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Season In Review: Too Many Almosts And Not Enough Finishing

The word that sums up the 2014 football season for Lehigh is almost, and nowhere was that almost more symbolic and frustrating was in their opening weekend against a team that would make it to the FCS Playoffs, James Madison.

Early in the 4th quarter, thanks to a gutty touchdown run by senior RB Rich Sodeke, Lehigh held a 28-24 lead on the Dukes and had taken advantage of a litany of James Madison miscues to get the ball at their 20 and a golden opportunity to stomp on the throat of the Dukes.

But that 4th quarter instead was an all-too-accurate look into the small things that cost the Mountain Hawks wins this season.

In the end, it wasn't the talent that had Lehigh limp to a 3-8 finish in the 2014 schedule.  It was a whole lot of little things.


One missed interception.

It's probably not fair, but senior DT Tim Newton turned around and saw an errant pass from James Madison QB Vad Lee hit him right on the numbers.  Had he been able to hold on, he would have walked into the end zone with a pick six, and possibly taken all the electricity out of the Dukes' comeback attempt.

But Newton couldn't come down with the ball.  The drive was kept alive.

Two kick-thyself penalties.

On that potential throat-stomping drive, two penalties, a false start and an illegal formation, backed Lehigh up at a time when even a field goal would have been enormous.

The drive.

Junior P Austin Devine made a terrific punt, backing the Dukes up to their own 2.

Then the defense allowed QB Vad Lee and the Dukes offense to drive 98 yards in 12 plays to score a touchdown, including three instances where they gained more than 10 yards at a clip.

That would give James Madison a 31-28 lead, but Lehigh wasn't done.

The block.

As they would often do in 2014, Lehigh would rally from behind, with sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky, senior RB Rich Sodeke and senior WR Josh Parris making some big plays to drive into JMU territory.

But the potential game-tying 27 yard field goal by junior PK Ryan Pandy was blocked.

Game over.

To some programs, playing a future FCS playoff participant close might be considered a moral victory.  But Lehigh doesn't do moral victories - not a program that has seen a four-year stretch where they went 39-9 and are expected to compete for Patriot League championships and win them.

"We were working relly hard, especially the offensive line," Sodeke said after the game, "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."

Lehigh figured out how to win some games in 2014, but could never get more than a two-score lead in the fourth quarter in any game this season.  Even in their wins over Cornell, Colgate and Georgetown, the games were in doubt in the 4th quarter.

Even so, in every game there were tantalizing glimpses at the talent that was on the field.

Sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky would have some terrific games for the Brown and White, including a fantastic 19-for-22 performance against Colgate for 204 yards and 1 TD and adding 74 yards on the ground.

Freshman WR Troy Pelletier would explode on the scene for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns, providing Nick an explosive passing option to complement senior WR Josh Parris.

Before going out with an injury, sophomore RB Brandon Yosha showed flashes of what he could be with some strong running, and Yosha, senior RB Rich Sodeke, freshman RB Chris Leigh and Shafnisky would combine for an average of 167 yards rushing per game.

On defense, too, sophomore CB Brandon Leaks would show flashes of being a very good cornerback in the Patriot League.  Sophomore LB Colton Caslow, sophomore LB Pierce Ripanti, senior DE Tim Newton and junior FS Laquan Lambert would, at different times, show flashes of great individual play.

But all season the talent wouldn't come together often enough to produce wins.

Too often it was "almost", like how in the James Madison game they were "almost" good enough to pull out the victory.

How they "almost" were able to hold off Monmouth, but couldn't get a big play when they needed it.
How they "almost" finished off Holy Cross, but couldn't.

How they "almost" held on to a 21 point lead a Yale, but couldn't.

How they "almost" closed the gap on Bucknell, but couldn't.

It's striking how often the 2014 Mountain Hawks were in position in the 4th quarter to potentially win football games, but didn't.  Against Monmouth, Lehigh went into the final stanza tied, and against Yale, Lehigh was up by a field goal.  Against Bucknell and Holy Cross, they were within a score.

"We've got to finish. That's how we win games like this," Sodeke said in the aftermath of the first games of the season.  This offseason, and this recruiting period, the challenge is to show the next generation of Mountain Hawks how to do just that - win games like this.

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