BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Central Connecticut State held the ball for over 40 minutes and more than doubled Lehigh’s offensive output as the visiting Blue Devils spoiled opening day at Goodman Stadium by beating the Mountain Hawks 28-21 in front of 6,140 fans Saturday afternoon. The teams combined to turn the ball over seven times on the afternoon, but Hunter Wanket’s 40 yard touchdown pass to Josue Paul late in the third quarter proved to be the difference as Lehigh dropped its season opener at home for the third time in the last four seasons.
“Obviously very disappointed,” Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said afterwards. “I thought we had a great camp, I am still very confident in this football team, but we got beat today. That team beat us, simple as that.” He continued, “We did not look past Central Connecticut State, we knew they were a good football team, today was just one of those days where we couldn’t get a lot going offensively and they were able to take advantage. Looking ahead to next week we have a huge challenge in front of us going down to Villanova, but I’m confident that the kids will bounce back, they’ll work hard and we’ll come out and compete next weekend.”
Both teams displayed some opening game mistakes as the two squads combined to turn the ball over five times in the game’s first six possessions. Lehigh received the opening kick-off, but on the first play from scrimmage junior quarterback JB Clark’s deep pass was picked off by Marcus Dorsey, who returned the ball into Lehigh territory. The Blue Devils drove inside Lehigh’s ten yard line, but on third and goal, quarterback Hunter Wanket fumbled and junior David Brown recovered for the Mountain Hawks.
After Lehigh went three-and-out on its second drive, the Mountain Hawk defense came through again as junior John Veneiro picked off Wanket in the end zone. Clark’s next pass was tipped and intercepted by Roberto Rodriguez, but Central Connecticut gave the ball right back as Wanket fumbled on a quarterback sneak and junior John Kennedy recovered for Lehigh.
The Mountain Hawks were able to move the ball out near midfield, but Nick Delgado blocked Alex Smith’s punt and four plays later Wanket hit Richie Martin over the middle for 24 yards and the game’s first score.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kennedy caught the ball at his own eight and raced virtually untouched down the far sideline for a 92-yard touchdown which tied the game at seven.
“One of the wildest first quarters, and longest, that I’ve ever been a part of,” Coen explained. “We made too many mistakes; fortunately Central Connecticut made a number of mistakes which allowed us to remain in the game.”
Central Connecticut State went back in front on the opening drive of the second quarter when James Mallory capped a 12-play, 73-yard drive with a one-yard plunge, but Lehigh answered with its first offensive scoring drive of the new season. The Mountain Hawks drove 66 yards in eight plays and tied the game on a seven-yard pass from Clark to junior tight end Alex Wojdowski.
Junior Jaren Walker led the Lehigh offense with 32 yards on six carries in the opening half. Classmate Jay Campbell added 23 yards on five carries. CCSU was led by James Mallory, who gained 40 yards on 11 rushes.
The Blue Devils regained the lead for a third time on the opening drive of the second half, by marching 57 yards in 13 plays while eating up over six minutes of clock. Eric Richardson capped the drive with a two yard touchdown run to make the score 21-14.
Once again Lehigh answered right back. Two plays after junior Craig Zurn set the Mountain Hawks up at their own 48 yard line, Clark hit sophomore Jake Drwal on a 58-yard scoring strike to pull the Brown and White even.
Lehigh had a golden opportunity to take the lead when Aubrey Norris fumbled a shotgun snap and junior Ben Flizack recovered, but Clark’s end zone pass to Wojdowski was picked off by Delgado. On the ensuing drive, CCSU moved 80 yards in seven plays to take the lead on Wanket’s pass to Paul.
The teams traded possessions in the fourth quarter with neither team able to muster much offense. The Mountain Hawks got the ball back with about 1:45 to play, but Clark’s fourth down pass to sophomore Jake Drwal sealed Lehigh’s fate.
Clark finished with 122 yards on 7-of-29 passing, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Drwal was his top target catching three balls for 85 yards. Walker finished with 32 yards on seven carries to lead the ground game. “I’m not really sure how to describe it,” Clark said in the postgame press conference. “The offense was never able to get in sync today. We had a couple of nice drives, but overall we weren’t consistent and we had too many mistakes to win a game against a good team like Central Connecticut State.”
Central Connecticut State was led by Mallory, who gained 121 yards on 30 carries. Wanket was a very efficient 15-of-19 through the air for 169 yards and two scores. Paul caught seven passes for 78 yards.
The Blue Devils out-gained Lehigh 410-184 on the afternoon and controlled the ball for over 43 minutes. Senior co-captain BJ Benning led the defensive effort with 12 total tackles and a sack.
The Mountain Hawks will return to action next Saturday at No. 5 Villanova. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. from Villanova Stadium and the game can be seen live on WFMZ-TV as well as Fox College Sports Atlantic. The game will also be carried live on ESPN Radio 1230 and 1320 AM, and live video of the contest will be shown on Lehighsports.com.
EXTRA POINTS… Prior to Saturday’s kick-off, players and coaches from both teams met at midfield for a pre-game handshake as part of Respect Weekend, a combined effort between the American Football Coaches Association and the NCAA… Kennedy’s kick-off return touchdown was the first for Lehigh since Gerran Walker’s 89-yard return versus Georgetown in 2004… Central Connecticut State’s three fumbles lost were the most for a Lehigh opponent since 2002.
Photography 2009 (c), Specialty Photographic