After a strong performance against James Madison University last week, which resulted in a tough loss, Lehigh’s latest defeat at the hands of the University of New Hampshire sets the team back 0-2. Lehigh lost to New Hampshire by a score of 45-27 on Saturday.
The offense struggled to find its rhythm on Saturday, mostly due to the tenacious defensive play of New Hampshire. In fact, Lehigh was held scoreless after just 88 yards of total offense in the first half and trailed 29-0 at halftime.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky completed 15 of 28 passes for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while also running for another touchdown. Shafnisky, the reigning Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week, was under tremendous pressure throughout the day from a blitz-heavy New Hampshire defense, and was sacked four times.
“They blitzed a lot more than we thought,” Shafnisky said. “But all in all we picked it up, and we’ll get better every week. We’ll learn from this.”
The play of New Hampshire’s secondary also made it a difficult day for the Lehigh wide receivers, who had multiple drops during the game. The receivers also struggled to gain extra yards after receptions due to New Hampshire’s tackling. A bright spot in the receiving unit, however, was first-year Troy Pelletier, who pulled down two touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter, one from Shafnisky and one from senior quarterback Matt McHale, who saw action in the game’s final minutes.
Following a very successful showing against James Madison, Lehigh’s running backs once again showed the potential for a strong, well-balanced rushing attack. Last week, senior running back Rich Sodeke and sophomore Brandon Yosha combined for 166 rushing yards and each scored a touchdown.
Against New Hampshire, Yosha, a transfer student from the University of Miami, continued his strong start to the season by rushing for 108 yards on 14 carries, including a 32-yard touchdown. Additionally, first-year Chris Leigh emerged as a third rushing threat for the Mountain Hawks in the fourth quarter when he rushed for 35 yards on five carries.
The offense managed 314 total yards, and although the first half deficit was too much to overcome, Lehigh outscored New Hampshire 27-16 in the second half.
Lehigh’s defense showed room for improvement in the loss by giving up 646 yards to New Hampshire’s offense after allowing 606 yards to James Madison last week. The Mountain Hawks had difficulty finishing tackles and gave up numerous big plays. There were 11 plays where New Hampshire gained over 15 yards. Of those 11 plays, seven of them were for 30 yards or more.
“We have to learn to finish plays and we have to take better advantage of the opportunities we’re given,” sophomore defensive back Brandon Leaks said.
The first half proved to be particularly challenging for Lehigh’s defense when they allowed four touchdowns in New Hampshire’s first six offensive drives.
However, there were some positives to be taken from Lehigh’s defensive effort. The Mountain Hawks forced three turnovers, including an interception by senior defensive back Stephen Wilmington; an interception by Leaks; and a forced fumble and recovery by junior defensive lineman D.J. Bourgeois. Additionally, two linebackers, junior Cody Kondas and sophomore Pierce Ripanti, each recorded seven tackles for Lehigh.
In the next two weeks, Lehigh will battle Yale University and Monmouth University before opening their Patriot League schedule against Bucknell University on Oct. 11 at Goodman Stadium. Lehigh’s 0-2 start comes against two very difficult teams, and it is in conference play where the success of the Mountain Hawks’ season will be judged. For example, last year Lafayette did not record a single win in their out-of-conference schedule but went 5-1 in conference play to win the Patriot League title.
“I still think we have the makings of a good football team even though we’re 0-2,” head coach Andy Coen said after the game. “I know we’ve played two very talented football teams. We just have to figure this deal out as a team.”
Lehigh will seek to build on the successes and learn from the mistakes that have occurred in the season’s first two games. In the coming weeks, they will prepare for conference play in an effort to recapture the Patriot League Championship and advance to the FCS playoffs for the third time in five years.