BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh football team jumped out to a 17-0 lead and held off Princeton’s fourth-quarter charge to down the Tigers, 17-14 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Goodman Stadium. Senior quarterback Mike Colvin completed 21-of-34 for 276 yards (206 in the first half). The defense held Princeton without a first down until late in the first half, while holding the Tigers to just 206 total yards for the game.
Senior Ryan Spadola had seven catches for 102 yards, good for his second 100-yard game of the season and 14th of his career. Junior Lee Kurfis finished with 75 yards on four receptions while sophomore Dylan Colgate had two catches for 33 yards, including a big 27-yarder late in the fourth quarter.
Colvin was Lehigh’s leading rusher, scampering for 57 yards on 11 carries. Junior Keith Sherman and senior Zach Barket each had a rushing touchdown, finishing with 46 and 30 yards, respectively. Junior Nigel Muhammad made a game-high 12 tackles, two sacks and 4.5 tackles-for-loss in a strong overall effort. Senior Sajjad Chagani had six tackles and a sack, stuffing Princeton on an early fourth-and-short and blocking an extra point opportunity.
“We’re really excited about being 3-0,” said Colvin. “It’s encouraging because we’ve left some plays on the field in all three of those games that we know we can make. That mentality that we have left some plays on the field makes us hungrier during the week just as long as we keep winning. That feeling of knowing that we haven’t really arrived yet is a great feeling for our offense. The younger guys and the older guys are meshing well together and we’re finding ways to win when it counts.”
Lehigh’s defense held Princeton quarterback Connor Michelsen to just 103 yards on 14-of-30 passing, while sacking him three times. Quinn Epperly was 1-of-3 for six yards as well. In total, the Mountain Hawks forced 12 Tigers’ punts on the afternoon.
Defense was the story in the early going, as neither side converted on their first two drives. The Mountain Hawks did move into Princeton territory on their second opportunity, but were stopped on third and inches.
Lehigh capitalized on its third drive, going 58 yards on seven plays to make it 7-0 with 4:29 left in the first quarter. The big play came on a third-and-five when Colvin found Kurfis for 37 yards down the left side. One play later, Barket ran it in from five yards out to break the ice.
The Mountain Hawks forced their third straight three-and-out to start the game, but Lehigh fumbled the ensuing punt and Princeton recovered at the 16-yard line in prime position to get on the scoreboard. However, Lehigh’s defense would have something to say as Chagani stuffed Akil Sharp on fourth-and-inches to give the Mountain Hawks the ball back, while denying Princeton its elusive first down.
“We checked to a different play at the last second,” Chagani said. “I actually ran the wrong play and I came free. He lowered a shoulder on me and I wouldn’t let him get that first down.”
Two long passes on consecutive plays set Lehigh up for a field goal to make it 10-0 with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter. The first was a 45-yard bomb to Spadola, who made several Tigers miss to turn it into a 45-yard gain. The following play, Colvin lobbed a deep ball to sophomore Josh Parris for 31 yards.
Lehigh made it 17-0 late in the second quarter, going 59 yards on 11 plays in exactly three minutes. A big play was a 25-yard reception by Kurfis down to the Princeton 11-yard line. Five plays later, Sherman took an option pitch from two yards out into the end zone with 3:34 on the clock.
Princeton picked up its first first-down on its next drive, gaining two before the Lehigh defense forced a punt, keeping the score 17-0 after 30 minutes.
The most important thing was we got the win,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “The first half was a very good half. We took great strides. The defense in the first half was about as good as we’ve seen.”
Colvin had a big first half, completing 14-of-23 for 206 yards. Spadola had four catches for 74 yards while Kurfis had three for 70. Sherman carried nine times for 39 yards and a touchdown while Barket added a touchdown run of his own. Lehigh held a 285-40 edge in first-half yards and 11-2 in first downs.
Both defenses took over in a third quarter, which featured nothing but punts. Princeton did gain five first downs, but the Mountain Hawks’ defense stood tall.
The Tigers connected for their first points early in the fourth, going 58 yards in only 1:46. The drive was capped off by a Sharp 13-yard rush. The ensuing extra point was blocked by Chagani, keeping it 17-6 with 14:13 remaining in the fourth.
Lehigh’s defense continued to impress, but the Mountain Hawks muffed the punt to give the Tigers prime field position at Lehigh’s 28. Eight plays later, Princeton punched it in with a one-yard run from Sharp. The ensuing two-point conversion pass to Roman Wilson was good, making it 17-14 with 4:54 on the clock.
Princeton quickly forced a three-and-out, but the Mountain Hawks’ defense just as quickly forced a Tigers punt. Lehigh wouldn’t be denied on its final drive, gained two critical first downs. One came on a 27-yard reception by Colgate, while Colvin got the other via a 10-yard run, sealing the victory.
“Mike is an outstanding leader and has shown a lot of leadership but it has really come to the forefront now that he’s playing all the time,” Coen said. He’s made his fair share of mistakes, and he’d be the first one to tell you, but he’s shown a great ability to put them behind him. For him to do that, after struggling for four series in a row was impressive.
Coen added, “The pass to Colgate was the biggest play of the game. It’s not a primary read for Mike but he did a great job finding Dylan in that situation and ultimately won the football game for us.”
Lehigh held the edge in total yards (405-206), passing yards (276-109) and rushing yards (129-97). The Mountain Hawks had 15 first downs to the Tigers’ 12.
“The win is what it’s all about,” Coen said. “This is a team that’s full of youth and playing a lot of young kids such as sophomores and guys out there for the first time that we think are good players. Dylan is a great example; he got some playing time this game and made two really big catches. We’re trying to find guys that will step up and be players for us. That’s a process that I was hoping would get here sooner than it has but we really took strides this week.”
The Mountain Hawks return to action next Saturday when they travel to Liberty to face the Flames. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and will air live on WFMZ TV and Lehighsports.com. Lehigh returns home in two weeks to host Fordham at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are still available, and may be purchased in one of three ways: by visiting the Lehigh ticket office located in Stabler Arena, by calling (610) 7LU-GAME, or on-line anytime at Lehighsports.com.
EXTRA POINTS… With his 102 receiving yards, Ryan Spadola became the third Lehigh player to eclipse 3,000 career receiving yards. Rennie Benn holds the school record (3,662) followed by Deron Braswell (3,292) and now Spadola (3,055) … It also marked Spadola’s 14th-career 100-yard receiving game, and second in three games this season … The Mountain Hawks have started the season 3-0 while winning their first two home games, for the first time since 2003 … Lehigh improved to 47-22-1 against members of the Ivy League since the formation of the Patriot League in 1986… Saturday’s announced attendance was 7,346.