Holy Cross’s 267 rushing yards were too much for Lehigh to handle as they dropped their fourth consecutive home game 28-24.
The offensive ambush was propelled by an impressive performance throughout the afternoon by Holy Cross’s (6-3, 4-1 Patriot) offensive line who pushed junior running back Jordan Fuller to the most rushing yards of any Holy Cross running back since 1990. Fuller finished with 229 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
Lehigh’s (2-6, 1-3 Patriot) sophomore linebacker Tyler Ochojski described Holy Cross’s offensive line as “big, physical and nasty” and said he respected their effort.
“There was a fun challenge,” Ochojski said. “It was physical, and it felt like football in November.”
At the start of the game, however, Lehigh put on offensive pressure when sophomore quarterback Brayten Silbor found senior wide receiver Eric Johnson for a 21-yard touchdown pass.
Senior linebacker Mike DeNucci recovered a Holy Cross fumble on their 29-yard line less than a minute later. Lehigh gained seven yards on the next play to set themselves up with a second-and-three.
Silbor held his position in the pocket as he looked to his right before launching the ball toward Johnson in the end zone. Johnson, reaching up, bobbled the ball around his hands before reaching out his right arm to make the touchdown grab giving Lehigh a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the first quarter.
“Might not have been the prettiest play,” Johnson said. “But the job got done.”
Lehigh carried the two-score lead until the end of the first quarter. The second quarter started as a near mirror image of the first as Holy Cross got two scores of their own. Fuller ran up the middle through a large gap for a 53-yard touchdown to cut the lead down to 14-7. After Silbor threw his first and only interception of the afternoon, Holy Cross’s junior quarterback Joe Pesansky found senior wide receiver Jalen Coker on a 34-yard route to tie the game.
After both teams traded scoreless drives, Lehigh picked the ball up after a punt with 5:37 remaining in the half from their 45-yard line. Slowly working down the field, Lehigh used first-year running back Luke Yoder continuously as he eventually scored on a 1-yard push with 1:10 left.
Yoder built on a Patriot League Rookie of the Week winning performance against Bucknell as he had his second consecutive game with over 120 rushing yards. He finished with 128 yards on 23 carries.
Lehigh coach Kevin Cahill commended Yoder for what he was able to do this afternoon.
“He’s a talented kid,” Cahill said. “We got to continue to work him and make sure that he’s doing everything right.”
Holy Cross only needed 47 more seconds to score as they tied the game on a 49-yard pass again from Pesansky to Coker. Entering the half, the score was 21-21.
The Crusaders committed their third turnover of the afternoon on the opening drive of the second half. Overcoming a third down stop, Lehigh turned to sophomore kicker Nick Garrido who kicked a career-long 41-yard field goal to give Lehigh a 24-21 lead around the midpoint of the third quarter.
Immediately after, Lehigh lined up with two kickers on the field and attempted a surprise onside kick that was recovered by Holy Cross at their 44-yard line. The Crusaders scored the game’s last touchdown on the next drive to go up 28-24.
After the game, Cahill took responsibility for the onside kick decision. He justified the play call by pointing out how Holy Cross returned the last kickoff to Lehigh’s 40-yard line, so he saw it as a 4-yard difference given up in an attempt to “steal a possession.”
“We knew we had to be aggressive and try to keep their offense off the field,” Cahill said. “We just didn’t get that hop.”
Holy Cross, who entered the game ranked 21st in the Football Championship Subdivision polls, needed a win to stay in the running with Lafayette in the title race. Lafayette is Holy Cross’s only conference loss. Lafayette lost their first game of the Patriot League season this afternoon when they fell 37-34 to Colgate in overtime.
Colgate and Lafayette are also the two teams that Lehigh will play in their remaining games. Lehigh has yet to lose a Patriot League game by more than 10 points. Cahill ended the postgame press conference by pointing out just how close he felt the Patriot League has been throughout the entire season.
“You could probably go through four plays and we’re undefeated in the conference,” Cahill said. “We’re not there yet and we’re not making those plays.”
Lehigh will take on Colgate next Saturday in Hamilton, New York, at 1:00 p.m.