Mayes, offense shine but early mistakes cost Lehigh victory in season opener against No. 9/10 Villanova

Lehigh Mountain Hawks junior defensive back Sam McClocskey, left, and sophomore line backer Keith Woetzel tackle Villanova senior tight end Ryan Bell during Lehigh's loss against Villanova on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Goodman Stadium. Lehigh gave up a total of 475 yards to Villanova. (Andy Bickel/B&W Staff)

The Lehigh football team found itself inside the red zone, just one touchdown away from tying No. 9/10 Villanova University before halftime.

Junior running back Dom Bragalone received a handoff and at the exact moment of contact with a defender, the ball popped loose. The Wildcats recovered and returned it 63 yards into Lehigh territory.

It was one of many missed opportunities for Lehigh that hindered its hopes of pulling off an upset win. The Mountain Hawks failed to dig themselves out of the halftime deficit and eventually dropped their season opener 38-35 Saturday afternoon at Goodman Stadium.

“We did have a lot of young players playing but we had some guys who were just out of character.” coach Andy Coen said. “I’m very frustrated to be honest with you, I thought we had every chance to win this football game and get the job done.”

Coen said he told the team after the game they need to look into the mirror and see how they feel about what they did or didn’t do right on the field.

Lehigh’s defensive effort was one they hope to improve off of in the following weeks. The defensive unit had its bright spots early, holding on third downs and even recovering a Villanova fumble, but it struggled to slow down the Wildcats’ offense overall. The defensive unit missed sacks and gave up quick scores to Villanova at times.

“I think we showed signs of being a really great defense and were just going to continue to get better down the road,” junior linebacker Matt Butler said. “We are an elite defense in our league, we just got to clean up the little things and mistakes and keep moving forward.”

While the defense had their struggles, the offense continued to shine as it did last year en route to a Patriot League title. Junior quarterback Brad Mayes threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Preseason All-American receiver Troy Pelletier put together a 141-yard performance and added a touchdown. The senior also moved up to second on the Lehigh all-time receptions list.

In his first career start in brown and white, wideout Luke Christiano put up similar numbers, ending the day with 143 receiving yards and one touchdown. Senior Gatlin Casey caught two touchdowns despite being benched in the first quarter because he violated team rules. 

Mayes was able to eclipse 300 yards in the third quarter, a feat he had only pulled off once before in 2016 during his record-breaking 524-yard effort against Yale University. 

 “You know, I don’t really look at stats, I look at the wins and losses column. Me and the offense didn’t do enough to outscore Villanova,” Mayes said. “Overall, they are a good defense, and to put 35 points up and a lot of yards that’s something positive to look at but in the grand scheme of things we came away with a loss and you know, that just sucks.”

Following this loss, the Mountain Hawks will hit the road for the first time as they’ll battle up against Monmouth University.

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