PRINCETON, NJ – It was a beautiful late autumn day at Princeton stadium, a perfect afternoon for football.
And for a half, at least, it was a very good afternoon for Lehigh football as well.
The halftime score read Lehigh 10, Princeton 10, and Mountain Hawk fans had every right to be excited.
Heavy underdogs going into the game, they were right there, taking advantage of a takeaway by DB TyGee Leach that let to a scoring pass from QB Dante Perri to WR Eric Johnson.
Defensively, they recovered from a tough opening drive and held Princeton’s potent offense to a 45 yard field goal after letting up an early touchdown.
Even on special teams, a, electrifying 50 yard kick return from WR Jalen Burbage helped bring a big jolt of energy to this Lehigh team, setting the tone for what was overall an excellent half.
But then, almost as quickly as it came, the momentum of the first half was stopped halted in the second half.
And in the fourth quarter, despite an electrifying “big man” pick six touchdown by DT Dean Colton, the Mountain Hawks couldn’t rally, and ended up losing 29-17 to the Tigers in front of 5.560 fans.
A Tale of Two Halves
“We made some mistakes in the first half, but I think we also did a lot of good things, and going into the half I thought we had a lot of momentum, and then it all came apart,” head coach Tom Gilmore said after the game. “We turned the ball over and gave up a couple of big plays. Down 23-10, it changed the nature of the game. I still saw some good things in the second half without a doubt. There’s still no quit in our kids and there’s a lot good things to build on, but for some reason we haven’t been able to put it together and we certainly didn’t put it together in the second half like I expected us to do, and I hoped they would do.”
Receiving the kickoff to start the second half, the interception by Princeton LB Nicholas Sanker on Lehigh’s third play was a key catalyst to Princeton’s win.
Seemingly sensing the need to re-establish momentum, Princeton head coach Bob Surace pounced quickly, running a quick 23 yard pass play from QB Blake Stenstrom to WR Jojo Hawkins to try to catch the Lehigh defense off guard.. Two plays after that, a quick 2 yard touchdown run by RB John Volker put Princeton up 17-10.
On the very next possession of Lehigh’s, a Mountain Hawk punt was blocked by one of three Tigers who had a legitimate shot at blocking it. TE Connor Hulstein was the one ultimately credited with the block, which went right in his chest, which he held as he came down. That led to another field goal by Princeton PK Jeffrey Sexton to make it 20-10 Princeton.
The Lehigh defense held very firm in the third quarter, despite Princeton having a short field. The Tigers would venture to the red zone twice, but only coming away with field goals, meaning the game was very much within reach going into the 4th quarter – a two score game.
LB Mike DeNucci, with 11 tackles and 3 sacks, was a critical piece of that defensive effort.
In the fourth quarter, an electrifying individual play off on an all-out blitz almost put the game away for the Tigers.
Stenstrom would beat the blitz and find WR Andrei Iosivas cutting from the slot, and the hot NFL prospect flashed gamebreaking speed in a 65 yard big-play strike.
But what would almost steal the show for Lehigh in the second half was an interception by DT Dean Colton, who reached up and grabbed the screen pass, followed his blockers, and took it into the end zone for a 52 yard score of his own. It was his first “big guy touchdown” in his career.
“We read a similar play earlier in the game and I missed the bat down by a couple inches,” he told me. “This time, my teammates were in position, let me be in the position to just kind of hold onto it. Had [DE Trevor Harris and DB Donovan Lassiter] lead the way. It wasn’t possible without all those guys. In high school, I got caught up one time on the 3-yard line. So that’s all I could think about, get in the end zone, don’t get caught early.”
WR Geoffrey Jamiel led the Mountain Hawks offensively with 5 receptions for 81 yards, notching the longest Lehigh gain from scrimmage when QB Brayten Silbor came into the game in the second half, a 48 yard strike. Jamiel and Silbor are both true freshmen.
“We [Brayten and I] kind of talked little bit before that drive about what to expect, and being freshmen,” Jamiel said. “We talked about the fact we don’t really have anything to lose. [Offensive coordinator Scott Brisson] and all the other coaches kind of always say to let it rip, let it rip, kind of go in with no fear. So when we got out there, we kind of just knew what to do because we’ve repped that play countless times over the summer and over this past week.”
For Jamiel, he noted how the game is slowing down for him now that he’s appeared in four games for the Mountain Hawks. He also noted how some of the help on improving his Division I game still comes from his family.
“After every week, my other brothers and dad, who played football, always text me after the games of things to really work on,” he said. “They watch the games, they’ll text me five or six things to really work on and [wide receivers coach John Siebel] also texts me the day after every game, to grade me out as to how I did, and bring up things to focus on for the next week. If I just keep improving and don’t make the same mistakes twice, I can really improve and be good in this offense.”
Overall, this game was different than some of those against Lehigh’s other opponents this season against No. 5 Villanova and soon-to-be-nationally-ranked-again Richmond. In those two games, they got away early and Lehigh was deeply behind in the fourth quarter.
At Princeton, Lehigh had a chance to get back into the game going into the fourth quarter, battled, and got some opportunities. Lehigh Nation hopes that eventually, the positive work put in here will finally put Lehigh back into the win column before Patriot League play after losing their last two games.
“In a way, I was really proud of the guys,” Colton, one of Lehigh’s team captains in 2022 told me. “Our big thing which is to be aggressive and fight, and I thought that’s exactly what the defense did. We got on the field a couple times backed up, and we held our own. I was proud of the effort, and now we put on film time and continue to get better every week. I was proud of the guys for fighting.
“I think our biggest challenge is ourselves. We need to execute so that we can showcase our athletic talent, and we’re doing that better every week.”
|1st||09:37||PRI – Butler,Ryan 3 yd run (Sexton,Jeffrey kick), 11 plays, 75 yards, TOP 05:17||0||7|
|1st||05:04||LEH – Johnson,Eric 5 yd pass from Perri,Dante (Van Dusen,Dylan kick) 9 plays, 46 yards, TOP 04:23||7||7|
|2nd||13:07||LEH – Van Dusen,Dylan 35 yd field goal 12 plays, 47 yards, TOP 03:53||10||7|
|2nd||09:58||PRI – Sexton,Jeffrey 44 yd field goal 8 plays, 45 yards, TOP 03:03||10||10|
|3rd||11:59||PRI – Volker,John 2 yd run (Sexton,Jeffrey kick), 4 plays, 33 yards, TOP 01:30||10||17|
|3rd||07:36||PRI – Sexton,Jeffrey 38 yd field goal 4 plays, 2 yards, TOP 01:32||10||20|
|3rd||00:06||PRI – Sexton,Jeffrey 26 yd field goal 9 plays, 34 yards, TOP 03:26||10||23|
|4th||11:04||PRI – Iosivas,Andrei 65 yd pass from Stenstrom,Blake ( ) 3 plays, 72 yards, TOP 01:15||10||29|
|4th||05:10||LEH – Colton,Dean 52 yd interception (Van Dusen,Dylan kick)||17||29|
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
Reach him at: this email or click below: