Saturday, September 14, 2013
Lehigh Keeps Calm And Beats Monmouth, 28-25
"I'd never seen it," head coach Andy Coen said, adding a "whew" for good measure.
He was referring to a very strange play this Saturday, a play that happened in Lehigh's favor that felt like the decisive play of the game.
Down 25-21, and senior P Tim Divers readying to punt, speedy Monmouth CB Tevrin Brandon blocked his punt - the ball deflecting almost straight up, then falling back down to earth behind the line of scrimmage, where alert senior FB Zach Hayden kept calm, grabbed the ball out of the air, and started to go for the first down marker.
He did more than get enough yards for the first down. He rumbled 37 yards, thus turning the momentum of the game completely on its head.
Two plays later, senior QB Brandon Bialkowski hit senior WR Lee Kurfis with a 40 yard dagger to make the score 28-25.
It would be a death blow from which Monmouth wouldn't recover.
“I’ve been coaching and playing a long time," Coen said, "and I’ve never seen a blocked punt picked up by one of our own guys and run for a first down, which ends up being the biggest play of the game.”
"As I was going out there, I knew I had to do something big to make up for that block in the back penalty on the return," Hayden said after the game, sporting a mohawk in the way only a fullback could. "The punt was blocked and my eyes went immediately to the ball. I caught it, and I think it was just instinct to run with it, get the first down, trying to drag people as far as I could."
The penalty - Lehigh's only yellow flag on the afternoon - negated a big return from freshman DB Brandon Leaks, but undoubtedly Lehigh fans were willing to forgive Zach after having the wherewithal to make the huge play.
It was a play that fit very well into a strange game where both offenses would amass 1,107 total yards of offense yet only produce 6 offensive touchdowns by both teams to show for all the yardage.
Monmouth jumped out to a 7-0 lead when Bialkowski was blitzed on the weakside by SS Clark Coe, fumbled the ball, and Coe returned the ball 42 yards for the game's first score.
Bialkowski would recover from the fumble, though, on the next series, where he would find senior WR Lee Kurfis with a beautiful 55 yard arc down the left sideline to knot the game a 7.
A couple of drives later, Brandon would find Kurfis again, with Lee one time going end-over end on a 9 yard grab to advance the sticks. That drive would conclude with a 6 yard touchdown run by senior RB Sean Farrell to give Lehigh their first lead.
The Bialkowski-to-Kurfis show would notch up their second consecutive 200 yard game - the first time a combo has ever had back-to-back 200 yard games in Lehigh history.
"He was double covered most of the game," Brandon said. "But he got open. Our line was a big part of that, too. They blitzed. A lot. The line helped me and and gave me time to be able to make those throws."
At the end of the first half, with Lehigh driving with a minute to play in the half, it looked like the Mountain Hawks might be ready to run away with the game.
But Monmouth CB Joe Johnson would nab Brandon's pass - one where he was hit as he threw it across his body - and set up a short drive that would end in a 35 yard field goal by PK Eric Spillane.
Instead of being up 17-7 or maybe 21-7, the halftime scoreboard read Lehigh 14, Monmouth 10, very much a game.
"I don't really look at [big passing] stats as a measure," Brandon said after the game. "I see that they scored 10 points off of turnovers. That's got to get fixed."
In the second half, Monmouth embarked on a long, sustained drive to the Lehigh 21, and seemed poised to take the lead. But QB Brandon Hill, under pressure, fired a pass down the middle where senior FS Tyler Ward kept calm, nabbed the interception.
"After dropping one earlier in the game," he said, "the first thing I thought was, make sure you catch this one. If you drop this one, they might not let you back on the field."
He'd rumble out of the end zone to the 23 yard line, giving the offense a needed shot of momentum.
"When they get down there in a red zone situation, someone on the defense there has to make a play. For our defense, anyone out there can do it. We have so many guys that can."
The offense fed off that turnover, embarking on a 12 play, 73 yard drive, ending in a swing pass to senior WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto for a 10 yard strike.
Included in the drive was Zach Hayden's only other offensive touch in the game - a 4th-and-5 conversion attempt from Brandon on a swing pass.
"I caught the ball, and I kept thinking, 'got to get that first down,'" he said. "Just had to lower my shoulder and get it."
Just as it seemed like Lehigh had control, it took all of one play to get Monmouth back in the game.
Scrambling on 3rd down, Hall rifled a high ball inside to WR Neal Stirling, and after he made an acrobatic grab, he found himself in between Lehigh's safeties and nothing but green on the other side.
After that 64 yard big play and a 2 point conversion on the double reverse to WR Eric Sumlin, suddenly it was 21-18 late in the 3rd quarter, and way too much time for the Jersey Hawks to come back.
On Monmouth's very next drive they would pound the ball with RB K.B. Asante early and often, resulting in a go-ahead score that would only last until Hayden's heroics and yet another Bialkowski-to-Kurfis conenction.
"The kids were able to hang together enough and focus enough and be tough enough to come out with another hard fought win," Coen said.
"When you get a second-chance opportunity," Bialkowski said, "you need to come out and take advantage of it."
"We always tend to make the big play when we need to," Ward said.
"The play was great," Hayden said. "It's one that's going to stick with me for a while."