Lehigh To Open Fall Campaign At Home Saturday Against No. 15/16 Villanova

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08/31/2021 2:46:00 PM

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BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania – Under normal circumstances, Lehigh opens its 138th football season on Saturday as the Mountain Hawks greet the # 15/16 Villanova on Dog Day at Goodman Stadium presented by JFR Salvage, Inc.

The Mountain Hawks will play a traditional 11-game chalkboard after the three-game spring season last year that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistically, Lehigh had one of the best defensive units in the FCS this spring as the Mountain Hawks continued their defensive renaissance under head coach Tom Gilmore. The Mountain Hawks are returning 18 starters from a team looking to include a 2019 seven-game slide.

Lehigh is challenged by a top 20 Villanova team that went 2-2 in the spring and reached the FCS playoffs two years ago with a 9-4 campaign.

Goodman Stadium is 100 percent full this fall. Portions of the WR (Lehigh Sideline) and ER (Visiting Team Sideline) sections are held for fans who request seats that are physically distant and are indicated by signs in these sections.

A vastly improved defense kept Lehigh in most games of the 2019 season and that trend continued into the spring 2021 campaign. The Mountain Hawks of 2019 allowed 14 points less and 100 yards less offensive per game than in 2018. In the spring, Lehigh was ranked in the FCS’s top 10 in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense and led the Patriot League in both scoring defense Defense (15.3 ppg) as well as the overall defense (252.7 ypg). Lehigh is returning most of his spring season defensive regulars including All-Patriot League selections Pete Haffner, TyGee Leach and LaTreil Wimberly.

In the spring season, a young and relatively inexperienced secondary bloom blossomed into an area of ​​force for the Mountain Hawks. Despite a string of first and second year players who saw significant action in the spring, Lehigh finished second in the Patriot League and twelfth national place against the pass, which allowed only 165 yards through the air per game. First-time starters Jack Bush and LaTreil Wimberly have stocked themselves well in the cornerback, while then runner-up TyGee Leach teamed up with then-newbies Spencer Roof and Donovan Thomas to share most of the game in safety. Leach had Lehigh’s lone interception in three spring games and was the Mountain Hawks’ sole all-league honoree. Wimberly earned the second-team all-league award, while Bush was recognized as a preseason all-league selection for his skills as a non-specialized special-team player.

Junior Cross Wilkinson is entering his sophomore season as the Mountain Hawks quarterback. Wilkinson, a Toledo transfer, started all three games in the spring season, highlighted by a 21-on-34, 177-yard touchdown at Lafayette in the Spring Finals. The native of West Virginia appeared in one game in Toledo for two seasons. Behind Wilkinson, Lehigh has a pair of experienced quarterbacks. Senior Alec Beesmer started the last two games of 2019 but did not participate in the spring season. Junior Nigel Summerville saw the first action of his career when he appeared out of two games last spring.

The Lehigh 2021 roster includes 10 seniors, eight fourth graders, and a pair of fifth graders. Both fifth year seniors are linebackers: Pete Haffner and Nate Norris. All eight of the traditional fourth year seniors are on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive seniors include quarterback Alec Beesmer, running back RaShawn Allen, wide receivers De’Shun Mickens and Austin Dambach, tight end Alex Snyder and linemen Jack Fris, Justin Gurth and Jan Maciejewski.

Lehigh has an 84-47-6 all-time record in his season opening competitions. The Mountain Hawks are 5-5 in their last 10 opening games with two losses in a row. Lehigh’s last win on the opening day came in 2018 against Saint Francis. Lehigh opened for the fourth time against Villanova. The Brown and White won their 1919 opener against Villanova, while the Wildcats prevailed in 2007 and 2017. Villanova also spoiled Lehigh’s 2010 kick-off.

Villanova opens its spring season after 2-2 in the spring season with CAA wins over Stony Brook and Maine and losses to Rhode Island and Delaware. The Wildcats were 9-4 in 2019 and made it to the FCS playoffs, losing to Southeast Louisiana in the first round. Villanova, ranked 15/16 in the two major preseason polls, was voted third in the CAA preseason poll. A pair of graduate students, linebacker Forrest Rhyne and defensive lineman Malik Fisher, were selected by STATS Perform in the preseason for third Team All-America. Quarterback Dan Smith is on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award in the preseason, while Rhyne is on the preseason list for the Buck Buchanan Award. Offensive lineman Michael Corbi and cornerback Christian Benford join Rhyne and Fisher on the preseason All-CAA team.

Lehigh and Villanova meet for the 17th time, with the Wildcats having an 11-5 lead in the series. Villanova have won the last eight games. Lehigh’s last win in the series came back in 2006. Tom Gilmore is 2-0 to Villanova with a 38-28 loss in the opening round of the 2009 FCS playoffs at Holy Cross and a 38-10 loss as Lehigh’s head coach in 2019. This is Villanova’s sixth visit to Lehigh since the Revival of the series in 2004 (2004, 2007, 2010, 2017, 2018). Lehigh won four of the first four encounters (1903, 1914, 1919 and 1924), while Villanova won in 1925 and 1927 before the series’ 77-year hiatus.

Saturday’s game starts just after noon at Goodman Stadium. Tickets can be purchased on LehighTickets.com or by calling 610-7LU-GAME during business hours.

The Mountain Hawks will take to the streets for the first time this fall when they travel to Richmond to face their second consecutive CAA opponent on September 11th. It will be the first time Lehigh and Richmond will meet since the Mountain Hawks won 24-23 in the opening round of the 1998 playoffs. The game is scheduled for 2:00 PM from Robins Stadium in Richmond, Virginia.

Date: September 4, 2021
Opponent: No. 15/16 Villanova Wildcats
Kicking off: 12:05 p.m.
Stadion: Goodman Stadium / 16,000 / Natural grass
Location: Bethlehem, Pa.
Lehigh’s record in spring 2021: 0-3 overall, Patriot League
Villanova’s record in spring 2021: 2-2 overall, CAA
Series: Villanova leads 11-4
Video: ESPN + with Matt Kerr and Mike Yadush ’93
Radio: Fox Sports Radio 1230/1320 and 94.7 FM Allentown and LVFoxSports.com with Tom Fallon, Andy Phillips and Matt Markus from 11 a.m.
Key statistics: • Lehigh led the Patriot League in the spring 2021 season, finishing seventh nationally in overall defense (252.7 yards allowed / game) and goalscorer defense (15.3 allowed points / game).
• The Mountain Hawks also took ninth national place in rush defense (87.7 ypg.) And twelfth national place in pass defense (165.0 ypg.)
• Lehigh’s list includes 26 freshmen, 31 sophomores, 22 juniors, and 10 seniors (including two fifth graders).

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