Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mountain Hawks Crushed Under James Madison Tidal Wave, 55-17

It was still very much a game after the first quarter.

After James Madison took their opening drive and drove 72 yards in 8 plays to go up 7-0, Lehigh responded with a perfectly-executed pass from junior QB Nick Shafnisky to freshman RB Dominic Bragalone over the middle, where the speedy running back from South Williamsport, PA showed a burst of speed, outracing the entire James Madison secondary to tie the game at seven.

They absorbed the Dukes' first wave of offense, and showed a sign that they might be able to get into a shootout with James Madison.

But in short order, the Dukes offense, pelting the Lehigh defense in waves, proved to be overwhelming.

Buoyed by 334 yards passing by QB Vad Lee, 286 yards rushing by a bevy of backs and a big special teams play converted into a touchdown, the Dukes scored 31 unanswered points in about a 14 minute span in the second quarter to overwhelm the Mountain Hawks.


"It really went awry for us in the second quarter," head coach Andy Coen said afterwards.  "We were pretty competitive at that point in time. Throughout the course of the game we didn't do a good job getting the Dukes off the field on third downs and we didn't convert third downs and that's not the right remedy."

For the game, James Madison converted 7 of 12 on 3rd downs, executing their first punt with 2:02 left in the third quarter up 45-17.

An early fumble recovered by sophomore DE Tyler Cavenas, wrestling the ball in Lehigh's favor at the bottom of the pile after Lee was stripped by junior LB Joe Barrett.

But an incredibly athletic play by CB Curtis Oliver to tip, then nab, the interception on the ensuing drive stopped any chance that Lehigh might have to build a head of steam after the turnover.

Then the Dukes kept coming in waves.

Big receptions from TE Dean Cheatham (8 catches, 118 yards), huge runs and receptions from RB Cardon Johnson (105 all-purpose yards, 3 TDs), and, of course, some big plays by Vad Lee (50 yards rushing, 334 yards passing) pounded Lehigh's defense on drive after drive.

As the waves hit, Lehigh defenders kept getting knocked out of the game.  Barrett, who forced the fumble, went out with an injury.  So did Cavenas, who recovered the fumble.

Then when things felt like they couldn't get worse, they did, after senior P Austin Devine fumbled the ball on a punt attempt, which was recovered by JMU's Rashad Robertson, who converted his miscue into a back-breaking touchdown to make it 24-7.

"I really don't think we put our best foot forward," Coen said. "We had the punt issue where the punter drops the ball and didn't get it kicked and it wound up being a touchdown.  We're a very young football team. I think we have 56 players who are freshmen or sophomores. A lot of them are getting an opportunity to play at a young age and that's a tough thing to do. When the bigger, faster, stronger team is there it's hard to beat that team and that's what happened today."

Youth wasn't the explanation for the missed tackles that consistently led to JMU scores, though.

"You have to tackle them and that's really all you can do," Coen said. "We didn't tackle very well today. I was disappointed in that. We had too many players lunging and diving instead of breaking down and executing the tackle the way it should be. That's something we have to improve ourselves upon."

There was evidence of some fight in this Lehigh team, especially scoring a touchdown at the end of the first half to sophomore WR Troy Pelletier, and the first possession of the second half, which was converted into a field goal by freshman PK Ed Mish.

But James Madison head coach Everett Withers didn't elect to call off the dogs, keeping his starters coming in waves well after the outcome of the game was not in doubt.

After two more scores would make James Madison go up 48-17, Withers would elect to execute an onsides kick, which JMU recovered, choosing to keep the waves coming despite being up 31 points early in the 4th quarter.

And yet even then Lehigh couldn't stop the JMU offense, yielding the Dukes' final touchdown on the ensuing drive.

James Madison provided a yardstick for Lehigh's team to show where they stand right now in the world of FCS.  They showed that the Mountain Hawks have a lot more work to do to get to where they want to be.  They need to figure out how to stop, or at least slow down, the waves.

Live On-Demand Video Link on Madizone.Com of Lehigh/JMU Game

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