Sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky throws a pass during the Monmouth game on Sept. 27, 2014. The final score of the game was Monmouth 28-Lehigh 21. (Andrew Garrison/B&W photo)

Hawks open Patriot season: Team seeks win against Bucknell

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After a much-needed bye week, the Mountain Hawks will return to the football field Saturday to seek their first win in a conference game against Bucknell University.

There is a sense of urgency looming over the team because Lehigh’s first four games of the season have resulted in losses. At the moment, all six of the other Patriot League teams have at least two wins, while Lehigh has zer0.

However, none of the losses by the Hawks came within conference play. In fact, the Mountain Hawks and the 4-1 Bucknell team are the only two teams in the Patriot League that have played only non-conference opponents so far. Both teams look to start off conference play with a win because winning the conference would lock up a spot in the playoffs.

Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen will have to keep his young team focused and motivated despite the slow start.

“When you get into the league play, I think everything kind of gets raised up a notch,” he said. “If we can just do a little bit more and do the little things better than we have been doing them, then I think we have a chance to be very competitive in the league.”

Offensively, the team has shown potential. Each game has resulted in at least three offensive touchdowns, and three out of the four losses have been close games for the Hawks. However, improvements can be made defensively, as the team has given up an average of over 600 yards per game despite showing potential in the most recent game against Monmouth University.

Lehigh vs. Bucknell“We have to find a way to put pressure on the quarterback; we haven’t done that well enough,” Coen said about the defensive performance. “There’s a lot of times where we will have guys covered, but because the quarterback has got all day back there, they are able to take advantage of us. We have to pressure the quarterback more; we have to do a better job on first down plays. So, if we can do better on first down and force some long distance, third down situations, it gives us a better chance to get the ball back on offense.”

The bye week is well timed, as the past two games took a huge grind on the team, resulting in several injuries. Coen believes that the timing can really help the team as far as preparation.

“What we have been able to do is take some time to look back and really focus on the fundamentals,” Coen said. “What we’ll be able to do having the extra days because of the bye, we’ll be able to pick up a couple days of preparation on Bucknell. So, our guys will get more reps than they normally do during the regular week. We should be in really good shape schematically, so that is the benefit that the bye gives you.”

The offense has been hit especially hard by injuries, including major ones to sophomore running back Brandon Yosha and a handful of offensive linemen. Despite the injuries, sophomore starting quarterback Nick Shafnisky has been able to put together a strong performance by leading a successful passing game and even putting up some rushing yardage.

According to Shafnisky, the offensive line has been instrumental to the offensive rhythm in spite of some injuries. Players on the unit, including sophomore Zach Duffy and junior Matthew Cohen, are blocking well and putting the team in position for success.

“If you look, we are a very balanced offense with running and passing, and that’s a credit to the line,” Shafnisky said.

With an extra week to prepare, the Hawks are being careful to make sure that they are ready for all that their rivals from Lewisburg have to offer.

“We just got to bring more intensity to practice,” Shafnisky said. “As a receiver, you got to take your scoring route right when you catch it, break away, don’t let up. Running backs hit the hole and keep going.”

An intense and disciplined approach is the best way to go about preparations against the tough opponent. Shafnisky mentioned how the intensity has to be brought on both sides of the ball, as Bucknell is a team that is balanced and has succeeded offensively and defensively.

The game is set to begin Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Goodman Stadium.

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