Fiery, Emotional Battle Between Holy Cross And Lehigh Ends With Crusaders On Top, 31-12

BETHLEHEM, PA – For three quarters, it didn’t really feel like a battle between a winless team (Lehigh, 0-8, 0-3) and a team still with an eye on a conference championship and an FCS Playoff appearance (Holy Cross, 6-2, 3-0). After 45 minutes, it was a chippy, intense, defensive battle that was anyone’s game.

It was a game defined by defense (11 sacks, 7 from Holy Cross, 4 from Lehigh), penalties (a combined 22 of them – 11 on Holy Cross, 11 on Lehigh), special teams plays (at least three scores came off of punt snaps and a muffed kickoff return), and a series of plays at the end of the half that had both sidelines staring each other down as they headed into the locker rooms.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused both sides to erupt – perhaps it was that Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney took 2 timeouts with 20 seconds left in the half in an effort to get another possession, a sign of disrespect for Lehigh’s offense. Perhaps it was after Lehigh made the first down, and things got physical between the two teams.

The game started with a forced fumble by LB Liam McIntyre off the kickoff that was recovered by LB Nate Norris, setting up an early 24 yard FG by Dylan van Dusen to give Lehigh the early lead. And through most of the 2nd quarter, the Mountain Hawk defense stymied Holy Cross to maintain their 3-0 lead.

But Holy Cross would eventually break through on two different drives late in the second quarter.

The first score came from a pretty pass by QB Marco Siderman to WR Jalen Coker to give the Crusaders a 7-3 lead. Then the Holy Cross defense would force a 3-and-out and the Crusaders would embark on a time-consuming 11 play, 63 yard drive ending with a 1 yard sneak by Siderman to go up 14-3 with 47 seconds left in the half.

Coming out of the locker room, Lehigh made a late push to nearly tie the game, thanks to another Dylan van Dusen field goal and a score set up a blocked punt by Tommy Lewis.

From there, Perri would find WR Jalen Burbage with a 9 yard TD to cut the deficit to 2. Lehigh’s 2 point conversion attempt would fail.

“It felt good because I had that monkey on my back for a while,” Burbage said after the game, after scoring the first Lehigh touchdown at Murray Goodman stadium this season. “My college career has been a wild ride, but we’re finally starting to trust the process and each other.”

The defensive duel, however, would start unraveling for Lehigh in the fourth quarter.

After getting the ball back to the 41 yard line, Holy Cross LB Liam Anderson would sack Dante Perri for a 12 yard loss to set up a 4th and 14. Then a high snap on the punt led to a 22 yard loss, setting up a 1st and goal that at the 9 was punched in by Wildcat QB Matthew Sluka to give Holy Cross a 21-12 lead. In the span of three plays, the Mountain Hawks went from a position of driving for the lead to a nine point deficit.

“It was a very competitive game,” Tom Gilmore said. “It was 14-12 going into the fourth quarter and then we made some mistakes. We turned the ball over a couple times and gave them a couple short fields and then obviously, turned the game around big-time. I thought our guys battled throughout the game. We’re playing really hard, we’re making some improvements and we’re adjusting to certain things. But we are still prone to making mistakes, and it catches up to us.”

Perri would get sacked again on their next drive on 3rd down – this time by DB John Smith – and Holy Cross would end a 8 play, 36 yard drive with PK Derek Ng lining up for a 50 yard FG – which he drilled, and probably would have been good from 55 yards. It was the second-longest FG in Murray Goodman and Holy Cross history – second to the 51 yarder the Las Vegas, Nevada native nailed at Murray Goodman this spring.

One play later, Perri would get intercepted by DB Devin Haskins to the Lehigh 6 yard line, which Sluka would punch in for the final scoring of the afternoon.

 β€œI think every week we come out, we play tough, we show what we are capable of and sometimes we don’t finish it for the full 60 minutes,” LB Liam McIntyre said, who led Lehigh with two sacks on the afternoon.

6-2. 3-0 Holy Cross will take on 3-5, 2-1 Lafayette at home next week, while 0-8, 0-3 Lehigh will travel to Lewisburg, PA to take on 1-7, 0-4 Bucknell.