Story and photo courtesy of Lehigh Athletics
WORCESTER, Mass. – The Lehigh football team has made a habit of winning exciting, back-and-forth games in 2012 and Saturday at Holy Cross was no different. The No. 6/8 Mountain Hawks trailed by 12 points after three quarters but rallied to defeat the Crusaders 36-35 at Fitton Field. Senior Ryan Spadola returned to the Lehigh lineup with two touchdown catches, including the go-ahead score with two minutes to play.
Holy Cross got the ball back and drove into Lehigh territory, but John Macomber’s 43-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining missed wide right sending Lehigh (9-0, 3-0 Patriot League) to its 18th straight regular season victory and its 18th straight win over Patriot League opponents. Holy Cross falls to 1-8 overall and 1-3 in league games.
“I guess we couldn’t have asked for a better time for Ryan to come back,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen on the ESPN Radio postgame show. Coen also picked up his 50th victory as a head coach. “Mike (Colvin) really stepped up, especially in that last drive. The kids just kept hanging in there. The defense certainly stepped up with a couple of stops at the end.
Coen continued, “It was a draining victory, but a victory nonetheless. I’m not going to make any apologies for being 9-0.
After missing the previous two games with mononucleosis, Spadola returned in a big way, catching eight passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Colvin finished 24-of-34 passing for a career-high 362 yards and three touchdowns, and also led the Mountain Hawks on the ground with 59 rushes and two touchdowns on ten carries.
“He’s the most positive guy on the football field whether we’re winning or losing,” Coen said of Colvin. “That’s what good leaders do. They understand what it takes to be successful and Mike is a great example of that.”
The Mountain Hawks gained an impressive 494 yards of total offense, but gave up 527 to the Crusaders. Holy Cross quarterbacks Steven Elder and Ryan Laughlin combined to go 29-of-44 for 336 yards and four touchdowns. Reggie Woods rushed for 139 yards on 29 carries, while Mike Fess and Gerald Mistretta both caught two touchdowns. Fess had ten catches for 90 yards, while Mistretta gained 104 yards on eight grabs.
The win, combined with Colgate’s 65-41 win over Lafayette sets up a winner-take-all showdown for the Patriot League’s automatic berth in the FCS playoffs next Saturday at Goodman Stadium.
It took less than two minutes for the Mountain Hawks to go in front. Lehigh’s defense forced a three-and-out with senior Tom Bianchi sacking Elder on the first play of the game. Senior Marcus Dormevil returned the Holy Cross punt 74 yards to the Crusader two yard line and on Lehigh’s first play Colvin scored on a two-yard run up the middle. The extra point was no good as Lehigh took a 6-0 lead.
The Crusaders stormed right back with a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Elder hit Mistretta with an 11-yard pass and the extra point put Holy Cross in front by a point early in the quarter.
After a pair of failed Lehigh drives that reached Crusader territory, Holy Cross extended its lead following a 14-play. 90-yard drive as Elder hit Fess for an eight-yard score to make the score 14-6 with 13:46 left in the first half.
Lehigh answered the Holy Cross score with a touchdown of its own as the Mountain Hawks moved the ball 75 yards in ten plays, capped by Colvin’s second touchdown rush of the day, a 33-yard run up the middle on 3rd-and-3.
The Mountain Hawk defense then came up with a stop giving Lehigh the ball back on its own 19 yard line. Peery capped a 16-play drive with a 20 yard field goal to give the Mountain Hawks a 16-14 lead at halftime.
Holy Cross outgained Lehigh 226-198 in the opening 30 minutes. For Lehigh, Colvin was 12-for-16 for 98 yards. He also was Lehigh’s top ground gainer with 53 yards on six carries. Spadola led the receiving corps with four catches for 49 yards. Senior Billy Boyko paced the defense with eight tackles.
Lehigh opened the second half with the football and needed just three plays to extend their lead. Facing 3rd-and-8 on its 27, Colvin hit a streaking Spadola down the far sideline and the senior All-American shook a tackle and raced 73 yards for a touchdown to extend Lehigh’s lead to 23-14. The 73-yard strike is the longest play from scrimmage for the Mountain Hawks this season.
The Crusaders scored on their first drive of the second half as Laughlin, who came on at quarterback to start the quarter, hit Fess for a 16 yard touchdown to cut Lehigh’s lead to two points.
Holy Cross capitalized on the first turnover of the game to take the lead with 8:19 remaining. Sophomore Jason Suggs fumbled the ensuing kickoff after the Crusader touchdown. Four plays later Woods scored on a three-yard run to give the Crusaders a 28-23 lead.
On the first play after the Crusader score, Colvin hit junior Keith Sherman on a wheel route for a 50 yard gain to the Holy Cross 25 yard line, but the drive stalled and Peery’s 38-yard field goal attempt missed wide left.
The Crusaders took full advantage of the missed field goal moving 79 yards in nine plays and extending their lead on a 15 yard pass from Laughlin to Mistretta.
Lehigh answered the run of 21 unanswered points with a 12-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a one yard pass from Colvin to fullback Zach Hayden to make the score 35-30 Holy Cross early in the fourth quarter.
Holy Crossed moved the ball deep into Lehigh territory before the Mountain Hawks answered with a huge defensive stop as senior Anthony Verderame sacked Laughlin and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Bianchi at the Lehigh 19. The drive stalled however as Colvin was stopped short of the first down on a third down run.
Trailing by five with the ball, the Mountain Hawks failed to gain a first down on two successive possessions, but the defense came up with critical stops to get the ball back.
“In the fourth quarter they were huge,” Coen said of his defense’s effort. “They kept them (Holy Cross) out of the end zone. “We’ve been a good fourth quarter team. We need to work on being a better third quarter team but it’s a win.”
Lehigh ultimately got the ball back on its own 15 with 4:08 to play. Consecutive completions to junior Sergio Fernandez-Soto moved the ball near midfield. Another connection between Colvin and Fernandez-Soto gained five yards on 3rd-and-3 setting the Mountain Hawks up at the Crusader 44. Two plays later, Colvin lofted a pass towards Spadola in the right corner of the end zone, and despite pass interference against Holy Cross, Spadola corralled the ball for a 33 yard touchdown. The two point conversion failed, but Lehigh led 36-35.
Holy Cross’ final drive started at its own 25, with the Crusaders methodically moving the ball down the field. Laughlin kit Fess for 13 yards into Lehigh territory on 4th-and-10. The next three plays produced just nine yards, so the Crusaders brought on Macomber, whose 43-yard go-ahead attempt missed to the right.
The Mountain Hawks will return to Goodman Stadium next Saturday when they welcome the Colgate Raiders in a game that will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network. The winner will claim at least a share of the Patriot League championship and the Patriot League’s automatic berth into the FCS playoffs. Kickoff is set for just after 12:30 and tickets can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, but visiting the Lehigh box office in Stabler Arena or by visiting Lehighsports.com.