Lehigh’s football team began its season on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 with a 14-13 loss to St. Francis. Sam Mcloskey, fifth-year defensive back, scored the only touchdown of the game. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Lehigh football falls to St. Francis in season opener

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The Mountain Hawks began its season on Saturday, Aug. 31 with a 13-14 loss to St. Francis at Goodman Stadium. 

Lehigh opened the first half with a 13-0 lead only to surrender 14 unanswered points from St. Francis in the second half. Senior kicker Austin Henning missed a 40-yard game-winning field goal after his first attempt was negated when St. Francis coach Chris Villarrial called a timeout.  

Although the Mountain Hawks lost its season opener, coach Tom Gilmore said he was pleased with the team’s overall performance. He said he believes the athletes’ effort and energy were there, they just didn’t execute well.  

“This one hurts because it’s an L,” Gilmore said. “It’s an L, though, that we really had under control. If we stayed disciplined the whole game, if guys just did their job consistently and trusted the other guys, we would have gotten it done.” 

Lehigh’s only touchdown of the day came from a 56-yard fumble recovery by fifth-year defensive back Sam McCloskey, after St. Francis punter Ryan Oliver dropped the ball and was drilled by senior defensive lineman Davis Maxie. The play drew national attention as it appeared on ESPN’s Instagram and received over one million views. 

McCloskey, who recovered two of the three fumbles during the game, said the Mountain Hawks will be a better defensive team this year despite the two second half touchdowns by St. Francis.

McCloskey also credits senior linebacker Keith Woetzel, who recorded nine tackles and a sack on Saturday. McCloskey said it’s easy to recognize a huge difference when Woetzel is on the field.

“Keith (Woetzel) is one of the hardest working guys on our defense,” McCloskey said. “(Woetzel) just has a nose for the ball, he’s just everywhere the ball is.”

The Mountain Hawks were held to a total of 11 rushing yards in the game. Gilmore said he believes this is a testament to the way St. Francis played on defense. He said they successfully “packed the box,” limiting Lehigh’s big plays on the ground.

Senior quarterback Tyler Monaco said the receivers played extremely well and that they made some huge catches throughout the game, including a one-handed catch by sophomore tight end Alex Snyder that set up the field goal attempt at the end of the game.

“They came out and they fought hard,” Monaco said. “We fought really hard, too. The effort was there. It’s just now we need to get the mental side down. I think those things are going to turn into explosive plays.”

After the game, Gilmore told his players to put the score behind them and to look ahead to their next game. He said he’s confident that the mistakes are correctable and that the team will grow and learn from this experience. 

Gilmore understands the challenges of being a college football player and said his guys are going to respond positively to this adversity and produce a great rest of the season. 

“Winning a college football game is the hardest thing you will ever do,” Gilmore said when speaking to his players. “And some of you guys are going to do amazing things in your lifetimes. It takes so much effort, so much time, so much coordination, so much preparation. And there’s nothing like that.”

Lehigh will look to win its first game against No. 24 Villanova on Saturday, Sept. 7, at Villanova Stadium.

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