BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The 17th ranked Lehigh football team came back from another second half deficit, scoring 21 unanswered points to defeat No. 7 New Hampshire, 34-27 on homecoming Saturday in front of 8,998 at Goodman Stadium. Trailing 19-3 early in the second quarter, the Mountain Hawks scored 31 of the game’s final 39 points as the offense continued to impress while the defense allowed just eight points over the final 43:54.
With the win Lehigh moves to 4-0 on the season as the Mountain Hawks snapped a nine game losing streak over New Hampshire (1-2). The Mountain Hawks picked up their first win over the Wildcats since 1982.
That was a great win; a great team win,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “The last few days we’ve been talking a lot about why we win these games. It’s all about becoming a team. Being committed to yourself and committed to your teammates. Coming together as a team and building on that each week and getting tighter and tighter. There wasn’t one guy who left this locker room that didn’t 100 percent think that we were going to win this football game. That never wavered during the course of the game.”
Senior quarterback Brandon Bialkowski posted his fourth straight 300-yard passing game, finishing 31-of-52 for 359 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Lee Kurfis had another monster game with 11 catches for 117 yards while senior Sergio Fernandez-Soto finished with seven receptions for 123 yards.
Senior Keith Sherman led the ground attack with 47 yards and posted four catches for 26 yards, including Lehigh’s first touchdown of the day. Senior Sean Farrell had 25 yards rushing, including a pair of third-quarter touchdowns in less than three minutes of play.
The defense came up big, allowing a single touchdown after the Wildcats took their early 19-3 lead. Senior Tyler Ward tied for the team lead with nine tackles, including a tackle for loss and three pass break ups. Sophomore Cody Kondas also had nine tackles.
New Hampshire received the opening kickoff. Jared Allison promptly scampered 41 yards on the ground to set the Wildcats up at the Lehigh 43. New Hampshire moved the ball inside the Lehigh 20 where the Mountain Hawk defense forced a 31-yard field goal by Mike MacArthur with 12:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Lehigh answered right back when freshman Brandon Leaks received the kickoff and returned it 35 yards to the 47-yard line. An 11-play, 51-yard drive set up freshman Ryan Pandy, whose 19-yard field goal tied the score at three with 7:40 on the clock.
The Wildcats responded with a five-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a five-yard touchdown pass from Andy Vailas to Chris Setian. The Wildcats attempted the two-point conversion, but the Mountain Hawks stuffed the rush attempt to keep the UNH lead at 9-3 with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Cody Muller forced and recovered a Lehigh fumble to set UNH up at the Lehigh 30. The Wildcats got one first down before being held to a 35-yard field goal to make it 12-3 late in the first quarter.
The New Hampshire defense forced a three-and-out and began the ensuing drive on its own 36. It took ten plays for the Wildcats to go 64 yards which ended with a one-yard Vailas rush into the end zone to make it 19-3 with 13:54 left in the second quarter.
Leaks answered with his second big kickoff return of the game, this time marching 36 yards to begin the possession on the Lehigh 45-yard line. The Lehigh offense was able to convert two third downs before a 13-yard pass from Bialkowski found the hands of Sherman in the end zone. Pandy’s extra point pulled the Mountain Hawks within 19-10 with 10:48 on the second quarter clock.
On the next drive, the Mountain Hawks were on the verge of forcing a three-and-out before a 14 yard rush from Sean Goldrich gave the Wildcats another chance. The Lehigh defense was able to stuff the Wildcats this time though, giving UNH its first scoreless drive of the game.
After trading punts, the Mountain Hawks got the ball back with 4:34 remaining at their own 27-yard line and promptly moved 71 yards on 18 plays, capped off by a 19-yard field goal from Pandy to make it 19-13 UNH at the half. The Mountain Hawks had converted a fourth-and-one from their own 48 as Sherman ran up the middle to keep the drive alive. Lehigh continued to methodically move the ball down field as a 12-yard pass to Kurfis got the Mountain Hawks to the 24-yard line, and a pass interference in the end zone set up Pandy for the field goal as time expired in the half.
Bialkowski completed 14-of-25 for 129 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Kurfis had six catches for 64 yards, Hayden posted two catches for 26 yards and Sherman had two catches for 19 yards and a touchdown. Sherman also had 29 yards on the ground on nine carries. Junior Isaiah Campbell had a team-high five first-half tackles.
Lehigh punted on its first drive of the second half and the Wildcats took advantage, going 80 yards on nine plays. On fourth and inches, Chris Setian scored on a four-yard run before adding a two-point conversion to pull ahead 27-13 with 10:23 left in the third quarter.
The Mountain Hawks answered right back less than two minutes later, going 77 yards on nine plays. Hayden got it started with a 23-yard catch. Two plays later, Kurfis made a nifty cutback to turn a short gain into a 20-yard catch-and-run. A 14-yard run by junior Rich Sodeke and 15-yard catch from Fernandez-Soto put the ball on the one, setting up Farrell for the one-yard run to make it 27-20 with 8:25 on the clock.
Senior Nigel Muhammad had a big sack to begin UNH’s ensuing drive, leading to a three-and-out. After a punt, it took just three plays for the Mountain Hawks to pull even. Bialkowski found Fernandez-Soto for 72 yards on the first play. Two plays later, Farrell rushed for his second touchdown in less than three minutes. The extra point was good to make it 27-27 with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
Lehigh forced another punt and capitalized in a big way. The Mountain Hawks went 80 yards on 17 plays, converting three third downs and a fourth down to take their first lead of the day following a 15-yard catch by sophomore Derek Knott. That made it 34-27 with 12:19 left in the fourth quarter. On fourth and less than a yard form the New Hampshire 43, Farrell carried for the big first down. Fernandez-Soto added two third-down catches leading into the Knott score to a drive that took nearly half a quarter.
New Hampshire followed with a pair of first downs, but Ward made a big third-down tackle to force a punt. The Lehigh offense promptly marched from its own 20 to the New Hampshire 39 before a Bialkowski pass was intercepted.
The Wildcats made one last push, moving the ball all the way to the Lehigh 11 yard line before Vailas’ fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 26 seconds remaining. With UNH out of timeouts, the Mountain Hawks took a knee to improve to 4-0 for a second straight season.
“The kids played very well,” Coen said. “They were tough. They were together. We made some mistakes, but we forced them (New Hampshire) to make a lot of mistakes. I thought in the second half we were the better football team and we were able to come out of here with a win.”
Lehigh held the final edge in total yards (465-441) and passing yards (359-152) while the Wildcats held a 289-106 advantage on the ground. Lehigh gained 28 first downs to UNH’s 24.
Vailas finished 18-for-29 for 152 yards and a touchdown for New Hampshire and added 43 yards on 13 carries. Nico Steriti rushed for a game-high 116 yards to lead UNH, while R.J. Harris was the top receiver for the Wildcats with 53 yards on seven receptions.
The Mountain Hawks return to action next Saturday when they travel to No. 16 Fordham for a nationally-televised battle of undefeated teams on CBS Sports Network. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. After a road game at Columbia on October 12, Lehigh returns home on October 19 to host Georgetown.
Tickets for all games are available, and may be purchased in one of three ways: by visiting the Lehigh ticket office located in Stabler Arena, by calling (610) 7LU-GAME, or on-line anytime at LehighTickets.com.
EXTRA POINTS… Kurfis surpassed 100 yards receiving for a fifth straight game dating back to last season … Bialkowski surpassed 300 yards passing for the fourth time this season, and fourth time in as many starts … The attendance was 8,998 on homecoming … The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team was honored during the second quarter for winning back-to-back Patriot League Championships … Lehigh honored its 1993 and 1998 Patriot League Championship teams during the third quarter … The Mountain Hawks won their second straight game over a CAA opponent (after topping Towson in the 2011 FCS Playoffs)… Lehigh had lost seven straight games against CAA opponents prior to that playoff win… the Mountain Hawks entered the game with just two sacks on the season but recorded three on the afternoon (Muhammad, sophomore Noah Robb and freshman Pierce Ripanti)... Lehigh has now overcome deficits of 20, 19 and 16 points in three of its four wins.