafayette kids did a great job and gained some momentum there. After their big punt return, our defense came up huge and blocked a field goal before the half. Those are type of things that keep you in games. It helped keep guys focused and believing that good things are going to happen.”
The Mountain Hawks marched into Lafayette territory with less than a minute to go in the first, but Colvin was picked off to keep the score at 21-17 heading into the half.
Colvin was 16-of-25 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the first half. Kurfis led the way with 75 receiving yards while Spadola had five catches for 63 yards and a score. Lehigh held the edge in total yards, 248-227, including a 217-157 advantage through the air.
Lehigh forced a punt on Lafayette’s first drive of the second half and the offense made it count. The Mountain Hawks went 80 yards on 11 plays, capped off by a 14-yard touchdown reception from Sherman to give Lehigh its first lead of the game (24-21) with 6:48 left in the third quarter. Lehigh converted two big third downs on the drive, including a third-and-13 when Colvin found Sherman for the go-ahead score.
The Mountain Hawk defense forced a second-straight punt, giving it to the offense which continued to roll. Two consecutive runs by Colvin and Sherman, for 16 and 17 yards, took Lehigh from its own 36 to the Lafayette 31. Three plays later, Colvin ran it in from 11 yards out to give Lehigh a 31-21 advantage with 1:57 on the clock. That capped off an impressive nine-play, 89-yard drive.
After exchanging punts, Lafayette drove from its own eight-yard line to the Lehigh 42 before Loughery intercepted Shoop to give the Mountain Hawks’ offense the ball back. Lehigh then went 56 yards on 10 plays to extend its lead to 38-21 with 4:45 left in the fourth. The drive was capped off on a third-and-goal when Colvin lobbed a pass to the back of the end zone, which sophomore Tyler Coyle grabbed for Colvin’s fifth touchdown of the afternoon (fourth through the air).
“I couldn’t be more proud of how the kids came out and executed,” Coen said. “We were as physical as we’ve been in the offensive line and running game all season. We made some big throws when we needed to. The defense came up with a big turnover which might have been the knockout punch because we were able to eat up clock and stop them again.”
Lehigh ran out the clock the rest of the way to preserve the 38-21 victory.
The Mountain Hawks held the edge in total yards (548-346), passing yards (362-230) and rushing yards (186-116). First downs were 26-21 Lehigh.
Lehigh will now await its fate on Sunday as the Mountain Hawks hope to receive an at-large berth into the FCS Playoffs. The selection show is set for 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU. Should the Mountain Hawks qualify, it would mark Lehigh’s third straight postseason appearance.
EXTRA POINTS... The 75-yard first-quarter touchdown catch from Lee Kurfis marked his longest catch of his career, Mike Colvin’s longest pass of his career and Lehigh’s longest play of the season … Lehigh’s class of 2013 became the tenth class in school history to go 4-0 against Lafayette… depending on other results Lehigh could end the regular season as one of just four 10-win teams in the FCS…the Mountain Hawks finished with four sacks including two by senior Tom Bianchi and 1.5 by Chagani… prior to Saturday’s game it was announced that the 150th Lehigh-Lafayette game will be played at Yankee Stadium on November 22, 2014… Lehigh’s five-game winning streak in the series is it’s longest since winning seven straight from 1995-2001.