Only one week removed from his career-best six touchdown performance against UPenn, Nick Shafnisky wasn’t done breaking records.
The senior quarterback opened the game with a 26-yard pass, and the Mountain Hawks (2-2) continued that aggressive approach on the way to a 42-28 victory over Princeton University on Saturday.
Shafnisky finished with a career-high 461 passing yards on 36 attempts, while junior Troy Pelletier led Lehigh receivers with 190 yards and one touchdown.
His 461 yards are the third most ever by a Lehigh quarterback in a game, with Shafnisky becoming the first Lehigh quarterback to throw for 400 yards since Brandon Bialkowski, ’13, reached 430 yards against the same Princeton team in 2013. Shafnisky wasn’t aware how close he was to the record until he found out after the game from an unexpected source.
“I honestly didn’t know until my mom came down afterwards,” Shafnisky said. “My mom’s huge on all that.”
The Mountain Hawks opened the scoring on their first drive of the game, converting on a fourth down before Shafnisky hit senior Derek Knott on a seven-yard touchdown pass.
They began their next two drives with completions of more than 20 yards as well but failed to score on either of them while Princeton scored to tie the game, 7-7.
It was then the defense’s turn to step up, with junior defensive end Tyler Cavenas intercepting an attempted screen pass to give the ball back to Lehigh.
“I read it as a screen, and the guy threw me and I just sat there,” Cavenas said. “I feel like the ball slipped out of his hands, and it just happened to land in my lap.”
The offense quickly took advantage, needing just three plays to go 62 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown pass from Shafnisky to junior Gatlin Casey that marked Lehigh’s longest play of the year.
That record didn’t last for long though, as Shafnisky went on to throw passes of 48, 49 and 56 yards, the last of which put the Mountain Hawks up 35-14.
Senior Evan Harvey’s interception with 2:12 left in the game removed any doubt from the outcome, with Lehigh able to run the clock out the rest of the way. Shafnisky, despite being 19 yards from tying the Lehigh record for passing yards in a game, watched the game from the bench the rest of the way.
Casey finished the game with 148 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore Dom Bragalone recorded 126 rushing yards on 25 carries.
“There was just such a balance today that they really did not know how to stop us,” Shafnisky said. “We were doing some running, short passes, deep passes, quarterback scrambles – I think everything was just clicking today.”
It wasn’t just the offense that had a big day, though. The defense came up with several big plays as well, and perhaps more importantly, won the turnover battle.
“We’ve been talking about it, and these last couple weeks we really haven’t been making game-changer plays on the defense, and I think today was one of those days,” Cavenas said. “We had three interceptions and we caused a fumble that we didn’t recover, but going forward we need to keep doing that.”
Coach Andy Coen echoed the importance of the defense getting turnovers, saying that they’ve been a point of emphasis since the season started.
In Lehigh’s loss to Princeton last year, the team gave the ball away four times. This time around, the team finished with zero turnovers while forcing three of its own.
“I thought Princeton was going to be a big challenge for us and they certainly were,” Coen said. “I’m obviously thrilled with the outcome.”
The Mountain Hawks will return to action next Saturday when they travel to Connecticut to take on Yale University. It will be the team’s third Ivy League opponent in as many weeks and its last game before it begins Patriot League competition.