NEW BRITAIN, Conn. - The No. 14/16 Lehigh football team jumped out to a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game and wouldn’t look back, improving to 2-0 for the first time since 2003 with a convincing 35-14 win at Central Connecticut State Saturday at Arute Field. Senior Michael Colvin threw for 249 yards on 19-of-31 passing while the combination of senior Zach Barket and junior Keith Sherman ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns.
In a game where the teams combined for six turnovers, including five in the first quarter, the Mountain Hawks took a 21-0 lead into halftime before the Blue Devils got on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter. Lehigh responded to go up 35-7 before Central Connecticut State added a late score for the 35-14 final.
Sherman finished with 42 yards on nine carries along with two rushing touchdowns while Barket added 60 yards on 14 carries, and a score. Sophomore Rich Sodeke had a solid performance as well, rushing for 30 yards on seven carries over the final moments of the fourth quarter.
“We really made a commitment to the running game at halftime and the guys did a really nice job gaining some tough yards,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “Zach is slowly getting back to where he was. We saw some things today that we didn’t see last week.”
Seven different Mountain Hawks finished with a reception, led by two catches for 82 yards from senior Ryan Spadola. That included one connection of 72 yards in the third quarter. Reigning Patriot League Rookie of the Week Derek Knott had five catches for 16 yards while senior Lee Kurfis had four for 76 and junior Sergio Fernandez-Soto three for 34.
“Ryan has to get the ball,” Coen said said of Spadola. “We have to get him the football. He understands that it’s a team game and he’s as excited as anyone that won. He just wants to win games. We saw other guys stepped up. Lee Kurfis had a couple really nice catches and the running backs and o-line did a nice job which was really good. Probably most pleased with how we were able to run the ball with that offensive line.”
Junior Nigel Muhammad and senior Sam Loughery each finished with a team-high 11 tackles while senior Gabe Johnson had six tackles and a big fumble recovery to put momentum in Lehigh’s favor. Loughery added three of Lehigh’s eight tackles-for-loss on the day.
Lehigh won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Mountain Hawks’ defense forced a three-and-out and sophomore Jason Suggs set Lehigh up with good field position with a 20-yard punt return to the Blue Devil 40 yard line. Lehigh moved the ball well, as Colvin hit Kurfis for 15 yards and then Barket moved the ball to the five yard line with a 21-yard rush. Three plays later Barket plunged into the end zone from a yard out to give the Mountain Hawks the early 7-0 lead.
Following the kickoff, Lehigh got the ball back on CCSU’s next play as Muhammad stripped
Nate Pagan and Johnson recovered on the Blue Devils’ 23 yard line. Four plays later, Sherman scored on a one-yard run to extend the Mountain Hawks lead to 14-0, just 4:49 into the contest.
Central Connecticut State put together its strongest drive of the early going, moving inside the Lehigh 30 yard line, but Blue Devil quarterback Andrew Clements fumbled after a hit by senior Tom Bianchi and sophomore Isaiah Campbell recovered at the Mountain Hawks’ 46 yard line. Lehigh’s ensuing drive stalled on an interception thrown by Colvin, but the Mountain Hawks’ defense responded with a three-and-out to get the ball back at their own 45 yard line late in the first quarter.
The Mountain Hawks capitalized on a third Blue Devil miscue to get the ball back deep in CCSU territory. Clements fumbled an option pitch and junior Anthony Verderame picked the ball up on a hop and returned it to the CCSU five yard line. Lehigh was unable to capitalize as Colvin lost the ball on a third down attempt and the Blue Devils recovered at their 14 yard line.
The Lehigh defense stood tall and forced another three-and-out, getting the ball back to the Mountain Hawks’ offense, which drove 55 yards in 12 plays to extend the lead. The drive was capped by another one-yard run by Sherman and Jake Peery’s extra point gave the Mountain Hawks a 21-0 lead at the half.
Lehigh dominated the first 30 minutes statistically, but was hurt by mistakes and three turnovers. The Mountain Hawks gained 184 yards of total offense to just 73 for CCSU.
Colvin was 11-for-20 for 123 yards and two interceptions, while rushing five times for 12 yards. Barket led Lehigh with 35 rushing yards on eight carries, while Kurfis was the leading receiver with 76 yards on four catches over the first 30 minutes.
Lehigh was unable to capitalize on the opening possession of the second half, but Central Connecticut State put together its best drive of the day to score its first points. The Blue Devils went 72 yard in 14 plays and scored on a two yard run by Rob Hollomon to cut the Mountain Hawks’ lead to 21-7 halfway through the third quarter.
The Mountain Hawk offense returned to live late in the third quarter. Faced with a 1st-and-15 from its own 15, Colvin lofted a 72 yard bomb to Spadola down the far sideline to move the ball to the CCSU 13. Four plays later, Colvin rushed up the middle for a four yard touchdown to extend the Lehigh lead to 28-7, 48 seconds into the final quarter.
After the defense put together another stop, Lehigh’s offense answered with an 11-play, 67-yard drive, which culminated in a three yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Max Anderson. Peery’s extra point made the score 35-7 with 7:58 remaining in the fourth.
Central Connecticut State did add a late touchdown, going 75 yards on nine plays which ended with a Denzell Jones six-yard touchdown reception to pull within 35-14 with 3:52 on the clock.
From there, Lehigh’s offense ran out the clock as junior Brandon Bialkowski came in for the final series at quarterback and Sodeke kept the chains (and clock) moving.
Lehigh held the edge in total yards, 397-281 including a 249-87 advantage through the air. Central Connecticut State had the edge on the ground, 194-148 while first downs were 21-16 in favor of the Mountain Hawks.
“It’s good to be 2-0 but we still have a lot of guys who haven’t played a lot so we’re going through some inconsistency,” Coen said. “The kids are competing hard. The defense played very well even though we gave up some plays. Offensively we came in at halftime and really wanted to run the ball in the second half; and we were able to do that so that makes me feel good.”
The Mountain Hawks will return to Goodman Stadium next Saturday to face the Princeton Tigers on Community Day. Kickoff is set for just after 12:30 p.m. Tickets are available and can be purchased by visiting the Lehigh Ticket Office in Stabler Arena, by calling 610-7LU-GAME or by visiting Lehighsports.com.
EXTRA POINTS… The previous meeting between the two teams also featured five first quarter turnovers… Spadola has now caught a pass in 27 straight games… Bianchi and freshman Matt Laub recorded Lehigh’s two sacks… Muhammad, Johnson and Bianchi were credited with Lehigh’s three forced fumbles… the Mountain Hawks are now 9-2 all-time against teams from the northeast conference… Lehigh has now won 11 straight regular season games dating back to last year and 18-of-19 overall.