In the 151st meeting of the Lehigh versus Lafayette rivalry, the Mountain Hawks’ offense led the way with a massive performance to get a 49-35 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 15,921 people at Goodman Stadium.
Junior quarterback Nick Shafnisky was the driving force behind the offense, passing for 283 yards and four touchdowns and also leading the team in rushing with 109 yards and a touchdown. Shafnisky’s performance was enough to earn him the game Most Valuable Player award.
Shafnisky’s big game had much to do with his preparation throughout the week.
“I just remember coming into it, I watched so much more film than I probably ever have,” Shafnisky said.
This helped Shafnisky play a clean game, making few mistakes with the ball except for a fourth down interception in the fourth quarter that Lafayette was unable to capitalize on.
One of the ways Lehigh was able to keep Lafayette off balance was spreading the ball around. Shafnisky completed passes to seven different receivers on that day, four of them scoring touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Troy Pelletier had the best day of the bunch with five catches for a total of 86 yards and a touchdown.
Despite Lehigh jumping out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, Lafayette refused to quit. By the half they closed the gap to 28-14 and would continue to fight.
“Those kids didn’t quit at all,” coach Andy Coen said about Lafayette. “Many times I thought we had them, up by 21 points a couple times, but they just kept coming back. Right until the very end those kids were competing.”
Lehigh’s defense struggled to stop the Lafayette offense at times. It played a solid first quarter to shut out the Leopards, but throughout the game allowed 487 yards of total offense.
The defense did come up with some big plays during the game, such as sophomore defensive lineman Tyler Cavenas forcing a fumble from Desean Brown in the third quarter. Junior cornerback Brandon Leaks scooped up the ball and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown to give Lehigh its biggest lead of the day at 42-14.
“To come in and get this win and see the fans and the alumni come and love this rivalry is definitely humbling,” he said.
There were also a lot of emotions involved that senior wide receiver Derek Knott spoke about after losing to Colgate last week and being eliminated from playoff contention.
“We didn’t hang our heads and we knew we had the biggest game of our season to finish off with and we just wanted to send (the seniors) off with a win,” Knott said.
Knott was part of an offensive group that was especially efficient in the red zone. In its five trips to the red zone the team scored a touchdown every time, which Shafnisky cited as a key part of winning games. Shafnisky also gave credit to the offensive line, who he said did a excellent job blocking all day.
The line played a big part in not only Shafnisky’s big day, but also freshman running back Dom Bragalone’s. Bragalone rushed for 88 yards on the day, including a 44-yard touchdown run that put him over 1,000 yards on the season. In total the offense rushed for 202 yards. The mix between the run game and the pass was able to help keep Lafayette balanced throughout the game.
With this win, Lehigh finished its season at 6-5 overall and 4-2 in the conference, an overall improvement on last season’s 3-8 (2-4) record.