(left to right) Offensive linemen freshman Liborio Ricottilli, sophomore Timothy O'Hara, and sophomore tight end Michael Baur prepare for another play at practice on Goodman Campus on Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015. The Mountain Hawks will face James Madison University on Saturday. (Chris Barry/B&W Photo)

Lehigh football uses 2014 loss to James Madison as fuel for this season’s matchup

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For the fourth time in school history, the Lehigh football team has an opportunity to tie up its losing record against James Madison University.

The Mountain Hawks will meet James Madison in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with the Dukes holding a 2-1 advantage. All three meetings were played at Lehigh (1-0), with a Lehigh 31-14 win in November 1980, a James Madison 14-13 win in 2004, and most recently, a Lehigh season-opening loss in 2014 at 31-28.

In the 2014 season opener, the game was relatively close, with back-and-forth scoring on both ends for a majority of the time. Lehigh eventually fell short at the end due to a missed field goal opportunity.

“Offensively, the game plan this year is to be 100 percent in the red zone and score touchdowns every time, not have to settle for field goals,” junior quarterback Nick Shafnisky said.

After beating Central Connecticut State University 20-14 last week, the Mountain Hawks are confident in their ability to keep this streak going against the Dukes. In order to do this, the players are actively trying not to dwell on the past, but rather learn from it by making a game plan they now see fit. After realizing their mistakes, the players and coaches are more aware of how to address them moving forward.

“In terms of this year we are going to treat them like a regular opponent and not get caught up in the hype surrounded by who they are,” senior wide receiver Derek Knott said.

The atmosphere will indeed be energetic, with the Dukes’ huge fan base and stadium.

“We’re really excited about this opportunity to go there and play them, in hope to leave with a win after falling short last year,” senior wide receiver Stefan Sansone said.

Because of this size difference, in both their fan base and their stadium, the Dukes were able to take advantage last time coming into the game with tremendous amounts of confidence. Once the Mountain Hawks were able to get the ball moving and put up points, the Dukes gave them some respect.

In the second half, though, when mistakes were made on Lehigh’s part, the Dukes capitalized, eventually creeping back into the game and coming out on top. The players anticipate the same attitude this year, and expect the Dukes to come out with a lot of man coverage. The difference this time is the Mountain Hawks are more prepared to stay ahead, and not let the Dukes work their way in like they did last time.

“Winning this game would just continue to grow our confidence heading into the home opener against UPenn,” senior running back D.J. Kee said. “Everyone from the coaching staff on down has been using the loss last year as fuel for this upcoming game.”

A win against the Dukes would put Lehigh on the map, making other teams more timid to play them, fully confident that the team was beatable last year, and is beatable this year. James Madison (1-0) is ranked No. 11 among FCS teams this year, beating Morehead State University 56-7 last week.

“Also for us, winning this game after how we lost last year will put the icing on the cake for all of the upperclassmen that were on the field for last year,” Shafnisky said.

Saturday’s game will begin just after 4 p.m. at Bridgeforth Stadium. Although the game is not televised, streaming video will be available for free on MadiZONE HD Sportsnet. Radio coverage for Saturday’s game will also be available on ESPN Radio 1230 and 1320.

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