The Hawks football team has been plagued by a wrath of close losses this season, looking like a team capable of a much better record if not for a few missed plays.
On Saturday afternoon, this was not the case. From start to finish, a lack of plays on both offense and defense meant the game was never close, and the result was a 27-7 victory by Lafayette College.
Unlike in previous games, the Hawks feel-good moments were very short-lived and not very abundant. The first drive for the Leopards resulted in a turnover on downs after the team could not convert on a 4th and 2 at the Lehigh 31.
Following that, a 30-yard completion from sophomore quarterback Nick Shafnisky to senior wide receiver Josh Parris gave the Lehigh fans some more reasons to feel confident. However, this did not last when the Hawks failed to get anything else going on that drive.
It became a completely different game when the ensuing Lafayette drive ended up being 93 yards, resulting in a touchdown. In what would be an ongoing theme, it was Leopards senior running back Ross Scheuerman who was responsible for 74 of those total yards.
By the middle of the second quarter, Hawks fans had grown delirious as the lead quickly became 21-0 Leopards, with Scheuerman responsible for all three touchdowns, including a 79-yard run. It was tough to pick out one Hawk who was stepping up to the task and playing inspired football in the game in front of more than 48,000 people. The offense was ineffective and the defense, particularly the run defense, was leaving plays on the field.
One telling statistic at the half was that Lehigh’s total first downs and Lafayette’s total touchdowns were both the same number: three. The Hawks were getting routed at almost every position.
The Leopards, however, were executing. In addition to Scheuerman, coach Andy Coen cited the Leopards’ excellent third-down defense as a difference-maker in the game.
On the other hand, the Hawks’ shortcomings in the first half left them in a hole that they could not climb out of.
“We didn’t execute well today,” Coen said. “I don’t think it was anybody there with a lack of effort. I feel pretty confident that the guys were trying their best, but trying only gets you so far. You have to execute to be successful.”
Lehigh’s execution improved when the third quarter began. Besides a sack by senior defensive lineman Tim Newton that got wiped out by a penalty, there were few plays made in the first half. But the third quarter included the very first drive for the Leopards where they were forced to punt.
The biggest momentum-swinger, though, came when freshman running back Chris Leigh ran 70 yards down the sideline on the first base side of the field. This was a huge moment for the young Mountain Hawk, but it would end up being the lone points scored for the team.
“We had a little momentum going,” senior wide receiver Josh Parris said. “But we couldn’t finish plays, and we couldn’t execute. The momentum was starting to swing a bit, but we couldn’t do what we needed to do to get the ball in the end zone.”
Scheuerman shined brightest on Saturday on a field that has displayed many stars. His 310 rushing yards shattered the Lafayette school record for rushing yards in a game. Additionally, despite starting a backup quarterback in senior Zach Zweizig, the Leopards’ quarterback was integral in filling in for last year’s hero Drew Reed. His 13-for-23 performance with 166 yards and no turnovers was effective, while Shafnisky’s 8-for-19 with 81 yards was not. Lehigh’s senior running back Rich Sodeke, usually dependable, was a non factor, rushing for just 28 yards.
The off-season is the plan for both teams next, as neither team’s record warrants a spot in the Patriot League playoffs. Their one league counterpart that will have more football ahead is Fordham. The Rams won the Patriot League with a 6-0 record and will qualify for the playoffs despite a 42-31 loss to Army, an FCS school, on Saturday.
As Parris stated, it is a bittersweet feeling for the seniors on Lehigh’s team, as the game was played on such a huge stage but could have had a better outcome.
“It’s hard to come to grips with this being your last collegiate game,” Parris said. “You definitely want to have that memory of winning your last game, but obviously that’s not the case. You have to take that and swallow it. It’s been a great four years at Lehigh.”
For key returning players like Shafnisky, Leigh and sophomore inside linebacker Colton Caslow, the time begins for them to make sure they get properly rewarded for their hard work and start making a push in the Patriot League once again.
“You bottle it up and use it as motivation for the off-season to get better, faster, stronger and come back harder next year,” said Caslow, who led the team with 10 solo tackles.
For now, though, the players, coaches and fans of Lehigh are overcoming the sting of the loss. It was a huge game at one of the most iconic sports venues in the country, and it will be a day that attendees are likely to remember for quite some time.
“I told our kids before the game that you have a great memory just by being here and having the opportunity to play in Yankee Stadium,” Coen said. “But the biggest memory you are going to want to have is winning that game, and unfortunately we won’t have that memory. But these guys are still going to be able to tell their grandkids, ‘I remember playing Lafayette in Yankee Stadium.’”
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