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Lehigh Fights Hard, But Bolt Of Lightning and James Madison Power Surge Leads to Defeat, 31-28

It could be that a bolt of lightning, which hit ground supposedly eight miles from Murray Goodman stadium, helped short out a possible Lehigh victory.

Going into halftime, all the electricity was on Lehigh's side.

Sophomore CB Brandon Leaks unleashed a powerful hit on scrambling JMU QB Vad Lee, stopping him a yard short of the end-zone pylon and giving Lehigh a 21-10 lead going into halftime.

Momentum was all Lehigh in an incredible first half for the Mountain Hawks.-

Before that lightning came down, that is.

The strike - if there actually was a strike, because I didn't see or hear it - caused a half-hour delay at halftime, despite nothing but blue skies with some clouds at Murray Goodman stadium.

But the lightning gave James Madison, gathering under a tree right before the second half began, the power surge they needed to earn the victory.

Lehigh started the game with the poise and energy needed to pull out the victory over the former I-AA national champions.

After an impressive defensive stop to start the game, sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky led the Mountain Hawks on an offensive drive that seemed like it was in mid-season form, ending with a high-stepping 1 yard touchdown burst by sophomore RB Brandon Yosha.

After an early field goal by PK Connor Arnone, the Dukes would reclaim the lead after RB Rashard Davis burst through a pair of incredible blocks up front to give James Madison a 10-7 lead.

Then, after junior LB Noah Robb made a play in recovering a surprise onsides kick try, Shaf would hand the ball to senior RB Rich Sodeke, who surged through the line for a huge 23 yard gain. 

Shaf would then find senior WR Josh Parris on a screen pass, where he'd juke a few defenders and step it in for the score to retake the lead, 14-10.  It was set up perfectly by the newly-powerful runing game, who ended up with 287 yards on the afternoon.

It was as potent a Lehigh rushing attack as recalled in years - against one of the biggest defensive lines Lehigh might face all season.

But senior OL Ned Daryoush was not intimidated one bit.

"We knew we could play with this team," he said.  "We knew we had to play physical, and that's what we went out there and did.  We knew our assignments, and we prepared well for them."

The defense stood strong as well in the first half against James Madison, thanks to the efforts of sophomore LB Colton Caslow and junior CB Olivier Rigaud.  Caslow was only credited with seven solo tackles on the afternoon, but forced consisted pressure on James Madison's athletic QB Vad Lee,  while Rigaud's tough assignment against WR Sean Tapley, one of JMU's star transfers from North Carolina, kept him from breaking any big plays.

A strong punt return by Parris would lead the Mountain Hawks past midfield, where Shaf and the offense would go to work and make it a double-digit lead.

Finding Sodeke on the screen once again for a huge gain, Shaf made it look easy, going a perfect 4-for-4 passing ending on a perfect strike in the left side of the end zone to senior WR Derek Gaul - a play that felt like it was setting itself up all half.

Shaf credited the O line for the time he had to set up those winning throws.

"I don't think I was sacked once and that's a credit to the line," Shafnisky said. "I never really had to do too much because they had my back."

Going into the locker room, it felt like everything was coming together - big plays on defense, efficient offense, and solid special teams play.  Sure, there were a few missed opportunities, but up 11 at halftime, it still felt like all the momentum was going Lehigh's way.

Until the lightning strike, and JMU's emergence from under the tree next to the visiting locker room.

The Dukes' came from under the shade of the tree with a renewed focus, and it showed when they forced Lehigh's offense into a 3-and-out after poor field position on the second half kickoff.

"Coming out the lightning deal," head coach Andy Coen said, "I feel we made a bad decision running the ball out of the end zone.  We should have just downed it.  Instead, they got good field position after the punt.  I think that hurt."

The JMU offense then roared 66 yards in all of one minute and thirteen seconds, converting after RB John Miller's terrific 9 yard touchdown run, again set up by some great blocking up front.

Later, even some great punting work from junior P Austin Devine and the punt unit, downing the ball at the JMU 1/2 yard line, it wasn't enough to prevent the Dukes gaining the lead.

Getting some help with some Lehigh penalties and a bruising running game, Lee would give JMU the lead once again when he found WR Rashard Davis busting the Mountain Hawk pass coverage for a 35 yard touchdown strike.

Lehigh's offense would respond, though, and reclaim the lead after another gutty offensive drive, led by the Whitehall sophomore.

Calling his own number on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and 3, Nick Shafnisky kept the critical drive alive before he called Sodeke's number.  Lehigh's offensive line blew open a massive hole in the line, and the Florham, New Jersey back crossed the plane of the end zone just before the end of the 3rd quarter.

"Running the ball, the holes were just there," he said. "The line was our biggest advocate of our success when we had it on offense today. Rich and Yosha led-blocked well. It was a whole offensive team effort."

What made it more remarkable was that Lehigh was short-circuiting offensive linemen, with sophomore OL Zach Duffy, junior OL Matt Ford, junior OL Matt Cohen, and sophomore OL Brandon Short coming in as starters kept getting dinged up.

Coach Coen noted, too, that in the second half that Daryoush, the two-year starter on the line, was the only guy still healthy on the offensive line that had starting experience a year ago.

"I was really impressed and happy with how those guys stepped up in their first varsity action," Daryoush said.  

The 4th quarter saw penalties on both sides stall offensive drives, but JMU had one more power surge left in them which was the difference in the game.

With another amazing Devine punt downed at the JMU 2, the Dukes scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 12-play, 98 yard drive that took less than 3 minutes off the clock.

A series of electrifying big plays ended with a 6 yard touchdown run by RB Jauan Latney, giving JMU the lead at 31-28.

Lehigh would have one last chance to tie or take the lead - but finish just short.  Shaf and the seniors, though, made some huge conversions to put them in a position to win.

One screen pass to Josh Parris behind the 1st down sticks ended up being a 1st down after some tough running.

Another screen to Rich Sodeke turned into  22 yard scamper that put Lehigh into JMU territory and brought the crowd to its feet.

Up to the JMU 15 yard line, though, the offenses' drive fell short, something that stuck at Sodeke,  after the game, who ended with 144 all-purpose yards and one touchdown.

"It was annoying not to be able to finish drives," he said. "We were working relly hard, especially the offensive line, and Nick was throwing the ball well. We were gassed at the end, but we've got to finish. That's how we win games like this.  [Offensive Coordinator] Drew Folmar talks to us all the time about being able to score in the red zone and we failed to do that today."

Lining up for the game-tying kick, sophomore PK Ryan Pandy's kick seemed to have gotten off on time and through the uprights to tie the game.  But it was judged that JMU called timeout to ice the kicker - even though it was disputed after the game whether it actually happened - and when Pandy lined up for the next kick, it was blocked.

As great as the game was, as well as the underclassmen played, it was a game that Lehigh could have and should have won, and nobody knew that fact better than head coach Andy Coen.

"We played a talented football team, but are obviously disappointed with the outcome," he said. "We played well enough to win the game in a lot of aspects, but we left too many plays on the field.  There are a lot of positives, but it eats at me that this was a very, very winnable football game and we didn't win it."

"We'll learn from this, but we'll get better, and we'll get better every week," Shafnisky said.

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