BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A 20-point second quarter proved to be the difference as the #15/16 Lehigh football team (3-1) picked up an impressive 27-24 win over 23rd ranked Liberty, on Saturday at Goodman Stadium. The Mountain Hawks scored 10 points in a 12-second span in the second quarter to get the offense rolling. Senior Chris Lum shook off a slow start by racking up 300 yards and two touchdowns, his fourth straight 300-yard game to start the season.
Lum’s favorite target once again was junior Ryan Spadola, who caught seven balls for 121 yards and a big 55-yard touchdown. Senior Jake Drwal added seven receptions for 69 yards. Lum finished 18-of-38 with two touchdowns and two interceptions, upping his season touchdown total to 16.
#15/16 Lehigh downs #23 Liberty 27-24: Service Electric Post-Game Show
Sophomore Keith Sherman had a big day on the ground, and through the air, running for 81 yards on 16 carries while also turning his only catch into a 73-yard touchdown reception as part of a wild second quarter. Sherman’s reception, which matched the longest this season for Lehigh, gave the Mountain Hawks the lead for good late in the first half.
“It was an entertaining football game for sure,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “Two very good football teams went at it today. I’m very proud of how our football team hung in there. There were a lot of mistakes made on both sides, but we talked to the kids last night about being a team. It had to be a team thing.
Coen continued, “The offense did a lot of really good things. The defense did a great job. They were super in the red zone and in forcing turnovers, including that huge one when Liberty was driving the ball. Our kick game woke up a little bit. We had some problems in coverage but we got our placements situated.”
After only three combined points in the first quarter (a Liberty field goal), the teams combined for 34 in a span of 9:12 in the second. Part of that was a surprise onside kick by the Mountain Hawks, which sophomore Courtney Jarvis recovered, to regain possession after tying the score at three. They rode the momentum into a 55-yard connection to Spadola on the first play of the drive. The back-and-forth continued as Liberty retook two leads before Sherman’s big 73-yard play put Lehigh ahead for good.
The Lehigh defense allowed 404 yards against a high-powered Liberty attack, but came up with key turnovers when it mattered most. Senior Jonathan Littlejohn and junior Bryan Andrews made interceptions while senior Fred Mihal forced a big fourth-quarter fumble which junior Billy Boyko recovered with Liberty driving looking to tie the score, or take a lead.
Liberty marched down the field on its opening drive, but the Lehigh defense came up big in the red zone. The Flames reached the Mountain Hawks’ nine yard line before a penalty began a sequence which ended with a Tom Bianchi sack all the way back at the 22. That forced a 39-yard field goal from Alex Kacere to make it 3-0 with 9:41 left in the first.
The Flames used a big third-and-ten conversion on their second drive to move deep into Lehigh territory. Liberty converted another third down, but a penalty nullified a would-be touchdown. Instead, the Flames went on to attempt a 31-yard field goal which went wide right, keeping the Lehigh deficit at only three after one quarter of play.
Lehigh marched down field on its second drive, going 67 yards on 13 plays, to tie the score at three early in the second quarter. Sophomore Tim Divers capped it off with his first-career field goal, good for 30 yards. The big play came on the first play of the second, a 29-yard rush from Sherman into Liberty territory.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Mountain Hawks attempted an onside kick, which Jarvis easily recovered at the 45-yard line. Lum then found Spadola on the first play of the drive for 55 yards to give Lehigh a 10-3 advantage with 11:05 left in the second, just 12 seconds after its field goal.
“Jake made as a big a play as anyone did,” Coen said of his junior kickoff specialist. “It might get lost in the mix but that was a perfectly executed onside kick.”
Liberty came right back to even the score just 49 seconds later as quarterback Mike Brown found Chris Summers 49 yards down the right sideline. Summers made a couple moves into the end zone to make it 10-10 with 10:06 on the clock.
Lehigh again moved downfield on its next drive into the red zone. An offensive penalty took away what would have been a Lehigh touchdown, however, Divers converted his second field goal of the afternoon, a 30-yarder, to give the Mountain Hawks a 13-10 lead with 6:21 to go in the second.
After each team threw an interception, Liberty connected on its first play as Brown found Summers for a 28-yard pitch and catch to make it 17-13 with 2:22 remaining.
The Mountain Hawks came back with a one-yard drive of their own as Lum found Sherman down the left sideline for 73 yards, with only 17 seconds coming off the clock. It looked like Sherman would be tackled around the 20, but he fought through a pair of Liberty defensive backs and into the end zone to the delight of the crowd.
The Lehigh offense started the second half like it ended the first, going 70 yards on 12 plays to take a 27-17 lead with 9:16 left in the third quarter. Sophomore quarterback Mike Colvin ran it in from four yards out for his first touchdown of the season.
A bad snap on a Lehigh punt set the Flames up deep in Mountain Hawks’ territory. Liberty quickly found the end zone on its first play when Aldreakis Allen rushed 15-yards around the left side to make it 27-24 with 2:45 to go in the third.
The teams continued to trade possessions, leading up to a 13-play, 81-yard drive in the fourth which ended when Mihal forced a fumble on Brown, who was rushing to the right side. Boyko came up with the big recovery to give Lehigh the ball back with only 5:34 remaining.
Lehigh made it count, gaining three first downs all the way to the Liberty 15 before a fourth-down attempt fell short with only 29 seconds on the clock. The Flames did get all the way to the Lehigh 37 after a 17-yard reception with one second to go, but a desperation 54-yard field goal attempt fell well short, giving the Mountain Hawks the victory.
“In all three phases the kids really fed off each other,” Coen said. “We preach to the kids about physical toughness and mental toughness and showed a lot about both those things today. That gave us the opportunity to beat a good football team.”
Lehigh finished with 424 total yards (300 passing, 124 rushing) to Liberty’s 404 (297 passing, 107 rushing).
The Mountain Hawks return to action next Saturday when they host Yale at 12:30 p.m. on Educator Appreciation Day at Goodman Stadium. 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: The tarp was on the field pregame, which the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team helped remove a few hours before kickoff … All four of Lehigh’s starting defensive backs have an interception this year; Bryan Andrews now has two … There were four one-play drives between the two teams (two Lehigh, two Liberty) and four touchdowns called back due to penalty (three Liberty, one Lehigh) … Lum’s 300-yard passing game marks his fourth straight this season and fifth in a row dating back to last season… senior Mike Groome led Lehigh’s defensive effort with 12 tackles… freshman Jason Suggs returned five kickoffs for 137 yards.