Story and photo courtesy of Lehigh Athletics
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The No. 11/15 Lehigh football team fell down 14-0 just 7:36 into the game, but the Mountain Hawks fought back for a hard-fought 34-31 win over Fordham on Saturday afternoon. Lehigh went up 31-21 before the Rams evened the score, but senior Jake Peery hit a 22-yard field goal as time expired to walk off winners. The Mountain Hawks improve to 5-0 on the season, extending the nation’s longest regular season winning streak to 14.
Senior Mike Colvin threw for a career-high 341 yards and a touchdown via 24-of-40 passing, while also running for 61 yards and a score. Senior Ryan Spadola finished with a team-high eight catches for 85 yards while junior Sergio Fernandez-Soto had four for 38 yards and senior Lee Kurfis made four for 29 and a touchdown. Senior Jamel Haggins had three catches for 58 yards, including a long 50-yard reception.
Senior Zach Barket and junior Keith Sherman each added rushing touchdowns in running for 48 and 41 yards, respectively. The Mountain Hawks held a dominant 174-69 edge on the ground.
“What I loved about our kids is that they weren’t fazed by the 14-0 deficit,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “They went right out and scored the next 24 points. We just kept hanging in there and once again it came down to (the fact that) we made a couple more plays.”
The first half started at a torrid pace as Fordham raced out of the gates on its first possession, using a hurry-up offense that produced a 12 play, 68 yard drive that lasted just 3:31. The drive was capped by a three-yard run by quarterback Ryan Higgins. Running back Carlton Koonce rushed for 35 yards on the drive, including a 23-yard scamper to put the ball in the Mountain Hawk red zone.
After halting a Lehigh drive on the Fordham 38, the Rams’ offense took over and Higgins immediately hit wide receiver Brian Wetzel for a 40-yard pass to put the ball back into Lehigh territory. Fordham continued its hurry-up offense and used some trickery to add to it lead; this time Wetzel tossed an 18 yard strike to wide receiver Nick Talbert in the corner of the end zone off a reverse to give the Rams a quick 14-0 lead with 7:24 left in the first quarter. On its two scoring drives, the Rams gained 148 yards in just over five minutes of action.
The Mountain Hawk offense responded with its own nine-play, 81 yard scoring drive as Sherman scored on a 16-yard run to cut the Ram lead in half with 3:50 left in the first. The score extended Sherman’s streak to four consecutive games with a touchdown.
After forcing the Rams’ first punt of the afternoon, senior Marcus Dormevil returned the kick 30 yards to the Fordham 25 to set up the Mountain Hawks with great field position. After a 17-yard run from Barket to the Rams’ eight yard line, Colvin capped off the drive a few plays later with a three-yard run to even the score at 14-14 with 12 seconds still remaining in the first quarter.
Lehigh took its first lead following a 23-yard field goal by Peery with 9:46 to go in the second quarter. After forcing a Fordham punt, the Mountain Hawks marched 80 yards in 13 plays, capped off by a five-yard pass from Colvin to senior Lee Kurfis. That made it 24-14 with 3:11 left in the second quarter. A deliberate drive saw Colvin complete two straight passes to Fernandez-Soto which got the Mountain Hawks near midfield.
Just 28 seconds later, Fordham responded as Higgins connected with Wilson for 42 yards then found Carlton Koonce for a 12-yard touchdown reception. That pulled the Rams within 24-21 with 2:43 on the clock.
Lehigh moved into Fordham territory on its ensuing drive, but Colvin was picked off to give it back to the Rams. The Mountain Hawks’ defense stood tall, forcing a Fordham punt which kept the score at 24-21 at the half.
Colvin was 14-of-21 for 155 yards and a touchdown, while adding 43 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Sherman also added 42 rush yards and a touchdown. Spadola had a team-leading five catches for 57 yards through the air. On the other side, Fordham’s Higgins was 14-of-18 for 192 yards through the air.
The defenses began to find a rhythm in the second half, as each side made a stop before Lehigh extended its lead to 31-21. On the first play of the drive, Colvin found Sherman for 70 yards to set up Barket who ran it in from a yard out with 9:32 left in the third quarter.
Fordham attempted to cut into the lead with 6:27 left in the third, but a long 51-yard field goal attempt fell just short.
The Rams got to Lehigh’s six-yard line on their following drive, but the Mountain Hawks forced a 23-yard field goal from Patrick Murray to make it 31-24 with 1:54 on the clock.
Fordham came back to tie the score with 11:42 left in the fourth quarter, going 69 yards in 13 plays to knot the score at 31 apiece. One big play was a 21-yard reception by Wetzel which set up the Rams at the Lehigh 31-yard line. Eight players later, Higgins found Wetzel to tie the score for the first time since 14-14.
With less than three minutes to go in the fourth, Higgins was rushed by senior Tom Bianchi and was called for intentional grounding, making it second-and-21 at the Fordham one-yard line. The Rams couldn’t recover as they were forced to punt which Dormevil returned 21 yards to the Fordham 39. Two plays later, Colvin found Spadola for 14 yards to the 22. He later found sophomore Josh Parris for 13 yards to the five-yard line. That led into Peery’s heroics as he knocked in the 22-yard field goal to give Lehigh the thrilling victory.
“I’ve never been able to even attempt a game-winning field goal in my football career,” Peery said. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Coen added, “It was a huge kick for Jake and I’m really thrilled for him.”
Total yards were 515-460 in favor of Lehigh; Fordham held a 391-341 edge through the air while the Mountain Hawks owned a 174-69 advantage on the ground. First downs were down 27-25 in favor of the Rams while Lehigh had the edge in time of possession, 32:31 to 27:29.
“I was telling people all week that Fordham was a much improved football team,” Coen said. “I thought they were very well coached and made adjustments during the game on both sides of the ball. My hat is off to the job those guys did.”
Lehigh will return home next Saturday when it hosts Columbia in a nonleague matchup at 12:30 p.m. Tickets 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.