Game 536: No. 7 Villanova defeats unyielding No. 24 Lehigh, 38-35
Bethlehem, PA – The Villanova Wildcats started the season opener for both FCS powers from its 33-yard line in Game 536 for Collegefootballfan.com. Four plays later, QB Zach Bednarczyk (Wallington, NJ) fired a 13-yard scoring pass to TE Ryan Bell (Basking Ridge, NJ) for a quick 7-0 lead over host Lehigh. They looked like the proverbial hot knife going through butter. However, Lehigh fought back the entire game. Costly mistakes cost the Mountain Hawks a winnable game against the tough Colonial Conference AA foe. Villanova triumphed, 38-35, in an exciting game on a rare, cold, damp day that felt more like late October than early September.
Trailing 21-7 in the second period, Lehigh QB Brad Mayes fired a three-yard TD pass to Luke Christiano with 4:01 left to be played in the first 30 minutes. Forcing ‘Nova to punt after a three and out, the Mountain Hawks engineered a drive to the defenders’ 13. With the Hawks looking to tie the score or at least pull within four, the Wildcat defense forced RB Dom Bragalone to fumble. FS Rob Rolle returned the loose ball to the LU 48. The addition of a block in the back put the Cats at LU’s 33. With 38 ticks left, RB Matt Gudzak (Tom River, NJ) raced all 33 yards on first down to pay dirt. The sequence of two plays turned a potential tie into a 14-point lead for the visitors at halftime.
Exciting second half
Lehigh kept battling back within reach the entire second half of our Game 536. Mayes (33 for 44, 406 yards, 4 TDs) connected with Christiano (Cranford, NJ) for a sixty-yard TD to start the second half scoring as quickly as Villanova did in the first half. Within a minute, Bednarczyk (17 for 23, 209 yards, 2 TDs) hit WR Taurus Phillips on the right side for a 75-yard scoring pass play. A 20-yard punt return by Quentin Jones put Lehigh in business at the ‘Nova 40. Mayes hooked up with WR Gatlin Casey for a 29-yard score to trail the Cats, 35-28, entering the final period.
PK Drew Kresge booted a 32-yard FG to extend the Villanova lead early in the fourth by ten. Wildcat LB Ed Shockley (Millville, NJ) turned back a Lehigh run at the 42 on fourth and inches to terminate a potential Mountain Hawk scoring drive. Lehigh FS Riley O’Neil knocked down a Bednarczyk on a fourth down to take back over from ‘Nova at the LU 21. From there, Mayes led his offense on a scoring drive completing a three-yard TD pass to Casey this time at 4:43 left to close the score to 38-35. The Cats proceeded to run out the clock on their last possession gaining necessary first downs to preserve their opening game win, 38-35.
Next Saturday, Lehigh heads down the Jersey shore to play Monmouth of the Big South, 31-12 winners over LU archrival Lafayette this weekend. Villanova goes to Lincoln Financial Field to face FBS rival Temple, losers to Notre Dame at South Bend in their opener. CFF.com follows Game 536 with its fourth game in four days to see West Virginia and Virginia Tech tussle for the Black Diamond Trophy I Landover Maryland on Sunday night. What a way to star our college football season!
Points after Game 536:
Tailgated with GGA’s Brian Donnelly (Towson) and his girlfriend Laurie and Steve and Donna Ciesla (Montclair State and Jersey City State) along with my wife, St. Laurie. We enjoyed a fun afternoon despite the cooler than expected weather. Lehigh’s Goodman Sports Campus presents one of the best FCS football settings anywhere. Facilities for all Lehigh sports are well placed around the complex. A fall baseball game took place. Lacrosse, softball, soccer and field hockey fields and Stabler Arena for wrestling and basketball all fall within the very well kept complex. A beautiful site, plenty of parking, competitive FCS football, a comfortable stadium with great sight lines, musical entertainment performed by the Marching 97, and affordable ticket prices and game day amenities make for a great day to enjoy college football. Competitive visiting teams and no TV time-outs for most games create an atmosphere for entertaining collegiate football in beautiful surroundings on fall Saturdays in the Lehigh Valley. If I had to make a choice to settle on a team to root for within 2-3 hours from home to follow one team (including Army, Rutgers, Princeton, and Lafayette among others) , Lehigh is the school I would follow.
The attendance for today’s game was 5,816. Only for the Lafayette game are the 17,000 stadium seats full. This year will be the 153rd edition, longest of any in all of college football. We will look into future packages to get back to that game in the future. Next year we will see Lehigh open its season in Annapolis against Navy, a conference rival in all other Patriot League sports outside of football.
Lehigh WRs Christiano and Troy Pelletier snagged 8 passes for 14 and 1 TD and 11 passes for 144 and 1 TD respectively. Casey grabbed 5 for 64 yards and two TDS. Gudzak carried the football for ‘Nova 13 times for 142 yards and two TDS.
Like our first game this season in Hawaii’s win over UMass, this one resulted in the same final score of 38-35.