In the FCS Huddle: Lehigh in flight year after year

It was late in the third quarter, and Lehigh quarterback Brandon Bialkowski was in the process of leading his team back from another deficit - something the Mountain Hawks have been accustomed to this season.

It's a stat that doesn't matter much to him, but late in the third quarter Bialkowski completed a pass that put him over the 300-yard passing mark for the third consecutive week. To him, he just helped his team sustain a drive. The larger significance is irrelevant during a game in which his team was losing at the time.

Bialkowski and the Mountain Hawks completed the comeback Saturday against No. 10-ranked New Hampshire, 34-27 - Lehigh's fourth win this season by a single score or less. But the thing that matters most to the Mountain Hawks is putting up the "W."

A large part of Lehigh's football success has been the play of not just Bialkowski, but the Mountain Hawks' quarterbacks over the years.

Bialkowski is the third Lehigh starter under center in three years. And as a senior, he will be replaced next season by the fourth. But the constant replenishment of signal callers hasn't hurt Lehigh's program in the slightest.

"(The great quarterback play) goes back a long time, I can't even tell you how many years," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said after his team's win. "Quarterbacks come here, and they know the history of the offense, and that's a big, important part of it. You want to throw the ball, you need to recruit kids who can do that, and when they see you throwing for 350 or 400 (yards) or whatever it is, they get attracted and they want to look into your school."

Chris Lum was the most recent quarterback who started for more than a year for Lehigh, playing in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He holds Lehigh records for single-season passing yards (4,378), completions in a season (358) and touchdown passes in a season (32). When he graduated following the 2011 season, it was Michael Colvin's turn to step in.

Colvin led Lehigh to a 10-1 record in 2012, but the team was just barely overlooked when it came to the FCS playoff selections. Both Lum and Colvin had a lot of help from record-setting receiver Ryan Spadola, who now plays for the New York Jets.

Bialkowski is on his way to proving he's the third in a line of great senior passers for the Mountain Hawks. After his 359-yard, two-touchdown performance Saturday against New Hampshire, Bialkowski has 1,530 passing yards with 11 touchdowns through the air in four games.

His 15-yard touchdown pass to Derek Knott with 12:19 left to play broke a 27-27 tie and helped the Mountain Hawks end a nine-game losing streak to New Hampshire. It was their 11th straight win in games decided by seven points or less.

Like Lum and Colvin with Spadola, Bialkowski has a reliable target in Lee Kurfis. Kurfis caught 11 passes on Saturday for 117 yards - the fifth consecutive game he's gone over the century mark in receiving yards dating back to last season.

Bialkowski-to-Kurfis has quickly become one of the most dangerous tandems in the FCS.

"We come in with a good passing setup," Bialkowski said. "Our O-line is doing a great job. They (New Hampshire) started blitzing in the second half a little more, and we were able to pick them up. Lee, Sergio (Fernandez-Soto), Zach Hayden out of the backfield, and (Josh) Parris are all doing a great job getting open and catching the ball, so I couldn't ask for more out of them."

One of the keys to the Mountain Hawks' win was Lehigh's ability to convert on third downs. Lehigh was 13-for-20 on third-down attempts, largely in the third and fourth quarters when the Mountain Hawks were playing from behind.

"It's great to be over 50 percent on third downs," Bialkowski said. "Coming into the game we had an option of three pass plays we would call, and on third downs we got to call the play. I got to pick the play at the line, which was really helping us out, and we were able to pick up those third downs."

As a team, Lehigh is 32-of-62 on third down tries this season, averaging 51.6 percent. That's key in sustaining late drives and controlling the clock, something a team should be exceptional at in close games in order to win.

Lehigh is 4-0 heading into a showdown with undefeated Fordham. Although Fordham is not eligible for the Patriot League title, this matchup is between the league's last unbeaten teams and will certainly be a matchup to watch in the future as both programs grow and look to outrecruit each other.

Coen is constantly thinking about recruiting and bringing in that next great player who may have the success of a Bialkowski, or a Lum, and the year of the player doesn't matter. Not as long as the numbers are there and the "W's" continue to go up after every game.

"When you look into a place like Lehigh, there's a lot of things to be real positive about," Coen said. "Great education, winning football program, and we're thrilled right now with how things are going on the football side of things.

"We're the only FCS program that's won 10 or more games in each of the last three years, and starting this season 4-0. I think Lehigh's a pretty good spot for kids to come and throw the ball around."