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Lehigh uses big plays and defense to outlast Liberty, 27-24
Bethlehem, PA - A slow start followed by an entertaining second quarter looked like the game between the two conference pre-season favorites looked to assure us of a high-scoring shoot-out, but defenses and penalties kept both teams in check for the balance of the game before the No. 15/16 Mountain Hawks prevailed over the No. 23 Flames, 27-24. QBs Chris Lum of Lehigh (3-1) and Mike Brown of Liberty (1-3) came in ranked second and seventh nationally in total offense in the FCS for a much anticipated contest before 6,185 at Lehigh's Homecoming. For collegefootballfan.com, it was the first of potentially four Lehigh home games we'll attend this year.
Liberty moved the ball effectively on its first possession starting from it 30 to yield a 39-yard FG by Alex Kacere to start the scoring for a 3-0 Liberty Flame lead. The Flames forced a punt on Lehigh's first possession as Guest Game Analyst Charlie Roberts, Lehigh class of '81, pointed out how closely the Liberty secondary covered the Lehigh receiving corps averaging 377 passing yards per game. Liberty move the ball again, but Kacere filling in for regular PK Matt Bevins, misfired on a 31-yard FG attempt, wide left. Lehigh started the next possession from its own 20 before the first stanza ended.
At 11:17 into the
second, the Mountain Hawks evened the score with a 40-yarder by Tim Divers.
After this, the game got interesting. PK Jake Peery booted the ensuing
kickoff perfectly fifteen yards down the right sideline where Courtney Jarvis
caught the ball to give Lehigh a first and ten their own 45. It was the second
time I'd seen such a play so perfectly executed. The first was
accomplished when I started this craziness on September 8, 1979 at the
Rhode Island vs. Delaware game won by the Blue Hens, 49-14. It was URI who
pulled off the play with a perfectly kicked ball on a spiral to the end to open
the second half. I told our GGA that URI scored one of its only two TDs
that day on the next play with a 51-yard run. No sooner had I said that,
when Chris Lum (18 of 32, 300 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) dropped back and connected
with a streaking Ryan Spadola for a 55-yard TD pass. Lehigh led, 10-3.
The Flames returned the next kick out to the 39. Mike Brown (25 of 38, 297
yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) connected with his favorite target WR Chris Summers for a
51-yard catch and run pass for a 51-yard TD. At 10-10, this was more of what we
Before the crowded Lehigh stands for Homecoming, the Alumni band performed at halftime before LU's Marching 97 took the field. It was the first time in many years that the home team's marching band actually had a full complement to march 97 on to the field. As a matter of fact, a Lehigh ticket holder told us they have over 100 this year. I remember counting in the past to come up with only about 53 wondering why they were called the "97". Glad to see the marching units numbers up and even more glad to hear them open with a traditional Sousa march, "The Liberty Bell March", probably in honor of the visiting team. The Alumni band joined in on the finale after which an alum cheered for the "Engineers" to remind many of what they once were. I asked Charlie if he remembers what the reason for the name change was. Did they de-emphasize engineering at the school? We'll have to look that one up.
Lehigh looked like the scoring trend would continue for the balance of the game as they drove 70 yards ending on a four-yard run over right tackle by back-up QB Mike Colvin. As some long-time Lehigh fans sitting next to us in WF noted, when #15,Colvin, comes in at QB, you know who's running the ball. LU extended the lead, 27-17. Would Liberty continue the scoring trend? No. Lehigh held. MLB Mike Groome led all tacklers this day with 12. Lehigh's Jake Drwal (7 catches for 69 yards) made a mental error on the punt, fair- catching it at his own 5. The LU offense didn't move, and punted it away to the Flames who started at Lehigh's 42. On fourth and inches, Liberty converted for a first down at thee 33, but on the very next play, Brown went for six in the end zone and Bryan Andrews intercepted in the end zone to stop Liberty's drive. Lehigh wend three and out, but the snap from center went over the punter's head, and Liberty recovered at the 15. "That's our special teams for you!" commented the long-time season ticket-holder to my left. Aldreakis Allen took it around the left end and scampered all the way to the end zone to narrow the Lehigh lead, 27-24 with 2:35 left tin the third. We anticipated a lot more scoring before this one was over, but even with Lehigh's Jason Suggs taking the next kickoff 57 yards to the Liberty 38, we were shocked at the final results. Lehigh could not advance at all from there. Liberty fair caught on its own 15 and could not advance the ball one yard from there. They punted from there. This time Drwal returned the ball 30 yards to the Flames' 26. "Special teams - that's where it's at!", laughed my neighbor who we'll sit with again at the Holy Cross game on November 5.
The fourth period started with Lehigh on the 28 with a fourth and twelve. Lum went for the end zone and Walt Aikens picked it off there, losing his team eight yards in the process. I've seen this before. Why don't DBs realize that a ball knocked to the ground on a fourth down may be better than an interception? Too many guys focus on personal stats and not on what it takes to help their team. Liberty started from the 20 instead of the 28. The Flames punted from the 35. Drwal's return and a facemask took the Hawks back down to the Liberty 37. After gaining only one yard, Lum quick kicked on fourth to put Liberty at its own one. An INT by Littlejohn was nullified by a holding call and Liberty picked up a first at down. Short runs and passes by Brown had the Flames on a long drive. Threatening to score again with a third and three at Lehigh's 21, OLB Fred Mihal forced Brown to fumble near the right sideline where Billy Boyko recovered for Lehigh to stop the drive taking over from the 18. With 5:34 left, Lehigh started to consume time with along drive of its own. Le=liberty refrained until lat to stop the clock to preserve some time. On a fourth and one, Zach Barket ran three yards to the Liberty 12 to maintain possession. On a fourth and ten from the fifteen, Lum's pass ell incomplete and Liberty had the ball with 29 seconds remaining. A 17-yard pass to Kelly got Liberty to Lehigh's 37 with no time-outs. Kacere came in to attempt a 55-yard FG to tie, but the kick came up about five yards short, and Lehigh won its third game of the season against the No. 23 Liberty Flame. Even though It was an exciting game down to the end, the final 15 minutes were controlled unexpectedly by the defenses and some conservative offense. We were expecting a shoot-out, but it was exciting none-the-less.
Liberty goes home to host Kentucky Wesleyan before its final six Big South games. they've won the conference the last four years. We could see them later on in the FCS playoffs after the regular season. WE go back to Lehigh's Goodman Stadium for our Big Tailgate party with about 40 people mostly affiliated with the Lenape Valley High school football program to see the 3-1 Mountain Hawks host the 2-0 Yale Bulldogs, winners over Ivy foe Cornell on Saturday, 37-17. Yale QB Patrick Witt has over 4,00 career passing yards and last week spread his passes among nine different receivers. We could be in for that anticipated shoot-out this weekend! Good seats still available for those interested!