Lehigh’s football team accepted defeat in its home opener at Goodman Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, when the Mountain Hawks’ potential game-tying field goal was blocked with less than two minutes left in its game against James Madison University. The game ended with a score of 31-28.
The Mountain Hawks were winning the game 21-10 going into halftime after playing very well on both offense and defense. Then, a voice came over the intercom at the stadium announcing that there would be a minimum 30-minute delay because of lightning seen within a certain radius of the field.
The team was led on offense by sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky. He had over 300 all-purpose yards, including two touchdown passes in the first half, while also leading the team in carries.
“If you have running backs that can run, a quarterback that can run efficiently and a pass game, the offense is going to be tough to stop,” Shafnisky said.
According to head coach Andy Coen, however, the team may have run Shafnisky too frequently.
“[19 carries] was a little more than I would’ve liked,” Coen said. “We want to give the ball to our tailbacks. Sometimes, there’s a necessity to run, but as the game got tighter, then you have to do what you have to do.”
Overall, the running game was very effective against the James Madison defense. Both senior Rich Sodeke and sophomore Brandon Yosha got several carries, and each had a touchdown. More than half of Lehigh’s play calls were runs.
Another big part of its offensive attack was the no-huddle, hurry-up offense, a design that is becoming more popular in football.
James Madison utilized the same approach with its offense. The most effective no-huddle offenses have very little time of possession, which may have contributed to James Madison’s win. While both teams ran about 80 plays, Lehigh had possession for over 37 minutes while James Madison had it for just over 22 minutes, which is an entire quarter difference.
Defensively, Lehigh was able to pin James Madison inside the five yard line on two separate punts, giving them tough field position to score. But, James Madison put together 99 and 98-yard drives to score a touchdown, negating the momentum of the Mountain Hawks.
“They played fast and they matched us…that was a fear of coming into the game against these guys,” Coen said. “We knew they were fast and we really needed to limit their big plays.”
Coming out of halftime, Lehigh had a solid lead. However, delays often affect the momentum of games.
“I was concerned, but there’s nothing you can do,” Coen said in regards to the delay. “As far as the kids, keep them getting fluids and stuff to eat so that they have energy coming back. They always disaffect both teams.”
Being able to successfully kick field goals was also a big issue. Sophomore kicker Ryan Pandy made all four of his extra points, but missed all three of his field goals. The Hawks had multiple drives where they were driving down the field, but their offense began to stall and they had to settle for a field goal attempt.
Sodeke was frustrated by the team not being able to score more touchdowns in those opportunities.
“I thought we were working really hard, the offensive line especially,” Sodeke said. “ Nick was passing well and we were gassed, but we have to finish. That’s how we win games like this, by finishing in the red zone.”
The season is not likely to get easier for the Hawks next week as they go on the road to face New Hampshire.
“We’ll be playing a better football team next weekend, so we need to prepare very well for that game,” Coen said.