Lehigh Falls In Season Opener At No. 5/6 Villanova

VILLANOVA, Pennsylvania – Playing away against number 5/6 Villanova, Lehigh reacted from a 24-0 hole in the second quarter to arrive within 31-17 early in the third quarter, but the Wildcats scored the last 14 points to claim a 45-17 win on Friday in the season opener for both teams at the Villanova Stadium.

Senior wide receiver Jalen Burbage enjoyed a career day, receiving eight passes for 106 yards and a touchdown to lead the way for Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks amassed 408 yards of attack, but gave 451 to Villanova. Wildcat quarterback Connor Watkins completed 11 of 15 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns to pave the way for Villanova.

“I am disappointed because we could and should have played better than we did,” Lehigh coach Tom Gilmore She said. “In attack we played hard and did a lot of good things, but we shot ourselves in the foot with some bad decisions and a couple of turnovers and penalties that were killers.

“Sometimes we moved the ball well,” Gilmore continued. “We only had two points. We have to eliminate those mistakes but there were a lot of good things to see in attack.”

Villanova opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal from Matthew Mercurio with 3:52 left in the opening quarter. Lehigh turned the ball down in Villanova’s territory on each of his first two possessions. Two plays after sidelining the Mountain Hawks with a 4th-and-1, Watkins linked up with Dez Boykin with a 66-yard touchdown pass for the first of Wildcat’s four touchdowns in the second quarter. Two of the scores went to Jaaron Hayek.

Trailing 24-0, junior quarterback Dante Perri led Lehigh on a nine-game 70-yard drive, which was capped off with a three-yard touchdown pass at the fifth-year tight end Alex Snyder. The Mountain Hawks then closed the first half with their second touchdown in as many drives. This time, Perri led Lehigh 63 yards in 10 plays, bringing the ball into the end zone on a 25-yard pass to Burbage while Lehigh was 31-14 behind at half-time.

Lehigh opened the second half with a 12-game, 54-yard drive, crowned by a 34-yard senior field goal Dylan Van Dusen to get the Mountain Hawks by 31-17, but Villanova responded with an 80-yard drive that consumed more than five minutes, while Watkins climbed from four yards out.

“On defense we made some huge mistakes,” Gilmore said. “We’ve come out of cover in some scrambles. We’ve been involved in some RPOs that we see every day at practice. We’ve left some guys wide open, that you would never want to see as a coach.”

Perri finished 22 of 39 for 227 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He completed the passes at nine different receivers.

Lehigh managed the ball effectively, earning 181 yards in 38 attempts. Second year Gaige Garcia led a balanced attack with 59 yards on 10 carries. Junior Jack Di Pietro added 53 yards on 12 rush.

“I’m proud of how he played the offensive line overall,” Gilmore said. “We had two freshmen who had to start due to some injuries that happened at the end of the pitch, but I thought they went out and competed. We can be better and I think we will improve, but the offensive line played really hard and it has done a lot of good things.

Hayek led Villanova’s receivers with 141 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions.

“It was a really hard lesson to learn that we need to step up in defense,” Gilmore said. “That was a rude awakening against a good football team, giving up those great games.”

The Mountain Hawks will be back on the road next Saturday to open the Patriot League game in Georgetown. Play time is set for 5pm from Cooper Field in Washington, with video streaming on ESPN + and audio coverage on Fox Sports Radio 94.7 FM and 1230 AM at Easton and LVFoxSports.com.

EXTRA POINTS … Lehigh had a 24-19 lead in the early downs and a 181-153 yard lead in the running … The Mountain Hawks also had the lead in possession time by nearly 33-27. .. Seniors TyGee Leach And Mikhari Sibblis led the defensive effort with eight tackles … junior Sam Sheridan recorded his first career layoff for Lehigh’s only night sack … Lehigh started three first-year players on offense: wide catcher Geoffrey Jamiel and linemen Langston Jones And Aidan Palmer… Sheridan made his career debut as a winger … Lehigh has now lost four consecutive season openings.

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