Sophomore running back Dominick Bragalone runs through into the end zone during Lehigh's game against Monmouth University on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, at Goodman Stadium. Bragalone's touchdown was the first touchdown of Lehigh's 2016 season. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo)

Lehigh football loses possession battle, game against Monmouth in season opener


After the first 60 minutes of Lehigh football’s fall season, the only statistic that will matter to the team is its 0-1 record.

However, that record doesn’t tell the full story of how the opening test of the Mountain Hawks’ season played out.

In fact, not even the seemingly close 23-21 score can describe the qualities of the frustrating loss Lehigh endured to Monmouth University playing in front of its home crowd Saturday afternoon at Goodman Stadium.

So what was the most telling comparison between the teams?

Time of possession. Monmouth played 37:38 with the ball in its hands while Lehigh possessed the ball for just 22:22.

“Our defense was on the field way too much,” head coach Andy Coen said.

One glaring reason for the difference in time of possession was the inconsistent play of Lehigh’s offense.

It was certainly a shock to the group — which expects to put on an offensive show in each game they play — to be held scoreless in the first half of the game.

“It was unacceptable. I think we ran 19 plays in the first half, which is terrible. Zero points, which is terrible,” senior quarterback Nick Shafnisky said.

Shafnisky finished 15-for-21 with 159 yards and a touchdown through the air as well as 42 yards on the ground accompanied by a rushing touchdown.

But while he struggled for the majority of the game — calling it “one of the worst offensive games” he’s had in a long time — there were flashes of potential for what his group can do when they’re having success.

After being down 14-0, the Mountain Hawks managed to tie the game up within a 6:25 span in the second half. And later in the fourth quarter, Lehigh conducted an 84-yard drive in just 4:22 that brought them within two points.

However, those efficient drives were sandwiched between struggles that made Lehigh look out of sync.

Another major reason for the discrepancy in possession was Monmouth’s ability execute a gameplan that included a plethora of successful runs and short passes. Senior running back Lavon Chaney alone was able to gain 193 all-purpose yards on 28 touches.

By mostly focusing on short-distance gains, Monmouth was able to run 75 plays — compared to 52 for Lehigh — which left a lot of Mountain Hawks winded on defense.

“We knew we had to get off the field because they had long methodical drives,” senior linebacker Evan Kauffman said.

Kauffman was a bright spot on defense for Lehigh, getting credited with 12 tackles as well as a sack. However, many of his fellow teammates were missing tackles, the biggest mistake coming when two Mountain Hawks seemed to have Chaney wrapped up near the sideline until he broke free for a 52-yard gain.

To make things tougher, Lehigh was without their leading tackler from a year ago, senior captain Colton Caslow, who broke his hand early on in training camp. Caslow is hoping to be back in his linebacker position within the next couple of weeks.

In the end, Monmouth’s ability to hold on to the ball on offense helped it secure the victory.

After a 26-yard touchdown catch by junior Sasha Kelsey, there was 4:09 left for the Mountain Hawks to get a stop on defense and drive the other way for a game-winning field goal.

But they never got a chance.

The backfield combo of Chaney and Zach Welch ran every play until it was time to kneel down and seal the victory for Monmouth.

Though the team will be disappointed with its opening loss, it will have an away game to look forward to next Saturday at 6 p.m. against Villanova. Lehigh will hope to move the ball more consistently and fix its defensive issues against its in-state opponent.

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Senior quarterback Nick Shafnisky runs with the ball during Lehigh's game against Monmouth University on Saturday, September 3, 2016, at Goodman Stadium. Shafnisky had a good game against Villanova on Saturday, adding his second rushing touchdown of the season. (Erik Thomas/B&W Staff)

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