Just a week after a strong defensive showing against Central Connecticut State University, Lehigh football’s defense returned to its 2014 struggles on Saturday when it fell to James Madison University.
Lehigh’s three turnovers on offense helped James Madison (2-0) toward a win, with the Dukes gaining 618 yards of total offense. The 55 points were the most allowed by Lehigh since it gave up 59 in a loss to College of the Holy Cross in 2007.
The Mountain Hawks (1-1) had a tough showing as they gave up 31 straight points over the span of the first and second quarters, falling to James Madison 55-17.
Junior quarterback Nick Shafnisky completed 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards and two interceptions, as well as 53 rushing yards.
“I have to trust the pocket more as well,” Shafnisky said after the game. “As I get more mature and more experienced, I will start trusting the guys much more.”
Although being held to only 11 yards rushing on eight carries, freshman running back Dominick Bragalone had another good showing catching three passes for 92 yards, one of which went for a touchdown.
Senior wide receiver Derek Knott is back and healthy after battling some tough injuries last season. Knott was Lehigh’s top receiver with 10 catches for 83 yards. Junior wide receiver Trevor Socarras was right behind him with eight catches for 50 yards.
The game’s major turning point came in the second quarter when Lehigh’s senior punter Austin Devine fumbled a snap, which was recovered by JMU’s Rashad Robinson and returned 34 yards for a touchdown. This put the Dukes up by 17 points, which would be the closest margin Lehigh would face for the rest of the game.
“I think it really went awry in the second quarter,” coach Andy Coen said. “We were being pretty competitive at that point in time.”
Saturday’s matchup was the first time in history the teams met in Harrisonburg, Virginia, but the second consecutive season the game has been delayed by lightning. The game was delayed 35 minutes with 10:44 left to play in the 4th quarter.
“I was proud even when we had to come back from this lightning deal,” Coen said. “Our kids still went out and played hard. That will serve them well as we go through the rest of this season.”
Following the delay, freshman quarterback Brad Mayes from Tampa, Florida, made his collegiate debut, going 2-of-4 for 46 yards.
“It was tough, we felt like we were doing an okay job, but we missed a lot of tackles,” said senior leader and linebacker Noah Robb, who had eight tackles in Saturday’s matchup. “We had them on a couple third and longs and they converted.”
James Madison’s up-tempo style offense proved difficult for the Hawks to stop. They ran no-huddle almost the entire game, driving down the field and scoring very quickly, making it harder for Lehigh to make substitutions.
“We practiced all week with the hurry-up offense but it’s tough to simulate a whole game,” Robb said. “We have a lot of work to do, but were ready to move on to Penn next week.”
The pair of junior linebackers Colton Caslow and Pierce Ripanti led the team in tackles with 15 and 10 respectively. This comes just one week after Caslow recorded a career-high 17 tackles against Central Connecticut State. Junior defensive back Brian Githens had Lehigh’s only interception of the day to go along with his seven tackles.
Although it was a tough loss, senior defensive end Matt Laub is confident that the team will move on from this game the same way it would any other.
“We realize it happened and we just need to learn from our mistakes and move forward,” Laub said. “One game won’t define our season and our attitude as a team and defense. We’ll just see where we need to improve on film, and then our coaches will establish a game plan for Penn and we’ll run with it.”
The Hawks will look to bounce back as they return home after being away for the first two games to start the season. Lehigh will face the University of Pennsylvania on Sept. 19 at 12:30 p.m. at Goodman Stadium.