The Lehigh football team’s four-game winning streak was halted by the Holy Cross Crusaders, 24-17, in a battle for first place in the Patriot League on Saturday.
The Mountain Hawks trailed 14-0 in the first half, and managed to cut the lead to 14-7 following a 1-yard touchdown run from freshman running back Zaythan Hill. Lehigh was down 24-7 in the second half, but scored the next 10 points, cutting the deficit to a single touchdown to tie the score.
Senior quarterback Tyler Monaco threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Devon Bibbens, while senior punter and kicker Austin Henning capitalized on a 38-yard field goal attempt.
In the final minutes of the second half, Lehigh’s offense drove down the field for a potential game-tying touchdown, but Monaco was intercepted by Chris Riley, Holy Cross’ senior defensive back, at the 5-yard line, which solidified the victory for the Crusaders.
Although Holy Cross’ victory ended Lehigh’s winning streak and put the Mountain Hawks out of first place in the Patriot League, coach Tom Gilmore said he is proud of the team’s relentless effort.
“I’m really disappointed in the loss, to state the obvious, but just really proud of the fight of the team,” Gilmore said. “We continue to work hard and fight to the end.”
Saturday’s game was especially exciting for Gilmore, as he served as the head football coach at Holy Cross for 14 seasons. During his tenure, Gilmore led the Crusaders to a Patriot League title, as well as an FCS Playoff Appearance in 2009. He said in his press conference that the experience is something he didn’t really think about during the game, even though he recruited the three upper classes for the Crusaders.
However, Gilmore said he expected a dog fight as a result of his extensive history with Holy Cross.
“They wanted to beat me,” Gilmore said. “That’s just the nature of competition. I know some of the fiercest fights I ever had in my life were with my own brothers. That’s just the way it is.”
Junior linebacker Pete Haffner was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week following the game. He intercepted Holy Cross’ junior quarterback Connor Degenhardt twice, and came up with seven tackles — one for loss.
Senior defensive back Riley O’Neil, who led the team with eight tackles — two of them for loss — said he credits Haffner for being a great leader on and off the field, and for being an even better playmaker.
Although Haffner and O’Neil individually dominated on defense, the rest of the unit did not perform to its standards on Saturday. Saturday’s game marked the second week in a row that Lehigh’s defense was held without a sack. The defensive unit also ceded 388 total yards with 266 of them coming on the ground.
“Yeah, definitely frustrating,” O’Neil said. “I think we just need to focus more on staying consistent as a defense and taking it a play at a time.”
Gilmore said it wasn’t just the defensive unit that was underperforming. There was no consistency on both sides of the ball, especially on offense, he said.
“We did a really nice job at times, but we’re too inconsistent, and we’d have a positive play and then a negative play,” Gilmore said. “I think our lack of consistency is what sealed our fate.”
Bibbens recorded his third 100-yard receiving game on the season with six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. Yet, another huge performance from the wide receiver wasn’t enough for the offense to tie the game on the final possession.
Despite the frustrations, Bibbens maintains a positive outlook on the rest of the season.
“We believe that if we have a chance, if we have an opportunity, we’re going to take advantage of it,” Bibbens said. “Today, we didn’t take advantage of it fully, it was real close. When that ball was in the air, I wanted to make a play on it, just didn’t work out this time, but we’re going to get it right.”
Lehigh’s loss to Holy Cross will make capturing the Patriot League Championship title a much tougher feat for the the team. The Mountain Hawks will have to win its two remaining league games, while the Crusaders will have to lose its remaining matchups.
Gilmore said he feels confident in the team’s ability to clinch the title.
“We have to pick it up even more because we have a loss in the league,” Gilmore said. “I think we can’t ignore the fact that we just lost a league game. I don’t think we’re out of it by any stretch of the imagination, but I think you’d go into things having pride that you’re pointing to a football game regardless of where you are in the standings.”
O’Neil added the team needs to move on from the result, and said every player needs to maintain a “next drive, next series” mentality.
Bibbens said he is also looking forward to the challenge of sealing another Patriot League matchup this coming weekend. The competitive mindset of the team will remain unchanged, he said.
“I don’t think it (mindset) really changes,” Bibbens said. “This game was just another Patriot League Championship game for us, and coach (Gilmore) harps on us every week. Every game is a championship game when you come to league play. Bucknell is another one of those games. We’re not going to really worry about the outside factors at this point. We’re just going to control what we can control in our program, and what we can do, and get back to work.”
The Mountain Hawks will travel to Lewisburg, PA, to face Bucknell on Saturday, Nov. 9.