BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Lehigh recovered from a 14-3 halftime deficit to be two points behind Holy Cross after three quarters, but the two-time defending Crusaders League champion scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 31-12 Saturday win over Halloweekend at Goodman Stadium presented by Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop.
Holy Cross’s Matthew Sluka took advantage of two short fields, with rushing touchdowns to create a cushion for the Crusaders. Lehigh used a pair of takeaways and a blocked punt to stay in the game, but a mismanaged slam on a punt and an interception in the fourth quarter allowed the visitors to extend their lead.
Junior TyGee Leach led Lehigh defensively with nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss as a senior Nate norris added seven saves and recovered a fumble. Second year Liam McIntyre finished with four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
“I thought our team were playing very hard,” Lehigh head coach Tom gilmore noted. “Very competitive play. It was 14-12 at the start of the fourth quarter and then we made a few mistakes. We returned the ball a few times and gave them a few short fields and then obviously we changed the game a lot. . I thought our guys fought throughout the game. We’re playing really hard, we’re making improvements and we’re adjusting to some things. “
Lehigh kicked off to open the game, McIntyre stripping Justin Shorter and Norris stripping and returning the ball to Holy Cross 14. The player stalled but Junior Dylan Van Dusen kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Mountain Hawks the lead.
The Mountain Hawks’ defense contained Sluka in the first quarter and a half, but Marco Siderman came off the bench to throw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Coker, giving the Crusaders a 7-3 lead.
Holy Cross added another score late in the half as the Crusaders managed an 11-game practice, helped by three first downs on the penalty spot. Siderman scored on a one-yard run, which gave Holy Cross a 14-3 lead at halftime.
Lehigh had two sacks in Holy Cross’s first practice in the second half, which helped the Mountain Hawks to position themselves well on the field. Senior RaShawn Allen carried the ball five straight plays to move the ball inside the Crusader 10. Van Dusen’s second field goal of the game pulled Lehigh down to 14-6 with 6:08 left in the third.
Holy Cross reader that followed ended in interception by sophomore The Treil Wimberly, but the Mountain Hawks failed to capitalize. McIntyre’s second sack of the game forced a punt on Holy Cross’s next possession and junior Tommy lewis came with the block as Lehigh took over on the nine-yard line from Holy Cross.
On the very next play, in second year Dante Perri connected with junior Jalen burbage on a nine-yard touchdown pass. Lehigh missed the conversion by two points and was down 14-12 after three quarters.
“Our guys played very emotionally,” said Gilmore. “They prepare better every week and they play really hard. I think there’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of emotions that our guys are definitely giving off. I don’t think you can watch this game. and not to say that our guys don’t give a lot of effort and play with a lot of emotion. “
Lehigh’s opener in the fourth quarter stalled and a mismanaged snap on a punt attempt allowed Holy Cross to take over at Lehigh’s seven-yard line. Sluka scored on the next play to give Holy Cross a 21-12 lead. The Crusaders added a 50-yard field goal from Derek Ng and another touchdown from Sluka as they improved to 6-2 overall and 3-0 in the league.
Perri completed 18 of 32 passes for 137 yards with one touchdown and one interception for the Mountain Hawks (0-8, 0-3 PL). Burbage was his first target with five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. Junior Johnny foley added five catches for 40 yards. Allen was the top rusher with nine carries for 20 yards.
Holy Cross had a 233-122 advantage in total offense and a 17-12 advantage in the opening downs.
“We just needed to be more consistent at times and we were really close at other times,” said Gilmore. “Overall I think we are playing very hard in all three phases. We have to be more disciplined. We have committed too many penalties today. We just have to keep fighting this fight because there is definitely a sense in it. the program that we have taken a step forward and we’re really on the verge of getting some wins here at the end of the season. “
The Mountain Hawks travel to Lewisburg, Pa., Next Saturday to face Bucknell. Game time is set for 1 p.m. with coverage airing on ESPN + and Fox Sports Radio 1230/1320 AM and 94.7 FM in Allentown.
ADDITIONAL POINTS… Lehigh finished with seven tackles for loss and four sacks… in addition to two sacks from McIntyre, Leach, Wimberly, senior Pete haffner and junior Michael callahan all had a half-sack… Haffner returned to action with five tackles after missing Lehigh’s last five games with injury… On top of that, Lehigh won the turnover battle for the first time since the Saint Francis 2019 game, lasting 20 games… first-year offensive lineman Christian Curatolo and second wide receiver Connor kennedy made their first career debut.