BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh football team fell in their home opener against defending FCS champion Villanova by a 35-0 score in front of 8,168 at Goodman Stadium on Saturday. Junior Chris Lum completed 18 passes for 172 yards and the Lehigh defense forced three turnovers on the day. Sophomore Ryan Spadola led the team with eight receptions and 88 yards, while senior Al Pierce paced the defense with a game-high 13 tackles. With the defeat, the Mountain Hawks fall to 1-1 on the season.
Lehigh outgained the potent Villanova attack through the air as the Brown and White posted 186 passing yards to the Wildcats’ 165. The running game proved to be a different story, however, as Villanova rushed for 330 yards on 62 attempts. Aaron Ball led the visitors with 103 yards on the ground, while Matt Szczur and Angelo Babbaro rushed for 95 and 70 yards, respectively. Sophomore Michael Colvin posted 14 yards on five carries to lead the Mountain Hawks.
"I think we’re going to find when we watch the film that we made far too many mistakes," said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. "That’s not to take anything away from Villanova, they handled us on the line of scrimmage. We left our defense on the field way too much. Part of our plan was to move the football and try to keep our defense from doing exactly what they wound up doing today, which was being stuck on the field.
Coen continued, "We also talked about limiting big plays and making a team go the length of the field. Unfortunately, we gave up three really big plays that led to scores for them. When you play a team like that, you have to try to contain those plays. Three is too many in that respect."
The Wildcats got on the board on their second drive of the opening quarter when Ball scampered off left tackle and into the end zone from 11 yards out at 8:26. The score was set up by a 30-yard pass on the previous play when Szczur found Norman White down the left sideline.
The Mountain Hawks threatened to answer back off a Villanova turnover on the Wildcats’ ensuing possession. Senior Jarard Cribbs intercepted Chris Whitney’s pass at the Villanova 45 yard line and returned the ball 21 yards to the Wildcats’ 24. Lehigh could not advance any further, however, as a penalty and a sack pushed the Brown and White out of scoring position.
Whitney atoned for his interception later in the quarter when he spotted Dorian Wells open in the right corner of the endzone from 39 yards out. Nick Yako tacked on the extra point to put Villanova ahead, 14-0, with 20 seconds remaining in the first stanza.
Lehigh’s defense continued to put pressure on Whitney in the second quarter and forced another turnover when senior John Kennedy picked off a pass in the end zone on a desperation heave on 3rd and 33. Senior John Veniero then recovered a fumble on the Wildcats’ next possession after Wells coughed up the ball inside the Mountain Hawks’ 10 yard line.
Despite forcing the first three turnovers of the game, Lehigh found itself down 21-0 at the break after Babbaro powered up the middle for an eight-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left in the half. Lum completed 9-of-16 passes in the first half for 81 yards and an interception, while senior linebacker Colin Newton registered seven tackles. Junior Jake Drwal led the Brown and White with five catches and 45 yards at the half.
Lehigh started with the ball in the second half, but quickly gave it away when Lum was intercepted by Rakim Cox at midfield. Cox returned the ball to the Lehigh 20 and set up another touchdown three plays later when Whitney tossed a seven-yard pass to tight end Chris Farmer.
The Mountain Hawks’ defense nearly forced a fourth turnover when Veneiro sacked Whitney later in the third quarter, but the Wildcats pounced on top of the loose ball to maintain possession.
Lum sparked the Lehigh offense in the fourth quarter when he connected with sophomore Ryan Spadola for the Mountain Hawks’ longest play of the game, a 37-yard pass down the left sideline. Lum promptly completed three passes to Drwal to move the ball to the Villanova 25, but his next pass was picked off by Kelvin Johnson at the Wildcats’ 16 to halt the drive.
Villanova added one final score as Ransfo Quarrie completed a 15-play, 84-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge with 1:20 remaining.
Whitney finished the game with 129 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns, while Wells posted a game-high 99 yards receiving.
"Our kids fought hard right to the end," Coen said. "We were hanging in there on the goal line in the last minutes of the game, throwing our bodies around. We have outstanding character kids in the program and we have talented kids in the program. We have to watch the film, get better on the mistakes we made, so we don’t make them next week. We won’t dwell on this. It’s the second game of the season."
The Mountain Hawks will return to action next Saturday when they host Princeton. Kickoff is set for just after 12:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, by visiting the Lehigh ticket office, located in Grace Hall or by logging on to Lehighsports.com.
EXTRA POINTS… Villanova represents the highest-ranked team Lehigh has played since 2000 (No. 2 Delaware)…The Mountain Hawks were shutout for the first time since October 17, 2009, a 7-0 home loss against Yale…Lehigh had not lost a game in which it out-passed an opponent since October 3, 2009 against Harvard…Sophomore Ryan Spadola led the team in receiving yards for the second straight game, posting 88 on the day…Senior Al Pierce led the team in tackles for the third straight game dating back to last year…The Goodman Stadium scoreboard sported a new look with custom-designed software and a refurbished appearance courtesy of Mobile Technology Graphics…Lehigh’s Marching 97 refrained from firing its traditional cannon before the game in remembrance of 9/11.