BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Lehigh and Villanova were stuck at 6-6 for more than 23 minutes spanning most of the fourth quarter and multiple overtimes until junior Kurtis Kaunas ended the marathon with seven seconds left in the third overtime. His goal avoided a fourth overtime period and gave the Mountain Hawks a thrilling 7-6 victory on a cold Sunday afternoon. A game that saw 83 combined shots and 16 extra man opportunities saw Lehigh score five of its goals in a 12:38stretch in the third quarter. The Wildcats responded with the final three goals of regulation, but it was Kaunas who had the final answer.
“The whole team was working together. The ball ended up on my stick for the last shot,” said Kaunas. “It felt great, having the whole sidelines celebrating and storming the field. It’s a great feeling.”
“You had both teams going extra man in overtime, goalies making spectacular saves, both teams hitting pipes and crossbars,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “You had a lot of mistakes, a lot of errors, but the guys played really hard on both sides of the ball. I give Villanova credit; it’s their first game. They played hard and well, especially on the defensive end. I thought our guys did too. It shows with the amount of turnovers there were, but I attribute a lot of that to the defenses.”
Both defenses impressed as Lehigh caused 17 of Villanova’s 29 turnovers while the Wildcats caused 13 of the Mountain Hawks’ 24. Sophomore Tripp Telesco had a monster day with a career-high seven groundballs and seven caused turnovers, including two groundballs and two caused turnovers in the second overtime alone.
“Coach Callahan and the rest of the coaching staff did an unbelievable job scouting Villanova,” said Telesco. “We just stuck to the schemes and our principles and came out on top. It feels great. Digging in for three overtimes and coming out on top is an unbelievable feeling.”
Senior close defensemen Ty Souders (career-high six groundballs, two caused turnovers) and Lukas Mikelinich (five groundballs, one caused turnover) were stellar as well. After Villanova took a 3-1 lead early in the second quarter, Lehigh didn’t allow a goal for the next 20:19. The Mountain Hawks shut-out the Wildcats over the game’s final 23:14. Junior goalie Matt Poillon was a big part, finishing with 12 saves including eight after halftime as he improves to 3-0 and an eye-popping 28-6 in his collegiate career.
With the win, the Mountain Hawks improve to 3-0 for the first time since the 2000 season. Lehigh has now won two straight and three of its last five against the Wildcats. The victory marks Lehigh’s eighth straight regular season win and sixth consecutive at home dating back to last season.
Villanova’s Kevin O’Neil opened the scoring at 13:19 of the first quarter, but Weber took a feed from Taylor and evened the score just under six minutes later.
The Wildcats responded with the next two goals. Lehigh was unable to score for the final 22:21 of the first half as Villanova held a 3-1 lead after 30 minutes of play.
Senior Jimmy Cahill opened the second-half scoring just 21 seconds into the third quarter. Just over seven minutes later, Taylor answered with his first of the day, using a sneaky behind-the-back shot from a tough angle to beat Villanova goalie Dan Willis. Taylor added a second goal just 1:25 later to give the Mountain Hawks a 4-3 lead. Weber scored his second just 46 seconds after that to make it 5-3 at 5:04 of the third quarter.
Junior Dylan O’Shaughnessy rounded out the run with his second goal in as many games, making it 6-3 late in the third. However, the Wildcats scored with 1:25 left in the third quarter and added two early fourth-quarter goals to deadlock the score at six.
Both teams had several chances in the fourth quarter and the overtime periods. The goaltenders combined for four overtime saves, pipes were hit and eight turnovers were committed (five for Villanova and three for Lehigh). In the end, with the Mountain Hawks holding for the final shot, Taylor made a pass to Kaunas, who made a dodge to his left and beat Willis low for the 7-6 final.
Lehigh held a 46-37 edge in shots and 45-44 advantage in groundballs. Senior Ryan Buttenbaum won 10-of-18 faceoffs at the X, scooping four groundballs. Each goalie finished with 12 saves.
“It’s a great rivalry,” said Cassese. “It’s one of those that both teams really get up for. I know our guys enjoy it and they do as well. We knew it would be that type of battle. I didn’t know it would be that type of game. I told the guys this week that we should expect it to be close down the stretch and it certainly was going to three overtimes.”
Lehigh hits the road the next Saturday for its Patriot League opener at Boston University. Opening faceoff is set for 1 p.m.