New-Look Lehigh Shows Inexperience In 20-3 Defeat to Holy Cross
Photo credit: Hannahally Photography
Head coach Tom Gilmore couldn’t have written a better opening for his game against Holy Cross.
In their third offensive game, Mountain Jackk CB Jack Bush stuck the ball out of the hands of veteran WR Byron Shipman, who then landed gently in the waiting arms of Lehigh LB Pete Haffner. Lehigh would start his first offensive series of this historic spring football season in the Holy Cross area and have the chance to really make a statement.
Redshirt Toledo Transfer QB Cross Wilkinson got its first meaningful game action in years, moving to a receiving corps that was essentially brand new – only TE Alex Snyder and WR De’Shun Mickens were high schoolers. Although RB Rashawn Allen and RB Zaythan Hill had a lot of playing experience from last season, offensive player Chris Fournier, offensive player and the rest of offensive Two-Deep consisted of all the underclassmen.
But that didn’t matter when the ball was handed over to them in the Holy Cross area.
On that first ride, Allen and Hill had some hard yards to move the sticks while Wilkinson threw a pass down on a new face, freshman WR Eric Johnson, for a 28 yard win that got the few Lehigh fans, who were entitled to watch the game excitedly.
But then the journey stopped in the red zone.
A third downpass game ended incompletely as the Holy Cross defense stiffened. Then, on the 4th descent, a minor field goal attempt contributed to a missed 25 yard FG attempt by PK Dylan van Dusen.
In a way, that inaugural drive, which ended in zero Lehigh points, summed up the whole afternoon.
It was a defensive fight throughout the game – Holy Cross only averaged 3 1/2 yards per game, Lehigh 2 1/2. There were six fumbles in all – two lost fumbles from Lehigh, two lost fumbles from Holy Cross. There were two interceptions – again one from Holy Cross QB Conor Degenhardt and one from Cross Wilkinson. There were seven sacks in total, and the sacks were the pieces that evoked the most emotion on either side.
But when they needed big 3rd down conversions, Degenhardt and the veteran Holy Cross offensive just got what they needed to do more often, and that’s why they won the game despite big Lehigh defense efforts.
“Everyone was very excited to play after such a long hiatus and it was really great to be out there – a wonderful day for football,” said Lehigh coach Tom Gilmore. “But you know I’m really disappointed with the way we played. Despite all the circumstances we faced, I felt we could have played a lot better in all three phases. “
3-0, Lehigh had the ball deep in their territory after newcomer DB Donavon Lassiter scored a fair catch on the 7-yard line. Two games later, Wilkinson was flattened by a sack and he lost the ball salvaged by Holy Cross LB Jacob Dobbs, giving the Crusaders a golden chance on their doorstep. The defense made a spirited attempt to hold the line, but WR Dean Nagle roped a 4-yard pass for Degenhardt and barely crossed the goal line for the touchdown, making it 7-3.
“Some of them were youth-type mistakes,” added Gilmore. “Cross had big chops to start, and he and Shoup had some big chops, they did some good things.” But we have to improve a lot. There were some timing issues that kept the ball on for too long. Hopefully this experience gives us the experience of doing these things and resets the ‘timing clock’ for our quarterbacks and we get better next week. “
QB Cross Wilkinson made his Lehigh offensive debut as well as four starters under the class who hadn’t seen college action before this weekend – OT Justin Watson, WR Eric Johnson, WR Johnny Foley and OG Jack Kempsey. We’ll never know if the presence of veterans like WR Jorge Portorreal would have helped – he’s still recovering from off-season surgery – but the offense fought, and after a couple of sacks took out both Wilkinson and QB Addison Shoup, it was the third -string QB Nigel Summerville who was hired to attempt a comeback but was unsuccessful.
Together they would go 10 for 23, throw 113 yards and 1 interception against the tough defense of the Holy Cross. But Wilkinson saw some positives in acknowledging that he and the NCOs will continue to be more comfortable with the offense as the spring progresses.
“I think I did pretty well today but there is more to be done,” said Wilkinson. “I was a little nervous, but not as much as I thought. It’s like riding a bike. I enjoy it. I think I have to keep preparing. I felt pretty prepared today, but there are always a lot of things to take with you. Just getting this game under a belt after a long break from the field made it more and more comfortable for us. All we have to do now is show it on Saturdays. “
Lehigh’s defense gave the Mountain Hawks some opportunity early in the game, thanks to some really great individual performances in defense. LB Nate Norris (6 Tackles, 1 Fumble Recovery), LB Pete Haffner (8 Tackles, 3 Tackles for Loss, 1 Recovery Fumble) and DB TyGee Leach (9 Tackles, 2 Tackles for Loss, 1 Interception) were apparently enormous disruptive forces Degenhardt is constantly Forced out of his pocket and got his hands everywhere to tip the passports.
“Overall the effort [on defense] was really good, ”said Leach in aftermath. “But there were still little mental mistakes, losing losses, things like that. We have to fix that this week. Communication, trust in one another. “
Leach came back focused after the long layoff, saying with a new appreciation for football because “the game can be taken from us at any time,” he told the press. His off-season preparation and aggressiveness seemed to be paying off and really kept Holy Cross off balance.
“He’s had a dominant preseason,” said Gilmore. “God bless him. We asked him to do a lot. He really plays three and four different positions out there because of the depth and some injuries we’ve had. He’s just a really smart, die-hard player. He’s after that Play out here and tell me everything he did wrong and that’s the kind of player you want. “
Lehigh will next focus on 1-0 Colgate, which they face next weekend in Hamilton, New York, after their surprising 24-10 loss to Lafayette. This week’s loss is certainly not a deal-breaker for success this spring season, but the Mountain Hawks need to find out quickly if they want to fight for the Patriot League South title.
Full Summary (Lehigh) | Complete Summary (Holy Cross) | Box Score
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