As the Lehigh Mountain Hawks football team opened up Patriot League play, the players and coaches had a golden opportunity to wash away the bad taste of a difficult season start. However, on Saturday, numerous mistakes and misplays led to yet another defeat.
The Hawks now must figure out their next course of action after a 45-24 loss to Bucknell University, dropping their record to 0-5 overall and 0-1 in conference.
Throughout the game, several Lehigh players made some significant individual plays and showed how well they can contribute to the team. However, while many individuals on the team had some good highlight reel material, as a whole the team fell short.
For the third time in five games, Lehigh was the first team to score, getting off to a 7-0 start, highlighted by a 19-yard touchdown by freshman wide receiver Troy Pelletier and some strong running plays by senior running back Rich Sodeke.
While these offensive playmakers performed well, the defense could not respond and had issues from the start. Similarly in the first four games of the season, the defense could not avoid giving up some big plays, and as a result, put the team in a 24-7 hole at the half.
The team came roaring back to 31-24 at one point in the second half, putting up 17 unanswered points to make it appear that the momentum was shifting. The upswing featured freshman running back Chris Leigh’s first collegiate touchdown. It also featured a key 33-yard reception from senior wide receiver Derek Gaul, who finished the day as the top receiver for the Hawks with 57 yards.
After coming within a touchdown of Bucknell, the Lehigh team squandered all of its other opportunities, first by giving up a huge 77-yard touchdown on a pass from Bucknell quarterback Trey Lauletta to wide receiver Will Carter. On the drive immediately following, a pass from sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky was intercepted, allowing Bucknell to get excellent field position and eventually score another touchdown. Bucknell’s Carter gave the Lehigh defense fits, getting three touchdowns and 246 receiving yards.
Senior linebacker Isaiah Campbell was one defensive player who had some excellent moments, especially during the rejuvenation period late in the game. Early in the fourth quarter with Lehigh down by two touchdowns, he recorded an 8-yard sack on a drive to ensure that Bucknell would have to punt.
Still, Campbell said it himself: A collective effort, rather than individual moments of glory, is needed in order to be successful.
“Coach always tells us to play the way that we are capable of playing,” Campbell said. “Nobody is superman. Nobody needs to do anything that they are not capable of. I just feel like if everybody does what they are coached to do, then things will work out better”
The offense was hurt by turnovers despite also showing the capacity for big plays. Four interceptions, including the costly one with the team down 38-24, allowed Bucknell’s offense to have excellent field position, making for some easy scoring opportunities for the Bison.
“We just need to come together as offense and defense and just keep executing,” Gaul said. “That’s where the momentum comes from. We can’t allow big plays, and we can’t allow three and outs when our defense makes huge plays.” The senior mentioned how the team fed off the momentum and the crowd energy from the nearly 5,000 fans in attendance. Still, like in the past games, the strong moments were squandered when the team reverted back to making mistakes that hindered the team’s chances of victory.
For the fifth time, the Hawks will try to rebound from a loss, this time against their final non-conference opponent: Cornell University. Despite the lacking performances so far, coach Andy Coen will largely be sticking with the same personnel to try to get the job done. Injuries have forced him to already do some shuffling, so the team has already had a wide range of players see action.
“You have to find a way to rise above it,” Coen said in regards to the injuries and depth concerns. “The good teams can rise above it. I can’t sit here and say that we are a good football team by any stretch. We do good things at times. I could put together a nice highlight reel to make it look like we are a good football team, but we are not.”
Looking ahead, Lehigh will travel to Ithaca, New York, to take on the Big Red of Cornell on Saturday at 3 p.m. After that, they will be playing against the five remaining members of the Patriot League.