Football Can’t Get Over the Hill, Lose to Lehigh 28-25

In a game that had several lead changes and some late-game dramatics, Monmouth University’s football team lost their home opener, 28-25, to NCAA #19 Lehigh University Mountain Hawks on Saturday, September 14. MU falls to 0-3 with the loss while Lehigh improves to 2-0.

“I thought what you saw was kind of a crazy game,” head coach Kevin Callahan said. “The game had swings to it where both defenses were playing very well and then you had times where both offenses played extremely well.”

The Hawks’ offense provided a stellar performance with junior quarterback Brandon Hill completing 29-of-41 pass attempts for 316-yards and a touchdown.

Senior receiver Neal Sterling posted three career highs for receptions in a game (13), yards in a game (126-yards) and his longest catch from scrimmage with a 64 yard catch-and-run from Hill in the third quarter.

The running back duo of junior Julian Hayes and senior Kwabena Asante each rushed for +100 yards, led by Hayes’ 106-yard performance on 24 carries. Asante added 103-yards and a score on 7-carries. Junior receiver Eric Sumlin also contributed with 6 catches for 71 yards, as well as a run on a two-point conversion to pull the Hawks within 3 points in the third quarter.

The rushing performances of Hayes and Asante marks the first time since 2007 that the Hawks had two players surpass the 100 yard mark in a game, when alum Dave Sinisi (200) and Bobby Giles (119) did so against Sacred Heart.

While the team calculated for a total of 220 yards in the contest, only 53 yards came from the first half. At half time, the Hawks were losing, 14-10.

“I thought we started slow, but particularly in the second half, we started generating some explosive plays. We had some big plays and were able to get some points on the board. In the first half, Lehigh did a pretty good job against our run game but I think we really got that going in the second half,” Callahan said.

The second half opened up with scoring a touchdown making it a 21-10 game. MU answered the call with a touchdown of their own bringing the game within three points.

The Hawks captured the lead in the fourth quarter after a 21 yard touchdown by Asante. The defense then forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession deep in Lehigh territory when the Hawks blocked Tim Divers’s punt.

However, the block turned into a bizarre play when the ball wound up in the hands of Lehigh fullback, Zach Hayden, who took it down to midfield after a gain of 37 yards.

By rule, a blocked punt cannot be returned if the ball does not go beyond the line of scrimmage. Hayden recovered the blocked punt behind the line of scrimmage and was able to return the loose ball. Two plays later, Lehigh took the lead for good when Brandon Bialkowski found Lee Kurfis for a 40-yard touchdown pass.

“A Lehigh player in the shield caught it behind the line, our blockers had completely been up the field past it and all that was left were two guys who were working against their cover guys and a return man left. You would think at that point we’d block the punt and we would be in good shape,” Callahan said. “I really think that the game swung when we blocked the punt, which you would think would be a big play in our favor, turned to be the biggest play of the game probably in Lehigh’s favor and they capitalized on it to their credit. I think they are a good football team, they’re well-coached and it’s no surprise that they’re top-20 nationally ranked. I thought we had an opportunity to win the game and I thought our guys played really hard.”

The Hawks will resume play Saturday, September 21 when they travel to Worcester, Massachusetts to take on the Holy Cross Crusaders at 6 pm.