BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Nico Steriti (Toms River, N.J.) rushed for 116 yards but the No. 10/7 University of New Hampshire football team was defeated 34-27 by No. 21/17 Lehigh University at Goodman Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
UNH, which had won nine consecutive games vs. Lehigh dating back to 1982, is now 1-2 while the Mountain Hawks remain unbeaten at 4-0.
Steriti led UNH's ground game with a season-high 116 yards on 15 carries. Andy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.) was 18 of 29 for 152 yards and one touchdown; he also carried the ball 13 times for 43 yards and one TD. Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.) finished with four rushes for 35 yards and one TD, and he also had a five-yard TD reception.
Lehigh was led offensively by Brandon Bialkowski, who completed 31 of 52 attempts for 359 yards and two TDs. Lee Kurfis was the top target with 11 catches for 117 yards. Sergio Fernandez-Soto had seven catches for 123 yards.
The Mountain Hawks led 34-27 when they gained possession with 9:32 remaining in the fourth quarter. LU converted a pair of third downs to sustain the drive and advance the ball to the UNH 39, but on 3rd-and-10, Bialkowski's pass was intercepted by Keith Parkinson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at the 23 to give the Wildcats the ball at their 23-yard line with 3:58 to play.
Steriti carried the ball three consecutive plays to give the 'Cats 1st-and-10 on the UNH 45. On the next play, Vailas reversed direction to the left side for a rush of 12 yards. New Hampshire continued its ground attack with a nine-yard gain by Setian followed by five- and six-yard rushes by Steriti to set up 2nd-and-4 at the LU 23.
One play later, Vailas ran for 10 yards to give the 'Cats 1st-and-10 at the 13. Following one-yard rushes by Vailas and Steriti, an incompletion led to 4th-and-8 with 31.6 seconds on the clock. UNH called its last timeout, then Vailas' pass to the right corner of the end zone was just beyond the outstretched arms of Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.).
The teams exchanged field goals the first two drives of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Jared Allison (Cliffwood, N.J.) took an end around down the right sideline for a 41-yard gain to the Lehigh 42. Setian then carried the ball 21 yards to the Lehigh 21. The Wildcats had a touchdown run negated by a holding penalty and took a 3-0 lead on a 31-yard Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) field goal at 12:22.
Lehigh responded with an 11-play, 51-yard drive capped by a Ryan Pandy 19-yard field goal. The Mountain Hawks had advanced the ball to the UNH 1, but Akil Anderson (Morristown, N.J.; game-high 12 tackles) tackled Sean Farrell for a one-yard loss and Bialkowski's third-down pass was incomplete.
The Wildcats regained the lead, 9-3, with a five-play, 80-yard drive that took just 86 seconds. Vailas had consecutive 17- and 12-yard completions to Harris to move the ball to the UNH 49, then Steriti's 32-yard rush and facemask penalty enforced against Lehigh made it 1st-and-goal at the LU 9. One play later, Vailas connected with Steriti on a curl pattern out of the backfield for a five-yard TD pass at 6:09. On the two-point conversion, Vailas' rush up the middle was stopped short.
Cody Muller (Telford, Pa.) immediately got the ball back for the 'Cats with a forced fumble and recovery at the Lehigh 30. UNH gained one first down before MacArthur's 35-yard field goal extended the advantage to 12-3 at 2:44 of the first quarter.
UNH's defense forced a three-and-out and Vailas orchestrated a 13-play, 64-yard drive punctuated by his one-yard keeper to give the Wildats a 19-3 lead at 13:54 of the second quarter. Vailas was 4-for-4 on the drive for 44 yards, including a 21-yard strike to Allison.
Lehigh responded less than three minutes later when Bialkowski found Sherman in the end zone for a 13-yard TD to trim the deficit to 19-10 at 10:48.
The Mountain Hawks engineered an 18-play, 71-yard drive that consumed the last 4:34 of the half and pulled within 19-13 when Pandy's 19-yard field goal attempt sailed between the uprights as time expired in the second quarter.
New Hampshire's defense opened the third quarter by forcing a three-and-out and the offense continued momentum in UNH's favor with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that gave the Wildcats a 27-13 lead. A Vailas-to-Harold Spears (Perkasie, Pa.) 23-yard pass play quickly moved the ball to the UNH 43 and, on 3rd-and-10, Vailas escaped pressure in the pocket for a 14-yard rush that extended the drive. On the next play, Steriti ripped off a 30-yard carry when he bounced outside to the left. On 4th-and-1 from the Lehigh 4, Setian carried the ball up the middle for a TD and then he punched in the two-point conversion.
Lehigh scored 21 consecutive points to take its first lead of the game, 34-27. On the first drive, Bialkowski's 58 passing yards advanced the ball to the UNH 1 to set up Ferrell's one-yard scoring plunge at 8:25. On the next drive, Bialkowski's 72-yard strike to Sergio Fernandez-Soto led to another one-yard rushing TD by Ferrell at 5:35. The Mountain Hawks continued their surge on the next drive of 17 plays, 80 yards capped by Bialkowski's 15-yard touchdown pass to Derek Knott at 12:19 of the fourth quarter.
Lehigh converted 3 of 4 third downs -- and one fourth down -- during those three scoring drives. LU also converted a pair of third downs on the next drive prior to Parkinson's interception. They were 13-for-20 in the game. Neither team scored the rest of the way.
New Hampshire returns to action Oct. 5 (12 p.m.) at Towson University. The game is televised live on Comcast SportsNet- New England. The Wildcats' next home game is Homecoming Weekend on Oct. 12 vs. the University of Rhode Island.