A Rare Low at Lehigh: Football blows 14-point fourth quarter lead, loses its win streak
Playing on its home turf of Goodman Field, No. 12 Lehigh rallied for 15 unanswered fourth quarter points to slip by No. 24 Harvard, 36-35.
The victory snapped the Crimson’s 11-game win streak.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, “and it’s very frustrating. We knew that [Lehigh] sure had it in them to play this type of fourth quarter.”
Trailing 35-30 with 4:34 remaining in the game, Mountain Hawk quarterback Chad Schwenk marched Lehigh down the field in its most impressive drive of the afternoon.
The drive was highlighted by the play of the day.
Facing fourth-and-seven from the Lehigh 40, Schwenk hit a diving Michael Sutton over the middle for an 11-yard pickup and the critical first down.
It was one of Sutton’s 11 catches for 204 yards.
“We just tried to cover him as an entire defensive unit,” said Harvard junior cornerback Mante Dzakuma. “We rotated corners in because he’s faster than all our corners.”
The Mountain Hawks scored two minutes later on a 6-yard run by Pugh to take a 36-35 lead with 48 seconds on the clock.
After a desperation pass by sophomore quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was batted away from senior wide receiver Carl Morris on the 17-yard line as time expired, Lehigh had extended its home winning streak to 26 games.
“I think the bottom line was that we didn’t make any plays down the stretch,” Murphy said. “We made a living being pretty good against adversity, but we didn’t do very well today handling prosperity.”
Lehigh’s rally was catalyzed by Harvard’s only turnover.
Leading 35-24 deep in the fourth quarter, the Crimson was driving down the field in what appeared to be the game-clinching drive.
But with 7:25 remaining and the ball on Harvard’s 33 yard line, a swing pass from Fitzpatrick grazed through senior tailback Nick Palazzo’s fingers.
The pass was ruled a lateral, and Lehigh strong safety Karrie Ford picked up the ball and rumbled to the 5-yard line before being pushed out of bounds by sophomore wide receiver Rodney Byrnes. Two plays later, the Mountain Hawks scored on a 5-yard run by junior tailback Jermaine Pugh to cut the lead to 35-30.
“Obviously, that one turnover was absolutely critical,” Murphy said. “It’s unfortunate, because we do as good of a job as anybody guarding the ball.”
The Harvard offense took over with 6:24 remaining, and essentially had another opportunity to save the game. But after picking up a first down on a 15-yard strike to Morris, the Crimson stalled.
Facing third-and-1 on the Harvard 43, Palazzo carried up the middle for no gain to set up fourth down. Murphy elected to punt, turning the game over to his defense and setting up Lehigh’s final game-winning drive.
“We’ve been in a lot of positions where we need a big drive, so no one was worrying too much,” said Morris, who finished with seven catches for 129 yards. “It was just a little thing here and a little thing there that caused everything to breakdown.”
The Crimson seized the momentum early.
After forcing Lehigh to a three-and-out on its opening drive, the Crimson offense took possession on its own 34-yard line.
Fitzpatrick proceeded to march Harvard downfield on a 15-play, 66-yard drive for the opening score.
The drive was a model of efficiency.
Fitzpatrick hit four-of-five passes for 30 yards, and distributed the ball to three different receivers.
The Crimson ran 5:40 off the clock before Fitzpatrick scored on a 3-yard run.
“We came out here and expected to shut them down,” said Lehigh senior cornerback Ken Pitter, “but they shocked me. Their offensive line had some monsters, and were pushing our guys around.”
Fitzpatrick played well filling in for injured senior Neil Rose, completing 22-of-36 passes for 289 yards and rushing for two touchdowns. His only turnover came on the swing pass to Palazzo in the fourth quarter.
The Crimson defense shined in the first half as well. After not allowing a Lehigh first down until less than 3:00 remained in the first quarter, the defense forced three second quarter turnovers to help the Crimson pull away.
With Harvard leading 14-7, Dzakuma picked off Lehigh starting quarterback Matt Shiels for the first interception of his career and one of two on the game.
The interception effectively chased Shiels from the game. Schwenk replaced him on the next drive.
Pinned deep in his own territory, Schwenk’s first drive was quickly ended when Lehigh running back Eric Rath fumbled on his own 1-yard line.
Harvard junior defensive tackle Jon Berrier dove on the loose ball for the recovery. That set up a three-yard touchdown run by Palazzo on the very next play.
The score—one of three on the day for Palazzo—gave the Crimson a 21-7 lead. Palazzo finished the day with 69 rushing yards.
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.