Lehigh falls short at North Dakota State in FCS Quarterfinals
FARGO, N.D. - The Lehigh football team’s magical season came to an end on Saturday as the Mountain Hawks dropped a 24-0 final at second-seeded North Dakota State in front of 18,111 at the Fargodome. Lehigh finished with 355 total yards of offense to NDSU’s 384, but couldn’t break through against a strong Bison defense. Senior quarterback Chris Lum’s stellar career came to an end with yet another record-breaking performance as he passed for 286 yards to set the Patriot League single-season mark with 4,376 yards.
Lehigh won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half. After stopping the Bison on their first possession, the Mountain Hawks took over at their own one yard line. The Mountain Hawks moved the ball into Bison territory, but a Lum pass was deflected and intercepted by Daniel Eaves. On the next North Dakota State play, Jensen hit Warren Holloway for seven yards but junior Billy Boyko stripped Holloway and Billy O’Brien recovered for Lehigh at the Bison 45.
The Mountain Hawks’ ensuing drive ended with a turnover on downs and NDSU methodically moved the ball down the field, but Lehigh’s defense responded with its second takeaway of the day. Newton stripped D.J. McNorton and Tanner Rivas recovered at the Lehigh 12. Lehigh put together a strong drive of its own, highlighted by a 24 yard pass to Lee Kurfis, but a screen pass to Fitz on 4th and 3 fell incomplete.
North Dakota State broke through with the game’s first score four and a half minutes into the second quarter as Jensen hit Holloway in the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown that gave the Bison a 7-0 lead. The Bison extended their lead benefitting from two Lehigh personal foul penalties that kept an 11 play, 97 yard drive alive. Jensen scored on a one yard rush to extend NDSU’s lead to 14-0 with 2:10 left in the half.
After another Lehigh drive stalled, the Bison got the ball back, but the Mountain Hawks picked up their third turnover as senior Kenyatta Drake picked off Jensen. Lehigh was unable to capitalize however, as Christian Dudzik jumped in front of senior Jimmy Jefferson on a slant route and picked off Lum, returning the ball 48 yards into Lehigh territory. Lehigh’s defense held its ground and Ryan Jastram came on to kick a 31 yard field goal to put NDSU up 17-0 at the half.
The Bison out-gained Lehigh 240-202 in the first half, led by 80 rushing yards on nine carries by Sam Ojuri. Lum finished the first half 13-of-28 for 152 yards and the two interceptions. Drwal was his top target with five receptions for 60 yards.
The third quarter featured no scoring, although Lehigh put together a 14 play, 72 yard drive and ended when junior Michael Colvin was picked off in the end zone by Preston Evans.
Following the interception, the Bison put together a 16 play, 80 yard drive and extended their lead to 24-0 on Jensen’s second one-yard touchdown run of the game with 7:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On its ensuing drive, Lehigh got into North Dakota State territory via a 12-yard pass and catch to sophomore Sergio Fernandez-Soto, but again the drive stalled as sophomore Tim Divers was forced to punt. The Bison methodically gained yardage the rest of the way as the Mountain Hawks never got the ball back.
North Dakota State held the edge in total yards (384-355), but Lehigh had a 286-174 advantage through the air while the Bison held a 210-69 edge on the ground. Time of possession was almost even (30:54 NDSU to 29:06 for Lehigh) while the Bison gained 21 first downs to the Mountain Hawks’ 19.
Jensen finished 17-of-28 for 163 yards and a touchdown, while Ojuri was the top ground-gainer 136 yards on 17 carries. Holloway added a career-high eight catches for 96 yards.
Junior Jerard Gordon led Lehigh’s defensive effort with 14 total tackles, while Newton and Mike Groome each had 11 stops.
“I’m very proud of my football team,” Coen said. “To have an 11-win season is special. To advance to the quarterfinals is even more special. It hurts for everyone associated with our program that we weren’t able to get it done today but that’s the reality of the playoff system. It’s great to be a part of that but at the end of the day only the team that wins the championship is really happy.
Coen added, “We’ve got a great bunch of kids. They competed their tails off and I’m very proud of them.”
EXTRA POINTS… Lum became the Patriot League’s single-season passing yardage leader with 98 first-quarter passing yards… ten different Mountain Hawks caught a pass on the day… senior De’Vaughn Gordon and sophomore Lee Kurfis combined for three receptions for 56 yards, seeing time in place of suspended junior Ryan Spadola… the Mountain Hawks were shutout for the first time since dropping a 35-0 decision to Villanova in the 2010 home opener… the loss marked the first time Lehigh has ever been shutout in the playoffs… Lehigh is now 9-11 all-time in the NCAA playoffs including 5-9 at the FCS level.
Photos by Matt Breitel ’12. Used with permission.
The Mountain Hawks finished the season at 11-2, racking up 10 straight wins between their only two losses.
The Lehigh defense was the story early, forcing two North Dakota State turnovers to keep a potent attack off the scoreboard in the first quarter. But a big second quarter by the Bison put Lehigh into a 17-0 halftime deficit, which proved too much to overcome.
Lum finished 25-of-52 for 286 yards while senior Matt Fitz had 47 yards on the ground on 11 carries. Jake Drwal led the receiving attack with 10 catches for 111 yards to finish his senior season with 92 receptions for 1,060 yards. Sophomore Lee Kurfis stepped up with two catches for 48 yards while five others finished with multiple receptions as well.
Each side had three turnovers as Lehigh forced two big first-quarter fumbles. First, junior Billy Boyko forced a fumble which classmate Billy O’Brien recovered. Senior Colin Newton then went on to force a fumble in the red zone, which Tanner Rivas recovered, to stop a North Dakota State drive in its tracks. Senior Kenyatta Drake added a second-quarter interception as well.
“North Dakota State doesn’t make many mistakes,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “We forced three turnovers, but unfortunately were unable to take advantage of them. We moved the ball well at times, but were unable to finish drives. A lot of that was based on the North Dakota State defense. They had a great pass rush and that combined with the atmosphere today made it tough on our offensive line. We got beat by a team that was better than us today. That’s what the playoffs are all about.”