Archive For The “Nick Shafnisky” Category
Many Patriot League football fans remember the 153rd meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette, one that ended happily for the Mountain Hawks.
They might remember the MVP performance of QB Brad Mayes, or perhaps the halftime speech by OL Zach Duffy that seemed to spur the Mountain Hawks to victory.
Or perhaps they might remember the spectacular single play of Mayes rolling right and finding WR Gatlin Casey in the end zone to give the Mountain Hawks a lead they didn’t relinquish. It was an incredible play by Mayes, who returns this upcoming year for his senior season, and Casey, who, having exhausted his eligibility at Lehigh, will be playing one more year at Middle Tennessee State.
As great as those individual moments are, though, they are not my biggest takeaway of that game.
Too many Lehigh people forget that Lehigh was down 31-21 at half, and that victory was no sure thing. And they sometimes forget that so much of that victory came from the grinding of WR Troy Pelletier, delivering huge 3rd down reception after huge 3rd down reception, and grabbing the critical touchdown that cut Lafayette’s lead to 31-28. They forget the absolute receiving clinic he put on against Lafayette DB Phillip Parham – himself no slouch – not only by running perfect routes, which he always did exceptionally in a Lehigh uniform, but by using his body to get open and become a bigger target for Mayes.
It’s no easy task to make a 9 catch, 107 yard, 2 touchdown day against your bitterest Rival seem like another day at the office, but that’s exactly what Troy did, in his quiet, intense, hard working way. And that’s my biggest takeaway from that Rivalry game.
Many may forget, but I do not. And this week, in the run-up to the NFL Draft, we are going to find out which NFL teams have been paying attention as well.
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Sometimes, the lawnmower engine you’ve pull-started five times finally gets up and running after the sixth time you’ve pulled the recoil starter handle – the gas igniting, the smoke billowing, the engine humming.
And other times, after you pull the recoil starter handle, you hear the parts stirring, something in there wanting to fire, but it doesn’t. Something’s amiss – some debris, something out of tune – but the upshot is, ignition doesn’t happen.
This is the place where Lehigh football is right now.
The lawnmower that is Lehigh football has ignited – a little. The engine has had power, and created a whole lot of smoke. But in the end, each time the system has returned to rest, unable to use the power to get the job done and achieve a single victory. Things are out of tune.
It’s not ideal to have to be in a must-ignite moment against, historically, the second-biggest rival on the football schedule, the team against whom so many epic battles have occurred for the Mountain Hawks – many of them which helped determine the Patriot League Championship and FCS Playoff autobid.
And yet, here we are, with the recoil starter handle in hand, hoping that this time, the sixth time, everything is tuned correctly and everything starts firing all at the right time.
Kids come to play football at Lehigh because they want their games to matter.
It would be all so easy if football were a video game.
If the players were pixels, with easy-to-read sliders with their statistics on them.
Then the FCS playoffs would be easy. You’d plug in the teams, they’d hit each other virtually on the screen, and there would be a result, quantifying the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team. A representative score would come out, and there would be one side bursting with victory, and the other in agony in defeat.
There would be bitterness, some teeth-gnashing, but at least you’d have figured out that the teams gave it their best shot.
But real life is not a video game. Sometimes, star players go hunting, and come down with an illness. It keeps them out of practice, and on the day of the big game, they’re not 100%, or even 75%. Sometimes, foot injuries do not heal, as much as you wish that they would.
And then a team like Lehigh travels up to New Hampshire, not able to put their absolute best foot forward.
Not that it’s an excuse – injuries, and all sorts of other things, happen during a football season. New Hampshire exposed what may have actually been weaknesses hiding in plain sight for this Lehigh team, exposing the soft white underbelly of the Mountain Hawks – the ability to stop an elite running game.
But it was heartbreaking to have Lehigh not be able to put their absolute best foot forward, to not be able to go down with two of their four team captains at full strength.
Instead, all that Lehigh fans got to see were tiny glimpses of the team they had gotten to know so well over the last couple of months, sandwiched around a lot of evidence on how much better the Mountain Hawks need to be in order to compete for a national championship.
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Right from the opening drive it didn’t feel like it was going to be Lehigh’s day.
With sophomore QB Brad Mayes in for senior QB Nick Shafnisky, who was unable to start due to an undisclosed illness, a pass that bounced off the hands of senior WR Derek Knott instead bounced into the hands of New Hampshire’s first team all-CAA CB Casey DeAndrade.
Six plays later, the New Hampshire offense converted that turnover into the very first touchdown of the day for the Wildcats, the first of many on a defense that clearly missed senior LB Colton Caslow, who got hurt in the second half against Lafayette last weekend.
Four different New Hampshire players scored a grand total of six rushing touchdowns, two coming from RB Dalton Crossan, two coming from his backup, RB Trevon Bryant, one from the third-string, RB Evan Gray, and one on a scramble from QB Adam Riese.
All in all, the Wildcats racked up 364 yards rushing on the Brown and White, rushing to a 36-7 lead on the Mountain Hawks and coasting to a 64-21 victory. In the ultimate twist of irony, Lehigh got beat in the way they had beaten so many opponents in their nine game regular-season winning streak – with UNH jumping to a big lead and never really taking their foot off the gas.
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The parties raged on in the parking garage next to Fisher Field, which were packed with Lafayette fans eager to enjoy a party with plenty of great food and copious drinks.
The tiny businesses below Fisher Field, the small bits of capitalism next to the concrete husks of factory jobs that have left ages ago, had plenty of visiting Lehigh fans, enjoying the tailgates and ready to invade the stadium that they hadn’t seen in four years.
In the line coming into the stadium, a silent protest of hundreds of Lafayette students clad in black, handing out a political statement on a piece of paper and showing some signs that were up seemingly to simply show that these people exist, and are not happy.
Somewhere in this mix of people escaping, people expressing and people denying, a football game was played, one that matched an 8-2 team that was headed to the national stage and the FCS playoffs, the other a 2-8 squad that had their fans questioning the tenure of their head coach.
It was one of the strangest disconnect of emotions that I’ve ever seen in a Rivalry game, one where the outcome, a 45-21 victory by the Brown and White, was almost expected by everyone going through the crowded gates at Fisher Field.
There was plenty to celebrate – for one side, anyway.
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In the most-played college football Rivalry, there was a mild concern of complacency on the Lehigh side.
Would they be able to manage the emotions of the Rivalry after a bye week? Would they come out flat, and let 2-8 Lafayette take away their chance at an outright Patriot League championship, an undefeated Patriot League record, and a 9-2 regular season mark?
The Mountain Hawks proved resoundingly that fans needn’t have worried.
Lehigh rolled to a 17-0 lead before Lafayette connected on a big pass play, then kept the foot on the gas to get to a 45-7 lead before starting to put in the second stringers.
It was pretty telling that the biggest outpouring of emotion during the game happened when Lehigh’s marching band, the Marching 97, marched off Lafayette’s pep band after they went over on their time to play. It was that sort of day for a joyous Lehigh victory.
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It is an easy narrative to point at the 150th meeting of The Rivalry as the turnaround for the Lehigh football program, where the Mountain Hawks got together after that bitter, bitter loss and decided that enough was enough, and that they were going to not allow their team to be a cellar-dweller.
When Lehigh players, coaches and fans went to bed on Friday night, they probably had visions of the Mountain Hawks’ powerful offense attacking, and overwhelming, Bucknell to coast to a share of a Patriot League Championship and the conference’s FCS Playoff bid.
About ten minutes into the game, the 7,049 fans in attendance had probably figured out that if Lehigh was going to win a championship, it wasn’t going to be won like that.
It was going to have to be earned. It was going to have to be grabbed from Bucknell, smashing them in the mouth the same way they were smashing us.
It cannot be emphasized enough how Lehigh had to earn every single inch of this Patriot League victory, how not easy this win really was.
How the Mountain Hawks fell behind, clawed and scratched back to get the lead. How they had to stop the Bison stampede at key spots, get crucial turnovers, and fire up critical, difficult field goals by sophomore PK Ed Mish. Even extra points, normally considered automatic, took on new dramatic tension.
The offense got punished on every single play up until the final couple of victory formations. But in the end, it was not only a victory, but a victory of the most beautiful, rare sort – the type of win that officially buries the past.
“Sometimes the hardest ones are the ones you enjoy the most,” Coen said. “When you’re winning a championship, it should be hard. Bucknell made it hard on us today, but we’re the ones with the trophy and I can’t be more proud of a group of guys than I am of these guys.”