October 5, 2001

Lehigh Next Test for Football

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If ever there was a situation that might be able to ignite the football team to overcome its disappointing 0-2 start, it might come in the form of tomorrow’s 1 p.m. duel with Lehigh on Schoellkopf Field. The Red will have the chance to compete against a top 10 Division 1-AA program — a prospect that excites head coach Ted Pendergast and his troops.

The matchup marks the opening of Cornell’s home campaign. Historically, the Red has played well against the Mountain Hawks on East Hill, sporting an 11-3-2 lifetime mark against Lehigh at home.

Cornell will look to build on last weekend’s performance at Colgate, a dramatic turnaround from its abysmal effort in New Haven, Conn., the previous weekend. Despite falling to the Raiders, 35-32, the Red displayed a reinvigorated offensive effort, one that did not make the trip to start the season.

“I saw areas of improvement,” Pendergast said. It’s important that we showed progress.”

Pendergast’s preseason projections of a more versatile offense showed some validity last weekend as the running game, led by senior Evan Simmons, contributed 155 yards. Guided by senior quarterback Ricky Rahne, the aerial attack also showed signs of rejuvenation. Freshman Jon Kellner, thought to be a potential deep threat during the preseason, had an outstanding game, making six grabs for 116 yards.

“We started to mold together,” said Rahne.

And although junior Keith Ferguson was lost to injury during the contest, Pendergast said he will be back on the field tomorrow.

“Keith will be fine,” Pendergast remarked. “He has the green light for [tomorrow].”

Under the auspices of first-year head coach Pete Limbo, Lehigh has produced eye-boggling offensive numbers. The Mountain Hawks are a perennial force in the Patriot League, having enjoyed two unblemished regular seasons in the last three years.

Although the squad returns only four starters from last year’s offense, the most integral component, quarterback Brant Hall, is back. Pendergast said that Hall is made of the same mold as Shaun King, of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whom he coaches while at Memphis. In three games, Hall is averaging 238 passing yards and a 61.4% completion rate.

The Red’s defense will be looking to exploit the youth of the men in front of Hall as the entire offensive line has just one returning player in center Jeff Santacroce.

On the other side of the ball, the visitors sport even more fresh faces. The defensive line presents no players with previous seasons experience in a Lehigh uniform. This may bode well for the Red’s desire to continue to push the running game. The most effective part of the Mountain Hawks’ defensive unit is the pass protection, led by strong safety Abdul Byron and cornerback Matt Salvaterra.

In their last contest the Mountain Hawks showcased their formidable offense, pummeling Central Connecticut, 58-10. Hall used a quick strike offense to put points on the board rapidly. It took him just 92 seconds to make his first touchdown pass. He would throw four more on the day as Lehigh accumulated a rather sizeable 439 total yards in the game. Hall’s primary target Josh Snyder may become a thorn in the side of the Red’s secondary and controlling Snyder will no doubt be a large part of Pendergast’s defensive strategy.

Lehigh’s true strength, though, may not lie in the hands of any individual but in its team speed. And speed, as Pendergast explained, isn’t something that can be practiced against.

“It’s nothing near what they’re going to see tomorrow,” he said.

There still are large holes in the Red’s run defense, a unit that allowed Colgate tailback Nate Thomas a career high 222 rushing yards last week.

“We had a bunch of missed tackles,” Pendergast admitted. “We have to reteach tackling.”

Nonetheless, the defense has showed signs of rapid improvement. Last week, senior George Paraskevopolous led Cornell with nine tackles, including two for losses, while junior Vinny Bates picked up five tackles. Fifth-year senior Phil Rigueur had a monstrous sack, for a loss of 13 yards of Colgate quarterback Tom McCune on a fourth down stop.

Archived article by Gary Schueller