The Mountain Hawks earned their first win of the season Saturday by defeating the Cornell University Big Red 31-14 at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, New York.
The win was Lehigh’s first since Nov. 16 of last season when they defeated Colgate University 31-14. The Hawks were led by their stout defense, which only allowed a total of 88 rushing yards and 185 passing yards.
Lehigh jumped out to an early lead by scoring 17 points in the first quarter. The quarter was highlighted by two key moments for Lehigh, which helped to set the tone and propel them to victory.
Led by a 59-yard run by senior running back Rich Sodeke, Lehigh put together a strong five play, 82-yard drive that took just 1:32. On the ensuing kickoff, junior defensive back Randall Lawson forced a key fumble, which was recovered by senior defensive back Jason Suggs. Suggs returned it for a 10-yard touchdown to give Lehigh a 17-0 lead.
Following the first quarter, Lehigh’s offense went cold, failing to score in both the second and third quarters. Cornell tacked on a touchdown in the third quarter when freshman Jake Jattis connected with sophomore Collin Shaw for a 58-yard score with 3:42 remaining in the quarter.
The Mountain Hawks found themselves in a position that they have been in several times this season — entering the fourth quarter in a tight game. In games against James Madison University, Yale University and Monmouth University, Lehigh found themselves either with a small lead or tied heading into the fourth quarter, only to concede the lead in the final moments of the game. However, this time they had no intentions of relinquishing it.
Coach Andy Coen entered the huddle in between the third and fourth quarter and began slapping helmets and rallying his team to finish strong.
“Yeah, it’s an emotional game, and our kids are emotional,” Coen said. “I needed to show I was emotional with them.”
The Mountain Hawks held strong, scoring 14 points in the final 15 minutes, outscoring the Big Red 14-7 in the final quarter.
“It was great to see us finish, and we haven’t been able to do it,” Coen said. “We’ve had some leads in games and haven’t been able to finish. Hopefully our kids will feel a little bit better moving forward now.”
Lehigh’s defensive and special teams effort stood out as they forced three turnovers and held Cornell to just 273 total yards.
“As a defense we took leaps in practice, increasing our intensity and carrying that over to Saturday,” Lawson said. “It’s safe to say we were starving for a win today and the defense played its best game and I think we finally found our identity.”
Lehigh’s offense dominated at times as well, particularly in the first and fourth quarters. The offense totaled more rushing and passing yards than Cornell, and consequently more first downs (18 by Lehigh versus 13 by Cornell).
“The offense was a little slow starting out but they stepped it up when it mattered and helped seal the victory,” Lawson said.
However, the Hawks were hurt by nine penalties, totaling 50 yards. Conversely, Cornell only accumulated four penalties for a mere 30 yards.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with all the penalties,” sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky said.
Despite their 1-5 overall record, and 0-1 record within the Patriot League, Lehigh will have an opportunity to gain ground, as the remaining five opponents are all Patriot League teams.
“Coach Coen preached playing with pride and passion this week and that was our point of emphasis in today’s game,” Lawson said. “For the remainder of the season, we need to improve on consistency, offensively and defensively, and having an all around sound game on both sides of the ball, so that it doesn’t have to come down to the wire every week.”
The Mountain Hawks will look to build their first winning streak of the season on Saturday, Oct. 25, at Goodman Stadium against Fordham University at 12:30 p.m. on Lehigh annual family homecoming weekend.
“We have to keep our heads in the right place, stay positive because the wins are going to come,” said senior defensive lineman Tim Newton, who had 1.5 sacks on Saturday. “[We’re] smiles, all smiles. This is our coming out party, something to build off of right now.”