The Villanova Wildcats (2-0) surged to a 17-3 halftime lead over Lehigh, and ultimately cruised to a 38-10 win on Saturday evening on the Main Line in front of 8,319 fans.
A near-packed Villanova Stadium saw the home Wildcats survive an early battle and ultimately overwhelm their opponents.
It was a game where the Mountain Hawks (0-2) would make way too many mistakes to pull off the upset on the road of a nationally-ranked FCS football team on the road.
Early on, Lehigh did a good job of stifling Villanova’s offense, allowing only one first down on the Wildcats’ first three drives.
“Yeah, it felt great early going,” LB Pete Haffner said. We definitely came out with a chip on our shoulders. We just heard how great they were all week, and we wanted to come out and prove that we could play with these guys, show that we’re a good team we are good defensively, flying around and I was really proud of the way we started off. Great team defense just across the board.”
But after Lehigh PK Austin Henning got Lehigh on the board early to give Lehigh a 3-0 lead, Villanova QB Daniel Smith would orchestrate a 6 play, 72 yard drive that took only 2:30 off the clock to give the Wildcats the lead, thanks to a 31 yard TD pass to freshman WR Jaaron Hayek.
“Offensively we’re getting the ball inside the ten and not finishing,” a frustrated WR Jorge Portorreal said after a the game. “The motto right now is ‘finish, finish, finish. We’ve got to get back to practice and work on those things.”
Lehigh’s offense moved the ball “in spurts”, Portorreal said, but key penalties and mistakes ended up being momentum killers.
After Villanova took the lead, Lehigh’s next two possessions ended up in a 4th down sack to stop one drive, and a pick six by Villanova CB Elijah Trent to make a 10-3 Villanova lead into a 17-3 lead.
“We are obviously really excited about a home opener with a victory,” Wildcats head coach Mark Ferrante said. “We scored on defense and I don’t know how many times we stopped them on fourth down, but it was three or four times.
Getting the ball first in the second half, Lehigh would score their first offensive touchdown of the season, a 42 yard strike by QB Tyler Monaco to WR Jorge Portorreal that temporarily cut the deficit to 17-10.
But Villanova would respond with another quick score, with a huge run by RB Jalen Jackson of 52 yards setting up a 16 yard exclamation point by RB Justin Covington to put Villanova back up by two scores.
Defensive mistakes were something that Lehigh head coach Tom Gilmore emphasized after the game.
“The big thing with the defense,” Gilmore said, “is we had a couple of misfits on blitzes and we gave up some huge runs. And then the other disappointment from a defensive standpoint is it was a tackling we had you know probably five or six tackles I can think of off the top my head that that should have been fairly routine tackles that we missed for one reason or another. We want to be a good fundamental football team. And you know I think we took a step backwards in that regard on defense from a tackling standpoint.”
“We didn’t play assignment football in the second half, and they made some good plays,” Haffner added. “Guys were trying to do too much, trying to play two gaps at the same time and playing through their assignments. We just need to be more consistent. And we’re going to see it on film and see how we can improve.”
Overall Villanova had 399 yards of total offense, but only had 24 minutes time of possession. 227 of those were rushing yards, with 151 of them coming in the second half, mostly on several big running plays.
Lehigh ended up with 358 total yards but only managed 89 yards rushing averaging 2.7 yards per attempt with 4 different running backs. Monaco went 25 for 45 with 269 yards passing.
The Mountain Hawks travel next weekend to Davis, California to take on No. 4 ranked UC Davis, while Villanova heads to Lewisburg to take on Bucknell.