Posted: November 22, 2008
EASTON, Pa. – Sophomore John Kennedy picked off a Rob Curley pass and sprinted 94-yards for a touchdown with 4:27 remaining that sealed a 31-15 victory for Lehigh over archrival Lafayette in front of 15,908 in attendance on Saturday afternoon at Fisher Stadium. With the win, the Mountain Hawks snap a four-game losing streak versus their rival and finish the season at 4-2 in the Patriot League. Sophomore quarterback J.B. Clark finished the day 12-of-22 through the air for 201 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP, becoming the first Lehigh sophomore QB since Hall of Famer Marty Horn ’86 in 1983 to garner Most Valuable Player honors. The Lehigh defense registered a season-best eight sacks, led by All-American Brian Jackson who sacked the Leopard quarterbacks three-and-a-half times.
John Kennedy 94-yd INT return
“First off I’d like to say I’m very happy for this group of seniors,” Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said afterwards. “They set the tone for this season from day one and particularly this week, they came out and practiced hard, they practiced with passion and that all carried over into today’s game.” He continued, “The defense played one of its best games of the season today and made them (Lafayette) uncomfortable, particularly in the passing game. J.B. (Clark) played well in his first-ever Lehigh-Lafayette game and overall, everyone involved with the program poured their heart and souls into this one.”
Senior captain Brendan Van Ackeren spoke of what winning versus the Leopards meant to the Lehigh seniors. “This win feels great and it’s a great way to end our careers. But it isn’t just about this year’s seniors. It’s about setting the tone for the offseason for the younger guys and also this is a tribute to the group that came before us. This was a great win for everyone associated with the entire Lehigh community.”
Lehigh gained 214 total yards on the afternoon, but only 13 on the ground. Clark’s favorite target was senior Mike Fitzgerald who closed out his career in the Brown and White with his second 100-yard receiving game (101), while classmate Sekou Yansane hauled in three receptions for 56 yards. All-American linebacker Tim Diamond finished with a game-high 11 tackles, while junior Al Pierce and Van Ackeren both totaled nine.
The Leopards rushed for 142 yards as a team, led by DeAndre Morrow’s 75 yards, but quarterbacks Marc Quilling and Curley were harassed into a combined 15-of-32 showing for only 179 yards. Senior captain Andy Romans closed out his Lafayette career with a team-high nine stops, while fellow linebacker Mark Leggiero finished with eight tackles.
A Heath Brickner interception on Lafayette’s first possession set Lehigh up with good field position and the Mountain Hawks capitalized with a 40-yard field goal by Jason Leo to take a 3-0 lead with 10:58 to go in the first. The Lehigh defense forced a punt which was knocked down due to the wind, setting Lehigh up at the Leopard 40-yard line. Following a key third down conversion in which McGowan gained two yards for the first down, Clark dropped back in the pocket and found a wide open Mike Fitzgerald who made a nice move to avoid a Lafayette defender and scored his 11th touchdown of the season, putting the Brown and White in front 10-0 at the 7:43 mark.
Lafayette got on the board for the first time on a 62-yard rush by Shaun Adair on a reverse play in which the senior made a great juke to the inside and then hurdled a second defender on his way to pay dirt. That score made it a 10-7 game with 5:34 to go in the first half.
Early in the second quarter an errant Lehigh snap gave Lafayette two more points by way of a safety, which made the score 10-9. The Leopards took their first lead of the afternoon on a 34-yard field goal by Davis Rodriguez with 9:50 remaining in the first half.
The Lehigh defense began to make life tough for the Lafayette offense and got the ball back for its “O” towards the end of the half. The Mountain Hawks then put together a crisp, six play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard Clark to Nick Johnson touchdown pass that put the Brown and White in front 17-12 with 3:45 remaining in the half. On the next Lafayette possession, Lehigh’s defense again came up big, with constant pressure on Quilling, including one sack, forcing Lafayette to punt. Clark took a knee and watched the clock run out as Lehigh took its five-point lead into the locker room.
Lehigh gained 151 yards during the first half, 153 of which were through the air. Clark completed 9-of-16 passes for 153 yards and the two touchdowns, with Fitzgerald hauling in four of those passes for 89 yards. McGowan carried the ball seven times for just 11 yards as Lehigh was held to negative-two yards in the half. Pierce led Lehigh with seven stops in the first 30 minutes, while Diamond registered six tackles.
Behind Adair’s 65 yards rushing, the Leopards registered 103 yards on the ground in the first half, but only 57 through the air. DeAndre Morrow rushed eight times for 29 yards and hauled in a team-high two receptions for 12 yards. Quilling completed 5-of-13 passes for 57 yards and was sacked four times by the swarming Lehigh “D.” Four different Leopards totaled three tackles in the half with Jason Mills accounting for one tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Lehigh received the ball first in the second half, but was unable to do much with it, and so Lafayette took over with junior quarterback Rob Curley now under center. The Leopards responded with a long 15-play drive that covered 71 yards and chewed up 9:05 on the clock. The drive resulted in only three points however, as Rodriguez booted a 22-yard field goal bringing the home team to within two points with 3:13 left on the third quarter clock. The big play on the drive from Lehigh’s defense came when Pierce was not fooled on a play-action pass and leveled Curley for a big loss.
The fourth quarter started slow, but Lehigh seized momentum on a beautiful 36-yard pass from Clark to Yansane on third-and-seven that set the Mountain Hawks up with a first-and-goal at the one-yard line Senior Adam Watson plowed his way into the end zone two plays later, putting Lehigh in front by nine, 24-15 with 7:11 remaining on the clock.
Lafayette was driving down the field and seemed poised for a score of its own that would have made the final minutes interesting, but Kennedy stepped in front of a Leopard receiver, picked off the pass and sprinted to pay dirt, sending all the Lehigh faithful at Fisher Stadium into a frenzy.
EXTRA POINTS … Fans can catch a replay of Saturday’s game beginning at 6:30 on Saturday evening on WFMZ-TV and anytime on-demand on Lehighsports.com … Lehigh donned all white uniforms on Saturday. It was the first time in over two decades in which Lehigh wore white pants during a game. The decision was made earlier in the week by the Mountain Hawks four senior captains … Saturday’s game was being watched across the country at numerous telecast parties, and for the first time ever, the game was viewed internationally, with a telecast party in London … Mountain Hawks junior linebacker Troy Taylor left the game in the first half with a knee injury … Lehigh’s eight sacks on Saturday were a season-high … senior Brian Jackson registered a career-high 3.5 sacks. It marked the first time since last season at Colgate that the New Jersey native registered a sack … senior captain Tim Diamond finished with a game-high 11 tackles, pushing him over 100 for the second consecutive season. It marks the first time a Lehigh player registered back-to-back 100 tackle seasons since Ian Eason in 1996 and 1997 … with its two picks on Saturday, Lehigh finishes the season with a Patriot League best 18 interceptions. It is the program’s most since intercepting 20 passes in 2004.
Photography 2008 (c), Specialty Photographic