LYNCHBURG, Va. - The No. 13/16 Lehigh football team scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the span of 1:35 to shift momentum as the Mountain Hawks downed Liberty, 28-26, in front of 17,139 Saturday night at Williams Stadium. A quick start and finish were enough as Lehigh scored the game’s first 14 points and 14 of the final 20. Senior quarterback Mike Colvin finished 14-of-24 for 195 yards, but his biggest play was a 68-yard touchdown run to give Lehigh a 21-20 advantage.
A 39-yard interception return touchdown by senior Billy Boyko gave the Mountain Hawks a 28-20 lead with 6:06 to play, but Liberty answered with a Josh Woodrum three-yard touchdown run. The Flames went for the tying two-point conversion, but senior Bryan Andrews broke up a Woodrum pass and the Mountain Hawks recovered the ensuing onside kick.
The win is Lehigh’s 13th straight regular season victory dating back to last season as the Mountain Hawks are 4-0 for the first time since 2001.
After its quick 14-0 start, Lehigh struggled in the middle stages. The Mountain Hawks were outgained in total yardage, 488-301, but Colvin’s fourth-quarter run Boyko’s interception return for a touchdown proved to be the difference.
“We’ve been looking for a complete game and I’m not sure this was it,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “The offense and defense came up big and special teams were huge in terms of controlling the game. We definitely didn’t lose the field position battle. Those kids did a super job. I’m really proud of this football team.”
Colvin spread the wealth as senior Ryan Spadola led the way with three catches for 60 yards while junior Lee Kurfis posted three for 37, senior Zach Barket three for 33 and junior Sergio Fernandez-Soto three for 32. Colvin finished with 77 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while Barket had 29, including two big runs in the final minute to seal the victory.
Boyko led the defense with 14 tackles, along with a sack and his interception return for a touchdown. Seniors Billy O’Brien and Sam Loughery finished with double-digit tackles as well, making 13 and 11, respectively. Junior John Mahoney had a first-half interception as well.
Liberty received the opening kickoff and moved the ball into Lehigh territory, but after a tackle-for-loss by senior Tom Bianchi on third down, Mahoney intercepted Woodruff on fourth down and returned the ball to the Mountain Hawks’ 49 yard line.
The Mountain Hawks successfully turned the turnover into points with a four-play, 50-yard drive. A 30-yard pass from Colvin to junior Zach Hayden put the ball at the Flames two yard line and on the next play, junior Keith Sherman plunged in for the touchdown to put Lehigh in front.
From there, the teams traded punts before Lehigh extended its lead with a 74-yard drive on its first possession of the second quarter. On a second and 20 from its own 41, Colvin hit Spadola on a deep crossing route and Spadola took the ball down to the Flames’ one yard line. On the next play, Colvin took it in himself on a quarterback sneak to extend Lehigh’s lead to 14-0.
After the Lehigh defense forced a stop, Liberty seized the momentum after stuffing the Mountain Hawks on fourth and inches. The Flames reeled off 14 unanswered points on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Woodrum to tight end Brandon Apon and then a 22-yard touchdown run by SirChauncey Holloway.
Colvin was 11-of-15 for 159 yards in the first half, with Spadola his leading receiver with three grabs for 60 yards. The Mountain Hawks only gained 18 rushing yards in the half, while allowing 115: 75 from Aldreakis Allen and 48 from Holloway. Woodrum was 10-of-14 for 109 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the first half.
Liberty used an 11-play, 48-yard drive to take its first lead of the night later in the third quarter on a 32-yard field goal by John Lunsford. The drive ate up over six minutes and put the Mountain Hawks behind in a game for the first time this season.
Lehigh continued to struggle to put together sustained drives offensively, while on the other end, Liberty methodically moved the ball down the field and killed the clock. A 12-play, 70-yard drive resulted in a 40-yard field goal that extended the Flames’ lead to 20-14 with 9:06 to play.
“Our defense came up huge twice, forcing field goals,” Coen said. “Our offense was moving the ball, we just couldn’t finish drives.”
The Mountain Hawks didn’t answer with a sustained drive, but they got a big play from Colvin, who sprinted up the middle on a third and three from the Lehigh 32 for a 68-yard touchdown. Jake Peery’s extra point gave the Mountain Hawks a 21-20 lead with 7:41 remaining.
“That was a g great call by (Offensive Coordinator) Dave Cecchini,” Coen explained. “We had the perfect situation there on Mike’s touchdown run. It was perfectly executed.”
On the ensuing Liberty drive, Lehigh’s defense came up with a big play. On third down, senior Gabe Johnson deflected a Woodrum pass and Boyko picked it off and raced 39 yards for a touchdown. The extra point put Lehigh up by eight at 28-20 with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter.
The Flames responded by driving 75 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown with 59 seconds left in regulation. The drive was capped off by a three-yard run by Woodrum. It appeared that the Mountain Hawks had forced a fumble, but it was ruled that Woodrum had reached the end zone before losing control. However, the ensuing two-point conversion was broken up by Andrews, as Lehigh held onto a 28-26 lead.
Lehigh recovered the ensuing onside kick and Barket promptly rushed for three, then eight yards, to seal the victory.
Liberty held the final edge in yards (488-301), including rushing (241-106) and passing (247-195). The Flames also held a 23-9 edge in first downs, but they turned the ball over twice while the Mountain Hawks didn’t have any turnovers. Lehigh managed to win despite Liberty’s commanding 42:25-17:35 advantage in time of possession.
“They hung in there,” Coen said of his defense on Saturday. “They believe. They fly around. They trust in each other and they trust in our staff. That was our message before the game. Just go out and compete. We knew we were stepping up a level in competition and our kids certainly answered the call.”
The Mountain Hawks will return home next weekend to face the Fordham Rams on Family Weekend and Young Alumni Reunion at Goodman Stadium. Kickoff is set for just after 12:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, but visiting the Lehigh Ticket Office, located in Stabler Arena, or by visiting Lehighsports.com.
EXTRA POINTS… Lehigh scored a touchdown on its first possession for the third time in four games… the announced attendance for Saturday’s game was 17,139… Lehigh senior Jamel Haggins started at tight end, his first action since injuring an ankle in the season-opener vs. Monmouth … The Mountain Hawks won their fourth straight game in the state of Virginia … They moved to 3-0 all-time vs. Liberty and 5-0 against members of the Big South Conference since its inception in 1983.