Sunday, September 04, 2016
Like A Boa Constrictor, Monmouth Squeezes Life out of Lehigh In 23-21 Win
That's a fairly accurate description of how the game flow went in Lehigh's asphyxiating opening-day loss to Monmouth, 23-21.
With visions of Lehigh's potent offense in their heads, most of the 4,828 fans in attendance thought they might see the type of offensive show they enjoyed the last time Lehigh played a football game at Murray Goodman stadium, something like the 49-35 win over their bitter Rivals Lafayette, for example.
Instead they saw the Monmouth boa constrictor slowly wrap itself around the Mountain Hawks and squeeze the life away, possession by possession.
It does not pay for a team to start off slow and sleepy against a boa constrictor, yet that's exactly what happened.
After senior QB Nick Shafnisky and sophomore RB Dominick Bragalone had the opening Lehigh drive stall at midfield, sophomore P/K Ed Mish came out and booted his first of many punts on the afternoon, inside the 10 yard line.
Monmouth then underwent their simple gameplan - convert 3rd and 4th downs for the most part, grind out tough yards on the ground, get our good playmakers into space, and win the game.
Monmouth QB Cody Williams wasn't flashy, nor did he throw the ball deep very often. But he was fearsomely accurate (16 for 23, 198 yards), didn't turn over the ball (except on a 4th down play that ended up as a leaping interception by sophomore S Sam McCloskey, which would have been a turnover on downs anyway), and did a great impression of a large, bone-crushing snake sliding behind Lehigh.
"Offensively, I was very unhappy with our performance in the first half, " head coach Andy Coen said. "We couldn't get into our flow. We just couldn't get it going, but Monmouth had it going pretty good. Obviously our defense was on the football field way too much.
Drive after drive Monmouth converted 3rd downs (7 of 15) and 4th down conversions (2 of 3), extending drives and eating up time of possession (the Hawks held onto the ball on offense for 37:38 of the game, compared with Lehigh's 22:22).
Much of that came from the inability to get things going on defense, in large part because of near-constant pressure in the pass rush on Nick Shafnisky. Shaf didn't have much time to pick apart the Hawk defense before desperately needing to scramble for his life, sometimes getting 1st downs. but mostly not.
Asked to convert a 4th-and-1, Bragalone tried, and was unsuccessful, to get the necessary yard to keep the drive alive, and then 13 plays, 54 yards and six minutes and three seconds later, Monmouth would take their first lead of the game.
"It was a miracle we were only down 7-0 at the half.," coach Coen said. "We were able to get things moving in the second half. It seemed like there was a magic wand we had to wave over everybody but we settled down and performed the way we expected to play."
Once Monmouth took a 14-0 lead after an agonizing scoring drive that took 5:51 off the clock, the Lehigh offense rebounded, and clawed to tie the game at 14, thanks to drives punctuated by a Shafnisky 2 yard run and a Bragalone 1 yard plunge.
But behind a two-pronged rushing attack from RB Levon Chaney and RB Zach Welch, both backs gained 294 of Monmouth's 413 yards from scrimmage, including a 52 yard screen pass from Williams to Chaney that resulted in two missed tackles and a huge gain down the left sideline that helped Monmouth take the lead, this time for good.
After settling for a field goal, the crowd of 4,828 saw Lehigh's offense take the field and thought that perhaps, with a long touchdown drive, the Mountain Hawks and starting quarterback Nick Shafnisky would again take the lead.
Instead, a disastrous ball thrown behind junior TE Drew Paulsen instead ended up in the hands of Monmouth DE Marcus Leslie - his first career pick - and ended with a quick, crushing touchdown after three quick Chaney runs pummelled a gassed, exhausted defense.
"I'm giving all the credit to Monmouth," Coen said. "They had a good plan, and they took it to us. We still have a lot of work to do."
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