Using Punishing Run Game To Close Things Out, Holy Cross Survives Lehigh Upset Bid 28-24

BETHLEHEM, PA – Lehigh leaped out to 14-0 , 21-14, and 24-21 leads on Holy Cross in a spirited effort at Murray Goodman Stadium, but the Crusaders would ultimately find a way to beat the Mountain Hawks in a 28-24 victory in front of 3,528 fans on a warm November afternoon.

Nobody who follows FCS football predicted that type of Mountain Hawks start, or that Lehigh would keep the game so close until the bitter end against the Crusaders (6-3, 4-1 Patriot League), who had dominated the Mountain Hawks in their last five meetings.

“We just try to listen to the guys in our room,” LB Tyler Ochojski told me after the game, “but I’d be lying to you if I said that every time I opened my phone and looked at an article, it didn’t piss me off. I think there’s a competitive nature in this team, and we emphasized about playing with an edge all week. I think we came out and did that today. We haven’t really cared about what people said about us and we’re not going to.”

“I’m proud of our effort,” Lehigh head coach Kevin Cahill said. “The kids played really hard today. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but we played really hard and gave them everything we could.”

The Mountain Hawks (2-7, 1-3 Patriot League) had a dream start to the game, taking the opening drive for a touchdown and then forcing and recovering a fumble, setting up a highlight-reel TD catch by Eric Johnson to go up 14-0 in the first five minutes.

“In our wide receiver room, we want to be the guys to make the plays,” Eric Johnson said. “We talked all week about how when ball is up in the air, it’s yours. It might not have been the prettiest play, but the job got done.”

But the Crusaders, playing without star LB Jacob Dobbs, would stop Lehigh on a subsequent 4th down at the Crusader 23 and their next series see RB Jordan Fuller burst through the middle for a 53 yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 7.

An interception later and a 34 yard bomb from QB Joe Pesansky to WR Jalen Coker would tie the game at 14. Pesansky, starting for injured QB Matthew Sluka, would later connect with Coker again before the end of the half, this time on a 49 yard jump ball, to tie the game at 21.

“We didn’t capitalize on a couple situations and made some errors that when you play a team like that, you can’t have those mistakes,” Cahill said. “When it comes down to it, we played hard, we just didn’t finish.”

In the second half Holy Cross held Lehigh to a 41 yard field goal by PK Nick Garrido while punishing Lehigh with the running game of Jordan Fuller to get the go-ahead score and close things out.

Behind the Crusaders’ punishing offensive line, Fuller would amass 228 yards rushing and two scores, including seven attempts and 36 yards on Holy Cross’ final drive that would use up the rest of the clock.

“It’s frustrating,” Cahill shared after the game. “They’re all in with what we’re doing. From the Villanova game to now, I’m really, really proud of the growth our team has made. Like you said, nobody thought we had a chance, except for our staff and our coaches and our players that we knew we had a shot at this. I told our team after the game, I thought today, I thought we were the better team. We just didn’t execute in a couple of situations.”

Box Score

Team1st2nd3rd4thTotal
Holy Cross0217028
Lehigh1473024

HCR: Pesansky,Joe (158), Fuller,Jordan (228), Coker,Jalen (98)

LEH: Silbor,Brayten (129), Yoder,Luke (123), Johnson,Eric (43)

1st11:41LEH – Johnson,Eric 21 yd pass from Silbor,Brayten (Garrido,Nick kick) 7 plays, 75 yards, TOP 03:1907
1st10:14LEH – Johnson,Eric 22 yd pass from Silbor,Brayten (Garrido,Nick kick) 2 plays, 29 yards, TOP 00:37014
2nd14:51HCR – Fuller,Jordan 53 yd run (Palenzuela,Luis kick), 5 plays, 76 yards, TOP 01:56714
2nd12:34HCR – Coker,Jalen 34 yd pass from Pesansky,Joe (Palenzuela,Luis kick) 2 plays, 37 yards, TOP 01:011414
2nd01:10LEH – Yoder,Luke 1 yd run (Garrido,Nick kick), 9 plays, 45 yards, TOP 04:271421
2nd00:19HCR – Coker,Jalen 49 yd pass from Pesansky,Joe (Palenzuela,Luis kick) 7 plays, 74 yards, TOP 00:472121
3rd08:32LEH – Garrido,Nick 41 yd field goal 8 plays, 30 yards, TOP 05:092124
3rd03:56HCR – Fuller,Jordan 1 yd run (Palenzuela,Luis kick), 10 plays, 52 yards, TOP 04:352824