Posted: September 24, 2005
– It was anything but pretty, but No. 13 Lehigh held off VMI for a 28-26 Mountain Hawks win at Alumni Memorial Field on Saturday afternoon.
Junior defensive back Julian Austin propelled Lehigh defensively by returning a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown and picking off a pass with just 18 seconds remaining to clinch the win for the visitors.
The victory improves the Mountain Hawks to 2-1 on the season, while the setback drops the Keydets to 1-3 in 2005.
“We were fortunate to get out of here with a win, probably one we didn’t deserve,” said Lehigh head coach Pete Lembo following the win. “We were penalized too often; the penalties are our fault and they are unacceptable.”
In all, Lehigh was penalized nine times, and the Mountain Hawks committed five turnovers.
Lembo did find some positives, in addition to the end result: “I thought we ran the ball well when we needed to control the line of scrimmage,” Lembo explained. “If you take away the field position from turnovers, I thought our defense played well in the second half.”
The Keydets began the game with the opening possession, and VMI quickly marched down the field on the Lehigh defense. The drive stalled inside the ten yard line and Barrett Way connected on a 26-yard field goal to give the Keydets a 3-0 lead with 10:56 to go in the opening period.
Lehigh was forced to punt on its first possession of the afternoon, but the Mountain Hawks soon found the end zone anyway. Lehigh defensive lineman Royce Morgan forced a fumble, and junior safety Julian Austin picked up the ball and raced 34 yards for a touchdown, giving the Mountain Hawks a 7-3 advantage with 6:18 to go in the first.
“I didn’t see who knocked it free, but I saw the loose ball and knew I had a chance to make a play,” Austin said.
The see-saw affair continued early into the second quarter, as the Keydets capped a 14 play, 80-yard drive with a three-yard run from Nat Jackson with 14:32 remaining in the first half. Lehigh quickly responded and regained the lead, as the Mountain Hawks drove 39-yards following a terrific 57 yard kickoff return from explosive senior Gerran Walker to set up excellent field position. Senior tailback Eric Rath scored from a yard out to put the Mountain Hawks in front, 14-10.
VMI answered again, this time with a sustained drive resulting in a field goal. The Keydets drove 82 yards on 17 plays, and a 22-yard field goal from Way cut the Lehigh lead to 14-13 at the half.
In all, the Mountain Hawks were penalized seven times for 43 yards in the first half. The Keydets dominated time of possession in the first thirty minutes, controlling the ball for nearly 21 minutes.
In the third quarter, Lehigh received the ball first, but three bad snaps and a fumble gave VMI the ball and a chance to take the lead with excellent field position. However the Lehigh defense stood tough, and VMI was forced to punt the ball away. The two teams traded punts again, but this time the advantage went to the Mountain Hawks thanks to a terrific 61-yard punt return by junior Greg Petrosky setting up another Lehigh score. Eric Rath muscled his way into the end zone from a yard out, and the Justin Musiek extra point put the Mountain Hawks in front, 21-13 with 5:23 to play in the third.
On its next possession, Mark Borda went 5-for-5 through the air, as the Mountain Hawks methodically drove 99-yards down the field in just 3:17. Another one-yard TD run from Rath early in the fourth increased the Lehigh lead to 28-13.
However, the Keydets refused to give in, and got the ball back twice after two fumbled punt receptions by the Mountain Hawks. VMI took advantage, as quarterback Jonathan Wilson scored on a five-yard run to cap a ten-yard scoring drive, cutting the Lehigh advantage to 28-20 with 9:55 on the clock.
The Mountain Hawks began a drive and were moving down the field, but VMI’s Robert Mason picked off a Borda pass that was tipped – the third interception thrown by Lehigh on the day – and Mason ran it back 90 yards for a touchdown, trimming the Lehigh lead to just two at 28-26 with 4:54 left in the fourth. Mason was flagged for excessive celebration on the touchdown, making the VMI two-point try from the 18-yard line. Lehigh thwarted the attempt, and the Mountain Hawks clung to the two-point advantage late.
The Keydets had one last opportunity, gaining possession at their own 20 yard line with 1:03 remaining and no timeouts. VMI moved into Lehigh territory, and was inching towards setting up a potential game-winning field goal try, but Austin picked off a Wilson pass at the Lehigh 21 yard line with just 18 seconds remaining to seal the Lehigh win.
Borda was 20-of-29 through the air on the afternoon, throwing for 223 yards. VMI’s Jonathan Wilson was 20-of-35 through the air, throwing for 211 yards. Neither quarterback threw a touchdown. On the ground for Lehigh, Rath rushed for a season-high 118 yards and a personal best three touchdowns in the win. Defensively, Matt Purdy led the Mountain Hawks with 12 tackles in the win.
Lehigh returns to action on October 1, as the Mountain Hawks head north to take on No. 15 Harvard. Kick-off is set for 12:30 pm from Cambridge, Mass., with radio coverage beginning at 11:30 am on ESPN radio 1230 and 1320, as well as on lehighsports.com.
EXTRA POINTS: Saturday’s meeting was the first between Lehigh and VMI since a 1978 showdown in Lexington, won 14-10 by Lehigh … Preceding the game, which was homecoming at VMI, the corps of cadets marched in on the field … VMI is the oldest state military school in the United States … Since 1947, the VMI mascot has been a kangaroo whose name is now “Moe” … Julian Austin’s 34-yard fumble return for a TD was the first Lehigh fumble return for a score since Karrie Ford accomplished the feat at Georgetown last year.