Quarterback Nick Shafnisky carries the ball during the Monmouth game on Sept. 27, 2014. Lehigh fell to Monmouth on Saturday in its home opener, 23-21.

Lehigh football falls to Monmouth, heads into Patriot League play with several injured

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Lehigh University’s football team lost its fourth straight game Saturday to Monmouth University 28-21 and remains winless on the season

Lehigh and Monmouth were tied at 21 until Monmouth scored a touchdown with just 12 seconds left in the game, giving them the win. Lehigh is now 0-4 on the season.

The biggest news coming out of the loss could be the status of sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky, who was injured towards the end of the fourth quarter. He remained on the sidelines for the rest of the game, keeping his helmet off.

Shafnisky’s injury was a loss for the Hawks, as he provides the majority of the team’s offense and is a dual threat due to his passing and running abilities.

Before leaving the game, Shafnisky had 193 passing yards and a touchdown through the air, along with 64 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. They split the play-calling down the middle, giving him 22 passes and 22 runs.

While his 22 passes were a season-low, the 22 runs were a season-high for Shafnisky. If sophomore running back Brandon Yosha continues to miss time due to his injury, not having Shafnisky would be a huge blow to the team’s ground attack.

Senior running back Rich Sodeke stepped up in Yosha’s absence, totaling 119 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. After being a non-factor in the last two games, Sodeke looked strong for Lehigh and now leads the team in rushing yards on the season with 259.

Freshman wide receiver Troy Pelletier is quickly establishing himself as the team’s best pass-catcher despite not recording a catch in the first game. He leads the team in both receiving yards (223) and receiving touchdowns (3) after grabbing a career-high seven catches against Monmouth.

Since junior wide receiver Derek Knott is out for the season with an injury, Pelletier will have to continue to provide this kind of performance. Senior wide receiver Josh Parris has also steadily been performing well, leading the team with 19 receptions.

However, the rushing attack has been Lehigh’s strong suit this season and should continue to be that way despite injuries. They have averaged 209 rushing yards per game through the first four games of the season.

On the other side of the ball, it’s clear that the defense has still been the team’s weakness throughout the season. Despite not giving up over 600 yards for the first time all year, they still allowed 512 on 7.01 yards per play against Monmouth.

The pass defense continues to give up big plays, as shown by the 59 yard touchdown catch Monmouth had less than two minutes into Saturday’s game. They have given up 13 passing touchdowns in just four games.

Missed tackles have also hurt the team. Like Lehigh’s past opponents, Monmouth had many plays per game in which the player with the ball ran through three or more tackles to gain extra yards. This has contributed to the huge amount of yards that Lehigh has given up this year.

Lehigh’s red zone defense, however,  has been above average this season. They only allowed touchdowns on 10 of the 20 times that their opponent has been in the red zone. In comparison, Lehigh has scored a touchdown on 9 of 12 chances in the red zone.

Lehigh has a slight edge on the turnover ratio on the season after not turning the ball over at all against Monmouth. They have committed five turnovers this season while forcing six, including a big interception by junior defensive back Olivier Rigaud against Monmouth.

The Lehigh defense also increased their season sack total yet again in this game.

The team had combined for just one sack all year, but then had two sacks in the same drive against Monmouth. Both of the sacks came in situations where the quarterback was under heavy pressure too, proving that Lehigh has improved on rushing the passer.

Also, Lehigh blocked two separate field goals in the Monmouth game. The Hawk’s ability to stop Monmouth from scoring points at will was a big improvement from the large amount of points per game they were allowing prior to this matchup.

Although Lehigh is 0-4 on the season, the team has yet to begin its Patriot League play.  The team with the highest record in the conference makes the playoffs no matter what their overall record is.

Next week, Lehigh gets a bye week and will have a chance to give injured players time to heal. After that, the team will play their first Patriot League opponent on Oct. 11 against Bucknell University at Goodman Stadium at 12:30 p.m.

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