Story and photo courtesy of Lehigh Athletics
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh football team jumped out to a 14-0 lead and held off a second-half charge for a 27-17 win over Monmouth in the season opener for both teams on Saturday afternoon in front of 6,350 at Goodman Stadium. Senior Michael Colvin finished 17-of-32 for 221 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his debut as starting quarterback. He found senior Ryan Spadola nine times for 111 yards to lead the offensive attack.
Sophomore Josh Parris finished with two catches for 42 yards, his first two career receptions, while junior Lee Kurfis and freshman Derek Knott each added a touchdown catch. Senior Zach Barket led the rushing attack with 14 carries for 61 yards, while Colvin added 56 rush yards and a TD on the ground.
Senior Gabe Johnson helped lead the defensive effort, finishing with a game-high nine tackles (seven in the second half) to go with a fumble recovery and several crucial pass break-ups. Juniors Rickie Hill and John Mahoney each had interceptions for the Mountain Hawks; Mahoney’s came late in the fourth quarter as Monmouth was driving for the potential go-ahead touchdown.
“A win was the most important thing and we were able to accomplish that today,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “It wasn’t the prettiest out there, but there were a lot of good things. There was a lot of good execution in the first half offensively. The defense played well the entire game. It was critical that they held up in the red zone a few times and at the end they got the turnover that helped us try to run the clock out.”
Lehigh’s offense got off to a fast start, going 71 yards on 11 plays capped off by a five-yard touchdown run from Colvin to make it 7-0 with 8:43 left in the first quarter. Barket had a big 27-yard run to get into Monmouth territory, while Spadola added three catches for 20 yards in a strong opening drive.
The Mountain Hawks’ defense came up with a three-and-out in their first action of the season, giving the offense the ball right back. Lehigh fumbled on its ensuing possession, but the defense came up with a Hill interception.
The offense took advantage, marching down field for its second touchdown, a 19-yard pitch and catch from Colvin to Knott. Knott made the reception, turned the corner and found the corner of the end zone for the 14-0 lead with 4:22 remaining in the first. Spadola had a big 17-yard reception into Monmouth territory then two plays later, Colvin scampered 14 yards preceding his touchdown pass to Knott. In total, Lehigh went 63 yards on six plays, taking only 2:09 off the clock.
“Derek stepped up and his first college pass was a touchdown,” Coen said of the speedy freshman from Orlando, Fla. “I think you saw why we were so high on him in the preseason.”
Lehigh’s defense forced a three-and-out in the first series of the second quarter. Suggs had an impressive 20-yard punt return to the Monmouth 41-yard line to set up the offense. However, two plays into its drive, Monmouth’s Reggie Hildebrandt came up with an interception.
The Hawks capitalized, going 58 yards on eight plays in 3:21. A fourth-down penalty on the Mountain Hawks kept the drive alive and Monmouth took advantage, completing a pair of 12-yard passes to go along with a nine and 10-yard rush. That led to a one-yard touchdown run from Julian Hayes to make it 14-7 with 12:37 left in the second quarter.
Lehigh forced a three-and-out with less than two minutes left in the first half, giving its offense a chance. After a 21-yard punt return by Suggs set up the Mountain Hawks in Monmouth territory, Lehigh followed by going 36 yards in five plays as Colvin found Kurfis in the corner of the end zone on a third and 10, making it 21-7 with 52 seconds on the clock.
Colvin was 14-of-23 for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Spadola gained 72 of his yards over the first 30 minutes, coming from eight catches. The Lehigh defense held Monmouth quarterback Kyle Frazier to just 52 yards on 9-of-16 passing in the first half.
“I thought Colvin’s decision making today was pretty good,” Coen said. “Obviously the first half was very good and with his zone-read type of plays he did a really nice job with that.”
The Hawks quickly pulled closer, taking the opening drive of the second quarter 53 yards on 11 plays. It finished with a 39-yard field goal from Eric Spillane to pull within 21-10 with 10:32 left in the third quarter.
Lehigh followed with a three and out, giving the ball back to Monmouth. The Hawks drove 48 yards on 10 plays, gaining three first downs, but a fourth-and-six pass by Frazier was out of the reach of Neal Sterling, giving Lehigh the ball right back.
However, Monmouth’s Mitchell Pollard intercepted Colvin on the first play of the drive, The Hawks followed by going on a quick five-play, 59-yard drive, using two straight pass interference penalties to move into Lehigh territory. Frazier then found Sterling for a 15-yard touchdown, to pull within 21-17 with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
Lehigh subsequently went 37 yards in six plays late in the third quarter, capped off by a big 36-yard catch from Parris, his first-career reception, to move to the Monmouth 28. The drive stalled and senior Jake Peery’s 40-yard field goal was no good.
“He’s got a great touch on the deep ball, especially the one that Josh caught was a fabulous throw,” Coen said of his senior QB. “He can do all those things he has just to watch himself and learn. That being said there are a lot of teams out there that would have loved to have him do for them what he did for us today.”
The Mountain Hawks’ defense picked him up; forcing a quick three-and-out and getting the ball back themselves with 13:30 on the clock. However, Monmouth got the ball back with 12:19 remaining, going 40 yards on 12 plays, and converting two fourth-down attempts in the process to move within Lehigh’s 10-yard line. But the Lehigh defense came up big when it mattered most, as senior Billy Boyko forced a fumble, recovered by Johnson at the Lehigh seven-yard line with 7:12 on the clock. Johnson had previously come up with a big pass breakup on a third-down play to save a touchdown.
Lehigh went 54 yards, burning 3:44 of the clock, including a 39-yard catch by Spadola, to move into Monmouth territory. The Mountain Hawks were eventually forced to punt, giving the Hawks the ball back with 3:28 still to go.
Monmouth drove all the way to Lehigh’s 35, but Frazier’s pass was intercepted by Mahoney with less than a minute remaining. The Mountain Hawks ran the ball looking to run out the clock, forcing Monmouth to call timeout. Lehigh was forced to punt with 31 seconds to go, but Monmouth’s last-second miracle attempt was fumbled and recovered by senior Jerard Gordon who went in for the score, ending the game at 27-17.
Lehigh had the edge in total yards (360-333) and passing yards (221-151) while Monmouth had the advantage in rushing yards (182-139) and first downs (21-17). The Mountain Hawks were 3-of-12 on third-down attempts while Monmouth was 5-of-20 and 3-of-5 on fourth down.
The Mountain Hawks return to action next Saturday when they travel to Central Connecticut State for a 12 p.m. kickoff. Lehigh will return home in two weeks to host Princeton on Sept. 15 at 12:30 p.m. Tickets for the game are still 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 Lehighsports.com.