Lehigh football fell to Villanova 38-10 in its first game under new head coach Kevin Cahill on Sept. 2.
Cahill spent the last 10 years coaching at Yale, first as the special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach, before becoming the offensive coordinator and associate head coach in 2018. However, he said his former position was vastly different from his new head coaching job.
“It’s a lot less X’s and O’s and it’s a lot more culture,” Cahill said. “My focus has been to get the culture right here and to focus on the players and get the players to buy in to what we’re trying to do here and to let the players have fun.”
Yale won three Ivy League championships with Cahill on staff, most recently in 2022.
The Villanova game started with an onside kick and recovery down the middle of the field from the Mountain Hawks.
“We told our kids we’re coming out and having fun,” Cahill said about the play. “We have to attack, we have to have that mindset, and our kids were all into it. That call was probably two weeks ago.”
In his first game at the helm, Cahill gave sophomore quarterback Brayten Silbor the start over last season’s starter, senior Dante Perri.
Silbor, whose freshman season was cut short due to an arm injury, played his first game since Oct. 22, 2022, and said he had to adjust to the new offense that Cahill installed.
“It’s a little difficult (learning a new offensive scheme), especially with a quick turnaround like that,” Silbor said. “We understand this offense a lot better than I think we did last year.”
Silbor racked up 206 yards through the air with a 60.5% completion percentage. He threw one touchdown and two interceptions in the Villanova game.
“I thought (Silbor) played well,” Cahill said. “He had a couple interceptions there that really weren’t on him, and we can’t have that. He (made) a couple tough decisions that he has to learn to not put us in that situation, but it’s only going to be growth.”
The offense made use of short screen passes in an attempt to rack up yards after the catch. Still, Lehigh’s offense stalled out frequently, with a 15-yard catch by senior wide receiver Eric Johnson being the Mountain Hawks’ biggest pick up.
Johnson had another catch on the same drive, though it was called back due to a penalty that ended up slowing the drive, a common theme during the game.
The Mountain Hawks were down 31-3 at the end of the first half with the offense only managing 72 yards and the defense allowing 270.
“We had some stupid penalties there,” Cahill said. “That’s Lehigh beating Lehigh and we have to get over that hump.”
After finding the endzone on their second drive, Villanova fumbled allowing junior running back Gaige Garcia to gain seven more points for Lehigh.
Lehigh scored their first points on a field goal in the second quarter. Pressure from the special teams unit got Villanova’s punter to force a 12-yard boot that Lehigh turned into three points on the other side of the field.
The Wildcats responded quickly, however, with running back Jalen Jackson shaking off several tackle attempts for a 66-yard run. A holding call on the next set of downs moved Villanova back, forcing them to settle for a field goal, bringing the score to 17-3.
“They were better than we were. They were bigger than us, they were faster than us, they were stronger than us, they were older than us. But none of that matters when the ball is kicked off,” Cahill said. “We have to play better. We can’t make (the) mistakes that we made today and expect to win.”
Though the scoreboard read in favor of the Wildcats at the end of the first half, Cahill said his focus wasn’t on the board when heading into the locker room.
“Our whole mentality (is) we don’t care what the score is,” Cahill said. “It’s just the next play we’ve got to keep focusing on.”
The Mountain Hawks put together a better showing in the second half.
Lehigh didn’t make much of their first possession in the second half, but on Villanova’s next drive, defensive back senior Donovan Lassiter rotated from the middle of the field to the sideline to pick off a downfield pass.
“The interception definitely felt great, but as Coach Cahill and (Silbor) pointed out, there was a lot of good, a lot of bad,” Lassiter said. “But, we’re gonna come in tomorrow, look at the film and get ready for Merrimack.”
Lehigh’s first touchdown of the season was scored in the fourth quarter, when Silbor found Garcia open in the endzone from seven yards out.
Cahill expressed a desire to change the culture of the football program and reiterated it after the game by setting expectations with his players.
“I tell the kids all the time: Go out there, play hard, fly around, have fun,” Cahill said. “Just don’t make the same mistake twice.”