Lehigh Head Football Coach Kevin Cahill Gets His First Win, 14-12 Over Merrimack, In Probably The Most Unexpected Place

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Lehigh head football coach Kevin Cahill came to Lehigh by way of Yale.

From 2018 to 2022, Cahill has served as Yale’s Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, working directly with the quarterbacks.

In 2022, the Bulldogs went 8-2 overall and 6-1 in Ivy League play to capture their third Ivy crown in the last five seasons. Yale boasted the top-ranked offense in the Ivy League and ranked in the top 25 in the FCS in total offense for the fourth time in the five seasons.

His last victory on the Yale coaching staff? A 19-14 win over Harvard, Yale’s bitter “rival”, in Harvard Stadium, and the victory would make Yale Ivy League Champions.

In that game, Yale denied Harvard three times to preserve the win.

Fast forward to the evening of September 9th, 2023.

On this day, the Mountain Hawks were scheduled to play Merrimack of the NEC at Duane Stadium in North Andover, Mass.

There was one huge problem, however: the campus didn’t have any power, thanks to storms that had been whipping through the area Friday and Saturday.

The game was able to be rescheduled at a new nearby venue – Harvard Stadium, of all places, which happened to be the site of Kevin Cahill’s last win.

Then the storms came, which delayed the start of the game to 6:15 local time. A game that was originally scheduled at 4:00 PM at North Andover in front of perhaps 10,000 fans was now a night game with a 6:15 PM kickoff at a venue that held 30,000 for Yale/Harvard last November.

“I’m OK with not going back to Cambridge for a while,” he told me.

After all the storms, delays and rescheduling, Lehigh (1-1, 0-0 PL) would gut together a 14-12 victory over Merrimack (0-2, 0-0 NEC) on a wet, steamy evening in Cambridge that, like that Yale victory last November, would feature a superlative defensive effort to preserve the victory.

The Mountain Hawks would do all their scoring in a one minute burst in the first half.

Lehigh’s first scoring drive covered 71 yards in six plays, with QB Brayten Silbor going 4 for 5 passing connecting to four different receivers. The six yard strike to WR Connor Kennedy was a highlight-reel grab.

After a three-and-out from the defense, Lehigh got the ball back with 22 seconds remaining, and rather than play it safe, Cahill aggressively went after it. On 2nd-and-15, Silbor connected on a 49 yard bomb to WR Dylan McFadden for 49 yards to the Merrimack 8. On the next play, Silbor found Kennedy crossing by the end line for an eight-yard touchdown, their second in the span of 52 seconds.

The second half would see the Lehigh offense shut down by the Merrimack defense, but despite an 11 play, 87 yard drive by Merrimack for a 2 yard TD run by QB Gavin McCusker to make the score 14-12, the Warriors’ attempt to run the ball through the middle for the two point conversion was stopped inches short of the goal line by sophomore DB Nick Petelkian, who pushed RB Tyvon Edmonds, Jr. back.

The ensuing drive would end in an interception, with Kennedy for good measure taking down Warrior DB Darion McKenzie to prevent a touchdown. But from there, the defense took over.

DL Matt Spatny made a great stop on 3rd and 3 to force a 3-and-out to end the 3rd quarter, while LB Mike DeNucci took over the game in the fourth quarter, notching 5 tackles and blitzing, once causing McCusker to throw the ball wildly and the other connecting on a critical sack to push Merrimack out of field goal range.

“It was just great all-around team defense,” DeNucci said after the game. “We stayed together the whole time. We knew once we got the lead, that’s all we needed. We told ourselves [after the TD run] that they wouldn’t score anymore, we stuck behind our offense. It was a great team effort, all 22 guys.”

It would force one more turnover on downs, and after a wild attempt to lateral the ball, head coach Kevin Cahill would get his first win – and, for good measure, elevate for the chest bump to celebrate.

“Coach Cahill preached the three E’s – effort, execution, and energy all week, and that’s what we really stood by,” DeNucci said.

Silbor would end the game 20-for-40 passing with the 2 TDs and the one interception. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers, including RB Gaige Garcia (5 receptions, 104 all-purpose yards), WR Geoffrey Jamiel (4 catches 72 yards) and WR Connor Kennedy (4 catches, 47 yards, 2 TDs).

Defensively the Mountain Hawks were led by the thrilling performance of DeNucci (10 tackles, 2 TFL, one huge sack). DB Nick Petelkian (7 tackles, 1 QB hurry, 1 denied 2 point conversion run) and DB Aidan Singleton (7 tackles) paced the Mountain Hawk defense.

Lehigh travels back home after their long journey through the north suburbs of Boston to take on Cornell. Kickoff is scheduled for noon. The Warriors return home to face off against Virginia-University of Lynchburg. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 PM.

Full Box Score

QtrTimeScoring PlayLEHMER
1st07:17MER – Davis,Lliam 32 yd field goal 6 plays, 37 yards, TOP 02:2303
2nd00:56LEH – Kennedy,Connor 6 yd pass from Silbor,Brayten (Garrido,Nick kick) 6 plays, 71 yards, TOP 01:5073
2nd00:02LEH – Kennedy,Connor 8 yd pass from Silbor,Brayten (Garrido,Nick kick) 3 plays, 52 yards, TOP 00:20143
2nd00:00MER – Davis,Lliam 46 yd field goal 1 plays, yards, TOP 00:00146
3rd05:04MER – McCusker,Gavin 2 yd run ( ), 11 plays, 87 yards, TOP 05:551412