The Lehigh football defense has found momentum at the right time of the season.
For the second straight week, it put pressure on the opposing offense while anchoring the Mountain Hawks to a 34-21 victory over Holy Cross on Saturday at Goodman Stadium.
The Mountain Hawks (4-6, 4-1 Patriot) were able to get through the Holy Cross (4-7, 3-3 Patriot) offensive line and routinely get the Crusaders’ senior quarterback, Peter Pujals, to scramble outside of the pocket. Pujal was sacked three times for 22 yards on the afternoon.
Earlier in the season Lehigh let opposing offenses walk all over them, giving up point-totals and yard-totals that were near worst in the FBS. With this turnaround against Holy Cross, the Mountain Hawks have put distance some between their current expectations and their difficult start.
“Initially I thought it was going to be like the Fordham game.” coach Andy Coen said. “It wound up being really a defensive game for the most part until we broke out and made some big plays. But that’s great.”
In the tightly fought game, the Crusaders were able to contain Lehigh’s star junior quarterback Brad Mayes to 231 passing yards, with three interceptions and five sacks against. Mayes’ struggles, however, were remedied by junior running back Dom Bragalone, who contributed incredibly with four touchdowns, two coming in the first quarter.
Bragalone dominated with 201 rushing yards, and did so at an efficient rate of 6.7 yards per carry. It was his sixth straight game of at least 100 rushing yards, and to top it all off, he scored all of Lehigh touchdowns. His longest run of the day came in the fourth quarter, when he scampered 45 yards into the endzone, putting the Mountain Hawks up by 20 points, effectively sealing their victory.
“It’s just something that I’m used to,” Bragalone said, “Since high school, since college, my coaches always said, ‘You’re not gonna break every carry, but just keep doing what you’re doing and eventually something is going to open up.’ We really saw that today.”
For the rest of the Mountain Hawk offense, the struggles were apparent. Lehigh had the opportunity to score going into the half, but the offensive line collapsed around Mayes leading to a sack that took them out of field goal range.
“I was very frustrated,” coach Coen said. “The couple penalties down there, holding penalties. And the one where we had to settle for a field goal, (Ed Mish’s) field goal, I was not happy with that.”
In previous matchups Lehigh relied on its offense as the defense fell apart, but with the roles reversed the Mountain Hawk defense was able to hold out and support its team through fumble recoveries, stops on third down and sacks. While the unit let up a bit at the end of the game, giving up two touchdowns in the fourth, the team held it together to come away with a win when the final whistle blew.
“To win a game like this is important,” Coen said. “I know we were never not ahead, but you know, I was very concerned every time they had the football because they were pretty dynamic. Our kids just kept after them, and after them, and after them.”
With this win Lehigh is able to keep its playoff hopes alive, and if the team manages to defeat Lafayette next week at Goodman Stadium, it will enter the postseason with hopes of bringing home a national championship.
Preparation for the Lafayette game is always a big deal and the team will lean on its experienced players to step up as leaders.
“I tell our seniors that it’s their week,” Coen said. “They’re supposed to be able to help all the young guys out and understand what this week is all about.”