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Lehigh 34, Fordham 31, Final

In the game of football, it's not easy being the placekicker.

Frequently, it comes all down to you - the guy with the relatively-clean uniform, who trots in from the sidelines, to attempt to deliver the game-winning points.

He's the guy who could come in, at the peak of the offense's big drive, and get "iced", the guy who shanks the kick, who keeps the breath of hop alive for the other team.

The kicker is the ultimate finisher - one way or another..

With two seconds lef tof the clock, senior PK Jake Peery, a perfect 4-for-4 on kicks on the afternoon, lined up on the 13 yard line - the exact spot where he nailed a 23 yard field goal midway through the second quarter.  Hero or goat.  There was no third option.

It was clear that the soft-spoken Baltimore, Maryland native was at a loss for words in the postseason celebration and the postgame interviews, after he was mobbed by teammates after his 23 yard boot gave Lehigh a last-gasp 34-31 win.

It yet another cardiac win for the Mountain Hawks in a season that has already featured more than their fair share thus far in the 2012 season.

"It was a great feeling," Peery said in the TV interview after his first game-winning field goal, any time, anywhere.  "I'm still really sort of speechless."

It was the sort of game that probably left most Lehigh fans speechless, hoarse, or both, against a vastly improved Fordham team.


You knew it was going to be a different sort of Lehigh game when the Rams took the opening kickoff, using their hurry-up offense, and deftly alternated big runs by RB Carlton Koonce and big pass plays by QB Ryan Higgins, ultimately ending in Higgins' 3 yard keeper.

Lehigh had kept every other opponent this year scoreless in the first quarter.

Fordham scored the first points against Lehigh in the first quarter this year - and they weren't finished.

"I told people all week that this is a different Fordham team," head coach Andy Coen said, "and they certainly came out and showed it."

If people weren't convinced by the Rams' opening drive, they certainly were after the Rams got the ball back after Lehigh's opening drive stalled, where the supposedly rushing-intensive attack of Fordham suddenly attacked the Mountain Hawk secondary through the air, with big Higgins' passes to WR Brian Wetzel and WR Nick Talbert, the last one an 18 yard touchdown strike.

It was the first time all season Lehigh was down by two scores - and, for some teams, it would be a sign to pack up, or panic.

But just like last week, when Lehigh fell behind to Liberty, the Mountain Hawks didn't crash-land.

Instead, they just went back to work.

With junior RB Keith Sherman shouldering a big load, Lehigh would embark on a 9 play, three and a half minute drive, giving a critical rest for the defense before bouncing to the outside on a short run and turning in into a touchdown that would halve the deficit to 14-7.

Then, after Fordham would go backwards on false starts and a bad snap on 3rd down, senior RB Marcus Dormevil would catch the ensuing punt from P/K Patrick Murray, make the first tackler miss with his low center of gravity, then find a seam of blockers to make a huge 30 yard return to set Lehigh up in prime position to equalize.

"We knew [Murray] was going to give us a lot of great kicks," Dormevil said after the game, "The firs thing is to secure the ball with both hands, and when that happens, you just see where the gunners are, make the first move and go."

Four rushes later, by senior RB Zach Barket and senior QB Michael Colvin, the game would be tied - thanks to Peery's second perfect kick of the afternoon, the extra point.

"We spent a lot of time on special teams this offseason," Coen said, "We weren't very good last year on special teams. For what these guys did today," gesturing at Peery and Dormevil in the post-game press conference, "were huge in the outcome."

After the special teams and offense tied the game, Lehigh's defense, led by senior LB Jerard Gordon, filling in for the injured senior LB Sam Loughery, kept the ball rolling with a big assisted stop of Koonce on first down and batting down a Higgins pass to force another 3-and-out.

Then Lehigh fans were treated to another effective drive, with big pass completions to senior WR Ryan Spadola and sophomore RB Rich Soedeke, to set up Peery's first field goal on the afternoon, a 23 yarder that looked almost exactly like the game-winner he would boot later.

Lehigh wasn't done, as junior LB Nigel Muhammad would sack Higgins for another critical 3-and-out and the Mountain Hawk offense, at this point firing on all cylinders, would again embark on a 13-play, 80 yard drive, keeping the defense fresh and alternating Colvin runs and passes with brutal effectiveness.

Colvin would connect with Spadola and junior WR Sergio Frenandez-Soto,before finding senior WR Lee Kurfis on the left side for a 5 yard touchdown to put Lehigh up 24-14.

But this game was far from over.


Those big plays manifested themselves with tow big pass plays after Lehigh went up by two scores, as Higgins would find WR Greg Wilson behind his man and then throw a screen to Koonce, which turned into a critical touchdown before the half.

Two plays, and it was a 3-point deficit at half.

"I knew they had a lot of big-play potential," Coen said, "and that was a fear that was realized."

The crowd of 9,000 strong for Young Alumni Day knew then that there would be a battle on their hands.

*****
 
In the second half, after a trade of punts, Lehigh would strike first.

Colvin would find Sherman on the left side on a screen, and the Buckport, South Carolina native would rumble again for 70 yards to set up Barket's touchdown plunge to put Lehigh up by two scores again.

"You take the attitude of no fear," Colvin said after the game.  "We knew we were going to be able to come out and execute.  I could tell in our group, after the Liberty game, that there was a lot more confidence in our group."

But the Rams, after shooting themselves in the foot for one drive, resulting in Murray's first 50-yard FG miss of the season, buckled down to force a 3-and-out with a big stop of a Colvin run by DE Brent Biesteck and put the ball back in in the hands of Fordham's dangerous no-huddle offense.

After converting a huge 3rd-and-16 to Talbert, Lehigh's defense would hold steady against the Rams facing 1st and goal at the 10, including some big stops of Koonce from senior LB Billy Boyko and sophomore DE Tim Newton.  But Murray's from 23 yards - from the middle of the field rather than on the left hash, as was Peery's - still cut the deficit to 7.

Three straight incompletions by the offense on the next drive certainly made the loud, partisan crowd shift in their seats nervously, though, as Fordham's offense would trot onto the field again and push forth a 13-play, 69 yard drive, with Higgins hitting Wetzel and TE Dan Lyght for big gains before WR Greg Wilson, off a screen, would rumble into the end zone down the right side to tie the game.

Tied at 31, the critical pieces to Lehigh's victory would become the little things that win football games, and making fewer mistakes down the stretch.

Even though Lehigh's bounceback drive would stall at the 25, junior P Tim Divers' amazing 52 yard punt into the wind would back up the Rams deep in their own end.

Down at Lehigh's 43, junior LB John Mahoney would bat down a critical 3rd down pass by Higgins, forcing a Murray punt that would go into the end zone for a touchback.

Aided by a big personal foul call, Lehigh's next drive would stall again at the Fordham 37, but Divers' directional punt would be fair-caught by Wetzel at the Rams' 12, further backing them up.

Then senior DE Tom Bianchi would run down Higgins, and his attempt to throw the ball away would result in an intentional grounding call, robbing the potent Ram offense of room to maneuver.

The punt out of the Ram end zone would be fielded by Dormevil - and returned 25 yards deep into Fordham territory, ultimately setting up Peery's killing blow to the Rams.

"The kids, they never gave in," Coen said after the game.  "To get to 5-0, I'm really proud of the kids how they just hung in there."

"My mind was completely blank, focused on the kick," Peery said of his game-winner, economizing his words.  "Kicking is like 90% mental.  Any struggles I've had are behind me.  I just move on and help the team out."

“I’m thrilled for this guy, who has done a great job for us all season,” he added, in reference to Peery. “He’s been up and down in his kicking career, so this was a huge kick for Jake and I’m thrilled for him.”

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