No. 7/9 University of New Hampshire defeated Lehigh’s football team 45-27 on Saturday. Lehigh falls to 0-2 on the year as New Hampshire improves to 1-1.
Lehigh trailed 29-0 at halftime, but they began to fight back in the second half, scoring all 27 of their points. They opened the second half scoring with a touchdown, but New Hampshire answered immediately on their next drive with a touchdown of their own.
“I was a little disappointed; I thought we’d make better strides with our second game out of the box, but I don’t want to take anything away from the job that New Hampshire did,” coach Andy Coen said.
The second half was much more back and forth in terms of scoring. In fact, Lehigh actually outscored New Hampshire in the second half 27-16.
After being out-gained 401-88 in total yards in the first half, the Mountain Hawks were just unable to recover. They finished with 314 total yards while New Hampshire racked up 646. It was the second game in a row allowing over 600 yards on defense after giving up 606 to James Madison University last week.
“The biggest problems we had out there on defense, as Coach Coen said, was tackling and finishing plays,” sophomore defensive back Brandon Leaks said. “We had a lot of opportunities with the ball in the air, runs around the edge, runs even up the middle, where we could’ve finished and we didn’t.”
Sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky struggled on the ground, gaining only four yards on 14 carries and a seven yard touchdown. Senior running back Rich Sodeke didn’t fare much better, rushing for seven yards on just four carries.
Sophomore running back Brandon Yosha was one of the few bright spots of the game. He ran the ball 14 times for 108 yards and a touchdown. He got the start and was used much more often than Sodeke.
Lehigh seemed to be off to a good start after senior defensive back Stephen Wilmington intercepted a pass on New Hampshire’s first drive of the game. But five plays later, Josh Parris fumbled the ball after a nine yard completion. The Wildcats went on to score a touchdown on three of their next four drives.
Not much seemed to work on offense for Lehigh. Shafnisky was just 15/28 for 106 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception. After a big overall game last week against James Madison, he was largely ineffective due to the tough New Hampshire defense.
And it didn’t help that he was rushed so often. The Lehigh offensive line struggled to hold back the New Hampshire rush, and Shafnisky was sacked four times for 32 yards.
“New Hampshire just blitzes like crazy. They were coming at us, seven-man blitz, six-man blitz, and I think our line did as well as they could,” Shafnisky said.
New Hampshire scored early and often, finishing six different drives in touchdowns. The Wildcats seemed to score a touchdown every half quarter in the first half. New Hampshire scored their second touchdown on a 53-yard pass in which wide receiver Harold Spears was wide open along the left side of the field.
Third down efficiency was also a big reason for Lehigh’s struggles. They converted on just three of their 14 attempts while New Hampshire converted eight of their 13 attempts.
“A lot of times on defense we were just going for the knockout hit and we had our heads down and we miss. And then they go for an extra five, and that extra five could be for extra first downs,” Leaks said.
About halfway through the fourth quarter the Mountain Hawks elected to put in some of their backups, giving senior quarterback Matt McHale some playing time.
First-year running back Chris Leigh played well in his limited time at the end of the game, totaling 35 yards on five carries. First-year wide receiver Troy Pelletier added two touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter.
“We put some young players in there and those kids did a really nice job — Chris Leigh carrying the ball and Troy Pelletier doing a nice job with a couple touchdown catches and doing some things on special teams,” Coen said.
Lehigh will stay on the road next week as they travel to face Yale University on Sept. 20 at 12 p.m.