Lehigh faces Penn for their first home game on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Lehigh wins with a final score of 42-21. (Toni Isreal/B&W photo)

Lehigh football blasts Penn 42-21 in home opener

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Lehigh football wanted to make a statement that this year’s team is nothing like last year’s team.

It did just that with a win in its home opener Saturday over University of Pennsylvania (0-1).

The Lehigh (2-1) offense totaled 495 yards of total offense, with 250 through the air and 245 on the ground. Junior quarterback Nick Shafnisky had a career performance, going 24-of-34 for 250 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Shafnisky also ran for 95 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

Shafnisky said he wants to prove that the team has a desire to keep improving and use the win as momentum.

“It’s awesome to come out our first home game and make a statement by beating Penn,” Shafnisky said. “It’ll put a chip on more of the guys’ shoulders now to keep wanting to get better everyday and keep striding to become the best they can be.”

Another key player in the win was sophomore wide receiver Troy Pelletier, who came out with 10 receptions for 104 receiving yards and two touchdowns after only having three catches in his first two games combined. Pelletier was also coming off an injury he was struggling with in the first two games, but said he was finally feeling good enough to play his part.

“Today was just a blast to be out in Goodman,” Pelletier said. “Our offense was really clicking and we were able to put up a lot of points. I was able to get open and (Shafnisky) was able to find me to make some big plays.”

Junior wide receiver Trevor Socarras also added five catches for 55 yards, and on the ground, freshman running back Micco Brisker totaled over 100 yards rushing for the first time in his career, finishing with 114 yards on 22 carries.

“(Brisker) has done a phenomenal job carrying the ball and picking up blitzes in pass protection,” Shafnisky said.

Offensively, the line has stepped up to become a cohesive five-man unit, and these two wins early on give the Mountain Hawks momentum they’d like to carry throughout the rest of the season, a momentum which they were lacking last year.

The game began with the Mountain Hawks putting together a 13-play, 76-yard drive that was then topped off by an eight-yard touchdown run by sophomore wide receiver Gatlin Casey, giving Lehigh an early 7-0 lead. Penn then responded with a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Alek Torgersen, completing a 95-yard drive on the first play of the second quarter. This tied the game up 7-7 with 14:55 left in the half.

The Mountain Hawks regained a 14-7 lead halfway through the second quarter after Shafnisky found Pelletier for a six-yard touchdown. This touchdown was part of an impressive 19-play, 75-yard drive that took 8:57 off the clock.

This drive showcased the Hawks’ ability to put together long drives and finish them with points instead of coming up short. This was a key part of Lehigh’s offensive dominance.

The second half opened with both teams going back and forth, with the Mountain Hawks taking advantage of their impressive field position on the offensive possession. After starting on the Penn 39-yard line, Shafnisky scored a three-yard touchdown run with 7:59 left in the third quarter, giving Lehigh a 28-7 lead.

Penn rebounded quickly on its next drive with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Torgersen to sophomore wide receiver Justin Watson, cutting the 28-14 difference in half with 6:50 left. But it only took Lehigh 1:38 to bring the margin back to 21, with Shafnisky picking up his fourth touchdown of the game, finding senior wide receiver Stefan Sansone on an eight-yard pass. The Mountain Hawks took a 35-14 lead into the fourth.

“We hope to continue this streak for as long as possible,” Sansone said. “Everyone has stepped up into huge roles on both sides of the ball. Just playing as a team and everyone doing their job, we were able to execute on both sides of the ball today. It was nice to see that we responded well when we faced adversity.”

Both defenses responded in the fourth with interceptions, with Lehigh ultimately running out the clock to get it to a 42-21 victory. Junior defensive back Brian Githens continued to be one of the top defensive players on the team, finishing with double-digit tackles and an interception.

The Mountain Hawks said they look forward to keeping the positive momentum when they play their second Ivy League opponent in two weeks with a matchup against Princeton University on Sept. 26. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.

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