The Georgetown football team (3-4, 0-1 Patriot League) knew that, in order to pull off the upset over No. 10 Lehigh (7-0, 1-0 Patriot League), it would have to force turnovers and minimize its own mistakes. Despite executing that game plan to perfection, the Hoyas came up just short in a heartbreaking 17-14 defeat against the Mountain Hawks Saturday.
While the Blue and Gray had just two turnovers, their defense forced seven — four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. But Georgetown once again failed to finish drives, as its defensive effort was made moot by a 1-for-3 red-zone effort.
“It’s a team game,” Head Coach Kevin Kelly said. “The defense did a heck of a job against a very good offense. We didn’t score when we had the opportunities. To me, the difference in the game was the red zone.”
And while the red zone was Georgetown’s Achilles’ heel, sophomore quarterback Stephen Skon fared well under constant blitzes in his third collegiate start, going 16-for-27 with 176 yards passing.
The Long Island native went down in the third quarter with an apparent ankle injury, but he was able to come back in place of still banged-up senior quarterback Isaiah Kempf and junior quarterback Aaron Aiken to lead the Hoyas on one last impressive drive, which gave them a chance to force overtime.
“[Skon] did a heck of a job,” Kelly said. “He did exactly what we asked him to do.”
Unlike in some previous games, Georgetown got off to a quick start on Saturday. After senior cornerback Jeremy Moore recovered a fumble at Lehigh’s 31-yard line, the Blue and Gray quickly drove to the end zone and took an early lead on junior running back Nick Campanella’s 2-yard touchdown run.
That score held for the next 18 minutes, as both sides settled into a physical defensive struggle. Lehigh had one chance to tie the game, but sophomore cornerback Daniel Wright intercepted a lofted pass towards the end zone.
Finally, however, Lehigh broke through after recovering Skon’s fumble off of a sack. The Mountain Hawks took advantage of their short field, and a 1-yard pitch evened the game at 7-7.
Although it appeared that Lehigh had all the momentum after forcing a three-and-out and driving into Georgetown territory on its next possession, Moore had plans of his own. The 5-foot-11 senior pounced on a poorly thrown screen pass to come up with an interception and the game’s biggest highlight, an 80-yard touchdown return that gave the Hoyas a 14-7 lead.
“What defensive player doesn’t want to score?” Moore said after the game. “I know the team looks for me to be that game-breaker, and I just look to continue to be that player every game.”
The advantage Moore gave the Hoyas held until halftime — but not without some drama. In the last minutes of the half, Moore came up with two more interceptions to give his team ample chances to boost its lead. But a blocked 22-yard field goal and a missed 48-yard kick at the end of the half prevented the Blue and Gray from increasing their advantage.
That hurt out of the locker room, when the Mountain Hawks came out sharp, driving 76 yards to tie the game at 14-14 on a 1-yard run. The drive was highlighted by a key third-down conversion: a 40-yard pass downfield on a blown coverage.
Third-down defense has been a strength for the Hoyas this season — they lead the Patriot League with just a 28.9 percent conversion rate allowed on third downs — but the Mountain Hawks went 8-for-16 in Saturday’s game. And, in the end, they got the one that counted.
“I wish we had some third downs back,” Kelly said. “We had them in third-and-long sometimes, and we let them off the hook.”
With the game tied, both teams then went through a long scoring drought. Georgetown’s defense was tested, but key fumble recoveries by Wright and junior outside linebacker Dustin Wharton helped the Hoyas escape trouble. Wharton chipped in with 11 tackles, while senior linebacker Robert McCabe, the nation’s leading tackler, had 16 of his own.
That wasn’t enough, though, to prevent Lehigh from taking the lead. After a failed fourth-down conversion by the Blue and Gray, the Mountain Hawks completed a 42-yard pass and took a 17-14 lead on a 29-yard field goal.
Yet the game was far from over. After each side had two unproductive possessions, the Hoyas got the ball at their own 21-yard line with no timeouts and 1:22 remaining in the game.
With his back against the wall, Skon methodically led Georgetown to Lehigh’s 23-yard line with 25 seconds remaining. Instead of going for the win, Kelly chose to run the ball to set up a 37-yard field goal attempt.
Kelly acknowledged after the game that his conservative decision had at least something to do with the last time the Hoyas were in a similar position, when Aiken threw a game-ending interception that sealed Georgetown’s loss to Yale.
“We wanted to get into position where we could go into overtime,” Kelly said. “We did turn the ball over against Yale and that did pop into my head.”
The snap on the kick was low and junior kicker/punter Matt MacZura’s ensuing field goal attempt was wide left, leaving the Blue and Gray in shock after a painful 17-14 loss.
With the Hoyas squandering their chance for a statement win, the squad picked up their first conference loss and now face tough questions before they play Colgate (3-3, 1-0 Patriot League) Saturday at 1 p.m. That game will be played in Hamilton, N.Y.