Face-offs and flawless defensive slides were the name of the game, as No. 18 Yale men’s lacrosse (4-0) defeated its toughest opponent yet, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (3-3), 10-6 at Reese Stadium on Saturday.

The Bulldogs snuck out of the first half with a 3-2 lead, despite Lehigh’s advantages on possession time and shots on goal. But the home team came out flying with five goals in the third quarter, moving well off the ball in their set offense and burying opportunities against the Mountain Hawks’ goalie Dan Carr. Set to face No. 14 Cornell next Saturday, the Bulldogs hope to use the momentum from a strong team effort against Lehigh to start off conference play with a big victory.

“On defense, we felt it would be one of our biggest challenges to date,” captain and long stick midfielder Pat Coleman ’11 said. “But we stuck to our plan.”

Yale was able to strike first against Lehigh, following a great poke check by Coleman that gave the attack the ball two minutes into the game. Displaying great patience on offense, the Bulldogs worked the ball around the horn, before middie Colin Still ’12 found Brian Douglass ’11 with 12:03 remaining for the attackman’s ninth goal this season.

Lehigh controlled the ball on offense for most of the quarter, but four quality saves by goalie John Falcone ’11 and impeccable close defense kept the Mountain Hawks scoreless. Solid defending against Yale’s middies and an aggressive ride on Yale’s clear gave the visitors multiple chances, but they were never able to finish.

As the first quarter came to a close, a spot-on check by short-stick defender Michael Pratt ’12 sent the Bulldogs racing in transition and able to net another one past Carr. Attackman Deron Dempster ’13 made it look easy, off a laser-fast feed from Coleman — faking high and shooting low and stick side to give Yale a 2-0 lead with 1:49 left in the first.

“I overextended myself a little in the beginning,” Coleman said. “But, it’s pretty helpful to know you have a lot of strong kids behind you.”

The Mountain Hawks climbed back in the second quarter, scoring two unanswered and unassisted goals and smothering Yale’s offense, with Carr making a couple of point-blank saves. Led by Pratt, Coleman and Peter Johnson ’13, the Yale defense was able to make up for some errant passes and overly ambitious dodges by starting midfielders Greg Mahony ’12 and Matt Miller ’12.

The quarter’s only big miscue on defense was a delayed slide on Lehigh Sophomore Alex Drake, who beat his man in isolation and nailed a low hard shot past Falcone to tie the game at 2-2 with 4:23 remaining in the half.

With just under two minutes left, Yale retook the lead on a Matt Gibson ’12 goal worthy of the SportsCenter highlight reel. The 2010 New England Player of the Year, appearing in his first game since the season opener at St. John’s, found his rhythm late in the half and dominated his defender before faking out Carr, who could hardly tell when the ball had hit the net. The goal gave Gibson a big burst of confidence and sent the Bulldogs into the locker room with a 3-2 lead at the end of the first half.

“In practice I haven’t done anything like that. That was my test to see how my back worked out,” Gibson said, commenting on the injury that kept him sidelined for two games.

Going into the second half, the home team knew it had to do a better job possessing the ball offensively and capitalizing on a brilliant face-off performance by Cole Yeager ’13, who won six of seven draws in the first half. Yale’s trademark hustle was best exemplified by the face-off team, with Yeager and Coleman never giving up on a loose ball. Meanwhile, Falcone’s seven first half saves kept the Mountain Hawks’ attack frustrated.

“We talked about keeping our energy up [during the intermission],” Shay said. “We knew that the shots would fall.”

And they did.

Continued dominance on the face-off and great off-the-ball movement by Yale’s attackmen led to two goals within 20 seconds of each other to start the third quarter. First came a quick finish by Gibson off a Miller feed. Then Gibson took a turn as the assist man, finding Douglass for his second goal, a scorcher from inside ten feet that drilled the top right corner of the net to give Yale a 5-2 lead.

Lehigh had a big opportunity to narrow the lead to two, but a wide open shot on the crease by the Mountain Hawks’ leading-scorer, Adam Johnston, was stuffed by Falcone. Following the big save, some strong skip passing on offense freed up Dempster for his second goal of the game with 8:41 left in the third.

The Mountain Hawks answered five minutes later on an unassisted goal by Cameron Lao-Gosney. The junior’s 11th goal of the season came after he burned by defender Phil Gross ’13 from the X, in what was the only major error by the Yale defense during the quarter.

Douglass quickly responded for the Bulldogs with an ankle-braking dodge and a ringer off the post and in, for his third goal of the game at 1:43 left in the quarter. Five seconds later, Yeager took it in by himself, dominating his face-off opponent and rocketing a bouncer past Carr with no Lehigh defenseman in sight.

“It felt really good,” Yeager said. “It was a good momentum booster for the team.”

Lehigh came out hard in the fourth, netting two big goals after a Matt Miller side-armed score, and making Yale’s defense look mortal. While playing man-down due to a hyperactive slash by long stick middie Jimmy Craft ’14, the Mountain Hawks’ Dante Fantoni raced in on net and rifled it past Falcone, who was hustling to get back in the cage after a failed Yale clear with just over three minutes to go.

But Coleman stopped the Mountain Hawk attack with his seventh forced turnover and fifth ground ball, enabling the Bulldogs to burn a minute off the clock until Lehigh recovered on a loose-ball push by Yale.

Lehigh’s last-ditch comeback effort was silenced when a Yale double team sent a Mountain Hawk attackman’s stick flying in a classic “Yard Sale.” With the Bulldogs in control and the clock running out, Mark Dobrosky ’12 lobbed a pass from behind the goal to Gibson, who quick-sticked it into an empty net with 13 seconds left.

While Yale presented a strong defensive performance throughout the game, the Bulldogs will need to commit fewer turnovers and keep moving the ball well on offense in order to beat Cornell this coming Saturday. Stellar performances by Falcone (13 saves), Coleman and Yeager and big hat-tricks by Douglass and Gibson made up for errant passes, mediocre play in isolation and an ineffective second midfield line.

When asked his thoughts about next week’s match against a Cornell team that nearly upset No. 2 Virginia on Saturday, Shay smiled and responded, “I’d rather just enjoy this for the time being.”

Yale faces off against No. 14 Cornell (3-2) at Reese Stadium at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 19.