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Having "Faith" After The Tough Loss to JMU

It's no secret I don't take losses well.

Despite the fact that I picked JMU to win, and logically, I saw the task of beating JMU as a tough one for these young Mountain Hawks, starting over a dozen new names, emotionally I can't separate the logical and emotional sides of my brain very well.  When the Lehigh offense was driving down the field with about a minute to play, I saw the win at the end of tunnel of light.

It would have made my day, given me a rush of adrenaline that would have carried me through the day, and perhaps a good chunk of the week.

But it didn't happen.  The adrenal rush never happened.  I drove home, the loss not sitting well with the Chinese food we ate, nor the breakfast I ate.  The food didn't taste good.  The tiredness took over.

Something funny happened, though, on the way to next week.

A spark of "faith" that after one game, things might be OK.

My wife had to almost drag me to church this morning.

It's not that I don't want to go to church - it's simply that after a loss, the tiredness really sets in.  The adrenaline leaves your body, and the body that's been in perpetual motion, with precious little sleep for the last six days, finally decides to shut itself off a little.

I didn't think going to church today - especially today - would really provide my foggy brain much this week.

But it did.

The lesson today was on the book of Genesis.  Without going into too much detail, the lesson was partially about how, in the world around us, God doesn't want us to shoulder the entire load ourselves.  We are a part of the whole machine - but only a part.

Predictably, it made me think about this Lehigh team in the same context.

After losses, especially tough losses, it's easy to sit and point the finger at one person, one coach, one play, and blame them for a mistake, or a job not well done.

But a football team isn't just one individual.

More than any other sport, it is collaborative in that any number of coaches, sideline signalers, and eleven players on the field at one time need to be working in perfect sync in order to get anything done.

Wins and losses are not up to one player, but everyone working in tandem, doing their part to shoulder their part of the load.  Nobody shoulders the entire load themselves.

James Madison on opening day was a challenging assignment.

Before the JMU game, there was plenty to worry about in regards to the first game of Lehigh's season.

A new offensive coordinator, and a newly-promoted defensive coordinator.

New guys on the O-line - and, but the end of the game, four brand-new guys on the O-line, being asked to block a 300 lb nose guard on JMU and quite possibly the largest defensive front the Mountain Hawks will face all season.

New go-to guys, both running and catching the ball, and that's if you count sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky's two and a half game experience at the end of last season as significant starting experience.

Four brand-new starters in the secondary.  A brand-new punter.  A new long-snapper.  The list goes on and on.

There was a real concern that this Lehigh football team, still trying to get on the same page in the very first game of the season, would get blown off the line of scrimmage and get blown out by an FCS football program that is openly flirting with the prospect of heading to FBS.

Somewhere in my brain last week, I knew how big a challenge this would be for this Lehigh team, which is why I picked a 35-32 defeat.  I thought it would be close, but the fact that James Madison had a week to work out the kinks would be the critical difference.

In a way, that seems to be what happened, though it didn't make the loss any easier to swallow on the way home.

As the season will progress, the little things, like penalties, mental mistakes, low snaps, and other things, work themselves out as long as the players work on their part, putting "faith" that the other players will all be working hard to do their part.

But that's now what I was thinking driving home from Murray Goodman.

It was too easy to look at individual plays that, in isolation, didn't add up to specific moments as to when the game was won or lost.

When enough of them piled up, Lehigh ended up losing a game they could have won.

One offensive drive that bugged me in particular was where Lehigh had the lead, and it was the middle of the 4th quarter.

Shaf had guided the offense to midfield, but two killer penalties - an illegal formation and a false start - killed all the momentum, and the Mountain Hawks had to punt.

I thought, "What if?"  What if that mistake didn't happen?    One more first down there, and maybe Lehigh scores a low-pressure field goal to go up by 7, or maybe even a backbreaking touchdown to put JMU away.

Even if it was the prototypical "first game" type of mistake that should get corrected later in the season.

Which is where the "faith" comes in.

So much of the little things that caused penalties, or timing things came about because it was the first game.  These can be corrected.

And when you stop thinking about "coulda, woulda, shoulda," there was much to like about the new spin on the Lehigh offense.

Sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky impressed people with his poise in the pocket, some giant 3rd down conversions, his fearlessnes, and his passing touch, when it was required.

The offensive line gave Shaf all day to throw, and stood toe-to-toe against James Madison's big defensive front and pretty much won that battle all afternoon.

Senior RB Rich Sodeke and sophomore RB Brandon Yosha proved themselves to be a dynamic set of running backs that were exciting to watch on Saturday.

Defensively, too, you can see the embryonic stages of an aggressive defense that will be better than last year.  Sophomore LB Colton Caslow was in QB Vad Lee's face all day, while that hit on Lee by sophomore CB Brandon Leaks at the end of the half was the kind of hit that might have been SportsCenter, or even College Football Gameday, worthy.

James Madison head coach Everett Withers even said as much in his post-game press conference.

"They are a very talented football team," he said.  "Coach Coen has done an unbelievable job with this program.  They're a tough team, a physical team.  They were not somebody where we came in here and said, 'Wow, these guys are all of a sudden good.'  We knew that coming in here."

Even better, there's every reason to believe that the best is still yet to come from everyone.

The machine was not firing on all cylinders - and that's why the loss stings, and it doesn't sit will - yet at the same time it's clear that the tools are there for Lehigh to get better from week to week.

That starts next week at New Hampshire, where a little "faith," I think, might bring this Lehigh team a long way.

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