In an interview leading up to his first game as Lehigh football coach Kevin Cahill promised that his team would play hard no matter what the scoreboard said.
“Whether we’re up by 40 or down by 40, we’re going to fight,” Cahill said.
Unfortunately for him and the Mountain Hawks, Saturday’s opener against Villanova tested the latter part of Cahill’s preseason promise and not the “up by 40” part.
Lehigh trailed 31-3 at halftime and got down by as many as 35 points but kept battling to the end of a 38-10 defeat to the Wildcats, who are coming off a mediocre 6-5 season but look like a team that will get back in the FCS playoff picture this fall.
In beating Lehigh for the 11th straight time, Villanova outgained the Mountain Hawks 412-284 and had as many rushing yards as Lehigh had in total offense.
The Wildcats scored four first-half touchdowns and converted five of their first seven possessions into points. Meanwhile six of Lehigh’s first eight possessions were three-and-outs. The Mountain Hawks were 1-for-7 on third-down conversion attempts in each half.
“We fought through the fourth quarter and that’s got to be a growth point for us,” Cahill said. “I’m not really concerned with how we executed or played overall, but a lot of that credit goes to Villanova. They looked a little different than we did, but I’m proud of how our kids fought. Villanova came in here and did what they’re are supposed to do.”
Cahill said it is not a six or seven-month fix to contend with a team like Villanova.
“There’s a program difference there,” he said. “That’s a program that we have to look at everything they do and how you emulate and how do you get to that level. They were better than we were. They’re bigger than us, they’re faster than us, they’re stronger than us. They’re older than us. None of that matters when the ball is kicked off. You can’t use it as an excuse. We have to play better and not make the mistakes that we made today and expect to win. That’s not going to happen.”
Lehigh, trying to showcase a new attitude after a 2-9 mark in 2022, hurt itself with three turnovers and all three takeaways turned into Villanova touchdowns. Two of the TDs came in the final 3:45 of the first half and were two-play drives.
The last one was a 46-yard TD run by the Wildcats’ Jalen Jackson, who gashed the Mountain Hawks defense for 144 yards and two TDs on eight carries.
Lehigh, meanwhile, averaged less than a yard per attempt on the ground through three quarters before getting some production against Villanova backups in the fourth period.
Cahill didn’t reveal who his starting quarterback would be prior to the game. It was either going to be Dante Perri, who started 20 games over the two seasons or Brayten Silbor, a sophomore from Scottsdale, Arizona. He went with Silbor, who suffered a major injury against Bucknell last year that kept him out for the season’s final month.
Silbor went 23 of 38 passing for 206 yards with a touchdown to Gaige Garcia, and two interceptions.
Silbor targeted Geoffrey Jamiel, last year’s Patriot League rookie of the year, 14 times and they connected six times for 27 yards. Eric Johnson had two catches for 35 yards. Nick Williams had a 29-yard reception and Jack DiPietro had a 25-yard catch.
Donovan Lassiter had an interception for Lehigh’s lone takeaway and returned it 30 yards.
But there weren’t nearly enough big plays to keep up with Villanova.
“It felt great to be back out there,” Silbor said. “It was almost two years since I started a football game and after last year when my arm was broken, we worked throughout the spring on getting my confidence back. I went out there and felt good and didn’t worry about the arm or anything. Overall, there were a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. We hurt ourselves with turnovers and all of that stuff, but I’ve seen a lot of growth in this team since last year and hopefully can keep going forward and keep growing.”
Cahill who was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Yale before coming to Bethlehem, said “there’s a lot of growth in Brayten’s game. Things were moving quick today for a lot of guys. When you go into camp you’re going against yourself and you get tired of it. Then you come out and play against a team like Villanova and that’s a pretty good challenge. Brayten played well. There were a couple of interceptions that weren’t really on him and there were some tough decisions he made that he is going to learn from and learn not put us in that situation. But there’s only going to be growth with him. Perri has worked his butt off, too. He has made Brayten and the whole quarterback group better.”
Now, the challenge for Lehigh is to get better with a trip to Merrimack in Andover, Massachusetts. coming up next.
“The play of the game for us today was Michael DeNucci making a tackle at our 7 after a long run by Villanova and we go on to hold them to a field goal,” Cahill said. “That’s the type of play you build culture on and you hang your hat on. DeNucci didn’t quit. We got the tackle and then we backed them up and made them kick a field goal. That’s a really big stop. We didn’t quit. I felt very passionate about that. I was really proud of the defense and that’s what we need more of going forward.”
Villanova 14 – 17
Lehigh 0 – 3
V: Jalen Jackson 1 run (Matt Mercurio kick), 3:58 (Drive: 11 plays, 75 yards, 6:26)
V: Rayjuon Pringle 28 pass from Connor Watkins (Mercurio kick), 1:53 (Drive: 2 plays, 28 yards, 0:46)
L: Nick Garrido 38 field goal, 9:21 (Drive: 8 plays, 27 yards)
V: Mercurio 37 field goal, 5:26 (Drive: 6 plays, 58 yards)
V: Pringle 7 pass from Watkins (Mercurio kick), 3:45 (Drive: 2 plays, 17 yards, 0:44)
V: Jackson 46 run (Mercurio kick), 1:49 (Drive: 2 plays, 51 plays, 0:51)
L: DeeWil Barlee 1 run (Mercurio kick), 4:13 (Drive: 9 plays, 97 yards, 5:15)
L: Gaige Garcia 6 pass from Brayten Silbor (Garrido kick), 8:02 (Drive: 7 plays, 55 yards, 2:43)
Villanova (31 for 284): Jalen Jackson 8-144, 2 TDs; DeeWil Barlee 11-102; TD Ayo-Durojalye 5-38; Isaiah Wright 3-8; Connor Watkins 4-(-8).
Lehigh (23-78): Jack DiPietro 6-23; Gaige Garcia 6-21; Dante Perri 2-17; Martin Laham 2-6; Brayten Silbor 5-4; Geoffrey Jamiel 1-4; Eric Johnson 1-3.
Villanova: Watkins 13-23-1, 199 yards, 2 TDs; James Mott 2-3-0, 9 yards.
Lehigh: Silbor 23-38-2, 206 yards, TD; Dante Perri 0-1-0.
Villanova: Rayjuon Pringle 3-40; Justin Marcus 3-13; Jaylan Sanchez 2-25; Ayo-Durojaiye 3-22; Antonio Johnson 2-22; Barlee 2-10; Daniel Lopes 2-7; Jalen Jackson 1-0; Luke Daly 2-0.
Lehigh: Jamiel 6-27; Nick Williams 4-38; Garcia 3-29; Connor Kennedy 3-19; Johnson 2-35; DiPietro 2-30; Mason Humphrey 1-20; Martin Laham 1-6; Dylan McFadden 1-2.
https://www.mcall.com/2023/09/02/villanova-football-rolls-past-lehigh-spoils-kevin-cahills-debut-as-mountain-hawks-coach/ Villanova beat Lehigh 38-10 in the college football season opener for both teams