Every time the Lehigh football team scored against Cornell on Saturday afternoon, bells clanged through Murray H. Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pa., throwing the home crowd into a frenzy.
And while the bells stayed predominantly quiet during the first half, they came out in full force after intermission, as Lehigh (4-0, 0-0 Patriot) piled up 14 points in each of the latter two quarters on its way to a 35-16 victory over the Red (1-2, 1-0 Ivy).
Final score aside, the contest was the sum of two disparate halves, the first construed by Cornell’s methodical and temperate control, the second dominated by the Mountain Hawks’ sheer athleticism.
“Coming out [of half-time] we had a very good opportunity to win the game,” head coach Pete Mangurian commented on Cornell’s 10-7 advantage after the first 30 minutes.
More striking than the lead however was how the Red dictated play during the opening half, slowing the game’s tempo and taking Lehigh’s notable speed advantage out of the equation.
“I think we did the things we needed to do,” Mangurian affirmed, adding more specifically, “I thought we were efficient offensively, and we moved the ball on the ground well enough to keep them off-balance.”
Indeed junior quarterback Ricky Rahne accumulated 144 yards on 11-for-21 passing in the first half, while classmate and starting tailback Evan Simmons racked up 48 yards on the ground including a one-yard TD dive on the opening drive of the game.
That initial series saw the Red at its best. In workman-like fashion Cornell moved the ball 73 yards on 12 plays, putting the Mountain Hawks in an early 7-0 deficit.
“At that point it was the kind of game we wanted to be in,” Mangurian said. “You don’t want to get in a shoot-out with these guys. There’s too much speed on the field for them.”
The Red defense prevented exactly that situation, stopping Lehigh on a critical fourth-and-two on its first drive, then putting the Mountain Hawks in several unmakeable field goal situations.
“They were making some yards, but they weren’t converting them into points,” Mangurian remarked. “You go in at half-time, and you think you have a sense of where you are.”
But 8:26 into the third quarter, Lehigh running back Jamal Burcher snuffed out all of the Red’s momentum, carrying it squarely onto the Mountain Hawk sideline.
Three plays after a Joe Hull punt had pinned Lehigh at its one yard-line, Burcher bounced off the left side of the Cornell defensive line, backtracked and raced off across the other side of the field for a breath-taking 82-yard touchdown run, putting an end to the Red’s lead.
“Now we’re back playing the game at [Lehigh’s] speed,” Mangurian said on how the tide had turned following Burcher’s scramble. “One score changed things.”
But Cornell could not immediately answer Lehigh. On its ensuing series, the Red saw a Rahne pass tipped by sophomore wide receiver Keith Ferguson into the hands of Lehigh’s Abdul Byron, leading to another Mountain Hawk touchdown.
Even when the Red did score however, it was foiled by Lehigh’s speed. Down 21-16 on the heels of a 20-yard touchdown catch by senior wide receiver Joe Splendorio on the last play of the third quarter, Cornell decided to attempt a two-point conversion. Rahne targeted a wide open Ferguson at the back of the end zone, only to have his pass swatted down at the last second by linebacker “Bubba” Young.
Lehigh added two more insurance scores for good measure, but the requisite damage had already been done.
“We just didn’t take advantage of the situations and we let them hang around,” Mangurian said. “There are three or four or five things along the way that absolutely turned the game the other direction.
“We had chances to make plays, and we didn’t.”
Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj